BOX SCORE

Skowhegan 60 Greely 46

S- 18 12 12 18- 60
G- 15 6 11 14- 46

S- Christopher 7-8-24, LePage 4-9-17, Lewis 5-0-12, Morris 1-0-3, Danforth 1-0-2, Frey 1-0-2

G- Graiver 10-7-32, Ippolito 1-2-5, Delisle 1-2-4, Wright 1-0-3, Kelman 1-0-2

3-pointers:
S (5) Christopher, Lewis 2, Morris 1
G (7) Graiver 5, Ippolito, Wright 1

Turnovers:
S- 5
G-14

FTs
S: 17-33
G: 11-12

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PORTLAND—Greely’s girls’ basketball team got a performance from the ages Saturday afternoon in the Class A state championship game at the Cross Insurance Arena.

But despite senior standout Chelsea Graiver’s 32-point heroics, it wasn’t enough to cap a Cinderella run with the biggest prize of all.

And instead, the Gold Ball went home with the Skowhegan River Hawks.

For the very first time.

The River Hawks, led by Miss Maine Basketball finalist and Boston University-bound senior standout Jaycie Christopher, opened up an 18-15 lead after one quarter, as Christopher had eight points, but Graiver’s nine points kept the Rangers close.

Greely then went cold in the second period and Skowhegan went on an 8-0 run to take a 30-21 advantage to the half.

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The River Hawks tried to pull away in the third quarter, but Graiver scored all 11 Rangers’ points and Greely still had hope entering the fourth period, down by 10, 42-32.

But there, despite Graiver getting to the basket and hitting shots from long-range, Skowhegan slowly pulled away and went on to close out a 60-46 victory.

While Graiver led everyone in scoring, Christopher’s 24 points and 17 more from junior Callaway LePage allowed the River Hawks to cap a perfect 22-0 campaign, win a championship for the first time in program history and in the process, bring to a close the Rangers’ better-than-expected campaign at 16-5 with a runner-up plaque.

“We did all we could,” said Greely coach Todd Flaherty. “If you told us this morning we’d score 46 points, I would have taken that. Skowhegan’s just good offensively, they’re good defensively and they’re really hard to play against. I told the girls, we didn’t lose the state championship, they won it and that’s the way it should be.”

Midnight strikes

Greely’s program has long been elite and the Rangers won state titles in 2015, 2018 and 2019 before being upset by eventual champion Marshwood in the 2020 regional final. After going 11-1 in the COVID-shortened, postseason-less 2021 campaign, Greely, taking the floor without the big-name superstars of the past, wasn’t expected to enjoy a deep playoff run this winter.

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But after starting 2-2, the Rangers hit their stride, going 11-2 the rest of the way, handing undefeated Wells its first loss, on the Warriors’ home floor no less, and after winning their final five games of the regular season, saving their best play for the tournament (see sidebar for links to previous stories).

Greely, ranked second in the Class A South tournament, defeated No. 7 Marshwood, 49-27, in the quarterfinals, then held off No. 3 Falmouth, 52-47, in the semifinals, before upsetting No. 1 Brunswick in the regional final, 38-35.

Skowhegan was sensational from the get-go, winning all 18 regular season games, out-scoring the opposition by an average of 31 points per contest. The River Hawks’ closest game was a 56-43 victory at Bangor Jan. 18.

As the top seed in Class A North, Skowhegan crushed Brewer in the quarterfinals (76-26), then held off Erskine Academy (47-35) in the semifinals before eliminating Lawrence in the regional final (44-30).

Skowhegan lost two previous trips to the Class A state final: 80-42 to Westbrook in 1979 and 52-32 to Scarborough in 2010.

Greely, meanwhile, had played in nine prior state games (see sidebar), going 4-3 in Class B between 1983 and 2015 before capturing Class A titles in both 2018 and 2019.

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Saturday, in the first-ever countable meeting between the teams, Graiver bowed out with a flourish, but the River Hawks had just a little too much and they finally found their way to the pinnacle.

After Skowhegan missed three shots on its first possession, the Rangers turned the ball over, then Christopher opened the scoring with 6:33 to go in the first period with a free throw.

Gravier then had a nice stop-and-go move to get free and make a layup.

The next time down the floor, Graiver did the same thing, but LePage made a foul shot before Christopher hit the River Hawks’ first field goal, a pullup jumper to tie it, 4-4.

Greely freshman secret weapon Grier Wright, who played a huge role in the regional final, then immediately made her presence felt with a 3-pointer, but Christopher countered with a 3 and LePage made a layup top put Skowhegan back on top.

Graiver tied it with a driving layup, but junior Aryana Lewis drove for a layup and LePage set up Christopher for a layup and a 13-9 advantage the River Hawks wouldn’t relinquish.

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Graiver set up junior sharpshooter Sophia Ippolito for a corner 3, but LePage scored on a leaner, then Christopher set up Lewis for a 3, seemingly giving the River Hawks all the momentum, but as time wound down, Graiver raced up the floor and at the horn, threw up a running prayer from about 25-feet out which found nothing but net, pulling the Rangers within three, 18-15.

Skowhegan could have enjoyed a larger lead, but missed six of eight foul shots. Christopher led the way with eight points, while Graiver had nine to keep Greely close.

The River Hawks then got a little breathing room in the second period.

Sophomore Madalynne Morris got things going with a 3-ball and after sophomore Asja Kelman made a layup for the Rangers, LePage added a foul shot.

Senior Kaiyla Delisle got two points back for Greely at the line, but the next eight points went to Skowhegan, as Christopher got loose and sank a 3-pointer, LePage made a free throw, Christopher set up freshman Allie Frey for a layup on the fastbreak, then Christopher hit an elbow jumper for an 11-point advantage.

The Rangers ended the run on two Ippolito free throws with 35.1 seconds remaining and went to the break down by a score of 30-21.

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The River Hawks didn’t have a turnover in the first half and got 13 points from Christopher. Graiver kept Greely in it with nine points, while Ippolito added five, but the Rangers made just 1-of-7 field goals in the quarter.

Skowhegan tried to pull away in the third quarter, but Graiver single-handedly kept Greely in it.

A putback from LePage opened the half and Lewis put home a Christopher miss for a 34-21 advantage.

Graiver countered with a 3-ball, her first points since the first quarter, but senior Reese Danforth made a short jumper for the River Hawks.

Again, Graiver countered with three points, this time an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw), but after Morris kept possession with an offensive rebound, she got the ball to Lewis, who hit a critical 3 to make it 39-27.

Graiver didn’t let the Rangers waver, pulling up and hitting a 3, but after finally committing its first turnover, then its second, Skowhegan got a free throw from LePage.

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In the waning seconds, Graiver made two free throws for Greely, giving her all 11 of her team’s points in the frame, but Christopher scored on a putback and the River Hawks took a 42-32 advantage to the fourth period.

Where they salted away their championship.

Christopher drove for a quick layup, but back came Graiver, who drove for a left-handed layup while being fouled before adding the and-one free throw to cut the deficit to nine.

LePage then got another offensive rebound and was fouled and sank both attempts, which loomed large, as Graiver sank two foul shots to make it 46-37.

After Christopher set up Lewis for a layup on the fastbreak, Graiver stepped back and sank a 3 with 4:38 to go, pulling the Rangers within eight, 48-40.

But they would get no closer.

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After Christopher found LePage for a layup, Delisle counted with a bank shot, Greely’s first non-Graiver hoop of the second half, but LePage made a free throw and after a Graiver 3 was blocked by Christopher, Christopher was fouled and hit both attempts with 1:43 remaining for a 53-42 advantage.

Christopher and Graiver traded free throws before Graiver drained a 3 from NBA-range with 1:04 to go, making it 54-46.

But those would prove to be the Rangers’ final points of the season.

Three seconds later, Christopher made two free throws, then LePage added two more with 36.4 seconds showing.

Then, for the coup de grace. Christopher sank two more foul shots with 27.4 seconds on the clock and that made it official.

At 2:34 p.m., the horn sounded and Skowhegan celebrated a 60-46 victory.

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“We (pushed each other in practice) to make each other better, so we can have moments like this,” Christopher said.

“This is absolutely amazing,” LePage said. “I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

The Boston University-bound Christopher didn’t only score 24 points, she also had seven rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots.

“I don’t think you know how good (Jaycie) is until you go up against her in a big game,” said Flaherty. “She was at the top of her game. Not just on the offensive end, but on the defensive end too.”

LePage added 17 points and was unstoppable on the glass, grabbing nine rebounds, five of the offensive variety.

“I knew the way we were going to win the game was to crash the offensive boards and get second shots and on the defensive end, not let them get second or third looks at the boards,” LePage said.

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Lewis had 12 points, Morris contributed three (to go with three rebounds and two assists) and Danforth and Frey added two apiece.

“We told the girls all year that it takes everyone,” said Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc. “You never know when you’re going to get pushed into the limelight.”

“Skowhegan’s a great team,” Graiver said. “A lot of respect for Jaycie, she’s a great player. Rebounds were the key and so were turnovers. We’re a young team, so it takes us a little bit to get the hang of things.”

“The River Hawks) have a nice, well-rounded team,” Flaherty said. “I give Coach Mike credit. They were due.”

Skowhegan enjoyed a 37-26 advantage on the glass, only turned the ball over five times and made 17 of 33 free throws.

Magical ride

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For Greely, Graiver had her final sensational game of a superb season and tournament, leading all scorers with 32 points, while also grabbing four rebounds and dishing out three assists.

“It was awesome,” said Graiver, who will play next year at Stonehill College in Massachusetts. “I’ll never play in an environment like this anywhere else. It was a great crowd. I feel honored to be here. I just wanted to win. I was shooting a little more than normal, but the ball found the basket. I had a rhythm to me, but I’d rather win than score any amount of points. I missed my first five or six 3s, but the second half, I found my rhythm. Once I make one, I knew where to shoot. I knew I had to keep shooting until I hit that first one.

“I couldn’t ask for a better run to end my senior year other than winning the Gold Ball. I definitely dropped my scoring average from my freshman year at Falmouth, but as a point guard, I loved getting Camille (Clement) and Brooke (Obar) the ball. They taught me so much. Battling with them in practice every day made me as good as I am. I know a lot of the alumni were watching today, so that made me happy.”

“Chelsea had a fantastic performance against a very good defender,” said Flaherty. “(Skowhegan) paid special attention to her, but she’s just been great all year. She shows up every day. Her senior season I would stack up against anybody’s. We didn’t get the Gold Ball, but she had such an impact on our team this season.”

Ippolito added five points, Delisle had four (to go with six rebounds), Wright three and Kelman two (to go with three rebounds).

The Rangers made seven 3-pointers to the River Hawks’ five and made 11-of-12 foul shots, but turned the ball over 14 times.

“I don’t honestly think anyone thought we’d get here,” Graiver said. “To see the team we’ve become is amazing.”

“The second game we played, I used the term unwatchable,” Flaherty said. “We’ve come so far to be able to compete for the state championship, so I’m really proud. We’re not talking about next year yet, but these girls have kept the momentum going in the community.”

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

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