It took a while – maybe a lot longer than anyone anticipated – for top-ranked Gorham to shake off the rust of an 11-day layoff, but once the Rams got going they eased into the Class AA South girls’ basketball final.

Using a tenacious defense to set the tone early, unbeaten Gorham defeated Maine Girls’ Academy 53-23 Tuesday afternoon at Cross Insurance Arena. Mackenzie Holmes, a 6-foot-2 sophomore center, led the defensive effort with 10 blocked shots to go along with 10 rebounds and 14 points.

“You’ve got to make sure if the baskets are hard to come by that you’re making it difficult for the other team as well,” said Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume. “And I thought we did that.”

Gorham (19-0) will play second-seeded South Portland at 6 p.m. Friday. The Rams, who have won 40 consecutive games, defeated South Portland 44-31 in the second game of the regular season on Dec. 15. The teams also met in last year’s regional final, won by Gorham, 37-30.

The Rams hadn’t played since Feb. 10 and it showed early, especially on the offensive end, where they hit just 2 of 15 shots in the first quarter.

“I think that’s part of it,” said Gorham senior guard Emily Esposito, who scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half. “It’s two different worlds from practice to the actual game, and then coming into this type of atmosphere, in terms of depth perception and a completely different feel from our home gym.”

Holmes said it took at least a quarter for the Rams to get back into the groove.

“Like anything, when you’re off for that long, not playing at that intense of a level, it’s hard to just jump back into it,” said Holmes. “The first quarter, the first couple of quarters, we were just trying to get back into the flow of things, and once we did it was toward the end of the first half.”

But Gorham’s defense was exemplary throughout the game. The Rams forced 21 turnovers and held the Lions (8-12) to just 16 percent shooting (9 for 55).

MGA had only three baskets in the first half, which ended with Gorham ahead 22-8. That’s because the Rams went on an 8-0 run in the final 55 seconds, getting two baskets by Kaylea Lundin, two foul shots by Esposito and a jumper by Michelle Rowe, who played a strong game with eight points and eight rebounds.

“To shoot 3 for 27 in the first half was tough,” said MGA Coach Bill Goodman. “I’m not upset. The shots didn’t go in, but we kept at it, kept going.

“To get to the semis was pretty awesome. And I told the girls coming back (that) next year starts tomorrow.”

Esposito, who had four rebounds, four assists and three steals, got hot in the third quarter, scoring Gorham’s last nine points to extend the lead to 34-18.

“This is something we’ve been striving for this whole season,” said Holmes. “We really want to be a good defensive team and hold teams to a certain amount of points and push us to get even better.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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