WINDHAM – Ram Jason Komulainen and Eagle Nick Curtis matched one another for the game-high on Friday night, Feb. 10, each posting 19 as their respective teams wrestled up and down the court and traded leads more than a dozen times. Windhamite Chris Brown ultimately seized the last advantage of the game, however, completing a late three-point play and propelling his boys to victory, 55-49.
“We played hard,” Windham head coach Chad Pulkkinen said. “Our guys, they don’t give up, so it’s going to be hard to beat us. It’s hard to beat Coach Karter’s team, because Coach Karter’s such a good coach, and his teams are always very, very good. We knew tonight was going to tough; we had the emotions on our side, with senior night…That’s what we talked about; we knew it was going to be dogfight, keep fighting. It got physical, just keep fighting through it.”
“That’s a very good team,” said Gorham head coach Mark Karter of the Eagles. “Our kids have played hard all year; we’ve been competitive in a lot of different games. This is always kind of a rivalry game, so I would expect to come out play pretty good basketball, and I thought we did. Gave ourselves a chance to win. We just couldn’t get over the hump late.”
Komulainen kicked off the scoring with a two, but Eagle Austin McGowan quickly answered with three – and then three more. Jackson Fotter with two from the line and Komulainen with two from the field soon brought the Rams even with their hosts again, but Chris Brown inched then Windham out front once more. Logan Drouin next assisted Cam Wright on a three-point play to grab the lead for Gorham at 9-8.
The squads wrangled one another like this through the remainder of the quarter; Orion Beers and Nick Curtis both contributed further points for the Eagles and Komulainen and Cam Holmes did the honors for Gorham. As the end of the stretch arrived, the opponents found themselves deadlocked at 14-14.
Pulkkinen took a moment to praise his some of his seniors by name. “I thought Orion played really, really good; he was extremely active and had some good takes in that first half, a couple left-handed layups. And Zach Petcher was in there, battling with their two bigs, who are very physical. Connor Pittman did a good job on defense and just working hard. And Chris Brown, he’s kind of just our Captain, senior leader; he’s got that calm presence that allows those guys to get comfortable on the court together. Those guys have been playing together for a long time.”
The Eagles jumped on top again to begin the second, Nazari Henderson adding a free for 15-14. The scoreboard then seesawed on the ensuing several baskets: Andrew Brown put Gorham ahead 16-15, Curtis responded for 17-16, Komulainen delivered a three for 19-17, Curtis again answered for 19-19 and Fotter added one for 20-19.
The Eagles next broke into one of the game’s few substantive runs, building a six-point lead on five by Mike Gilman, two by Hunter Coffin (on an aggressive drive that cost him some ugly injuries and sent him from the game) and four by Dierhow Bol. 30-24 Windham at the break.
“We’re going to get runs here and there,” said Pulkkinen. “We’ve just got to take care of the basketball, because we’re pretty good when we can keep a possession, moving the ball and getting everyone touches. When we start getting careless, that allows them more possessions. Obviously it’s nice when we can get some steals, and Dierhow had a nice block; it just came down to execution.”
Karter remarked on Windham’s big run. “The Curtis kid does so many good things; if he’s not shooting the ball and scoring, he’s driving and making passes to score. I think we got caught kind of staring at him a little bit, and he was able to find open men for layups. That’s a defensive breakdown that you can’t have. And offensively, we’re not good enough right now to be able to give up big runs. So we have to make that more of a priority.”
The Rams adjusted admirably to begin the third, and surged back on six quick, two each by Cam Wright, Komulainen and Fotter. A Kyle King free-throw then pushed Gorham into the lead, 31-30. Windham, however, responded, Curtis and Chris Brown together giving their boys the upper-hand heading into the home stretch.
Karter nodded in particular to Komulainen’s and Fotter’s performances: “Jay Komulainen played really well, and Jackson Fotter,” he said. “Those guys came out and played good basketball to kind of get us going a little bit, push us in the right direction.”
37-33 to start the fourth. Curtis turned a steal into two for 39-33, but Cam Holmes drained a three and Fotter nailed two from the line to make it 39-38. A Gilman steal next led to a Bol o-reb and two, putting the Eagles back up by three, but Andrew Brown promptly sliced that one with a deuce.
Still, Gorham was playing catchup, a situation that hasn’t often worked out for them this season. A Komulainen bucket did seize one last advantage for the Rams at 47-46, but then the final minute and a half arrived and the Fates decided once more to snub the squad, which has suffered more than its share of narrow heartbreakers this winter. With 1:24 left on the clock, Chris Brown completed the decisive three-point play, putting Windham ahead 49-47.
Down by two, Gorham launched into what looked like it might be the game’s final possession; in fact, they seemed be a little over-patient with the ball, considering they would need time to continue the battle if their initial drive failed to dig up a basket – which it did. Curtis came away with the rebound, and Fotter fouled him. Curtis, however, is an ace at the line, and sank both his attempts. 51-47.
Komulainen took matters into his own hands then, driving powerfully, earning a two for his efforts and leaving seven seconds still on the clock. The Eagles’ follow-up inbounds pass, however, found Curtis’s hands – the Rams’ instructions were to make sure it went to anyone but Curtis – and King was forced to send him back to the line. He hit both his shots, essentially sealing the W. Gilman would add two more frees before time actually expired for the 55-49 final.
“Obviously we’re not looking to foul their best foul-shooter,” Karter said. “So that was poor execution on our part. The ball was supposed to come into anybody else but [Curtis], and then we were going to foul that person. Tough to put a kid like that on the line, because he’s a clutch player, and he’s going to make shots.”
In addition to Komulainen’s 19, which included a pair of threes, Gorhamite Cam Holmes finished with nine (also including two threes). Teammates Wright and Fotter tallied seven apiece, Andrew Brown four, Logan Drouin two and Kyle King one.
Beyond Curtis’s 19, which included 10 from the line, fellow Eagles Gilman and Bol hashed eight each. Chris Brown added seven, McGowan six (on those opening threes), Beers four, Coffin two and Henderson one.
Both teams reach the postseason: Gorham, sixth in AA South at 4-14, faces off with No. 3 Sanford (8-10) on Thursday the 16th at 8 p.m.; the game will take place at the Portland Expo. Windham, sixth in AA North at 12-6, battles No. 3 Deering (also 12-6) on the same night. That bout is set to unfold at the Augusta Civic Center, with tip-off at 7.
Karter commented on the Rams’ direction, heading into the tournament: “We’ve had a lot of lessons learned this year,” he said. “If we’re going to be any kind of a team, it’s important to learn, and to come and play one good game. Now it’s a one-and-done game. It should be a competitive game, and whoever executes the best is going to win a playoff game. We’ll see if these kids can come out and get the job done.”
Pulkkinen added some further remarks on his seniors: “I thought our seniors played really well,” he said. “They should be proud of themselves, the way they played tonight in their last game in a white uniform. We’re going to miss them; the good thing is, we still have a couple chapters to write in our book. Our season’s not over. But for them to show that type of performance, the last night, was a big difference-maker for us, got us going and got our young guys to play hard for them.”
Gorham’s Cam Holmes tracks Windham’s Chris Brown as Brown breaks into the paint.
Logan Drouin throws up a jumper vs. Windham on Friday night.
Windhamite Zach Petcher dashes past Gorham defender Cam Wright.
Nick Curtis tied Gorham’s Jason Komulainen – both boys hashed 19 – for the game-high on Friday night.
Windham’s Nazari Henderson and Gorham’s Andrew Brown clash in midair as Brown attempts to get off an inside shot.
Jason Komulainen fires off a free for Gorham at Windham on Friday night.
Jason Komulainen takes to the air for Gorham at Windham; Komulainen tied for the game-high, 19, with Windham’s Nick Curtis on Friday.
Gorham point guard Jackson Fotter skirts his Windham counterpart, Nick Curtis.
Windham senior Orion Beers looked sharp against visiting Gorham on Friday night.
Eagle Connor Pittman and Ram Kyle King vie for a rebound.
Cam Wright goes to the glass for Gorham at Windham.