Freeport senior Caroline Smith, joined by Coach Seth Farrington and former Falcons’ standout Nina Davenport, is honored after scoring her 1,000th point in Friday’s 50-28 home win over Traip Academy. Contributed photo.

BOX SCORE

Freeport 50 Traip Academy 28

TA-  12 6 0 10- 28
F- 16 12 15 7- 50

TA- A. Hale 2-0-5, Huntress 2-0-5, M Sumsion 2-1-5, Salema 1-2-4, Thorsen 1-2-4, McCluskey 1-0-3, E. Hale 1-0-2

F- Smith 8-7-25, Wall 6-0-12, Baker-Schlendering 2-1-5, Gould 2-0-4, Groves 1-0-2, Spaulding 1-0-2

3-pointers:
TA (3) A. Hale, Huntress, McCluskey 1
F (2) Smith 2

Turnovers:
TA- 23
F- 16

FTs
TA: 5-9
F: 8-12

FREEPORT—It wasn’t easy.

But it sure was memorable.

And magical.

Friday evening, Freeport senior Caroline Smith had all eyes on her from the opening tip, as she entered the Falcons’ contest versus visiting Traip Academy 25 points shy of 1,000 for her illustrious career.

Smith would reach the Promised Land, but not without some anxious moments and oh by the way, in the process, she and her teammates once again wound up in the win column.

Smith scored a basket just seven seconds in and while she struggled from downtown, she managed eight first quarter points as Freeport grabbed a 16-12 advantage.

Smith added eight more points in the second period and thanks to some stellar complementary play from juniors Hannah Groves and Rachel Wall, the Falcons were up by 10 points, 28-18, at the half.

Freeport shut out the Rangers in the third period, but Smith managed just four points and in the process, picked up three fouls.

While the Falcons’ victory wasn’t in doubt entering the fourth quarter, Smith’s date with destiny was, but after making a free throw, then scoring on a layup, Smith went to the free throw line with 3:36 to play and coolly drained both attempts to reach the magic number.

After Smith was honored, Freeport went out and put the finishing touches on a 50-28 victory and took another step toward securing the top seed for the Class B South tournament.

Smith finished with exactly the 25 points she needed and the Falcons won their seventh game in succession, improved to 11-3 on the year and in the process, dropped Traip Academy to 6-8.

“It feels great,” said Smith. “It was a long time coming. I’m glad it’s out of the way. Coach (Seth Farrington) said I was getting it tonight, but I hadn’t scored 25 all year.”

Sweet (shooting) Caroline

Smith made an immediate impact on Freeport’s varsity team as a freshman, scoring 131 points.

As a sophomore, Smith scored 244 points and was a Western Maine Conference second-team all-star, helping the Falcons reach the regional final for the first time in 42 years.

As a junior, Smith went off for 384 points, helping Freeport get back to the Class B South Final, where it lost to eventual state champion Gray-New Gloucester. She was named a first-team all-star as well as Freeport’s Winter Female Athlete of the Year by The Forecaster.

This winter, the Falcons entered the season viewed as the team to beat in Class B South and thanks to more excellence from Smith, as well as big-time contributions from her teammates, they’re leading the pack as we near the end of the regular season.

Freeport started the year strong, handling host Poland (48-21), host Lincoln Academy (64-34), visiting Cape Elizabeth (40-23) and visiting Morse (58-19). A tough stretch of schedule then resulted in three straight losses: 58-45 to visiting Greely, the defending Class A champion, 38-33 at Gray-New Gloucester and 72-44 at Greely. The Falcons got back on track with a 41-39 home win over Brunswick, then defeated host Yarmouth (57-47), visiting Gray-New Gloucester (42-27), host Mt. Ararat (55-36), visiting Lake Region (45-26) and visiting Fryeburg Academy (55-39).

Traip Academy, meanwhile, started out 2-5, won four in a row, then dropped its last two outings: 62-50 at Wells and 50-38 at home to Old Orchard Beach.

The teams met a year ago in Kittery and Freeport prevailed, 52-32.

Friday, the Rangers looked to beat the Falcons for the first time since Feb. 4, 2011, but instead, Freeport made it nine straight victories in the series with Smith leading the way.

It was clear from the opening tip that Freeport intended to get Smith the ball as much as possible and that she had the green light to shoot from anywhere on the floor.

Just seven seconds in, Smith scored on a contested leaner, but she would miss her next four shots as Traip Academy hung tough.

A layup by Wall made it 4-0, but the Rangers got a putback from junior Addy Hale and a 3-point shot from junior Kiki Huntress for what proved to be their lone lead of the game.

A Wall jumper, after a steal from senior Catriona Gould, put the Falcons back in the lead and with 4:08 to go in the opening stanza, Smith drove for a layup, but a 3-point shot from junior Jennifer McCluskey pulled Traip Academy even at 8-8.

After Wall made a layup after a steal, McCluskey set up senior Marlee Sumsion for a layup which tied the game one final time.

With 2:34 left in the first, Groves made a layup and 33 seconds later, after grabbing an offensive rebound, Smith was fouled and sank both free throws.

Freshman Emme Hale hit a long jumper for the visitors, but with 42.4 seconds remaining, Smith’s contested left-handed leaner gave Freeport a 16-12 lead.

Smith had eight points in the frame, but it took her nine shots from the floor and two from the charity stripe to get there.

Wall played a huge role as well, scoring six points and producing three steals.

“Rachel has become one of our best players,” said Farrington .”Her work ethic, drive and athleticism are great. We’re counting on her skill set. She’s a tireless worker. She has a lunchbox mentality. She chases down loose balls. What she does doesn’t always show up in the box score.”

The Falcons then tried to pull away in the second period, but couldn’t do so.

After freshman Gracie Salema made a pair of free throws for the Rangers to open the frame, Smith countered with one foul shot, then made a layup.

After a Sumsion free throw, Gould set up Wall for a layup in transition, then Smith fed Wall for another layup and a 23-15 lead.

With 2:57 to go in the first half, a 3-point shot from Addy Hale pulled Traip Academy within 23-18, but the Rangers wouldn’t score again for a long, long time.

Fifty-two seconds later, Smith came around a screen and buried a 3-pointer and with 1:06 left before halftime, after a Groves steal, Smith hit a jumper which put Freeport up, 28-18.

Smith had 16 first half points, while Wall added 10.

The Falcons then ended the competitive phase of the contest in the third quarter, outscoring Traip Academy, 15-0.

Gould started the second half by getting a jumper to rattle in and Smith followed with a pull-up 3-pointer.

The rest of the quarter would be one of frustration for Smith, however, as she managed just one more point while being whistled three times for fouls.

After a Wall putback, Gould hit a jumper and Smith’s free throw made it 38-18.

Sophomore Mason Baker-Schlendering then got in the scoring column with a free throw and a layup (off a Smith feed) before a jump shot from senior Hannah Spaulding made it 43-18 Freeport heading to the fourth period.

With the competitive phase of the game over, the only remaining drama involved Smith’s quest for 1,000.

Traip Academy wasn’t going make it easy for her and the weight of the moment was palpable, but Smith would send her legion of fans home happy.

The Rangers started the final stanza with a pair of free throws from freshman Hannah Thorsen (which ended an 11-minute, 16-second drought) and a putback from Huntress, but with 6:31 to go, Smith made the second of two free throws for her 21st point and a 44-22 lead.

After Thorsen scored on a putback, Smith took a pass from Wall and drove for a left-handed layup with 5:24 left, putting her within two points of immortality.

Smith had a couple chances to finish the job from the floor but couldn’t get her shot to drop.

With 3:36 to go, after missing a shot, Smith got her own rebound and was fouled.

Smith made her first free throw, then, at 8:06 p.m., calmly drained the second for her 25th point of the night and the 1,000th of her career and she was immediately swarmed by her teammates.

Freeport’s girls’ basketball team engulfs senior Caroline Smith after her fourth quarter free throw gave her 1,000 points for her career. Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

“It was a relief,” Smith said. “I was ready for it to be over. It was hard for me to be selfish. Getting 25 points was no walk in the park. I had some bad shots, but my teammates were supportive. I thought it was going to be another five minutes because I hadn’t shot well from the free throw line, but I made the first one, then I don’t remember much after that. I’m just so thankful for having such great teammates.”

“(Caroline’s) a really good friend of mine,” Wall said. “It will be so hard when she leaves. She’s set me up for success on varsity. I’m so proud of her to get 1,000 points. The energy motivated us so much. When she got within two points, you could tell. It was incredible when she made (that free throw).”

“Caroline’s a generational-type talent,” Farrington added. “She does it all for us. People don’t realize that by the end of her career, she’ll probably play more games than anyone in Freeport history. She’s been part of two deep (playoff) runs and could be part of a third. She’s played a lot and as great a basketball player she is, she’s an even more phenomenal kid. It’s an honor to coach her.

“We wanted to get it over with, but it’s hard to score 25 points in a varsity game. She got it done. I thought her teammates did a good job trying to get her open and facilitate her. It was nice to see them happy for her success.”

In a quick ceremony following her final free throw, Smith was congratulated by two of Freeport’s three prior 1,000-point scorers, Staci Williams (who is Hannah Groves’ mother and reached the milestone in 1994) and Nina Davenport, who reached 1,000-points in 2014 and went on to star at Bates College (Natasha Dyer, 2001 was the other).

“It meant so much having Nina here,” Smith said. “I great up watching her here and at Bates. It was super-cool to have her here tonight.”

Smith soon left the game to a standing ovation and down the stretch, Baker-Schlendering hit a leaner for Freeport’s final points before both Sumsion and Salema made layups for the Rangers to account for the 50-28 final score.

“We just had to keep our heads down and keep working,” Smith said. “We tend to keep games close.”

“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t working as a team as much,” Wall said. “Now, we’re so close and everything has come together for us. We have a lot of good athletes.”

Smith made eight field goals, including a pair of 3s, and seven free throws to account for her 25 points. She also had eight rebounds, six steals and three assists.

Wall continued her strong play with 12 points, six steals, five rebounds and three assists.

“Halfway through sophomore year, Coach said I was a threat in the post, but I had to initiate a jump shot,” Wall said. “I’ve been practicing my shot a lot and having that has helped my game a lot.”

“I’m unbelievably proud of Rachel,” said Smith. “She’s one of the sole reasons we made a run last year. She worked so hard. I’m grateful for her.”

Groves only had two points, but finished with a game-high 13 rebounds.

Baker-Schlendering added five points (along with nine rebounds and two blocked shots), Gould had four points, four assists and three steals and Spaulding finished with two points.

Freeport enjoyed a 42-28 advantage on the glass, made 8-of-12 free throws and overcame 16 turnovers.

Traip Academy got five points apiece from Addy Hale (four steals), Huntress (four rebounds) and Sumsion. Salema (six rebounds) and Thorsen (five rebounds, four blocks) each contributed four points, while McCluskey had three and Emme Hale two.

The Rangers turned the ball over 23 times and made 5-of-9 free throws.

“I didn’t do a good enough job with our pick-and-roll defense (in the first half) and they got open shots,” Farrington said. “We had to fix that and we did.”

Top seed available

Traip Academy (now 10th in the Class C South Heal Points standings) is back in action Tuesday at North Yarmouth Academy.

Freeport, meanwhile, has a big week upcoming, as it visits York Tuesday, then has a home showdown versus Yarmouth Saturday, Feb. 1. A pivotal test at Wells Feb. 4 and a contest at Lake Region two nights later wrap up the regular season.

If the Falcons finish strong, they’ll wind up where everyone expected, as the top seed for the Class B South tournament.

“We have such good competition,” Smith said. “Having to battle through those games prepares us. We have to work harder than we’ve worked up until this point. We won’t let being the one seed go to our heads. We’ll take it one game at a time.”

“It’s a great opportunity, but being (number one) isn’t what we’re focusing on,” said Wall. “We’re focusing on something greater, as we say.”

“We want to play our best basketball in February,” Farrington added. “The girls do a really good job of one game at a time. Ten minutes from now, we’ll think about York. We need to come up with a game plan and execute it and find a way to beat them.

“We just want to play really good basketball. The scoreboard will take of itself. If we play the right way, we’ll be tough to beat. We’re progressing the right way. We could be better in halfcourt execution, but defensively, we’re as good as anyone.”

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

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