Gorham High teammates celebrate after upsetting No. 1 seed Thornton Academy, 44-41, in the Class AA South girls’ basketball regional final on Saturday in Portland. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

GORHAM — Before its playoff run, before the upsets and the hardware, the Gorham High girls’ basketball team had the look of one headed for tournament also-ran status.

The Rams were a .500 team. They lost four of their last five games. They were losing games to teams they were supposed to be beating, and getting blown out by the better ones. The players were down.

Resignation, though, never set in.

“They were hard games to lose,” said senior forward and captain Liz Willette. “But there was a reality of, being so young, we were learning the whole way. Being in practice every day, we knew the way we were playing in games was really not what we were.”

The Rams have proven it in the tournament. With wins over No. 6 Bonny Eagle and No. 2 Sanford and an unexpected triumph over No. 1 Thornton Academy in the South regional final, Gorham is in the Class AA state championship game. The Rams are another win away from earning their ninth state title – and one that would probably be the most improbable of all.

“This is the team that’s probably been the most underdog team we’ve had,” said Coach Laughn Berthiaume, who has guided the Rams to five of the last seven AA title games, as well as championships in 2016 and ’17. “This team was more of a year of growth, and the expectation wasn’t ‘Hey, we’re going to get to the state final.’ The expectation was we were going to look at who we’re playing next, and we’re going to play our hardest and do our best.”


The Rams (12-9) are preparing for the task ahead, against North champion Oxford Hills (20-1) at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena. But they’re also enjoying the ride to this point.

“Everybody’s put in a little bit,” said sophomore guard Julia Reed. “And I think being the underdogs going into it, we knew we had nothing to lose and left it all out there.”

Seeing Gorham in the championship game is nothing new, but this is a team that’s had to overcome youth and inexperience to make it. Only one starter, junior forward Ellie Gay, is back from last year’s team that lost to Cheverus in the state final. Sophomore Vanessa Walker moved into a starting spot at guard, but made it only four games before a torn ACL forced freshman Lauren Dunbar into the starting role. Senior center Marin Graham, a three-year varsity player, hurt her ACL in tryouts, forcing junior Summer Gammon to take over in the post. Reed and Gay missed time with hand injuries.

Liz Willette and Ellie Gay celebrate the the championship plaque after Gorham won the Class AA South girls’ basketball final on Saturday night Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Meanwhile, the Rams struggled. A 6-2 start was countered by a 3-7 performance in the last 10 games that included losses to Thornton by 34 points and to Brunswick by 23.

“Certainly it was discouraging after we kept losing,” Gay said. “We knew we had more in us. We knew that we could do more. But we (were in) a rut. We didn’t really know what the issue was.”

Help came in the form of an eight-day layoff between the AA South quarterfinal, a 41-29 win over Bonny Eagle, and the semifinal matchup with Sanford, which had defeated Gorham in both meetings in the regular season.


“Any other year as a coach, I would not have liked that. This year, it was really beneficial to us,” Berthiaume said. “We really tried to get back to some basics. Defend and rebound. I know it sounds cliched, but those are really keys.”

Willette called the break a turning point.

“You could walk in and there was a different feel to it,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh, it’s time to go. Let’s make sure we really narrow in.’ (It) allowed us to catch our breath and realize this is who we are as a team.”

By the time the Rams took the floor against Sanford, young and untested as they were, they were ready.

“It doesn’t seem like anybody’s nervous anymore,” Gay said. “After the first few minutes on the court versus Sanford, we just locked in. Everybody seems like their confidence is so high.”

The principles of defense and rebounding that Berthiaume preached carried Gorham through. The Rams held Sanford to 37 points in four quarters and an overtime period, and outrebounded the Spartans 52-37. Three days later, against a Thornton team that had swept all three matchups, Gorham’s defense thrived again. The Rams closed in on Thornton’s shooters and held the Trojans’ offense, which averaged 57.6 points during the season, to 41 points.

While Gay stepped into the spotlight, scoring 21 and then 20 points in the last two games, those inexperienced players grew as well. Curtis had 12 rebounds, five steals and four overtime points against Sanford. Dunbar, the freshman starter, had nine rebounds in that game. Gammon hit two 3-pointers and a go-ahead jumper in the fourth quarter against Thornton.

The growth has taken place. It just took a while.

“A lot of our games, it was just learning,” Willette said. “It was adapting to when people were out, and just learning to go with the flow. They were losses that we needed.”

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