PORTLAND—Freeport’s girls’ basketball team saw its 13-point fourth quarter lead disappear in the blink of an eye Friday night in its season opener at Deering.

But the Falcons got off the deck, saved their best for last and came alive late to earn a valuable, confidence-building victory.

Junior Sydney Gelhar’s layup with 2:32 to play snapped a tie and sparked a 9-2 game-closing run, as Freeport made an early-season statement with a 49-43 victory.

Gelhar finished with a dozen points, as did junior Maddie Cormier and freshman Abby Giroux, as the Falcons won their season opener for the first time in four years.

“I have an enormous amount of confidence in this team,” Cormier said. “We’ve been playing together since we were itty bitty. Just to see us progress and come together, I’m confident we’ll jell into a good team and go far.”

A brand new look


After a 4-15 campaign a year ago, Deering moved down from Class AA to Class A this winter and with a veteran core, the Rams expect to be in contention.

Freeport, meanwhile, made a surprise run to the Class A South semifinals last season and wound up 11-9. Despite the loss of junior sparkplug Izzy Orlando to a knee injury, the Falcons plan to be in the competitive mix again.

The teams had never met in a countable game.

Friday, Freeport led much of the way, but couldn’t completely exhale until the final horn.

Deering senior Maya Gayle defends Freeport junior Sydney Gelhar early in the Falcons’ 49-43 victory Friday. Hoffer photos.

The season’s first points came courtesy Gelhar, who went backdoor and took a pass from Giroux to make a layup 53 seconds in.

The Rams went on top courtesy a 3-pointer from senior Shay Rosenthal, but Giroux again set up Gelhar for a layup to make it 4-3 Falcons.


After two Rosenthal free throws gave Deering the lead, Giroux tied it with two foul shots, then Cormier scored her first point, on a foul shot, to make it 7-5 Freeport after one quarter.

Early in the second period, senior Natalie Santiago made a free throw, then Rams freshman sensation Angelina Keo scored on a putback for an 8-7 advantage.

That would prove to be Deering’s last lead until the final quarter, as Cormier tied it with a free throw, sophomore Emily Groves drove for a bank shot to put the Falcons back in front, then Cormier set up junior Lana DiRusso for a transition jumper that rattled home before Cormier drove for a layup and a 14-8 advantage with 3:27 left in the first half.

The Rams got a runner in traffic from senior Maya Gayle, but DiRusso countered with two foul shots.

After Keo hit a 3, Gayle made two free throws to cut the deficit to one.

Groves countered with a jumper and after Keo and Cormier traded one foul shot apiece, a putback from Gayle pulled Deering within a single point, 19-18, at the break.


Deering then consistently shot itself in the foot in the third quarter, turning the ball over 11 times, allowing Freeport to extend its lead.

Deering senior Natalie Santiago possesses the ball as Freeport freshman Abby Giroux keeps watch.

Groves started the second half with an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw), but senior Sophie Hill answered with a baseline jumper.

The Falcons then got some easy looks after turnovers, as Gelhar scored on a runner off the glass, Gelhar made a layup after a steal, Cormier hit a foul shot, then, after a steal, Gelhar set up Giroux in transition for a 3-ball and a 30-20 advantage.

“There was no zip on our passes and we made poor decisions,” lamented longtime Rams coach Mike Murphy.

Santiago ended the run with a layup after a steal, but Freeport took an eight-point lead to the fourth period.

Where it threatened to run away with the game, only to see Deering roar back.


Just 36 seconds into the final stanza, Giroux made her second 3.

After Santiago countered with a free throw, Giroux hit a 3 again (from Cormier) with 7:02 left for a 36-23 advantage.

But in just over three minutes time, the Rams erased the deficit.

The comeback started with a 3-ball from Santiago. Gayle then hit two free throws, but Groves answered with a runner.

Keo then hit a 3, Santiago set up Rosenthal for a layup and junior Alison Hilton scored a putback to pull Deering within 38-35.

Cormier momentarily stemmed the tide with a putback, but Hilton made a jump shot, then, with 3:51 remaining, Keo’s 3-point shot tied the game, 40-40.


“We’ve been in these games before,” lamented Freeport coach Seth Farrington. “It’s never easy with this group. Whenever my blood pressure goes down, it’s just a matter of time until it spikes again.”

Forty-one seconds later, the Rams got a free throw from Keo to take their first lead since the score was 8-7, but the Falcons would rise off the deck and answer.

With 2:52 to go, Cormier made one of two free throws to tie the score.

Then, 20 seconds later, Groves fed Gelhar for a layup which put Freeport on top to stay.

“Our spacing was great and I’m just grateful I got a great pass,” Gelhar said.

After the home team couldn’t answer, Cormier added a point at the line with 1:56 remaining.


Freshman Blake Gayle then missed a 3 for the Rams, Groves got the rebound and with 1:17 to go, sophomore Abby Cormier found Maddie Cormier for a layup and a little breathing room.

Deering then turned the ball over and with 51 seconds on the clock, Giroux added a free throw.

Two foul shots from Gelhar with 30 seconds left essentially iced it and although Blake Gayle scored on a putback just before the horn, Freeport was able to celebrate a hard-fought 49-43 victory.

Freeport junior Maddie Cormier is congratulated by assistant coach Julia Champagne following the victory.

“It feels amazing,” Maddie Cormier said. “We stayed positive and made sure we were playing as a team. If we made a mistake, we just said, ‘Next play, next possession,’ and moved on.”

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Farrington said. “It’s our first time playing Deering. I think really highly of ‘Murph.’ He’s one of the best and he’s been around a long time. I knew they’d play hard and be competitive, so anytime we can get a win against him, it’s a good win.”

Maddie Cormier finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.


“Maddie is the kid we need on the floor,” Farrington said. “She’s a calming presence. She can do a little of everything.”

Cormier said after the game that she’s playing in part for Orlando, as well as junior Mia Levesque, who is out injured until after the new year.

“I feel for our hurt teammates, but they do so much for us off the court,” Cormier said. “(Izzy) can’t play this whole season, but she’s a leader. She’s another coach. Even if she can’t be on the court, she’s very supportive and we need her.”

Gelhar added a dozen points, four rebounds and four steals.

Giroux had 12 points in her debut and she also played stellar defense on Santiago, who recently committed to playing next year at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.

“I thought Abby Giroux was on an island and did a really good job on Santiago,” Farrington said. “She was our best individual defender.”


Groves just missed a double-double, winding up with nine points and 10 rebounds, as well as three steals and two blocked shots. DiRusso added four points.

Freeport overcame 21 turnovers and hit 14-of-23 free throws.

Deering’s effort was paced by Keo, who scored 13 points in her debut, and also had six rebounds and five steals.

“Angelina had a great preseason,” Murphy said. “She played like a veterans in some spots. I’m expecting good things out of her.”

Maya Gayle added eight points and seven rebounds. Rosenthal and Santiago (three assists, two blocked shots, two rebounds) each finished with seven points, Hilton had four and Blake Gayle and Hill (eight rebounds, two steals) tallied two apiece.

The Rams had a 35-34 advantage on the glass, but only made 10-of-22 free throws and turned the ball over 19 times, 14 in the second half alone.


“We didn’t quit, but the difference was a couple defensive lapses and we turned the ball over way too much,” Murphy said. “It’s a mindset, a sign of us not winning enough in past years. We need wins. Our mentality has to change. We can’t play like freshmen and sophomores when we’re seniors.”

Game two

Deering hopes to right the ship Tuesday, but it will get a huge test, as it goes to reigning regional champion Brunswick.

“Tuesday, we get one of the best teams in the state, in their gym,” Murphy said. “We have to be ready or we’ll get exposed.”

Freeport is back in action Tuesday in its home opener versus Morse. The Falcons’ 1976 state championship team will be honored at that one.

“We have to keep the supportive atmosphere up and keep it fun,” said Gelhar. “We’ll keep working hard. We really want to do well. We have a championship mentality in all sports and it’s great to have it on this team. We work together. That will continue to be a huge thing for us this season.”

“We have a lot to work on,” Farrington said. “We have to get much better defensively. We’re not using our feet. We constantly had our hands on people tonight and we had too many team fouls. I don’t think we shared the ball well. We can do a little of everything better.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

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