Wells roars back to stun Freeport

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Freeport sophomore Jessie Driscoll drives past Wells sophomore Leah Tufts for a basket during the Warriors’ 35-32 win Thursday night.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Wells 35 Freeport 32

W- 11 5 6 13- 35
F- 19 4 5 4- 32

W- Lambert 4-0-8, Thurber 2-3-8, Ramsdell 3-0-6, Loukola 2-0-4, Chase 1-0-3, O’Brien 0-2-2, Schneider 1-0-2, Tufts 1-0-2

F- Rinaldi 4-0-8, Belanger 3-0-6, Cormier 3-0-6, Driscoll 2-2-6, Lynch 1-1-4, Marlow 0-2-2

3-pointers:
W (2) Chase, Thurber 1
F (1) Lynch 1

Turnovers:
W- 24
F- 24

Free throws
W: 5-15
F: 5-7

FREEPORT—For a little more than 10 minutes Thursday evening, Freeport’s girls’ basketball team showed everyone why it has become one of the feel-good stories of the winter, a squad which won just twice a year ago, but was on the verge of clinching a winning record this season.

But while the Falcons are talented and fun to watch, they’re also young and youthful mistakes became the theme of the game’s final 21-plus minutes, as Freeport struggled to score against visiting Wells and ultimately let one slip away in agonizing fashion.

The Falcons raced to a 19-11 lead after one period, forcing seven Warriors turnovers and getting six points from sophomore Jessie Driscoll.

Freeport still led, 23-13, with 5:37 to go before halftime, but they wouldn’t score again and Wells closed within seven, 23-16, at the break.

The Falcons’ woes continued in the third period, as they scored only five points, but the Warriors weren’t able to make up much of the deficit and Freeport took a 28-22 lead to the fourth period.

There, Wells completed the rally and tied the score, 28-28, but the Falcons had one final surge, as a jumper from sophomore Megan Cormier, who did a little of everything in the game, and a putback from senior Kayla Belanger made it 32-28.

But just when Freeport was on the verge of victory, the Warriors saved their best for last.

First junior Halee Ramsdell made it a one-possession game with a layup.

Then, with 40.2 seconds to go, the biggest shot of the night came off the hands of junior Natalie Thurber, whose 3-pointer from the corner put Wells ahead to stay.

Thurber added two free throws with 17.1 seconds remaining and a last-ditch 3 from Belanger was off target as the Warriors prevailed, 35-32.

The Falcons mustered just nine points in the game’s final 21 minutes, 37 seconds and Wells scored the game’s final seven points as it improved to 8-7 and dropped Freeport to 9-7 in the process.

“We played well enough to be in that game and it was anybody’s game,” lamented Freeport coach Mike Hart. “It’s a heartbreaker. The kids are heartbroken after that one. They battled hard, but unfortunately, we came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard.”

Playoff-bound

After going 2-16 a year ago, Freeport has emerged as a contender this winter.

The Falcons opened with a 55-45 loss at Poland, then gained confidence by beating host Waynflete (64-34) and visiting Spruce Mountain (58-56) before eclipsing last year’s win total with a 41-38 victory at Sacopee Valley, which was followed by a 53-45 win at Traip Academy. After a 50-39 home loss to Gray-New Gloucester, Freeport romped at Maranacook (63-14) and edged visiting Waynflete (43-42) before closing the first half of the season with a 42-37 loss at Lake Region. After losing a close one at home to Yarmouth (51-47), the Falcons beat visiting Old Orchard Beach (66-28). Losses at Fryeburg Academy (51-41) and at home to Cape Elizabeth (38-28) were followed by a 52-46 victory at Kennebunk and a 45-40 home win over Poland.

Wells has been streaky, winning four in a row, then dropping five straight, winning three of four, then losing, 29-27, to visiting Fryeburg Academy in its most recent outing Monday.

Last year, Wells won at Freeport, 57-33.

Wednesday, the Falcons had their first win over the Warriors since a 52-33 home victory Dec. 18, 2012 well within their sights, but Wells beat Freeport for the fourth straight time.

The Falcons got off to a fast start when Belanger got a finger roll to drop.

After the Warriors pulled even on a layup from junior Alyssa Loukola, Freeport got two free throws from sophomore Johanna Bogue Marlow and two more from Driscoll, but Wells answered behind a 3 from sophomore Anya Chase and a fastbreak layup from sophomore Leah Tufts, set up by Chase, for a 7-6 lead.

The Falcons dominated the rest of the frame, closing on a 13-4 run.

A 3 from junior Regan Lynch put Freeport ahead and after a steal, sophomore Taylor Rinaldi banked home a shot for an 11-7 lead.

After the Warriors got a layup from junior Taryn Lambert, Belanger scored on a bank shot, Marlow tipped the ball to Driscoll for a layup and after Thurber made a layup, Driscoll hit a short jumper and Cormier added a bank shot to make it 19-11 Falcons after eight minutes.

Freeport moved the ball well, hit shots, forced seven turnovers and had Wells on the ropes.

“Mike’s a great pressure coach,” said Warriors coach Don Abbott. “It’s one thing to know it’s coming and it’s another to handle it. I thought his kids showed a lot of heart to keep coming at us. Early on, it felt like a win to just get the ball beyond halfcourt.”

Wells got the first points of the second period, as Lambert made a layup, but Belanger set up Rinaldi for a layup and with 5:37 to go in the half, Rinaldi made a jumper for a 23-13 lead.

And then, everything changed.

First, Rinaldi picked up her third foul.

Then, the Falcons couldn’t get a shot to drop.

The Warriors didn’t exactly take advantage, getting a free throw from Thurber and a layup from Lambert, but no more before the half, which ended, 23-16.

Freeport went the final 5:37 without a point, but appeared to still be in good shape as the second half started, especially after Belanger, who appeared to suffer a leg injury in the last minute of the first half, returned early in the third quarter.

Wells had a chance to pull closer, but couldn’t score early in the second half and when Rinaldi made a layup after a steal with 5:51 to go in the third, snapping a 7:46 drought, the Falcons appeared primed to retake control.

A bank shot from Cormier gave Freeport its biggest lead, 27-16, but with 4:49 remaining in the quarter, Loukola made a layup to snap a 6:43 drought, junior Ally O’Brien sank a pair of free throws and sophomore Megan Schneider made a layup after a steal. A free throw from Lynch with 29.7 seconds left in the third snapped a 4:52 Falcons’ drought and gave the hosts a 28-22 lead heading for the final stanza.

There, Freeport continued to struggle and the Warriors simply stole one.

After nearly three scoreless minutes, Lambert scored on a bank shot.

With 4:24 to play, out of a timeout, Tufts set up Ramsdell for a layup and Wells was only down two.

Then, with 3:37 to play, Ramsdell scored on a putback and the game was tied, 28-28.

Hart called timeout and the Falcons responded, as Belanger set up Cormier for a jumper from the foul line, giving Freeport a 30-28 lead, snapping a 5:05 drought in the process.

When Belanger put home her own miss with 1:57 showing, the Falcons were up four and appeared in good shape, but the Warriors finished strong.

After Driscoll fouled out, Ramsdell made a layup to make it 32-30.

After Freeport’s 24th turnover, Wells got the ball to Thurber in the corner and she buried a 3 to give the Warriors a 33-32 lead with 40.2 seconds to play.

“That was a big shot,” Abbott said. “(Natalie) had a stress fracture earlier in the year and missed six games. She’s still working back from that. I told her it was time to assert herself and credit to her, she did it. She made big plays.”

“I think we defended well all night, except that last play,” Hart said. “Thurber hit a 3 in the corner. We didn’t get out and guard her. Our pressure was good. We just didn’t close out that last possession.”

The Falcons had ample time to answer, but Lynch missed a shot and junior Sara Ring rebounded for the Warriors.

With 17.1 seconds left, Thurber was fouled and she calmly sank both free throws to push the lead to three, but Freeport had a chance to force overtime.

As time wound down, Belanger got a look from behind the stripe, but her shot was off target and Loukola grabbed the rebound while falling out of bounds. 

Although the whistle blew a split second before the horn sounded, the game was ruled over and Wells survived, 35-32.

“It was a fun game, entertaining,” Abbott said. “I certainly enjoyed coaching it. In the fourth quarter, I said, ‘It’s time to stop playing not to lose and play to win.’ It seems like we made big plays down the stretch. We limited them to one shot. I have to give credit to the whole team. I’ve played every single kid in every single game. That’s atypical at the varsity level. I have 12 kids who can help us win games.”

The Warriors were paced by eight points apiece from Lambert (who had a game-high six steals) and Thurber (who also had five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot). Ramsdell added six points, Loukola (six boards) had four, Chase three and O’Brien, Schneider and Tufts two apiece.

Wells overcame 24 turnovers and 5 of 15 foul shooting, in part by winning the battle of the glass (36-34) and more importantly, by amping up the defense as the game progressed.

“If they shot like they did in the first quarter, we couldn’t beat them,” Abbott said. “They had a great quarter offensively. We’ve played pretty good defense. I thought if we played the way we normally play, things would deviate back to the norm. If not, we would have had to tip our cap.  If you can play great defense, you have a chance to win. We’ve hung our hat on defense all year. I told the girls to just dig your heels in defensively. Get scores and stops. Once we did that, you saw the tide turn.”

Freeport’s top scorer was Rinaldi, who had eight points despite being limited by foul trouble. Belanger (six assists, five rebounds, three steals), Cormier (nine rebounds, five blocked shots) and Driscoll (four steals, four rebounds) had six points apiece, Lynch (eight boards) finished with four and Marlow added two.

The Falcons made 5 of 7 foul shots.

“(Wells) hung around and played well,” Hart said. “If we made some buckets in the first half, it would have been a different story. I wasn’t disappointed in our shot selection. I was disappointed in our ability to put our shots in. We got good looks. I told the girls to keep shooting. We had to get them to fall. We just didn’t.”

Movin’ on up

Wells (now fifth in the Class B South Heal Points standings) is back in action Saturday at Spruce Mountain, then closes the regular season next week by hosting Poland and visiting Yarmouth.

“It’s going to be one whale of a B tournament,” Abbott said. “You have teams at the top who are deservedly there, but we beat Lake, Lake beat Lincoln, Lincoln beat us. Who knows? Freeport can beat any of us. Same thing with Yarmouth or anyone else who gets in. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be fun.”

Freeport (sixth in Class B South) hopes to bounce back Tuesday at Gray-New Gloucester, then closes the regular season at home next Thursday against Lake Region.

“We have to figure out ways to settle ourselves down,” Hart said. “We’re a young team but we have to grow up a little bit.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Freeport senior Kayla Belanger brings the ball up the floor.

Wells junior Ally O’Brien hits the floor in an attempt to get the ball away from Freeport junior Jessie Gray.

Freeport junior Regan Lynch goes up for a shot over Wells junior Alyssa Loukola.

Freeport sophomore Megan Cormier battles Wells sophomore Megan Schneider for the ball.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.