PORTLAND, Maine — You can hold the Greely girls’ basketball team at bay for awhile, but ultimately the Rangers are going to beat you, be it with offense or defense, well-known stars or stars of future.
Wednesday afternoon at the Portland Exposition Building, Greely, the No. 4 seed, got off to a sluggish start and trailed No. 5 Lincoln Academy, 6-0, through four minutes of the teams’ Western Class B quarterfinal round tilt.
Then, the Rangers came to life.
After senior Blais Tardif made a 3 to break the ice and added a free throw, freshman Moira Train made a name for herself, tying the score with two foul shots, then draining a 3 to put the Rangers ahead for good.
Train added another 3 during a 16-0 run which ended the first period, a surge which turned into a 17-6 lead before the Eagles finally snapped a 6 minute, 18 second drought.
Just when it appeared Lincoln Academy would have momentum heading into the half, after it cut its deficit to seven with a 5-0 run, Greely junior Haley Felkel, scoreless up until that juncture, sank a 3 and the Rangers had a 27-17 lead at the break.
Greely’s lead was just 13, 38-25, heading for the fourth period, but there, junior standout Ashley Storey, who had been a thorn in the Eagles’ side by blocking shots, getting rebounds and stealing the ball, erupted on offense, scoring eight points in less than two minutes as the Rangers ended all doubt and cruised home to a 55-27 triumph.
Storey finished with 13 points, 11 boards, seven blocks and five steals, Felkel and Train both had a dozen points and Tardif added eight as Greely improved to 15-4, ended Lincoln Academy’s season at 15-4 and more importantly, advanced to meet top-ranked, defending regional champion Lake Region (19-1) in the semifinal round Thursday at 4:30 p.m., at the new and improved Cumberland County Civic Center.
“We started out a little rough around the edges,” said Felkel. “We were sloppy and lacking energy, then we pulled it together and I knew we’d turn it around and be fine.”
Greely produced its 18th straight winning record and made the playoffs for the 19th year in a row after another solid campaign. Lincoln Academy lost only at Oceanside, Maranacook and Camden Hills.
The teams don’t play in the regular season. The last playoff meeting came in the 2000 quarterfinals (a 52-47 Rangers’ win). They also met in the 1983 quarterfinals (a 58-46 Greely win) and the 1985 quarterfinals (a 48-44 victory for the Eagles).
Tuesday, the Rangers took care of business after a slow start.
Lincoln scored first, on a layup from freshman Gabrielle Wajer. Wajer added a free throw and with 4:14 left in the opening stanza, sophomore Barrett Campbell knocked down a 3 to make it 6-0 Eagles.
Nineteen seconds later, after coach Joel Rogers called timeout, Greely got the offense going and once it did, it excelled.
Tardif broke the drought with a 3, which rolled around and around the rim before falling through.
After Tardif was fouled on an offensive rebound and made a free throw, Train first made her presence felt witha pair of free throws.
With 2:39 left in the first, Train canned a 3 and the Rangers were on top to stay.
“Our shots weren’t falling early,” said Storey. “It was the first playoff game for our young players. Coach called timeout and we settled down. We just went from there.”
“We just didn’t hit a couple shots, but we had good looks early,” Rogers said. “A couple kids were a little tentative. Blais kept things going because she’s aggressive. We took timeout and I told the kids to keep shooting.”
After Greely’s other fabulous freshman, Molly Chapin, added a long jumper just inside the 3-point line, Chapin set up Tardif for a layup and Train made another 3-ball for a 16-6 lead after one explosive period.
“I was pretty confident in my shot today,” said Train. “I focused on keeping my form and knocking it down. I knew we just had to come out and play our hearts out and hope for the best. After we fell behind, I was a little bit worried, to be honest. When I came off the bench, I just played as well as I could.”
Greely’s freshmen made an immediate impact in their first tournament game.
“Moira and Molly are amazing off the bench,” Felkel said. “They’ve helped a lot. Their defense is as good as their offense.”
“I said to somebody before the tournament that one of the freshmen would have a breakout game, but I said Molly,” said Rogers. “Molly played really well, she made some really good passes inside. Moira has been my best defensive player one-on-one all year. You’d think she’s 6-8. She’s a very good shooter. I tell the kids to shoot. I won’t put restrictions on kids not to shoot. Molly and Moira were both in top five of minutes played, so they’re not freshmen anymore.”
A minute into the second quarter, Storey scored her first point on a free throw.
Then, with 5:56 left in the half, Wajer snapped a 6 minute, 18 second drought and the 17-0 Rangers’ run with a foul shot. Senior Jordynne Copp made a free throw for Greely, but the Eagles pulled within seven on a pair of free throws from senior Jennifer Genthner and a layup from junior Taylor Oliver.
The Rangers took a timeout and responded as Tardif set up Storey for a layup, Train made two free throws and Tardif scored on a putback to stretch the lead to 24-11.
Lincoln closed the half strong, as it got a 3 from sophomore Chloe Hallowell, a free throw from classmate Alyx York and two foul shots from Wajer, but a 3 from the corner from Felkel made it 27-17 Greely at the break.
“(That basket) definitely gave me momentum,” Felkel said. “My shots weren’t falling. I was nervous at the beginning. That (3-pointer) gave us energy. I was happy about that. I got comfortable.”
“Haley hit a big shot,” said Rogres. “That was a kick-out and she hit it.”
The Rangers forced 10 first half turnovers, had an 18-16 rebounding advantage and got 10 points from Train and eight from Tardif in opening up a lead.
In the third quarter, Greely widened things further.
Felkel picked up where she left off at the end of the first half, making a leaner.
After Genthner made a leaner in the lane, Storey set up Felkel for a jumper and the next time down, Felkel canned a 3 for a 34-19 lead.
“Haley was really upset about not making shots, but she made one and I told her, ‘You’re on fire now,’” Storey said.
After Genthner scored on a putback and Wajer made a free throw, Chapin stole the ball and hit a short jumper.
Genthener made a foul shot, but Storey scored on a putback. Wajer then made two free throws to pull Lincoln within 13, 38-25, heading for the final period.
There, the Rangers put it away. as Storey went wild.
Twenty-five seconds in, Storey banked home a shot.
The next time down, Storey took a pass from Copp and made a layup.
With 6:08 to go, Storey, fed by Felkel, made another layup.
Then, 25 seconds later, Storey got set up by Copp for another layup and a 46-25 lead.
“The kids were unselfish and made good passes to Ashley,” Rogers said.
Copp added a free throw and Chapin set up Felkel before Genthner hit a baseline jumper to end an 11-0 Greely run and a 6:19 Lincoln drought.
Down the stretch, Train hit a baseline jumper, freshman Katherine Leggat-Barr made a long jumper and sophomore Madison Cyr set up sophomore Samantha Kane for a layup which accounted for the 55-27 final score.
“I spent about 20 minutes looking at (Lincoln’s) game tape and I knew we could pressure them, but I wanted to see them in person first,” Rogers said. “They reminded me a lot of Gray-New Gloucester and Poland. They’d play hard and if we let them, they’d hang with us. I didn’t think they had the shooting. I told the kids I thought we were a 50-point plus team and I didn’t think were.”
Storey wound up leading Greely in scoring with 13 points, thanks in large part of her eight in the fourth quarter. She also had 11 rebounds, seven blocks and five steals.
“Ashley’s blocking was amazing tonight,” said Felkel. “Her help defense was great. She stepped up huge. In the fourth quarter, we gave her the ball and she always finishes down low.”
“I didn’t want to keep forcing it into Ashley, so I put her on the high post like I did last year against Leavitt (a quarterfinal round win),” Rogers said. “That sucked two kids off the baseline and we rebounded well. We shot well in the first half. We had four 3s. That got us going. In the second half, we went back to our traditional offense. When you put Ashley on the baseline by herself, that freed her up to roam around. Nobody can handle Ashley one-on-one.”
Felkel had 12 points, as did Train, who also had three steals.
“Moira really stepped up today,” Storey said. “She makes shots in practice.”
Train credited her teammates for helping her emerge as the season’s progressed.
“The captains, Ashley, Haley and Jordynne, really keep us as one and help us,” Train said. “They’ve really helped me.”
Tardif finished with eight points and six boards. Chapin had four points and Copp (six rebounds), Kane and Leggat-Barr all had two apiece.
The Rangers wound up with a 35-23 rebounding advantage.
“This was the best we’ve rebounded in a month,” Rogers said.
Greely forced 15 tunovers, only committed 12 and made 8 of 13 free throws.
All in all, it was a solid team effort.
“When we can’t get it done on offense, we rely on our defense,” Storey said. “When we don’t get the ball to me, our guards make big shots.”
Lincoln Academy was paced by nine points apiece from Genthner and Wajer.
“Wajer is a nice player for them,” Rogers said. “She’s their catalyst. We took the ball out of her hands by pressing.”
Campbell and Schumacher both had three points, Oliver added two and York finished with one. The Eagles were 11 of 16 from the charity stripe.
Ever since the final standings were released, Greely knew a showdown with Lake Region was immiment. While the Rangers appear to have the firepower to hang with and even beat the Lakers (who had no trouble with No. 9 York in their quarterfinal Wednesday), they’ve struggled against them of late.
Greely lost to Lake Region in the 2012 regional final (49-30), last year’s semifinal, 42-27, and fell again at Naples on Jan. 24, 52-34 (that game was close until Rogers pulled his starters late).
The teams also met in the 2001 quarterfinals (44-33 Greely), 2005 semifinals (45-42 Lake Region), 2007 semifinals (44-32 Lake Region) and the 2009 quarterfinals (39-27 Greely).
If Greely can be confident and get off to a good start and try to minimize the damage done by Lakers’ senior standout (and Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist) Tiana-Jo Carter, an upset victory is a distinct possibility.
“We just need to play as one,” Train said. “We all need to come out with energy and play good defense. I think we have a lot of confidence. Especially after this win.”
“We’re really excited,” Felkel said. “I think we can beat them. We need to box out and talk on defense. We need to make smart decisions on offense as well. I think we psych ourselves out sometimes against Lake Region, but if we go in relaxed, I think we can play with them or anyone.”
“We’re ready,” said Storey. “We have to do what we usually do. Play strong defense and make open shots. We have to keep Tiana off the boards. We’re friends and we like playing each other.”
“We led most of the first half up there and it was an eight-point game in the fourth quarter, but I was so upset with my starters for not boxing out, so I pulled them and it wound up being an 18-point game,” Rogers added. “This time, we’ve got to rebound. That’s the main thing. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do defensively. We’ll try to extend the floor. We need to shoot and make more 3s. I think we have a heck of a chance.”