Scarborough’s reserves jump for joy during the Red Storm’s 39-32 win over three-time defending regional champion Gorham in Tuesday’s Class AA South semifinals. Scarborough will battle South Portland in the regional final Friday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—Scarborough’s second-ranked girls’ basketball team overcame a sluggish start and rode the hot shooting of junior Julia Freeman and a strong defensive effort that held Gorham senior standout Mackenzie Holmes under her scoring average to a 39-32 victory over the third-seeded Rams in Tuesday morning’s Class AA South quarterfinal at the Cross Insurance Arena.

Freeman had 21 points and senior Josie Couture added 10 to help the Red Storm improve to 18-2, end the Rams’ three-year regional title reign and their season at 13-7 and set up a showdown with top-ranked South Portland (19-1) in the Class AA South Final Friday at 3:45 p.m., at CIA.

“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Couture said. “It’s amazing. We’re all on cloud nine right now.”

Three for three

Gorham has dominated the region the past three years, winning the Class AA titles in 2016 and 2017 and getting to the state final last winter before losing a controversial, one-point heartbreaker to Edward Little.

This season, like last, the Rams struggled during the regular season, going 12-6, but Gorham won four of is final five contests, and finished third in Class AA South. Last Thursday, the Rams defeated sixth-seeded Sanford, 56-37, in the quarterfinals.

Scarborough, meanwhile, lost early to South Portland, then won 12 in a row before losing to Portland. The Red Storm managed to earn the No. 2 seed, then overcame a slow start to dispatch No. 7 Massabesic, 41-29, in last week’s quarterfinal round.

Scarborough won both regular season encounters, 50-36 at Gorham Dec. 21 and 44-36 at home Jan. 10.

The Rams had won all three prior playoff encounters: 43-35 in the 1998 Western B quarterfinals, 62-53 in the 1999 Western B Final and 47-28 in last year’s Class AA South Final.

Tuesday, the Red Storm managed to do something many wondered if they could, beat a good team three times.

Gorham got out to a fast start thanks to a Holmes 3-pointer and a Holmes leaner which rattled home.

Freeman got the Red Storm on the board with a layup after a steal, but a free throw from sophomore Olivia Michaud and driving layup from Holmes gave the Rams their biggest lead, 8-2.

Freeman countered with a baseline jumper and senior Couture’s 3-pointer pulled Scarborough within one before a coast-to-coast layup from sophomore Lauren Fotter put the Rams ahead, 10-7, after eight minutes.

Holmes had seven points in the quarter.

The Red Storm then erupted behind Freeman in the second period to hold the halftime lead.

Freeman scored the first eight points of the frame, first banking home a shot, then draining a pair of 3-pointers for Scarborough’s first advantage, 15-10.

“I didn’t use a time out (down early) and tried to let the kids play through it,” said Red Storm coach Mike Giordano. “I told them the first team that settles in has the best chance to win. I told the kids at 8-4, ‘You’re down four and you haven’t even played well.'” 

Back came Gorham as senior Brittany Desjardin set up Holmes for a layup and Holmes passed to freshman Anna Nelson for a layup.

Freeman countered with another 3, but Holmes made a 3 and junior Jacqui Hamilton made a layup to put the Rams on top.

With 24.3 seconds remaining, Holmes picked up her second foul and Freeman sank two free throws to give the Red Storm a 20-19 edge.

“The key for me was warmups,” Freeman said. “Freshman year, I air-balled my first shot, so I focused a lot in warmups on taking shots from different areas and just focusing on the rim. We were down and we knew we had to get back on top. We knew the offense had to kick in and once I hit my first shot, I felt comfortable.”

Freeman had 17 points in the half, while Holmes led Gorham with 12.

The second half began slowly before both teams heated up.

The only point in the first three minutes-plus was a free throw from Scarborough sophomore Kayla Conley. 

After junior Madison Blanche drove for a layup and a four-point Red Storm lead, Holmes made a fadeaway jumper while being fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and after a steal from sophomore Adele Nadeau steal, Michaud fed Holmes for a layup and the lead.

Scarborough then scored the next seven points to take the lead for good.

Junior Bella Dickinson got things started with a runner.

Freeman added two foul shots and Couture’s 3 made it 30-24 with 1:52 left in the quarter.

Hamilton set up freshman Brylee Bishop for a layup to cut the deficit to four, but as time wound down and the Rams looked to draw closer, Dickinson stole the ball and set up Freeman for a layup and a 32-26 advantage heading to the final stanza.

“There were plays like that all game long where we were right there but we couldn’t convert when we needed to,” Gorham coach Laughn Berthiaume lamented.

“Those types of things do swing a game,” Giordano said.

No one scored in the fourth until 4:34 remained, when Holmes scored on a putback, but after Freeman somehow passed out of a double-team to Couture, Couture set up Conley for a layup to restore the six-point lead.

Then, with 2:56 to go, Couture’s 3 served as the dagger.

“We told (Josie) in our game plan, she had to make a couple shots to get Mackenzie away from the basket,” Giordano said. “She did that.”

Holmes scored on a putback 21 seconds later, but Couture made a free throw, then Blanche added another before Holmes’ final high school points, a leaner with 11.4 seconds to play, brought the curtain down on Scarborough’s 39-32 victory.

“I think we knew the whole time we had the right game plan and we have the perfect team to take into this tournament,” Freeman said. “We were all confident. No one let their head hang. We all worked together.”

“We had to keep our composure and not panic and we stayed together,” Couture said.

“To beat such a quality team that’s had so much success here, with the best player I think in the state, maybe New England, it’s very special,” added Giordano. “We actually didn’t want to see them a third time, but we just stuck with our game plan. It’s tough anytime down here. It’s the Final Four. We had to execute. We didn’t execute our free throws well, but we had enough of a cushion.”

Freeman led the way with 21 points.

“The last third of the season, (Julia’s) been our constant scorer,” Giordano said. “She’s played great.”

Couture had 10 points, four steals, three offensive rebounds and she spearheaded a tremendous defensive effort.

“We know (Mackenzie’s) an extraordinary player and we knew she was going to get a lot of points, so we kind of focused on doing our part in minimizing what she can do and limiting everyone around her too and I think we did a good job,” Couture said. 

“We tried to make it difficult on Mackenzie,” Giordano said. “You try to hold her under 30 and make them try the other kids.”

Blanche and Conley added three points and apiece and Dickinson finished with two.

The Red Storm made just 7 of 17 free throws, but took terrific care of the ball, only turning it over eight times.

For Gorham, Holmes bowed out with a 23-point, 13-rebound, 4-blocked shot performance.

“Time’s going really going to tell, but in my opinion, she’s a kid who’s a future Hall of Famer,” Berthiaume said. “She’s had an amazing influence on the kids playing basketball in our community and possibly farther than our community. A lot of kids aspire to be Mackenzie Holmes.”

Bishop, Fotter, Hamilton and Nelson each had two points and Michaud added one.

The Rams had a 28-26 rebounding edge and hit 2 of 3 foul shots, but were done in by 19 turnovers.

“I thought we missed a couple of opportunities to rebound and second chance points hurt us, but I thought my kids played hard,” said Berthiaume. “We just struggled with the turnovers. It’s about getting a certain number of shots off. To their credit, Scarborough put the pressure on and we didn’t handle it like I thought we would.

“What I take from the season is how enjoyable it was to be around the kids and how much fun we had and how disappointed we are that it’s over. That shows how special our bond was.

“We’ll be different next year, but we had a number of young kids on the team this year and we’ll go back to work and hope to get back here.”

Seeing red

Looking ahead to Friday, South Portland has been the team to beat this winter, but the Red Storm believe that the Red Riots, who handled No. 5 Bonny Eagle, 58-35, in their semifinal Tuesday, are beatable.

The Red Storm are 3-2 all-time versus the Red Riots in the postseason, beginning in 2009, with a 43-27 setback in the 2017 Class AA South semifinals serving as the most recent.

On Dec. 18, Scarborough lost, 55-36, at South Portland.

As far as the Red Storm are concerned, that was a long time ago and they’re far better equipped this time around.

“We’ll focus on rebounding and boxing out because we know our shots won’t always fall,” Couture said.

“Last year was the best feeling in the world and I can’t wait to go back,” Freeman said. “We like to be the dark horse. I think it could be even more special.”

“Obviously, (South Portland’s) had the best year of anybody and they’ll be a difficult out, but I think we have the kids who know how to play the way we need to play to be successful,” added Giordano, who formerly coached the Red Riots. “We’re a better rebounding team now. They killed us on the glass the first game. We have to rebound better.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Gorham sophomore Olivia Michaud defends Scarborough junior Julia Freeman. Freeman paced the Red Storm with 21 points.

Scarborough senior Josie Couture keeps a close eye on Gorham senior Mackenzie Holmes. Couture and Company helped keep Holmes under her scoring average.

Gorham sophomore Olivia Michaud tries to drive on Scarborough junior Julia Freeman.