PORTLAND—A flurry of 3 pointers proved to be the difference in Thursday afternoon’s Western Class B girls’ basketball semifinal showdown, but it wasn’t the highly-touted Leavitt Hornets knocking down the shots.
Instead, the third-ranked Greely Rangers heated up at the right time, exploding for a 24-3 run in the third quarter to roll to an unexpectedly easy 59-38 win over No. 2 Leavitt to set up a much anticipated date with rival and nemesis York in the Western B Final Saturday at 2 p.m., at the Civic Center.
The Rangers (18-2) sank eight shots from behind the 3-point stripe, led by three from senior Nicole Faietta, who had a team-high 15 points, and the senior-laden squad took another step closer to its ultimate goal.
“We have great balance of outside shooting and getting it down low,” Faietta said. “I knew Leavitt was the favorite, so I knew I had to step it up. We had to show we could beat them. We have the ability.”
Greely, which lost in the regional final to York last year, produced a stellar regular season, winning 16 of 18 games. Problem was, the Rangers’ lone losses came to York, relegating them to third in the final Western B Heals.
Leavitt ran and shot its way past every foe but one and its 17-1 mark gave it the No. 2 seed for the tournament.
The teams didn’t meet in the regular season and had no prior playoff history.
Greely senior Megan Grondin kept the Rangers in the game during a slow first period. Just five seconds in, off the opening tip, Grondin took a pass from classmate Karlee Biskup and made a layup for a quick 2-0 lead. The Hornets tied the score on a turnaround jumper from sophomore Adrianna Newton, but Grondin answered with a jumper.
Leavitt took its first lead when junior Abbey Randall made a layup and junior Courtney Anderson sank a foul shot. Anderson then added a floater and freshman Kristen Anderson made a pull-up jumper for a 9-4 advantage.
A jumper from Grondin with 1:38 left in the first ended a 4 minute, 40 second drought, but Newton answered with two free throws. With 15.2 seconds left, Grondin sank another jumper to pull the Rangers within three, 11-8, after one.
The complexion of the game began to change 15 seconds into the second quarter when Faietta sank a 3-ball. With 5:58 left in the half, sophomore Caroline Hamilton buried a 3 and Greely was back on top, 14-11. After Randall made two free throws for the Hornets, senior Abby Young stepped out and made a 3 for a 17-13 lead.
Courtney Anderson answered with a jumper, Kristen Anderson sank a foul shot, then Courtney Anderson made three of four attempts for a 19-17 advantage with 3:07 to go in the half.
With 1:17 remaining, Young tied the score with a floater and the Rangers would never trail again.
With 45.4 seconds to go in the half, Young buried another 3 to put Greely ahead to stay. A foul shot from Courtney Anderson with 11.3 seconds remaining, pulled Leavitt within 22-20 at halftime.
Rangers coach Billy Goodman wasn’t happy, however. His team had missed several easy looks, was off on both free throw attempts and turned the ball over 13 times.
In the locker room, Goodman reminded his seniors that it was now or never.
“We missed layups and did some goofy stuff and had stupid fouls,” Goodman said. “That’s not our basketball. I just asked the kids to play their game.”
“In the first half, our layups weren’t falling,” said Young. “A lot of shots we were taking weren’t going in. Coach told us at halftime that win or lose, we had to play or it would be our last game. Coach emphasized to have fun and take it more to the hoop since we were standing on the perimeter.”
A Faietta 3 17 seconds into the third quarter was a harbinger of a huge run to come.
“That picked up the whole tempo of the game,” Faietta said. “After that, everyone started hitting 3s and that’s when we got the lead.”
With 6:50 left in the third, Kristen Anderson made a pullup jumper to make it 25-22, but Faietta sank another 3, Biskup fed Hamilton for a layup-and-one and a 31-22 advantage. A putback from Newton momentarily stemmed the tide, but Grondin converted a three-point play and the lead was up to 10, 34-24.
After Newton made a foul shot for the Hornets, Faietta made a layup, Biskup sank a 3, Grondin buried a pair of free throws, Young made a layup, Biskup hit a bank shot, junior Chelsea Bridges did the same and with 13.8 seconds remaining in arguably the Rangers’ best quarter of the season, Faietta, fittingly, capped the 24-3 run with a layup.
“We’re a really good 3-point shooting team,” Young said. “We wanted to go out there and give it our best and that’s what happened.”
“I’ve got a good team,” Goodman added. “It was just a matter of them playing up to their potential and they did. Biskup picked it up. Faietta played a great second half. We can (make 3s). We love to get it down low, but if we’re open, we can shoot it.”
With 1.8 seconds left in the third, Leavitt got its first and only 3, from Courtney Anderson, but the damage was done and Greely took a 49-28 advantage to the fourth.
Down the stretch, the Hornets got no closer than 17 and after many substitutions, the Rangers put the finishing touches on their emphatic 59-38 triumph.
“We knew (Leavitt) took a lot of shots,” said Young. “We knew a lot of their points were off rebounds. We knew we had to be strong, box out and get as many rebounds as we could.”
“What I like about our team is that we’re balanced,” Goodman added. “We’re experienced. The key today was defense. We’ve played here last year. The girls aren’t phased by the big court here.”
In addition to Faietta’s 15 points, Grondin and Young (five blocks) both had 13, Biskup added eight, Hamilton six and Bridges and Warnock two apiece. Greely did turn the ball over 27 times, but overcame the miscues. The Rangers wound up 7-of-12 from the foul stripe.
Leavitt (18-2) got a game-high 16 points from Courtney Anderson. Kristen Anderson added eight and Newton and Randall had seven apiece. The Hornets hit 15-of-26 foul shots, return virtually their whole team and should be even stronger in 2010-11.
Here we go again
Greely hasn’t beaten York since a 54-40 triumph in the 2007 quarterfinals, six meetings ago. The Wildcats (20-0 after defeating Lake Region in the other semifinal Thursday) downed the Rangers, 49-30, in last year’s regional final and captured both of the regular season meetings this winter, 51-43 in York Jan. 8 and 32-27 in Cumberland eight days later.
Greely feels its time has come and that it can ride the momentum of Thursday’s win to a first state final since winning it all in 2004.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times in a row,” Faietta said. “We’ll definitely give it to them a lot better than we have.”
“I’m excited,” said Young. “York will give us a good game. We all want it. It’ll be fun to take them on again. The six seniors have played together forever. It would be really nice to take it all the way.”
“We’re playing better now,” Goodman added. “Some of the girls are stepping up and playing better basketball. York’s beaten us twice this year. I feel they’re a great team, but I really think I have a great team. If we play, we have a chance.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com