Freeport junior Caroline Smith splits Gray-New Gloucester defenders Mikaela Ryan, left, and Alexa Thayer during the teams’ Class B South Final Saturday afternoon. Despite Smith’s 24 points, the Falcons lost, 42-31.

Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Gray-New Gloucester 42 Freeport 31

F- 2 9 10 10- 31
GNG- 17 5 8 12- 42

F- Smith 10-3-24, Wall 2-0-4, Groves 1-0-2, Routhier 0-1-1

GNG- Grant 4-6-14, Jordan 4-4-12, Hotham 4-1-11, Ryan 2-1-5

3-pointers:
F (1) Smith 1
GNG (2) Hotham 2

Turnovers:
F- 16
GNG- 12

FTs
F: 4-7
GNG: 12-19

PORTLAND—Freeport’s girls’ basketball team lost two games by an average of 31 points this winter to Gray-New Gloucester and when the Falcons fell behind by 18 points in the second quarter of Saturday’s Class B South Final, another decisive loss appeared in store.

But those expecting Freeport to roll over had no understanding of the Falcons’ heart and character and while the Falcons weren’t able to come back and win, they certainly turned heads with their valiant effort.

The veteran Patriots took it to Freeport early, racing to a 17-2 lead behind nine points from junior captain Jordan Grant.

When junior Eliza Hotham hit a 3-pointer midway through the second quarter, Gray-New Gloucester enjoyed a 22-4 advantage, but slowly, behind junior standout Caroline Smith, Freeport crept back.

A Smith 3, a Smith leaner and a basket from sophomore Hannah Groves allowed the Falcons to cut their deficit to 22-11 at halftime.

The Patriots weren’t able to put Freeport away in the third quarter and when Smith scored on a layup in the final minute, the Falcons only trailed, 30-21.

And Freeport kept creeping closer, as with 3:40 to play, Smith’s baseline jumper made it a six-point advantage.

But that’s as close as the Falcons would get, as a Hotham 3 served as the dagger and Gray-New Gloucester held on for a 42-31 victory.

Despite 24 points from Smith, Freeport’s season came to an end at 16-5, as the Patriots improved to 19-2 and advanced to meet Mt. Desert Island (19-2) in the Class B state final Saturday, March 2 at 1 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena.

“(Freeport) showed a lot of fight for a bunch of underclassmen,” said Gray-New Gloucester coach Mike Andreasen. “It was a street fight for awhile. We absorbed the counter-punch and held them off.”

Back again

After reaching last year’s regional final, and losing to Lake Region, Freeport was decimated by graduation and had a coaching change as well, but the Falcons didn’t miss a beat this winter, as new coach Seth Farrington molded a winner and Smith’s heroics sparked a 14-4 campaign (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories).

Freeport then downed No. 6 Mountain Valley, 49-37, in the quarterfinals and survived No. 7 Cape Elizabeth’s upset bid in overtime, 49-42, in Thursday’s thrilling semifinal to reach the regional final in successive seasons for the first time and just the third time in program history.

Gray-New Gloucester, which was upset by Lake Region in last year’s semifinal round, returned to its accustomed perch atop Class B South this winter, going 16-2, losing only to defending Class A champion Greely twice in close games.. The Patriots advanced with wins over No. 8 Spruce Mountain (49-34) in the quarterfinals and fifth-seeded Wells (48-34) in Thursday’s semifinals.

The teams met twice this year, with Gray-New Gloucester winning decisively on each occasion, 51-22 at home Dec. 13 and 59-26 Feb. 7 in Freeport.

Saturday’s showdown was the fourth-ever postseason encounter between the schools (see sidebar, below) and it while the Falcons gave them everything they could handle, the Patriots remained unbeaten all-time in the playoff series, eliminating Freeport for the third time in four seasons.

Gray-New Gloucester nearly delivered a knockout blow in the first quarter, riding nine points from Grant and five Freeport turnovers to a commanding 15-point lead.

After the Falcons turned the ball over on their first possession, then had a shot blocked on their second, the Patriots went on top to stay with 6:51 to play in the first quarter, when senior Bri Jordan scored on a putback.

After a Freeport turnover, Jordan set up Hotham for a layup and with 5:29 remaining, Hotham scored on a putback, forcing Farrington to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as Grant scored her first points on a contested bank shot, Grant added a foul shot and with 4:10 to go, a putback from senior Mikaela Ryan made it 11-0 and caused Farrington to call timeout again.

This time, the Falcons responded and scored, as Smith was fouled and drained two free throws with 3:08 on the clock, but Grant scored on a putback, Grant took a pass from Hotham and made a layup and Grant hit two foul shot for a 17-2 advantage.

Freeport, behind Smith, then came to life in the second period to crawl back in it.

Smith started the frame with a driving layup, but Gray-New Gloucester got a layup from Jordan and a 3-ball from Hotham before the next seven points went to the Falcons.

Smith got things started with a 3-pointer, then Smith hit a contested leaner before Groves made a layup to pull Freeport within 11, 22-11, at the half.

“We let them off the hook a little bit with the final seven points of the first half,” Andreasen said. “Our first two games against them, the first quarters were both three-point games and in the second and third, we elongated the score. Today was different.”

“Starting slow is on the varsity coach,” Farrington said. “We did some stuff that I over-thought. I have to do better getting them ready to play. Our rebounding was atrocious to say the least. When you control the paint, you control the outcome. They controlled the paint in the first half, rebounds and second chances.” 

Seven Patriots’ turnovers in the second period helped the Falcons rally and Smith had nine of her team’s 11 points in the half. 

Gray-New Gloucester was paced by nine points from Grant and seven from Hotham.

Andreasen kept the Patriots in the locker room for nearly the duration of halftime and when the third quarter began, the Patriots still couldn’t wrap it up.

Smith got a leaner to rattle in to start the second half, but Jordan countered with a pair of free throws, ending a 6-minute, 11-second drought and Freeport’s 9-0 run.

After Smith made a floater, Jordan scored on a putback, but sophomore Rachel Wall scored on a putback and Smith made a spinner in traffic with 3:02 left in the period to cut the deficit to 26-19.

Grant scored her first points since the first quarter, making a contested leaner, and Grant added two foul shots, but in the final minute, Smith drove for a layup to pull the Falcons back within nine, 30-21, heading for the final stanza.

There, Freeport would get as close as six before its valiant effort fell short.

Ryan started the fourth quarter with a jumper and Jordan added a free throw for a 12-point lead.

After Smith drove and laid the ball in with her left hand, Jordan scored on a putback, but Wall hit a bank shot and Smith converted an old-fashioned three-point play (leaner, foul, free throw) to cut the deficit to 35-28.

After Grant made a foul shot, Smith hit a baseline jumper with 3:40 to play and suddenly, the Falcons were only down by six, 36-30.

Enter Hotham.

With Freeport trying to get the ball back, it came in to Grant in the post, who passed it out to Hotham, who let fire from behind the 3-point arc and her shot found nothing but net for a nine-point advantage with 3:01 to play.

“I wasn’t really shooting my best the entire game,” Hotham said. “At that point, I knew we needed that shot. I was open and I took it and I’m really glad it went in. I knew it was going in when I shot it. We weren’t really working together as a team at that point. We regrouped and knew we had to step it up and get more of a lead.”

“As she shot it, I was praying, saying, ‘Please,’ and it was good,” Andreasen said.

“The difference with Gray this year and last was last year it was the Bri Jordan/Jordan Grant Show,” said Farrington. “The other kids have contributed so much this year. That shot was just a dagger.” 

That ended the competitive phase of the contest and down the stretch, Ryan and Falcons junior Lindsay Routhier traded free throws, then Jordan and Hotham added one foul shot apiece to put the finishing touches on the Patriots’ 42-31 victory.

“I’m really glad we got this,” Hotham said “It was definitely a team effort.”

“Our experience was a factor,” Andreasen said. “I see Freeport being where we were a year ago. No seniors in a big game. Early on, they missed some shots because they were nervous. Then they settled down. This is the third regional final for our kids and it helped us down the stretch.” 

Gray-New Gloucester got 14 points and eight rebounds from Grant, 12 points and seven rebounds from Jordan, 11 points from Hotham and five from Ryan.

The Patriots enjoyed a 32-25 rebounding advantage, only turned the ball over a dozen times and hit 12 of 19 free throws.

Another title tilt

Gray-New Gloucester will next face a Mt. Desert Island team in the state game that upset previously undefeated Waterville in the Class B North Final, but the Patriots will have an advantage playing the Trojans in Portland.

Gray-New Gloucester hopes to avenge losses to MDI in the 2001 (42-30) and 2002 (51-48) Class B state finals.

“It feels really good to go back (to states),” Hotham said.

“MDI is very senior-laden,” Andreasen said. “We’ve played here a couple times, but we know no matter where you are, there will be nerves.”

A comeback to be proud of

Freeport, meanwhile, got a spectacular effort from Smith, who had a game-high 24 points and was named the winner of the Mike DiRenzo Award, as the regional tournament’s top player.

“(Caroline’s) just a special kid,” Farrington said. “I wish you could see her in practice, how she leads. I’m so proud of that kid. She’d trade that individual award to be in the winning locker room.”

“Caroline’s solid and she used her body so well,” said Andreasen. “She can take contact and play through it. She’s got a very refined game.”

Wall added four points and six rebounds, Groves had two points and Routhier finished with one.

The Falcons made 4 of 7 free throws and turned the ball over 16 times.

“The culture that we’re trying to build here is about accountability and working hard,” Farrington said. “I kept reiterating that there isn’t an 18-point shot in basketball. Our goal was 10 at half. Stop, score, stop. Our goal at halftime was to cut it to five. We cut it six in the fourth, but we couldn’t make it over the hump.

“People saw our record, but they don’t know we won a lot of single-digit games and had games we were losing in the fourth, but we found a way. That goes back to the competitive drive of our kids.”

Farrington said that the season was a rousing success and that the 2019-20 Falcons have the potential to be even better.

“I hear horror stories about coaching in 2019, but I’m the luckiest man in the world,” Farrington said. “It was the best year for me. We have everybody back, but we’ve got to follow the Gray model of getting better. If we stay stagnant, we won’t win.”

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

Despite being surrounded by four Gray-New Gloucester defenders, Freeport junior Caroline Smith gets a good look.

Gray-New Gloucester’s Jordan Grant is surrounded by Freeport defenders Hannah Spaulding, left, Caroline Smith and Mason Baker-Schlendering.

Gray-New Gloucester shows off its regional championship plaque.

Previous Freeport stories

Season Preview 

Freeport 39 Yarmouth 30 

Freeport 49 Yarmouth 41

Previous Gray-New Gloucester stories 

Gray-New Gloucester 39 Yarmouth 26

Previous Gray-New Gloucester-Freeport playoff results

2017 Class B South quarterfinals
Gray-New Gloucester 57 Freeport 24

2016 Class B South quarterfinals
Gray-New Gloucester 56 Freeport 30

2005 Western B preliminary
Gray-New Gloucester 60 Freeport 54