FREEPORT—Her performance was simply unbe-leigh-vable.
Freeport junior Leigh Wyman put on a shooting clinic Wednesday evening against visiting Poland.
In a game the Falcons badly needed for Heal Points, playoff positioning and confidence, Wyman sank two 3-pointers in the first 48 seconds and buried five in all during the first quarter as Freeport raced to a 20-6 lead.
After a lackluster second period allowed the Knights to get within 10 at halftime, Wyman hit two more 3s during a third quarter surge and supported by a superb effort from several teammates, led the Falcons to a 50-22 victory.
Freeport improved to 8-9 and dropped Poland to 5-12 in the process.
“I think we had five games that we just didn’t do well,” Wyman said. “Now, we’re bouncing back and playing together as a team.”
The Freeport girls’ program has had a tough go of it since moving to Class B in 2003-04. The Falcons made it to the preliminary round their first two years, but were ousted by Fryeburg and Gray-New Gloucester, respectively. After three straight 3-15 campaigns, Freeport went 4-14 and 5-13 before finishing 6-12 last winter, its first under coach Jen Chon.
This season, the Falcons were expected to contend, as the core group was a year older and the addition of sophomore Nina Davenport (who was a role player on a state championship McAuley squad as a freshman) figured to put them right in the thick of things.
Instead, Freeport’s been up and down.
The Falcons started well, downing visiting North Yarmouth (62-31) and host Cape Elizabeth (61-40), but the 2011 portion of the schedule ended with losses at Lake Region (49-25), Wells (45-44) and York (55-49). After winning three of four holiday tournament contests, Freeport began 2012 in fine fashion with victories over visiting Yarmouth (53-52), host Falmouth (49-36) and visiting Fryeburg (43-41).
Then, the bottom fell out.
Four successive home games all ended in defeat, to Greely (53-38), Lake Region (63-59), Wells (48-38) and Gray-New Gloucester (46-41). Trips to Poland (a 63-49 loss) and Yarmouth (a 46-37 setback) didn’t go much better and suddenly, the Falcons’ promising season was in jeopardy.
Thankfully for Freeport, it got a huge boost with the return of junior Aubrey Pennell, who missed the first three quarters of the season with a serious back injury (tears in two discs in her lower back). Pennell saw limited time in the loss at Yarmouth and has increased her minutes ever since.
The six-game slide finally ended with a 59-48 win at Fryeburg and Friday, the Falcons triumphed again, 62-58, at Traip.
As for Poland, it dropped its first six games this year, then won a pair before falling at home to Yarmouth, 44-43. Two more wins followed, including an upset over York. The Knights then lost four of five, capped by a 49-34 setback at Yarmouth entering Wednesday’s contest. The lone victory in that stretch came at home, decisively, over Freeport.
This time around, the Falcons got off to an ideal start and took care of business.
The tone was set 11 seconds in when Pennell passed to Wyman, who calmly knocked home a 3 and Freeport was ahead to stay.
The next time down, the same combination struck as Pennell passed to Wyman, who sank another 3-ball and just 48 seconds in, the Falcons had a 6-0 lead.
“I was just feeling it, I guess,” Wyman said. “Confidence and motivation. We want to get to the playoffs. (Aubrey) was getting me the ball in good places to shoot. I’m glad she’s back.”
The visitors got on the board when freshman Michaella Arsneault made a layup, but Davenport converted an old-fashioned three-point play (putback, foul, free throw) and Wyman hit another 3 (again from Pennell) to make it a 12-2 game midway through the opening stanza.
“They work really well together,” Chon said, of Pennell and Wyman. “They’ve been playing together three years now.”
After Poland got back to 12-6 on a free throw from sophomore Emily Bolduc and a three-point play from junior Brittina Maheux, Freeport senior Alexandra Mitch got into the act, something she would do the rest of the night, making a layup after a steal.
With 1:06 to go in the first, Pennell found an open Wyman, who again sank a 3.
Then, 31 seconds later, Pennell passed to Wyman, this time on the baseline, and Wyman capped her breathtaking quarter with her fifth 3, which made it 20-6 Falcons.
“Three games in a row (Leigh’s) been on fire,” Chon said. “That’s what we need, especially at this time of the season. She got us pumped up.”
As exhilarating as the first quarter was for the home team, the second was just the opposite.
A driving layup from Wyman stretched the lead to 16, but junior Amanda Gibson hit a leaner for the Knights. Davenport then was whistled for her third foul and had to sit for the remainder of the first half.
A putback from junior Hannah Chase and a Chase jumper made it 26-10 Freeport, but the rest of the half would belong to Poland, which closed on an 8-2 run.
After Bolduc was left open to hit a 3, Bolduc made a foul shot and Arsneault did the same. Mitch fed sophomore Vanessa Lee for a layup with 37 seconds remaining, but the Knights got the last laugh as Maheux sank a 3, making the score 28-18 at the break.
Despite all the good things the Falcons had done early, Chon was far from pleased.
“It was a great first quarter and a horrible second quarter,” she said. “I was not happy. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten so mad at halftime of a game before. I know we have the potential to do really well. That wasn’t what I wanted, letting them come up with 12 points in the second quarter. I gave it to them and told them to turn it around.”
Freeport got the message.
“Jen basically said we were slowing down and we needed to pick it up and we needed to finish them off,” said Wyman.
Davenport returned to action to start the third quarter and gave her team a boost as she set up Mitch for a layup and buried a pullup jumper to make it 32-18, but with 6:49 to go, she picked up her fourth foul and had to return to the bench.
Fortunately, her teammates, most notably Mitch, picked her up.
After Poland got its lone basket of the period when Bolduc hit Arsenault for a backdoor layup, Mitch took a pass from sophomore Ashley Richardson and made a layup, then fed Lee for a layup to push the lead back to 16, 36-20.
“I felt like we were a little slow on offense in the first half and I felt like I needed to pick it up since Nina was out,” Mitch said. “We all had to step up. We were successful. We were determined and we wanted it.”
“Alex’s role isn’t to score, but to get assists, rebounds and steals,” Chon said. “She gives us energy.”
Then, Wyman returned to center stage.
With 3:46 to play in the third, Wyman took a pass from Pennell and hit a 3-pointer that caromed home. With 1:02 to go, after the Falcons ran some time off the clock, Wyman stepped up and hit her seventh 3 of the night for a commanding 42-20 advantage heading for the final quarter.
The Knights’ futility continued there and Freeport put the finishing touches on its win.
With 7:12 to play, Davenport was fouled after a steal and made both free throws, but with 4:26 showing, she fouled out.
Again, Mitch picked her up, hitting a jumper. After Arsneault made a free throw to end a 14-0 Falcons’ run and an 8 minute, 58 second scoring drought, Mitch made a free throw, junior Naomi Otis (who made the most of her limited time) did the same and with 44 seconds to play, Otis scored on a putback. A free throw from Poland freshman Caroline Littlefield accounted for the 50-22 final score.
“I told them (at halftime) that I didn’t want (the Knights) to score,” said Chon. “We held them to four points in the second half. My message was delivered. We came out aggressive. We needed to be in sync on offense. With Nina not in the game, it didn’t help us, since so much of our offense runs through her. We came out and proved ourselves. I feel like this is our real team. It’s a great time to peak.”
Wyman stole the show with a game-high 23 points, one more than Poland managed as a team. She also had four rebounds and three steals. Mitch finished with nine points, five steals, three assists and two boards. Davenport had seven points in her time on the floor (along with five boards, a steal and a blocked shot). Chase and Lee both had four points. Lee had a game-high nine rebounds.
“I think Vanessa’s really stepped up with (senior) Morgan Brown out for the season (with the same type of injury that sidelined Pennell),” said Chon. “She’s had a great season for a sophomore. Hannah Chase has a lot of energy off the bench. She’s aggressive and we like that.”
Otis finished with three points and four boards.
Pennell didn’t score, but was she ever active regardless. She finished with six assists, five rebounds and three steals and never stopped hustling from the opening tip until she finally took a seat in the fourth quarter with the game wrapped up.
“It feels good to be back,” Pennell said. “I’m fully able to play. I’m still doing (physical therapy) and getting my strength back. I feel like I’m at 85 percent. At first, my goal was to be back for playoffs. I decided I wanted to come back before to get some time in and play to my potential. I worked harder than I thought I would and I’m back. It was tough, but it made me become a better player all around. Watching other people made me think about what I could do better. I try to keep (my teammates’) heads up and bring intensity. The three captains bring intensity. We bring the team together as a unit.”
“At halftime, I told Aubrey, ‘I need your intensity. I need you to lead this team,'” said Chon. “That’s where she was missed. She makes a difference. The difference from the first Poland game to the second was Aubrey. She knows how to get loose balls, she knows where the ball needs to be, she knows to slow down and keep up tempo. She’s a good point guard. She worked really hard when she was out in physical therapy. We’re glad she has the stamina and energy to stay in the game that long.”
Freeport had a 35-22 advantage in rebounds, forced 26 turnovers (while giving the ball away 19 times, with just six in the second half), stole the ball 16 times and made 5-of-11 foul shots.
Poland was paced by six points each from Arsenault (who also had four rebounds) and Maheux (four steals). Bolduc had five points, Gibson two (and three steals), Lavoie two and Littlefield one. The Knights made just 6-of-18 free throws.
Poland clings to the 12th and final playoff spot in the Western Class B Heal Points standings. The Knights are home with Fryeburg in their regular season finale Friday.
Freeport, meanwhile, is 11th in the region and hopes to move up with a win over visiting Old Orchard Beach Friday.
This team has the potential to turn some heads come playoff time and it’s clear that the Falcons aren’t just happy qualifying for the postseason for the first time in seven years.
“It’s the most fun season I’ve had,” said Mitch, who’s played varsity since her freshman year. “We’d love to win this last game. I think we’re where we want to be, but I think we need to come together more. Going into playoffs will help us become closer.”
“We want everybody to experience playoffs,” Pennell said “It’s exciting.”
“I feel we have the potential to do damage in the playoffs,” Chon added. “The girls are excited. They’re ready. I’m excited. We’d love to get to the Expo (for the quarterfinals). We’ll be going to Mountain Valley or Wells. Wherever we have to play, we’ll play. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, a little stressful, but we’ve come together and we’re ready.”
P- 6 12 2 2- 22
F- 20 8 14 8- 50
P-Arsenault 2-2-6, Maheux 2-1-6, Bolduc 1-2-5, Gibson 1-0-2, Lavoie 1-0-2, Littlefield 0-1-1
F- Wyman 8-0-23, Mitch 4-1-9, Davenport 2-3-7, Lee 2-0-4, Chase 2-0-4, Otis 1-1-3
P (2) Bolduc, Maheux 1
F (7) Wyman 7
P (22) Arsenault, Gibson, Theriault 4, Bolduc, Miville 3, Gregory 2, Lavoie, Martin 1
F (35) Lee 9, Davenport, Pennell 5, Otis, Wyman 4, Chase, Mitch, Richardson 2, Ackley, Stowell 1
P (10) Maheux 4, Gibson 3, Bolduc 2, Lavoie 1
F (16) Mitch 5, Pennell, Wyman 3, Davee, Davenport, Dimick, Richardson, Stowell 1