BOX SCORE

Freeport 37 Cape Elizabeth 32

CE- 8 8 4 12- 32
F- 8 12 9 8- 37

CE- Chapin 5-2-12, Berman 3-1-8, Conley 3-0-7, Supple 2-0-5

F- Baker-Schlendering 5-0-10, Smith 4-2-10, Wall 3-1-7, Gould 3-0-6, Brier 1-0-2, Groves 1-0-2

3-pointers:
CE (3) Berman, Conley, Supple
F (0)

Turnovers:
CE- 18
F- 13

FTs
CE: 3-5
F: 3-8

PORTLAND—Freeport’s top-ranked girls’ basketball team knew it would get everything it could handle and more when it battled No. 8 Cape Elizabeth in a Class B South quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at the Portland Exposition Building.

But these Falcons have a singular focus, getting to a state final for the first time in 44 years, and thanks to the effort of players both expected and unexpected, managed to pull out a close one.

Freeport shot to a quick 6-0 lead, but the Capers rallied and behind a three-point play from senior Karli Chapin, tied it, 8-8, after one period.

Cape Elizabeth twice took a lead in the second quarter, but a jumper from senior Catriona Gould put the Falcons on top to stay and they held a 20-16 advantage at halftime.

Freeport appeared primed to pull away when it scored the final five points of the third period to go up, 29-20, but the Capers twice crept back within five points before the Falcons’ two most highly-touted players, senior Caroline Smith and junior Rachel Wall, teamed up for a clinching layup which allowed Freeport to go on to a 37-32 victory.

The Falcons got 10 points apiece from Smith and sophomore Mason Baker-Schlendering as they improved to 15-4, ended Cape Elizabeth’s campaign at 8-11 and in the process, advanced to the Class B South semifinals to meet No. 5 Yarmouth (11-8) Thursday at 3:30 p.m., at the Expo.

“(Cape) did a great job,” said Freeport coach Seth Farrington. “(Cape Elizabeth coach) Chris (Casterella) had her kids ready to play. This wasn’t a typical 1-vs.-8 game. It came down to execution in the halfcourt and we did a lot of good things. Enough to advance. We knew it would come down to the end, a couple plays here and a couple plays there.”

Team effort

Last year, in the teams’ first-ever playoff encounter, Smith helped rescue Freeport from a late deficit and the Falcons turned it on in overtime to advance, 49-42.

Freeport went on to the regional final for the second year in a row, but for the second straight season, fell short, 42-31, against eventual  state champion Gray-New Gloucester.

Freeport came into the 2019-20 campaign as the favorite in the region and didn’t disappoint, losing just four times, with two of those setbacks coming against two-time defending Class A champion Greely. The Falcons also lost once to Gray-New Gloucester and Wells, but handled everyone else to earn the top seed for the first time (see sidebar, above, for links to previous stories).

Cape Elizabeth took a different road to the tournament, having to wait until the absolute final hour before learning it made the cut. The Capers were competitive throughout, but suffered some tough losses en route to an 8-10 record. Still, that was good enough to earn Cape Elizabeth the eighth and final seed in the region.

The teams played way back on Dec. 12 in Freeport and after a close first half, the Falcons went on to a 40-23 victory.

Saturday, the game was close throughout and Freeport did just enough to prevail.

Gould scored on a putback to open the scoring 44 seconds in and after Smith got a pull-up jumper to rattle in and Smith fed Baker-Schlendering for a layup with 4:32 on the first quarter clock, the Falcons were out to a 6-0 lead.

The Capers then settled in and after Chapin broke the ice with a short jumper and senior captain Abby Brier answered with a jumper for Freeport, sophomore Emily Supple hit a long 3-pointer, then Chapin converted an old-fashioned three-point play (leaner, foul, free throw) to tie the score, 8-8, after one period.

Smith ended the Falcons’ 5-minute, 22-second scoring drought with a putback early in the second quarter, but freshman Meghan Conley tied the game again with a short jumper.

After Wall set up Baker-Schlendering for a layup, Cape Elizabeth went ahead for the first time, as a long 3-pointer from senior Isabel Berman made it 13-12.

Baker-Schlendering finished a feed from Brier to put Freeport back on top, but Conley banked home a runner for what proved to be the Capers’ final lead, 15-14.

After Baker-Schlendering knocked down a jumper from the foul line, Chapin tied the game with a free throw, but with 2:27 left in the half, Gould’s jumper put the Falcons in the lead for good and Gould added a coast-to-coast layup for a 20-16 halftime advantage.

In the first half, Baker-Schlendering led all scorers with eight points, while Chapin paced Cape Elizabeth with six.

Freeport then appeared to gain some separation in the third period.

After Chapin set up Berman for a layup to open the second half and pull the Capers within two, Baker-Schlendering scored on a putback, Wall scored her first points on a layup after a steal and after Supple made a floater for Cape Elizabeth, Wall sank one free throw, Smith hit two and with 1:29 to go, Gould set up junior Hannah Groves for a layup to extend the lead to 29-20.

But the Capers refused to buckle and hung tough until the final horn.

Chapin opened the final stanza with a leaner in the lane, but Smith countered with a runner off the glass to restore the nine-point advantage.

Berman hit a jumper, then with 4:48 to play, a Chapin layup after a steal pulled Cape Elizabeth within five, 31-26.

Smith answered with a jumper 17 seconds later, then Wall made a layup with 3:13 left, to seemingly ice it, but after Berman made a free throw, Conley calmly drained a 3 to make the score 35-30 with 1:50 still to go.

Berman then had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but she missed in close.

The Capers got another chance after Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one, but they turned the ball over and with 34.3 seconds remaining, Smith set up Wall for a layup which proved to be the dagger.

Chapin scored two final points, on a floater, but Freeport managed to run out the clock and survive, 37-32.

“We just stayed positive,” said Gould. “We knew (the Capers) were a scrappy team and we had to keep our heads in the game. We stayed locked in on defense. Made sure we communicated on screens and focused. ”

“Our defense stepped up and that was helpful for us,” Baker-Schlendering said.

Baker-Schlendering had a solid performance of 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots, as her height advantage proved too much for Cape Elizabeth to counter.

“Using our size is a main thing we try to do in a game,” said Baker-Schlendering.

“We’re bigger than most teams, so we want to take advantage,” Farrington said.

Smith also had 10 points, but she had to work for them. Smith also had four rebounds and three assists.

Wall added seven points (all coming after halftime), as well as four steals.

Gould continued her strong play with six points.

“Catriona played Catriona’s game,” Farrington said. “I think she’s the most improved player in the state.”

Brier and Groves added two points apiece.

The Falcons turned the ball over 13 times and made just 3-of-8 foul shots, but still had enough to hang on.

So close…again

Cape Elizabeth was led by Chapin, who had a game-high 12 points, as well as five rebounds and four steals. She also used her defensive ability to hold Smith in check.

Chapin, who has etched her name in school legend with championship game-winning goals in both soccer and lacrosse, made a mark in basketball as well and won’t soon be forgotten.

“I put Chapin on Smith because Chapin is as good an athlete as Cape will produce,” said Casterella. “Caroline has basketball skills, but Chapin is a competitor. She did a great job. I can’t speak enough to her heart and competitiveness.”

Berman added eight points, Conley had seven and Supple wound up with five (to go with five rebounds).

The Capers had a 26-25 rebounding advantage, but turned the ball over 18 times and made just 3-of-5 free throws.

“We made it a game,” Casterella said. “The kids have nothing to hang their heads about. We were without our leading scorer (junior Alison Gerety, who was sidelined with a concussion) against a team that beat us by 17 earlier this season. This says a lot about where we are. We had a chance. If a few shots went in, it would have been a lot closer. Effort-wise, I can’t fault my kids at all. We got off to a slow start. It could have been a lot worse. We held the number one seed in B to under 40 points. It was a winnable game. It was wire-to-wire and the kids executed our game plan exactly. Tip your cap to Freeport. They made the shots to win.

“We learned a lot and got better. I was thrilled we made the tournament and gave Freeport a run.”

In addition to graduating Chapin, Cape Elizabeth has to say goodbye to Berman and reserve Addie Whalen, but the Capers will return Conley, Gerety and Supple, among others, and should have the pieces in place to compete next winter.

“We have multi-sport athletes at Cape, so we come in in November and they haven’t touched a ball for three months and it takes us awhile,” Casterella said. “The attitude and commitment are there, but the actual basketball play takes us awhile. We always seem to play our best at the end. Somehow, hopefully, we can get some extra work in the offseason to take the next step.”

A third meeting

Yarmouth will get a third crack at Freeport in the semifinals. The Clippers twice gave the Falcons a battle in the regular season, but fell at home (57-47) Jan. 9 and lost at 10 at the Falcons (52-42) Feb. 1.

The teams have no playoff history.

Yarmouth has the benefit of coming into the game with nothing to lose, as has been the case all season, Freeport is expected to win.

“There’s pressure, but we can handle it,” said Gould. “There’s a lot of experience on the team. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Staying motivated and focused.”

“We want this and that pushes us,” said Baker-Schlendering. “We have to play like we typically play, knowing we beat (Yarmouth), but we knowing they can beat us. We just have to have that in mind.”

“I think we have pressure and I think there should be,” Farrington added. “I want to coach in a place with pressure. It’s better than zero expectations. I don’t think it affects the girls. They’re focused.

“We have two days to get ready for Yarmouth. Every game with them has been a battle. Credit to them. We’ll have to play really well if we want to win.”

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

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