BOX SCORE

Yarmouth 50 Freeport 40

Y- 13 6 9 22- 50
F- 10 5 14 11- 40

Y- McNeil 5-4-16, D’Appolonia 5-2-12, Panozzo 4-1-12, Feeley 2-0-6, McGonagle 2-0-4

F- Baker-Schlendering 7-0-14, Wall 3-4-10, Gould 4-0-9, Smith 2-3-7

3-pointers:
Y (7) Panozzo 3, Feeley, McNeil 2
F (1) Gould 1

Turnovers:
Y- 26
F- 18

FTs
Y: 7-11
F: 7-16

PORTLAND—It was supposed to be Freeport’s year.

Yarmouth was supposed to be a year away.

But no one shared that information with the Clippers girls’ basketball team, which has arrived ahead of schedule.

And in the process, dealt a painful blow to the top-ranked Falcons.

Tuesday afternoon in a Class B South semifinal at the Portland Exposition Building, fifth-ranked Yarmouth, which twice let leads slip away in regular season losses to Freeport, saw multiple players rise to the occasion to produce the program’s biggest victory in 15 seasons.

Sophomore point guard extraordinaire Katelyn D’Appolonia set the tone with an early layup and sophomore reserve Maya Panozzo, who has been stellar off the bench this tournament, drained a late 3-pointer to put the Clippers ahead, 13-10, after one period.

With Yarmouth’s defense completely stymieing the Falcons’ high-octane attack, Yarmouth rode the offense of D’Applonia and junior Margaret McNeil, who had the game of her life, to a 19-15 halftime advantage.

The Clippers went up by nine, 28-19, on a McNeil jumper midway through the third quarter, but Freeport finally roared to life, scoring 10 straight points, capped by a highlight reel behind the back pass from senior standout Caroline Smith to classmate Catriona Gould for a layup and a 29-28 lead heading for the fourth period.

There, just when it appeared the Falcons were primed to get the job done and advance, it would be Yarmouth making the clutch shots and the critical plays.

With the contest tied, 33-33, Panozzo knocked down the biggest shot of her life to date, a 3-pointer, to put the Clippers ahead to stay with 5:36 on the clock.

Forty-five seconds later, Panozzo made another 3 and Yarmouth got a little breathing room.

Freeport tried its best to rally, as Smith pulled her team within six, but that’s as close as the Falcons would get and a breakaway layup from D’Appolonia slammed the door on a stunning 50-40 Clippers’ upset victory.

McNeil led the way with a sensational stat line of 16 points and 15 rebounds, D’Appolonia and Panozzo each added 12 points and Yarmouth improved to 12-8, ended Freeport’s fine season at 15-5 and in the process, advanced to its first regional final since 2005, where it will meet No. 3 Wells (14-6) Friday at 2 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena, where a trip to the state final will hang in the balance.

“How good is this for Yarmouth basketball?” said Clippers’ coach Dave Cousins. “It wasn’t easy, but you have to figure it out. What I’ve said to the team all year and they responded tonight, is that there’s an art to winning and when you need to make shots, you do and tonight, we did. What a time to do it.”

First time

It’s fair to say that Tuesday’s showdown was the biggest game ever between Freeport and Yarmouth’s girls’ teams, as it was the first time the neighbors ever squared off in the tournament.

It didn’t come as a big surprise that the two teams advanced that far, as both have demonstrated stellar play during the course of the season.

Freeport was the preseason favorite and didn’t disappoint, winning 14 games and earning the top seed in the region before holding on for a 37-32 victory over No. 8 Cape Elizabeth in Saturday’s quarterfinal round (see sidebar, above, for links to previous stories).

Yarmouth didn’t win as consistently in the regular season, but still went 10-8, then impressed in its quarterfinal Saturday, running away from No. 5 Mountain Valley, 52-23, to reach the semifinals for the first time since the 2005 squad went all the way to the state final.

Freeport won both regular season meetings by 10 points (57-47 in Yarmouth and 52-42 at home), but neither came easily.

Tuesday, the Falcons hoped to beat their rival for a third time (never an easy thing), but the Clippers played with poise and played bracket-buster in dramatic fashion.

Yarmouth struck first, as McNeil grabbed a rebound and flung a long pass ahead to D’Appolonia for a layup.

Back came Freeport, as junior Rachel Wall made a short jumper and Gould set up sophomore Mason Baker-Schlendering for a layup.

With 3:26 to go in the first quarter, Clippers’ senior captain Avery May picked up her third foul and had to sit the remainder of the half, but her teammates responded, as McNeil drove for a layup, then McNeil corralled an offensive rebound while flying out of bounds and sent the ball right to D’Appolonia for an easy layup and a 6-4 lead.

The Falcons then got a leaner from Smith and a putback from Baker-Schlendering, but Panozzo scored her first point on a free throw and McNeil knocked down a 3.

After Smith fed Baker-Schlendering for a short jumper, Panozzo  hit a 3 just before the horn to put Yarmouth on top, 13-10, after eight minutes.

Baker-Schlendering had six points in the frame, while McNeil paced the Clippers with five.

“A fast start was huge for us,” McNeil said. “It’s a game of momentum and we needed it.”

In the second quarter, Yarmouth turned the ball over a whopping 11 times, but still managed to add to the lead, thanks in large part to McNeil doing a little of everything.

Thirty seconds into the frame, Gould hit a 3 to pull Freeport even, but with 5:47 left in the half, D’Appolonia gave the Clippers the lead with two free throws.

McNeil then set up D’Appolonia for a layup and with 1:47 remaining, McNeil’s putback gave Yarmouth a six-point advantage.

With 24.8 seconds to go in the half, Gould took a pass from senior Lindsay Routhier and made a layup to snap a 7-minute, 6-second drought, but the Falcons still were down four, 19-15, at the break.

In the first half, McNeil set the tone with seven points and nine rebounds and D’Appolonia led all scorers with eight points.

Freeport came out with intensity to start the second half and pulled within two just 12 seconds in on a pair of Wall free throws, but junior Calin McGonagle drove for a layup and her first points, freshman phenom Ava Feeley sank a 3 and McGonagle hit a jumper for a 26-17 lead.

Wall countered with a layup, but McNeil’s jumper restored the nine-point advantage.

The Falcons then finally hit their stride, holding Yarmouth scoreless the final 3:24 of the frame, while ripping off 10 quick points for the lead.

The comeback began when Gould fed Baker-Schlendering for a layup.

Smith then set up Wall for a layup and Baker-Schlendering took a pass from Smith and made another layup to cut the deficit to three.

With 1:41 left in the quarter, Wall was forced to sit with her fourth foul, but Gould scored on a putback, then after a turnover, Smith raced in and delivered a perfect behind-the-back bounce pass to Gould, who made the layup to cap the run in palpitating fashion for a 29-28 Freeport advantage, which held into the fourth period.

But just when the Falcons appeared to have the game trending in their direction, the Clippers saved their best for last and completed their biggest victory in 15 years.

Just 18 seconds into the fourth, Feeley calmed drained a 3 to put Yarmouth back in the lead.

Smith made one free throw with 6:47 remaining, then hit another with 5:49 on the clock to tie it, but McNeil set up Panozzo for a layup and a 33-31 lead 13 seconds later.

Freeport would draw even one final time with 5:22 left, as Baker-Schlendering scored on a putback, but at the other end, McNeil set up Panozzo for a 3-point shot and it found nothing but net to give the Clippers the lead for good, 36-33.

“We put our heads down and knew we still had it,” Panozzo said. “We just had to keep going. I just stared at the basket and focused. I knew it was huge to make it. If just felt good off my hand.”

“Maya’s first two shots were airballs, but shooters shoot and I told her to keep shooting,” said Cousins. “She had confidence and blocked it out and did it.”

After neither team scored for over a minute, McNeil added to the lead with a 3-pointer. Smith answered with a free throw, but with 3:12 to go, Panozzo took a pass from D’Appolonia and launched a 3 from the corner, which again found its mark to stretch the lead to 42-34.

“I knew it was going in because I have so much confidence in how (Maya) can shoot,” said D’Appolonia. “She’s improved so much. She’s a big asset for us.”

“(Maya’s) a phenomenal shooter,” McNeil said. “I knew those were going to go in. Those were big for her.

“We just took a breath. We knew we just had to get back to playing how we did the first two quarters when we were in control.”

The Falcons tried to answer, as Wall made two free throws and after a layup following a steal by D’Appolonia, Baker-Schlendering scored on a putback with 2:30 left to make the score 44-38.

With 2:06 to play, after Wall made a tremendous save to keep possession, Smith was fouled and went to the line with a chance to make the game even closer, but she missed two free throws and after the second miss, Wall was called for her fifth foul, sending her to the bench for the duration of the contest.

Gould then stole the ball and had a chance to cut into the deficit, but she missed a shot and with 1:38 remaining, McNeil was fouled and calmly sank both attempts to stretch the lead to eight.

Seven seconds later, Smith scored what proved to be the final points in her illustrious career, on a contested bank shot to make it 46-40, but that would be it for Freeport’s offense.

D’Appolonia then broke through the press and went all the way for a layup and after McNeil sank one free throw, McNeil made one final foul shot for good measure with 6.9 seconds to play and the upset was complete.

Yarmouth 50 Freeport 40.

“It’s amazing, especially after not winning the first round for 15 years, getting to the third round is great,” D’Appolonia said. “We were a little worried coming in, but we knew we had it in us to win it. An early lead was huge and gave us momentum for the rest of the game. We had to keep playing our game and forget about what they did.”

“Everyone is so excited, we were just shaking,” said Panozzo. “The stakes were higher this game and we really wanted it so badly. They like to push the floor and they’re really big. We’re not as big as them, so we had to focus on defense.”

“Freeport’s a great team that’s well-coached,” McNeil said. “I knew we just had to step up and get it done. A lot of it had to do with intensity. We were low-energy the first two games (we played them). We knew we had to be hyped for this game. We knew we needed to not let them penetrate because they could finish or kick it out for a shot.”

“We had a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors down the stretch and I thought we held it together pretty well,” Cousins added. “We found out last year it’s hard to beat somebody three times (losing to Wells in the quarterfinals after sweeping the Warriors in the regular season). Tonight, we just played hard for 32 minutes. There was a stretch when we didn’t do well against their penetration and they had three easy baskets, but we didn’t fold and we came back. That’s the belief these kids have. We talked about the fact we needed to execute and make every possession count, but it was more about the defensive end, because the longer we stayed in the game, the more pressure was on them. We showed maturity.”

McNeil played like a champion, not only scoring a game-high 16 points, but also collecting a game-high 15 rebounds, while also dishing out six assists and producing two steals and a pair of blocked shots.

“I knew what was at stake and I didn’t want this to be our last game,” said McNeil. “I knew what we were going up against.”

“Margaret’s intensity was really high the whole game,” said D’Appolonia. “She pushed us and was very supportive of us.”

“I saw more focus from (Margaret) today,” added Cousins. “She just stayed in the game the whole time. Sometimes people ask why she’s at the top of the floor, but she can pass and she’s strong with the ball. She gets those outlet passes and makes us run and when we run, we’re a different team.”

“McNeil is really good,” said Freeport coach Seth Farrington. “She played really well. Hats off to her.”

D’Appolonia, the sophomore point guard who plays like she’s much older, also stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, eight rebounds, five steals and five assists.

“I feel entirely confident when Katelyn has the ball,” McNeil said. “I know she can handle it and get by anyone.”

“I’m so blessed to have (Katelyn) two more years,” said Cousins. “Her growth was really monumental with skill and the mental aspect. She’s not tentative like she was last year. She’s playing like a senior and we need that leadership from that position.”

Panozzo added 12 points off the bench, Feeley finished with six and McGonagle had four.

The Clippers had a commanding rebounding advantage (46-22), overcame 26 turnovers and sank 7-of-11 free throws.

A bitter end

Freeport was led by Baker-Schlendering, who had 14 points and six rebounds.

Wall had 10 points despite foul trouble.

Gould bowed out with nine points and four steals.

Smith, who broke the 1,000 career point barrier this winter and who will go down as one of the finest players to ever wear a Falcons’ uniform, scored seven points and had six rebounds, five assists and three steals in her finale.

“We know how Caroline plays and we know she’s such a good player, but we just had to shut her down,” said D’Appolonia. “Everyone helped on defense.”

“Our game plan was to put D’Appolonia on (Smith),” Cousins said. “We just tried to contain her and not let her get to the basket as easily as she can. It was just a team effort. No one person stopped her.”

Freeport gave the ball away 18 times and only made 7-of-16 free throws.

Freeport’s story wasn’t supposed to end this way and the Falcons had looks of agony and disbelief following the game.

“(Yarmouth) scored 28 points through three quarters, then scored 22 points in the fourth,” Farrington lamented. “Multiple kids hit multiple shots for them. Their role players really played well. We didn’t play our best game and we didn’t defend well, but we had a one-point leading going to the fourth quarter. It’s hard to beat a team three times especially when you have two even teams. If we played 100 times, we’d win 50 and they’d win 50. They got it done today.

“There’s not much you can say. It’s pretty somber in that locker room. We spent hours and hours together in the gym. We just hate to see it end, but just five (girls’) teams win it all. Once our wounds heal a little bit, we’ll look back at this four-year run and think pretty highly of it. It’s been the best two years for me.”

Freeport has to part with Gould, Routhier and Smith, as well as Abby Brier, Maggie Riendau, Hannah Spaulding and Annika Thomas.

The 2020-21 Falcons will be led by Baker-Schlendering, Groves and Wall and will look to continue the legacy created by this year’s senior class.

“I’ll start thinking about next year soon,” Farrington said. “It’ll help me heal. We have Mason and Rachel and Hannah, so we’ll have positive leadership. We have younger players who will need to step up too.”

The big stage

Yarmouth has never played a countable game at the Cross Insurance Arena, still known by most fans as the Cumberland County Civic Center.

That will change Friday, when the Clippers square off with a Wells squad which has defeated both sixth-ranked Lisbon (52-26) and No. 7 Mararnacook (46-31) to advance.

Yarmouth lost twice to Wells this year, 53-38 Jan. 21 in Wells and 43-38 at home Feb. 6 in the regular season finale.

The Warriors have taken both prior playoff meetings, 41-36 in the 2002 Western B semifinals and 52-38 in last year’s quarterfinals.

The Clippers will be fired up for their opportunity to punch their ticket to the state championship game.

“I’m excited to play at Cross Insurance Arena next,” said D’Appolonia. “We need to not give up in the second half and keep playing.”

“It hasn’t been done in forever, so it means everything to our town,” said Panozzo. “We’ll focus on defense and if we make our shots, we’ll be fine.”

“We need to have high intensity and just do our jobs again,” said McNeil. “We just need to play how we played today.”

“What we’ll try to do is what they did to us last year when we beat them twice, then they beat us,” Cousins added. “I haven’t really given it much thought, but I know it will be a hard battle and we’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game.”

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

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