PORTLAND—Last winter, the Waynflete girls’ basketball team hosted a preliminary round game, rolled to victory and never looked back en route to a stirring state championship.
The 2013-14 Flyers are hoping to follow suit, but they’ve already learned that nothing will come easily.
Waynflete, the No. 6 seed in Western Class C, hosted No. 11 Sacopee Valley Tuesday and found itself in a fight for its life.
The Flyers got off to a poor start, due to junior Helen Gray-Bauer’s foul trouble and uncharacteristic turnovers. Midway through the second quarter, Waynflete found itself down, 17-13, and getting desperate, coach Brandon Salway reinserted Gray-Bauer, who hit a clutch 3 to spark a run to the end the half, giving the Flyers a 23-21 advantage.
The Hawks hung tough in the third period, but an 8-2 Waynflete surge, capped by a scintillating athletic play by senior Leigh Fernandez, which set up a layup by junior Julianna Harwood, made it 39-30.
Again, Sacopee Valley responded and got within four, 39-35, with just under four minutes to go, but Harwood converted a three-point play and the Flyers finally pulled away and went on to a 50-38 victory.
Harwood had a superb performance, finishing with 19 points and 14 rebounds, Gray-Bauer added 14 points and Fernandez finished with 12 as Waynflete improved to 13-6, ended the Hawks’ season at 9-10 and advanced to meet No. 3 Carrabec (15-4) in the quarterfinals Tuesday of next week at the Augusta Civic Center.
“I had to have it tonight,” said Harwood, who was limited by injury during last winter’s title run. “I really wanted to go to Augusta. I didn’t want the season to be over. I love this team. The seniors have given so much to this team. It couldn’t end this way.”
Waynflete was up and down this season, but closed strong and wound up 12-6. The Flyers beat Sacopee Valley in both regular season meetings, 51-33 on the road and 50-30 at home. The teams had no playoff history.
Tuesday, they made some in a game that was closer than most expected.
After Gray-Bauer delivered yet another rousing rendition of the national anthem on her viola, the Hawks hinted at their effort to come when, off an inbounds play, senior Bailey Marden set up junior Emma Glatzer for a layup. Waynflete drew even on a coast-to-coast layup by Gray-Bauer, but with 4:35 to go in the first quarter, Gray-Bauer was whistled for her second foul and was off to the bench for the rest of the stanza.
Initially, the Flyers managed fine, as Fernandez made a long 3 and Harwood got on the board with a driving layup, but back roared Sacopee, as sophomore Abby Hughes hit a long jumper, freshman Helen Ruhlin banked home a shot and off another inbounds set, Glatzer made a jump shot for an 8-7 lead.
The hosts went back on top on two free throws from junior Dana Peirce, but a long bank shot from Glatzer made it 10-9 Hawks after one.
Things got even worse for Waynflete in the second quarter.
After Fernandez made a free throw to tie the score and Harwood added one for the lead, senior Morgan Sanborn made a long jumper for Sacopee and senior Dakota Miner added a foul shot.
Fernandez set up Harwood for a layup to tie, but Glatzer scored on a putback, Sanborn drove for a layup and with 4:34 to go in the half, Sanborn set up Glatzer for a transition layup and a 19-13 advantage.
Seconds prior to the basket, Salway, with a decision to make, decided to roll the dice and put Gray-Bauer back on the floor.
It proved to be a brilliant move, when Gray-Bauer hit a clutch 3 to turn the tide with 4:19 left.
“It’s tough without (Helen’s) speed,” Fernandez said. “It was good experience for us. We hung in there pretty well.”
“I wanted Helen to come back in,” Harwood said. “She gives us so much energy. She came back and made a big 3.”
“We had to dig deep and gamble a little bit putting Helen back in there,” Salway added. “I didn’t want to, but she gave us the boost we needed.”
Nineteen seconds later, Fernandez hit a long 3 and the game was deadlocked.
Glatzer put the Hawks back on top with a leaner, but Fernandez banked home a 3 and the Flyers were ahead to stay.
A late free throw from Harwood after an offensive rebound gave Waynflete a 23-21 lead at halftime.
In the first half, the Flyers got 10 points from Fernandez, six from Harwood and five from Gray-Bauer, but turned the ball over 15 times. Sacopee was led by 12 points from Glatzer, but had 17 turnovers.
Waynflete got off to a strong start in the second half, as Peirce set up Harwood for a layup and Harwood scored on a putback to make it 27-21, but a long 3 from sophomore Abby Hughes ended a 15-2 run and pulled the Hawks back within three.
Consecutive layups from Gray-Bauer pushed the lead to seven, causing Hawks coach Chris Hughes to call timeout.
It did the trick as Sanborn drove for a layup and sophomore Morgan Carpenter banked home a shot to make it a three-point game.
Late in the quarter, after a Fernandez steal, Fernandez set up Harwood for a layup and a 33-28 advantage.
Harwood and Fernandez both made two free throws to start the fourth period. After Miner scored on a putback, Fernandez, who has established a cottage industry of jawdropping athletic plays, added another.
After a long 3-point attempt from sophomore Arianna Giguere was short, the ball appeared to be heading out of bounds, but Fernandez flew into the picture from nowhere and in one fell swoop, somehow managed to not only save the ball, but send it right under the basket to a waiting Harwood, who made a layup for a 39-30 advantage with 5:30 remaining.
“I usually have someone picked out,” said Fernandez, who earlier in the game saved the ball while going out of bounds with a behind the back pass, although it didn’t lead to a basket. “I looked back and Julianna finished.”
“(Leigh’s) the most athletic person I know,” Harwood said. “She just makes those hustle plays and it gives everybody so much energy.”
The Hawks still weren’t done, as they got a 3 from Glatzer and a Glatzer layup to pull within 39-35 with 3:49 to go, but the Flyers finally managed to slam the door.
Harwood again came up huge 13 seconds later, scoring on a leaner off the glass while being fouled, then adding a free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.
Gray-Bauer then went coast-to-coast for a layup, took a pass from Fernandez and made another layup and with 1:52 to go, Giguere sank two free throws to make it 48-35.
A Sanborn 3 with 1:20 left pulled Sacopee within 10, but it wouldn’t score again.
In the final minute, freshman Ali Pope and Gray-Bauer each sank a free throw and that finished off Waynflete’s 50-38 victory.
“We started executing our plays a lot better,” Harwood said. “We had more turnovers than we wanted in the first half. We were rushing. Maybe because of nerves, I don’t know. The second half, we slowed it down, got layups, got fouled. We hadn’t seen (Sacopee) play like that. They had so much energy. It was so much closer than the final score.”
“We had a really slow start,” Fernandez said. “Playoff inexperience maybe. We were a little frantic. It was a mental thing. I think we came in overlooking them a little bit. We definitely learned our lesson there. They outhustled us too. We picked it up with hustle plays. That’s what turned the game around.”
“Hopefully, lesson learned,” Salway added. “We’re not good enough not to show up 100 percent ready. The first half was just a recipe for disaster with Helen sitting. All the credit goes to (Sacopee). They made shots they hadn’t made before against us. They did everything better than we did in the first half. They beat us in every aspect. It reminded me of the first half against Calais (in the state game) last year. We didn’t shoot well. We were in foul trouble. I’m proud of them for digging deep and making plays when we needed to and closing it out.”
Harwood had a huge game at the most optimal time, not only scoring 19 points, but adding 14 rebounds and seven steals.
“(Julianna) was unbelievable,” Fernandez said. “I love playing with her. She makes everyone else work harder. She’s quite a player, especially for a junior. She’s smart. She knows what she needs to do and she does it.”
“It was Julianna’s best game of the year,” Salway said. “I think she played every minute. She really stepped up and played like a captain and a leader. For her, getting back to the Civic Center might mean more than everyone else. She didn’t get to finish there and now she gets to play there one more time. At least.”
Gray-Bauer, despite her limited time in the first half, had 14 points, five rebounds and a steal. Fernandez had 12 points, eight steals, six assists, three rebounds and a blocked shot. Giguere and Peirce both added two points and Pope (10 rebounds and two steals) had one.
Waynflete finished with way too many turnovers (27) and hit just 14 of 26 free throws, but prevailed, thanks to a 42-28 rebounding advantage and 20 steals.
The Hawks were paced by Glatzer’s 17 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Sanborn had nine points, Hughes five, Miner three (to go with seven rebounds, seven steals, three assists and two blocks) and Carpenter and Ruhlin two apiece.
Sacopee Valley committed 32 turnovers and hit only 1 of 5 foul shots.
The Flyers will make the trip to the Augusta Civic Center for the eighth year in a row and will have a test from Carrabec. Waynflete doesn’t play the Cobras in the regular season, but Carrabec was the Flyers’ preliminary round victim last year, 73-36.
Waynflete knows it will have to play a lot better next week, but it has time to improve.
“We have to come out strong,” Harwood said. “We want to get everybody involved, execute, don’t turn the ball over. Foul trouble’s big for us.”
“It does mean a lot to get back to Augusta,” Fernandez said. “That definitely was our motivation tonight. Everyone’s really excited. We like it there. We have some experience there. We need to have a better start, play for the whole 32 minutes and make free throws.”
“People take it for granted, but so much of the team’s changed roles this year,” Salway said. “We’re not perfect, but we have a week to prepare. We need to play better. We’ll have their attention at this point.
S-10 11 7 10- 38
W- 9 14 10 17- 50
S- Glatzer 8-0-17, Sanborn 4-0-9, Hughes 2-0-5, Miner 1-1-3, Carpenter 1-0-2, Ruhlin 1-0-2
W- Harwood 7-5-19, Gray-Bauer 6-1-14, Fernandez 3-3-12, Giguere 0-2-2, Peirce 0-2-2, Pope 0-1-1
S (3) Glatzer, Hughes, Sanborn 1
W (4) Fernandez 3, Gray-Bauer 1