BOX SCORE

North Yarmouth Academy 40 Freeport 37

F- 11 6 9 11- 37
NYA- 8 8 17 7- 40

F- Baker-Schlendering 7-2-16, Pillsbury 2-1-6, Orlando 1-2-5, Cormier 1-2-4, Levesque 1-2-4, Gelhar 0-2-2

NYA- Oronato 5-0-12, Gee 3-0-9, Bila 4-0-8, Huntsman 3-0-7, English 0-2-2, J. Harper-Cunningham 1-0-2

3-pointers:
F (2) Orlando, Pillsbury 1
NYA (6) Gee 3, Oronato 2, Huntsman 1

Turnovers:
F- 18
NYA- 10

FTs
F: 11-15
NYA: 2-6

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YARMOUTH—Maybe more games should be arranged as hastily as Tuesday evening’s Freeport at North Yarmouth Academy girls’ basketball contest.

That’s because it was a highly entertaining showdown between two squads making the most of a hole in the schedule.

The young but promising Falcons never trailed in the first quarter and were up, 11-8, after eight minutes, then took a 17-16 advantage to halftime.

The high-flying Panthers, who were stymied for two periods, then hit their stride in the third quarter, as a 12-0 run, sparked by five quick points from junior Madilyn Onorato, produced a 33-26 lead.

Freeport then answered and went up, 37-35, when freshman Isabelle Orlando made two foul shots with 3:17 to go, but 20 seconds later, NYA junior standout Angel Huntsman tied it with a jumper.

Then, with 2:15 left, Panthers freshman Athena Gee played the hero, calmly burying the biggest 3-pointer of her young life, and when the Falcons couldn’t take advantage of multiple chances to answer, NYA held on for a 40-37 victory.

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Onorato led the Panthers with 12 points and NYA improved to 8-1, dropping Freeport to 3-8 in the process.

“It’s a big win,” said NYA coach Tom Robinson. “This is exactly what we wanted. There were more situations in this game than we’ve had all year. This was fun. It was phenomenal.”

Unexpected encounter

In a season where COVID-related postponements are all-too-frequent, both Freeport and NYA found themselves looking to fill holes in their respective schedules, so Tuesday’s matchup made perfect sense.

“It’s great that Freeport was willing to play,” Robinson said. “It’s a weird year where we can pick up a game against any team from any class. We’ll play anybody.”

NYA won 16 games in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, reaching the Class C South Final that first season, then went 9-1 a year ago in the COVID-shortened campaign. So far this winter, the Panthers have remained a power, opening with decisive wins over visiting St. Dom’s (82-23), host Poland (54-26), host Seacoast Christian (81-25), host Traip Academy (73-33) and visiting Waynflete (52-5) before sitting idle for nearly three weeks. NYA then lost at reigning Class B champion Wells, 62-35, then bounced back and knocked off visiting Old Orchard Beach (45-34) and host Waynflete (58-18) before having games at St. Dom’s and Rangeley postponed.

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As for Freeport, the Falcons began the season with almost no varsity experience, but have held their own, starting with close losses to visiting Gray-New Gloucester (49-42, in overtime) and at Morse (41-36) before beating host Fryeburg Academy (53-33). After home losses to Brunswick (60-35) and Greely (57-45), Freeport defeated visiting Lake Region (49-32) and host Poland (35-24) before losing at Mt. Ararat (40-25), visiting Wells (50-40) and host Yarmouth (65-45).

The teams didn’t meet a year ago and in fact, hadn’t squared off since Dec. 6, 2012, a 66-4 (no typo) Falcons’ victory.

Tuesday’s contest was much closer and NYA did just enough to emerge victorious.

North Yarmouth Academy junior Angel Huntsman looks to pass as Freeport freshman Mia Levesque defends. Hoffer photo.

Freeport broke the ice on two free throws from freshman Sydney Gelhar and after the Panthers got on the board on a layup from Oronato, Falcons senior post standout Mason Baker-Schlendering took a feed from freshman Maddie Cormier and made a layup.

Junior Sarah English made a free throw for NYA, but Orlando hit a long 3 to make it 7-3 Freeport.

Sophomore Graca Bila hit a jumper for the home team, but Baker-Schlendering banked home a shot, then Cormier made two free throws before Gee came off the bench and made her first 3-point shot to pull the Panthers within 11-8 after one period.

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Oronato opened the second period with a 3-ball from the corner to tie the score, but Orlando found Baker-Schlendering for a layup, then Baker-Schlendering hit a jump shot.

After Gee answered with her second 3-pointer, Huntsman set up Bila for a layup on the fastbreak for NYA’s first lead, but with 2:07 to go, Baker-Schlendering made two free throws to put the Falcons on top at halftime, 17-16.

Baker-Schlendering nearly had a double-double in the first half, scoring 10 points and adding eight rebounds, but Freeport committed 10 turnovers to keep the Panthers in the game.

Freeport senior Mason Baker-Schlendering passes the ball out of pressure.

NYA hit its offensive stride in the third quarter.

Just 15 seconds in, Huntsman drove and banked home a shot for her first points, then English added a free throw.

Falcons junior Angel Pillsbury countered with an old-fashioned three-point play (coast-to-coast layup, foul and free throw) and freshman Mia Levesque added two foul shots for a 22-19 lead.

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After Panthers junior Josephine Harper-Cunningham and Baker-Schlendering traded hoops, NYA erupted for 12 points in a row, in just over two minutes.

After Bila scored on a putback, Huntsman set up Oronato for a short jumper and the lead. Huntsman then found Oronato for a 3 before setting up Bila for a fastbreak layup.

Then, with 1:39 to go in the third, Huntsman made a 3 and just like that, the Panthers had a 33-24 advantage.

“We’ve played against them all summer and they knew how we play fast tempo and did a good job slowing us down, but once we get it going, it’s rapid fire,” Huntsman said.

Cormier would drive for a layup to pull Freeport within seven heading for the fourth period, where the Falcons would retake the lead.

After Levesque banked home a runner, Levesque set up Baker-Schlendering for a layup to cut the deficit to three.

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With 4:55 to play, Oronato banked home a shot to put NYA ahead, 35-30, but Pillsbury countered with a 3-ball and after Baker-Schlendering tied it on a putback with 3:47 remaining, Orlando hit two foul shots 30 seconds later and it appeared Freeport might just pull it out.

But the final surge belonged to the Panthers.

With 2:57 on the clock, Huntsman got into the lane and calmly drained a jumper to tie it.

Then, the next time down the floor, with 2:15 to go, Gee got the ball up top beyond the arc and calmly fired away.

And found nothing but net for a 40-37 advantage as the lead changed hands for the seventh and final time.

“I was pretty nervous,” said Gee. “(The play) wasn’t designed. It just worked out that way. It felt good off my hand.”

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“I see so much potential in Athena,” Huntsman said. “She did amazing today. Really stepped up. We were out two starters, but she stepped up and made those 3s.”

The Falcons would have opportunities to answer, but Pillsbury missed a 3, Orlando missed a 3 and on one final chance to force overtime, Orlando missed again and NYA survived.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Gee. “We’re not really used to close games with all the big leads we’ve had. Everyone stepped up their game and did well under pressure.”

“They took away our transition and it’s hard to score in the halfcourt, but we hit some big 3s at the right time,” Robinson said.

Oronato paced the Panthers with a dozen points and six rebounds. Gee made three 3s for nine points and Bila added eight points, seven rebounds and four steals.

Huntsman was her usual solid self with seven points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals.

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English and Harper-Cunningham each added two points for NYA, which only turned the ball over 10 times and made 2-of-6 free throws.

Baker-Schlendering had 16 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots for Freeport.

“First half, (Baker-Schlendering) was killing us,” Robinson said. ‘Then, we went to the 2-3 (zone) and pulled her away from the basket and they struggled.”

Pillsbury added six points, Orlando had five (as well as seven rebounds), Cormier (seven boards) and Levesque (four steals) four apiece and Gelhar two.

The Falcons had a 41-37 rebound advantage and made 11-of-15 free throws, but committed 18 turnovers.

“It’s a tough one,” said Freeport coach Seth Farrington. “Good teams get stops at the right time. When it really mattered, we couldn’t get the stops to hold them back. We got a good look to tie it, but we missed it. I thought we did a good job defensively, but teams know about Mason. They won’t let us dump it in and let her go to work.”

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Finishing stretch

Freeport hopes to bounce back Thursday at Cape Elizabeth. The Falcons (ninth in the Class A South Heal Points standings at press time) then host Waynflete Friday (that game was originally scheduled for Saturday but moved up in anticipation of bad weather).

“It’s a long season and we have to power through,” Farrington said. “We’ll get back at it tomorrow and hopefully fix some of our correctable errors and go from there.”

NYA (third in Class C South) goes to Richmond Thursday and for now, is scheduled to host Poland Saturday.

“I think we can make it really far this year if we bring the same intensity every game,” Huntsman said.

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

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