GORHAM—Mackenzie Holmes led the Rams in winning handily over visiting Westbrook on Monday night, Jan. 28. Holmes tallied 27 as Gorham jumped out front of the Blazes from the get-go and never looked back.

“I felt like our ball movement was better than it has been,” Gorham head coach Laughn Berthiaume said, asked about the Rams’ takeaways from the outing. “And we’re trying to move Mackenzie around a little bit, so she’s harder to double- and triple-team. I thought that was better. And defensively, we just tried to make sure we’re in the right spots playing half-court D.”

“We wanted to play stellar defense,” said Westbrook head coach Diana Manduca, asked about her girls’ aims for an uphill battle on the road. “We knew we had to hold them under 40 to be in the game. They scored 51. So we were close there. But the turnovers really killed us. We knew we couldn’t turn the ball over too many times.”

The Rams opened the evening on a 9-0 run: Adele Nadeau, Holmes and Brittany Desjardins all contributed twos, and Nadeau a three. Westbrooker Avery Tucker then turned a pair of consecutive steals, the first leading to two points by Ariana Alcide and the second leading to two points of Tucker’s own. But Holmes closed the quarter with three-of-four foul-line shooting for a 12-4 advantage.

“I thought we did a nice job limiting Holmes to what you can limit her to,” Manduca said. “She’s a great player; she’s going to get her buckets. We just wanted to make it tough and give her some tough looks. So I think we had some flashes of stellar defense, and then some lapses. And the turnovers definitely are what gave them those extra buckets to put them over that 40.”

Manduca elaborated on her girls’ turnover problems. “In the first half, we didn’t take many shots,” she said, “because of those turnovers. I think we had 16 turnovers in the first half. So that’s 16 possessions. You know, 16 opportunities to get shots that we didn’t have. And against a team like Gorham, you need to get a good shot, every possession, and you need to have a contested shot on their end, every possession. So we had some lapses on that tonight.”

Gorham continued to pile on points in the second, third, and fourth quarters. Holmes spearheaded the charge, but Courtney Brent, Jacqui Hamilton, Anna Nelson and Desjardins contributed points as well.

Westbrook put up some points, to be sure; they were too determined not to. But the baskets from Jodi Sinnett, Tucker, Alcide, Libby Cole, Sarah Muka, Quincey Lyden (a great three!), Mikayla Van Zandt and others came too infrequently for the Blazes to stand a chance.

Berthiaume, whose entire roster saw the floor, applauded his girls’ work. “We got positive contributions from everybody,” he said. “Some of the kids that hadn’t played as much recently were ready and that’s what you hope for as a coach. You hope that when your number gets called, if you haven’t played, that you’re not rusty, that your mind’s into the game.”

Manduca praised a handful of her girls as well. “Mikayla Van Zandt, Libby Cole and Ariana Alcide, our three post players, did a really nice job being physical, keeping their heads up, having great body language and really working on defense – and then taking the shots that were available to them on offense as well. I thought those three put in tremendous effort tonight.”

Gorham, now 10-5 on the season, ranks third in AA South at present. The Rams face a couple tough foes in the coming days: South Portland (No. 2, 13-1) on Feb. 1 and Windham (No. 2 in AA North, 10-4) on Feb. 5. They close their regular schedule with TA (No. 3 in AA South, 3-11) on the 7th. The team stumbled at the start of last season but ended up playing State-Final-caliber ball as the tournament dawned, and their hope this year is to do the same.

For that to happen, though, their game will need to take a huge leap forward. They may have played solid defense against Westbrook, but defense cannot be stressed enough, come the postseason.

“If we’re going to duplicate something like [last year’s playoffs run],” Berthiaume said, “our defense has to be better. Our defensive intensity. That part isn’t where it needs to be.”

“Olivia Michaud was back today,” Berthiaume said, “and she’s been in and out most of the season. “I think that might have been her sixth game; she’s coming off her second injury. And she was a big factor for us last year when we turned the corner and played well. So I’m hoping she can get back to the form that she had last year; that certainly would help us.”

Westbrook slips to 3-11. The Blazes occupy 12th in A South, a few slots back from playoffs contention. They meet Kennebunk (No. 4, 8-6) on Jan. 31, Falmouth (No. 11, 1-13) on Feb. 5 and Biddeford (No. 9, 4-10) two days after that. The mathematics of Heal Points is truly arcane, but if Westbrook can pick up – and they appear to have the skillset and heart to do so – another win or two, they might just sneak into the bracketing.

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

Gorham’s Brittany Desjardins fires off a shot over Westbrook defender Libby Cole.

Westbrooker Michaela Russell finds herself in the unenviable position of defending against Gorham superstar Mackenzie Holmes.

Gorham’s Adele Nadeau pushes along the baseline; Blaze Mikayla Van Zandt defends.

Jacqui Hamilton fires off a shot for the Rams.

Westbrook’s Sarah Muka tries for two; Gorham’s Sophia Michaud swoops in to thwart her.

Gorham’s Lauren Fotter and Westbrook’s Jodi Sinnett clash in midair.

Ariana Alcide takes a foul shot for the Blazes.