Leavitt crumbles under Raider pressure; FA advances to quarterfinals

TIGHT COVERAGE all night was the theme of the Fryeburg Academy defense, which forced Leavitt into 32 turnovers. Here, FA guard Kayrin Johnson covers up a fallen Hornet player. (Rivet Photo)
RAIDERS 57 Record: 5-14 Turnovers: 17 Field Goals: 22-of-54 Foul Shots: 11-of-21 Rebounds: 29 (Kaylee Emery 8, Sierra Lyman 6, Tina LeBlanc 6) 3-Pointers: None Scoring: Kaylee Emery 6-6-18, Tina LeBlanc 4-2-10, Sierra Lyman 3-1-7, Merys Carty 3-0-6, Kayrin Johnson 2-1-5, Maddie Darling 2-0-4, River Lusky 2-0-4, Camden Jones 1-1-3
LEAVITT 21 Record: 5-14 Turnovers: 32 Field Goals: 6-of-36 Foul Shots: 8-of-18 Rebounds: 21 (Emelia Bowie 7) 3-Pointers: Kayleigh Gilbert 1

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — At halftime, Tina LeBlanc knew she and her Raider teammates had Leavitt right where they wanted them.

A quick and aggressive Fryeburg press had forced the Hornets into 19 turnovers and numerous tipped balls that left the Leavitt offense totally out of synch.

LeBlanc and the Raiders weren’t satisfied with a 14-point halftime lead during last week’s Class A prelim game held at Wadsworth Arena. They were focused, determined and hungry for a chance to play at the Expo.

“We want to keep playing until the other team gives up both mentally and physically. That’s what we drive for every game,” LeBlanc said.

The Raiders’ broke Leavitt’s spirit with a swarming and smothering defensive effort, limiting the Hornets to just 8 second half points on 2-of-18 shooting en route to a convincing 57-21 victory.

Junior Kaylee Emery was a force, driving to the hoop to the tune of a game-high 18 points. She also neutralized Leavitt’s Julia White, who was in foul trouble all night unsuccessfully guarding Emery. White had 18 points in a previous meeting with the Raiders, but netted just 4 points in the playoff matchup.

“We emphasized to drive, drive, drive. It paid off, getting one of their top scorers (Taylor White) in foul trouble. We talked to Kaylee (Emery) about it and she continued to drive on her and she kept picking up fouls. It was really smart on Kaylee’s part. It took her out of the game,” Raider Coach Coreen Eccleston said. “When Kaylee hit a couple of jumpers in the first half, it seemed to give our other shooters some confidence, as well. Our outside shooting is coming along. We’ve worked a lot on it.”

Having defeated Leavitt twice during the regular season, Coach Eccleston was a little concerned about her team’s psyche as they prepped for the home playoff tilt.

“One of the practices this week, I started to see that attitude. We stopped practice and emphasized to them that we were not going to be given a win. Those two previous wins do not matter. What matters is that we needed to get back to work and beat them again, which can be difficult the third time around. They (Leavitt) are going to want it bad. We need to want it more,” Coach Eccleston said. “It was unfortunate, but the next day in practice, it was much better. It was another lesson learned.”

Early on, the game was tight. FA took a 5-2 lead as Sierra Lyman exploded past her defender along the baseline for a hoop. Kayleigh Gilbert tied the game with a 3-pointer, but the Raiders took control with a 7-1 run to finish the quarter as Emery converted an old-fashion 3-point play and Maddie Darling scored off a strong drive.

With the FA defense cranking up its pressure, Leavitt turned the ball over 13 times. The Raiders cashed in as Emery and Kayrin Johnson drained jumpers, Merys Carty showed a quick burst to score a layup and Lyman converted a steal into a fastbreak layup.

Fryeburg took a 27-13 lead to the lockerroom.

“I wasn’t happy with some of our fouls in the first half. I’m okay with the hustle foul, but some were lazy because we weren’t moving our feet. I didn’t want to send them to the foul line, but fortunately, they weren’t great free-throw shooters (4-of-9 from the charity stripe). It didn’t hurt us too bad,” Coach Eccleston said. “The last time we played them, we had multiple girls in foul trouble, which changed up the game. Tonight, I did try to change up often to avoid foul trouble, but it can break a team’s flow. If we’re working well together, I’d rather not break up that flow. Tonight, any group that was out there was clicking.”

The Raiders clicked on all cylinders in the third quarter, scoring 20 points with Emery leading the way with eight. It was, however, a full team effort at both ends of the court.

“Our defense against teams that don’t handle presses well, we definitely take advantage of that. We practice defense 85 percent of the time, working on tips, trapping and a lot of conditioning to get certain spaces. We’re sprinting everywhere,” LeBlanc said. “We all trust each other. We know we have each other’s back. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that when you run up, there will be someone behind you. Coach really stresses that in practice.”

The Raider senior said the team really found a nice groove on the offensive end in the second half, partly due to confidence and also because of the approach.

“We struggled in the beginning of the year, but we’ve grown a lot since then. We practice moving the ball and giving everyone an equal chance to shoot. There isn’t that one person that is getting the ball. We don’t have any plays where it is get the ball to this person. It’s find an open spot, and if you are open, take the shot,” she said.

Fryeburg won every quarter, including a 10-3 run to close out the victory. Reserve Camden Jones put an exclamation point on the win with a 3-point play to close out FA’s scoring.

As players emerged from the lockerroom, there were plenty of big smiles. Having gone winless a year ago and now punching a ticket to the Class A South quarterfinals at the Portland Expo, the Raiders basked in seeing hard work, determination and trust in each other pay off.

“The biggest difference is that we have a stronger bond. We are all like sisters. We are there for each other. If someone has a bad day, we pick them up and basketball becomes a highlight of our day,” LeBlanc said. “It was really exciting. We have been working really hard at every practice, so we definitely deserved it. Everybody has been contributing equally, as opposed to last year. Everyone has grown a lot. Maddie, Kaylee and Sierra have all stepped up, and have been really big leaders. So, there’s no one on the team that hasn’t contributed.”

Indeed, the Raiders came a long way, which coaches and players recognized as they watched game tape from the team’s first meeting with Leavitt.

“We watched film of our first meeting against Leavitt, which was our third game, and they recognized how much better we are now about taking care of the ball and working together. They realized they have come a long way,” Coach Eccleston added. “I’m very proud of the improvements they have made and what they’ve accomplished up to this point.”

The reward for winning the prelim was a date against undefeated and top-ranked Greely. While the Raiders were certainly major underdogs entering the quarterfinal Monday night, Tina LeBlanc and her teammates embraced the challenge.

“It awesome to win a playoff game and get a chance to play at the Expo. It’s been a great accomplishment going from no wins to getting into the playoffs. Hopefully, the team will grow every year, and get back to where it was before,” LeBlanc said. “They (Greely) are all very talented shooters, so we have to make sure we get out on them and trust each other to help. There’s a little fear facing them, but not enough to scare me or any of us. For our sophomores and freshmen, this will be their first time playing at the Expo. They are more excited than scared. We’ll have an awesome fan section, and the more fans we have, the better we seem to play. We have nothing to lose. We always play better when we’re relaxed. We just want to play.”

HIGH BOUNCE put under control by Raider guard Merys Carty.
WELL TIMED block by Raider Tina LeBlanc. (Rivet Photos)
BATTLE FOR THE BALL between FA's Camden Jones and a pair of Hornets.
TAKING AWAY THE PASSING LANE is Raider forward Kaylee Emery.
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