Fourth quarter blitz propels Raider girls past Poland in prelim game



CELEBRATION — Raiders (left to right) McKenna Gerchman lifts teammate Julia Quinn while Katherine Parker (#11) and Nicole Bennett celebrate after Fryeburg Academy downed Poland in last week's prelim playoff game. (Rivet Photo)


By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Practicing every day on a court that is 10 feet longer than the standard high school floor, Coach Sean Watson hoped at some point, the added hardwood would be an advantage for his Raider girls' basketball team.

It was last Wednesday night.

Tenth-ranked Poland entered the Class B West prelim game depleted by injuries, but held the Knights (9-10) held first half leads on well-executed screen plays and outside shooting against seventh-seeded Fryeburg Academy (12-7).

The Raiders, however, weathered the Knights' early strong play and eventually dominated the paint behind twin towers senior Skye Dole (16 rebounds, 3 blocked shots) and freshman Nicole Bennett (9 rebounds, 12 points) wore down the Knights en route to a 55-37 victory at Wadsworth Arena.

Mounting foul trouble and weary legs saw the Knights falter over the final eight minutes as the Raiders rallied from a 3-point deficit to dominate Poland with a 25-4 run to claim their 12th victory of the season.


SQUEEZING THROUGH — Fryeburg forward Lexi L'Heureux-Carland helped FA to a quick start with several drives to the basket. (Rivet Photo)

"It's nice for the girls to pull these games out in the fourth quarter. They are building some character. It's not always the best situation, but it's nice to see the girls' confidence growing, which has been happening since the second week of January," Raider Coach Sean Watson said. "The kids are playing well. They seem to be comfortable with each other. We've had a lot more balance, inside and out."

The FA game plan was to: 1. Run a number of players into the game to wear down the Knights; 2. Try to keep Poland's leading scorer, senior guard Emily Bolduc in check; 3. Go to their strength — get the ball inside to Dole.

It took some time, but ultimately, the Raiders checked off all three items on their playoff "To Do" list.

Early foul trouble forced Coach Watson to go to his bench a little earlier than he expected. Yet, reserves McKenna Gerchman and Bennett responded.

"Foul trouble hurt us in the first half. We had starters on the bench. Our reserves gave us quality minutes to keep the game close," Coach Watson said. "Right now, 7 sophomores and freshmen, no juniors. We're young. Everybody contributes. We don't make a big deal about seniors, sophomores, freshmen. They are all teammates."

Secondly, the Raider duo of senior Sarah Welch and freshman Mackenzie Buzzell played stalwart defense against Bolduc, who entered the game just 24 points shy of 1,000 career points. Welch battled through some back pain — a condition that has hampered her throughout the season — and Buzzell rarely looked like a rookie, staying stride for stride with the aggressive Knight guard, who managed just 13 points. Playing every minute, Bolduc was clearly fatigued down the stretch, managing just one bucket while going 2-of-9 from the foul line.


TAKING A BUMP — Raider McKenna Gerchman scores against Poland's Sarah Bolduc.
Lexi L'Heureux-Carland 3-1-7, Sarah Welch 2-1-5, Julia Quinn 1-11-13, Skye Dole 2-4-8, McKenna Gerchman 0-3-3, Nicole Bennett 3-6-12, Mackenzie Buzzell 3-0-7, Sage Boivin
Three-Pointers: Mackenzie Buzzell
Turnovers: 9
Free Throws: 26-of-37 (Gerchman 3-4, Quinn 11-12, Dole 4-6, Bennett 6-10, L'Heureux-Carland 1-3, Welch 1-2
Rebounds: 34 (Dole 16, L'Heureux-Carland 3, Bennett 9, Gerchman 1, Boivin 2, Welch 1, Quinn 2)
Emily Bolduc 5-2-13, Sarah Bolduc 3-2-7, Sadie Pelletier 3-0-5, Lindsay Theriault 2-0-4, Sarah Walton 4-0-8, Kalor Plummer, Caroline Littlefield, Victoria Tibbetts
Three-Pointers: E. Bolduc, S. Bolduc, S. Pelletier
Turnovers: 14
Free Throws: 4-15
Rebounds: 22 (Caroline Littlefield 4, Sarah Bolduc 5, Sarah Walton 3, Emily Bolduc 6, Lindsay Theriault 4)

"Poland is very effective in setting screens to free her (Bolduc) up. Early on, they ended up having some kids make some outside shots and they scored on some lay-ups, but we had to give up some things," Coach Watson said. "Putting our best defensive players on Bolduc was the best way to defend them (Poland)."

Dole was a glass cleaner in the fourth quarter, hauling down 11 of her game-high 16 rebounds, sparking the Raiders incredible 25-4 outburst.

"Last year, Skye was the second leading rebounder in the conference. There have been games this year which she had 15 or more rebounds. When she puts her mind to it, she'll get you a ton of rebounds," Coach Watson said. "We've tried to impress upon our perimeter people that if they get a body on someone, that enables Skye to work side to side to get the rebound, and not have someone come from the weak side to take the ball away. In the fourth, it seemed every time the ball went up, Skye was there to bring down the rebound."

Having split their regular season meetings, the teams were fairly even early on. The Raiders took an early 6-5 lead on two strong drives to the hoop by sophomore forward Lexi L'Heureux-Carland. Poland answered with two Bolduc hoops, an outside jumper by Sarah Walton and some scrappy play inside (the Knights held a 7-5 rebounding edge) to claim a 13-11 lead after one quarter.

If the Raiders have had one bugaboo this season it has been scoring droughts. Poland surged ahead 20-14 after Sadie Pelletier knocked down a wide open 3-pointer from the left corner. Meanwhile, the Raiders went without a field goal for nearly five minutes. They stayed close as Gerchman went 3-for-4 from the foul line. Fryeburg finally broke the ice when Bennett, who brought both energy and physicality to the Raider front line, out fought a Poland defender for an offensive rebound and score, closing the gap to 20-17 with 3:12 left until halftime.

Showing good vision and team work, Gerchman drove the right side of the lane, drew a pair of Poland defenders and then dished the ball to a wide open Buzzell for an easy score, making it 20-19.

Poland converted a steal into points, but Bennett ended the first half on an up note for Fryeburg when she scored in the lane and sank 1-of-2 foul shots, leaving the Raiders behind by just two, 24-22.

The Raiders opened the third quarter with a Buzzell 3-pointer, regaining their first lead since midway through the opening period.

It was short lived as Poland responded with buckets by Sarah Bolduc and #24 (two). The lead would swell to 33-26 as Emily Bolduc's quick trigger enabled her to fire a 3-pointer (nothing but net) from the left corner, despite good FA defense.

Fryeburg showed good patience on offense, moving the ball crisply and searching out the best shot option. Despite a double team, Dole found Welch alone on the opposite low block for an easy bucket at 3:46 left. Buzzell's aggressive take to the basket cut the deficit to 33-30. Although the Raiders had a chance for the quarter's final shot, players were unaware time was ticking off the clock and failed to fire a shot in the closing seconds.

The game changed dramatically in the fourth. Fryeburg went "big" — playing Dole, L'Heureux-Carland and Bennett — at the same time. Not only did the Raiders take complete control of the lane (they held a 20-6 rebounding advantage), FA pounded the ball inside on the offensive end, either scoring points or drawing fouls. Two offensive rebounds and scores by Dole gave the Raiders a 35-33 lead — a lead they would never surrender over the final 5:38.

While the Raiders scored 14 straight unanswered points, including a fastbreak lay-up by L'Heureux-Carland on a full-court pass from point guard Julia Quinn, the Knights went ice cold. Emily Bolduc snapped a nearly 6-minute drought with a pair of foul shots with 2:39 left.

For Poland, there would be no fantastic finish.

Instead, the Knights saw an up-and-coming Raider team do what good teams do — they put the game away from the foul line. FA went 17-of-23 from the charity stripe with Quinn leading the way, scoring 11 of 12 attempts.

As the game started to wind down, Coach Watson pulled his seniors. As Dole, Welch and fellow senior Sydney Charles (out due to mononucleosis) watched the final seconds tick off the clock, their smiles grew larger and larger.

They had finally arrived — a playoff win under their belt and a chance to play under the big lights at the Portland Expo, against second-ranked and undefeated Spruce Mountain (18-0, see related story).

"I am so happy for the kids that have come up through the program and have been committed to improving. To see some reward for their hard work is awesome," Coach Watson said. "Last year was a difficult season with just four wins. We stressed upon them that things would get better. I feel for last year's seniors because things didn't work out. It's great for this year's seniors to experience it, and it is great for the younger players to get a taste of it, too, because they have three more years to play."

And for the coach who has revived the program, that appears ready to be in the playoff conversation in upcoming seasons, Coach Watson is just thrilled to see his club turn things around.

"The game at Gray, after the overtime win at Falmouth and an overtime loss to Poland, was the turning point in the season. The girls came right back and pulled out a two-point win. It took some special character out of those kids. That was one of those games that was real important," he said. "The Wells win was hard fought, but it was a convincing win. When we went to Greely and lost by five, (out scored by 15 at the free throw line) last year it would have been a moral victory. The girls would have been upset, but they figured they gave a good run. This year, it was frustration and disappointment. They weren't satisfied that we played them tough."

But how does he feel about going from 4 wins to 12?

"It's a good feeling, but I am more happy for these kids. I enjoy winning, but I did this for those kids. It was a chance for me to get back into coaching, and it was a good situation to come back to Fryeburg, where I grew up and went to school," he said. "Seeing those kids smiling in the locker room, cheering and being happy is the fun part for me. If you work hard, good things will happen — that's what I get out of it."

How will he prepare the Raiders for the next big game on the schedule — the Class B quarterfinals?

"I don't think we will talk too much about it. We play on a college-size court like the Expo; the hoop is the same height, and the ball is the same size. We've played in big games all year long. Tonight was a big game with a big crowd. It's been playoff mode for us for the past two to three weeks," he said. "So, the only thing we need to focus on is what can we improve upon offensively and defensively."

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