PORTLAND—If there’s one thing Gorhamite Mackenzie Holmes is not, it’s “overrated” on the court.
That was the Edward Little student section’s chanted assessment of her after she missed a free-throw attempt early in Friday night, March 2’s AA State Final, held at Cross Insurance Arena.
Student sections, of course, don’t exist to tell the truth. Their job is to rev up their own side, play head games with the other side and generally act like loveable idiots. The Rams’ student section – take a gander at them, after all – decided “It’s all over!” after their girls scored the game’s first two points.
Alas, that assessment also could not have been further from the truth. Gorham’s battle with the Eddies – “battle” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in sportswriting, but if it ever fit a game, it fit this game – tumbled on, and on, and on, through 31 minutes, 59.7 seconds.
That’s right: The Homeric back-and-forth boiled down to one shot, a shot from the line, an Eddies shot following a call that came, controversially, with three-tenths of one second left on the clock.
Holmes – after suffering an injury early the fourth – had led her girls back from a deep deficit to tie things up. That EL free-throw, though, Grace Fontaine made it, putting the Eddies ahead 50-49, and 50-49 is where the score sat when the buzzer tolled, ending both teams’ seasons.
“Today’s game was about kids making plays, and that’s what you want. They made one more play at the end than we did,” Gorham head coach Laugh Berthiaume said.
But it’s better to begin at the beginning.
Holmes won the tipoff for the Rams; teammate Michelle Rowe wasted little time in bucketing the bout’s first two – that’s when the Gorham student section chimed confidently in, their “It’s all over!” ringing loud atop the roar of the arena.
Shortly, Ram Olivia Michaud grabbed a defensive rebound; the play led to Michaud inbounding the ball from the baseline. Michaud shoveled to Holmes, a true powerhouse underneath, and Holmes lobbed the ball in.
EL answered with a couple baskets of their own, squaring the score; after that, the outfits traded blows to 6-6 before Gorham broke into a 7-3 run to close the quarter. Jacqui Hamilton fed Holmes for two more, standout freshman Adele Nadeau converted an short, easy drive into a jumper from the lane, and Hamilton hit a three: Suddenly, the Rams stood on top 13-9.
Then Hannah Chaput knocked down a buzzer-beater three for the Eddies. That one shot, besides pleasing the EL fan contingent, seemed to swing the momentum wildly, as EL kicked off the second by thoroughly turning the tables.
The Eddies dropped in three consecutive twos to seize the lead, 15-13; Berthiaume called timeout. Whatever he said, though, in those 30 seconds, didn’t quite do the trick, because when the squads returned to the court, EL continued their assault. Jade Perry hit a three, Chantel Ouellette a two, Fontaine a two.
“They made shots,” Berthiaume said of EL’s vigor in the second. “They got a little bit of dribble penetration on us and they were kicking out, and kids made shots for them.”
“They got hot,” Holmes said. “I don’t think we were ready for it.”
Down 22-14 now, Gorham rediscovered their groove. Still, they were only able to match – not to outpace – EL for the remainder of the quarter. Michaud hashed a two and Holmes one from the line; Holmes rabidly stuffed a Ouellette attempt; Michaud and Holmes contributed two more each. But all the while, the Eddies doggedly remained out front, and the break arrived at 29-21.
“That’s the game of basketball,” Bertiaume said. “You have some stretches that you play really well and some stretches you struggle in. The biggest key was, they made some shots. I don’t know what their percentage was, but it was a pretty high percentage, I thought.”
Gorham clearly refocused during the intermission, because they charged onto the court in the third looking freshly ferocious. The Rams, that is, tied things up in short order: Rowe hit a quick jumper two and Nadeau followed her up with a three; Rowe hit one from the line, then added a two on a long feed. 29-29.
“We worked our hardest to keep chipping away at their lead,” Holmes said. “I think we did a good job of that.”
Holmes, who stands 6-foot-2, rejected Fontaine hugely to keep the score synched up. She incurred a foul in so doing, though. In foul trouble with three, she headed to the bench; Hamilton, also tall and strong, checked to cover her power-forward duties.
“Foul trouble isn’t anything I’m not used to,” Holmes said. “Just managing it, the best we can. I thought we also did a good job of that.”
The Eddies took another turn on another streak, pulling ahead again 40-31. Perry, Fontaine and Chaput all struck oil in the stretch, while Gorham’s lone basket belonged to a fiery Brittany Desjardin.
Holmes had, at this point, already returned to the fray. That’s important to note because EL’s big, quarter-capping two – a Chaput two in transition, following a steal on a Rams inbounds attempt – came with Holmes very much defending. But Holmes, the lone Gorham player able to get back as Chaput drove, couldn’t risk taking yet another foul with more than eight minutes to play, and Chaput laid the ball up with relative ease.
The one moment summed up and showed off all the frustrations Gorham must’ve experienced in the previous several minutes.
EL opened the fourth with two more, thanks to Perry. A mere 10 seconds into the quarter, Holmes hit the floor hard, and immediately began writhing in agony and clutching at her knee. Gorham athletic trainer Tyler Delaney jogged to her side; happily for everyone in attendance, Holmes soon hobbled off the court under her own power.
Even more happily, she checked back into the scramble a few minutes later. She looked tender, running, but she ran. In fact, she did more than run: Jaw-droppingly, she flipped the switch on a cold fury.
“As soon as I went down,” Holmes said, “I’m like, ‘There’s no way I’m sitting the rest of this game.’ So I got up. Tyler did the [assessment] on me. I’m like, ‘I don’t care what happens in this [assessment], I’m going back on the court.’ Everything was good, so I just had to go out there and finish the game.”
For the rest of the game – until Fontaine stepped to the line for her fateful free-throw – Holmes looked almost like the only athlete on the court. Every Gorham possession went through her, and most of EL’s possessions went through her too – or, rather, she inserted herself into them, rebounding defensively like the Eddies’ backboard was her personal property.
Holmes returned to the game at 7:32, when the score stood 42-31; at 7:25 Rowe drained a two. Holmes then grabbed a d-reb she ultimately converted into two. Next, the Rams forced a turnover that – you guessed it – Holmes converted for two.
“We moved the ball a little bit better,” Berthiaume said, asked how the Rams improved their access to Holmes from outside-in during the second half. “You’ve got to reverse the basketball and be able to open up some passing lanes, and she was posting up very hard. We just had to find the angle to get it to her.”
Chaput hashed a couple from the line, then, but they weren’t nearly enough to temper Holmes’s ire. She responded with a two underneath and a trio more d-rebs. Following an EL travel, she added another bucket. Following an offensive rebound, she hit two from the line: The scoreboard ticked forward to 44-43. Holmes had stamped out all but the last embers of EL’s 11-point advantage.
“We battled back,” Berthiaume said. “Possession by possession we came all the way back…The kids believe in each other. There was never a time when we felt like we were all done…When the final horn went, that’s when we were going to compete to.”
“We play every game for each other,” Holmes said. “That’s what we did right until the end.”
Finally, when Holmes sank a couple further frees, she evened things up: 45-45. Perry responded with a two, but Holmes said nuh-uh, and knocked down a two herself. Inside the last minute, Chaput answered; then, however, a held ball went Gorham’s way.
With 21.3 seconds to go and his girls in possession, Berthiaume called timeout; Holmes wasted no time converting when she and her sisters-in-arms returned to the floor. 49-49.
“That’s one determined kid,” Berthiaume said of Holmes. “This is her team, and she was going to do everything she could to give us the best chance she could…She’s carried us for a long time. It’s no secret that she’s our go-to player; that’s why they had two kids guarding her.”
But 49-49 is where it all went wrong. Gorham had the momentum, would have had the momentum in overtime – the game seemed fated for OT. Then, with Fontaine driving along the baseline, trying for a last-ditch bucket, a whistle blew. Nadeau, said the official, had fouled Fontaine.
Fontaine, on her drive, didn’t appear to have a snowball’s chance in heck of making her basket. If she somehow circumvented Nadeau, she would still have to contend with the towering Holmes, already planted firmly in her way. And if Fontaine crashed into Holmes, it would’ve been nigh-impossible to call anything except a player-control foul.
Instead, the official sent Fontaine to the line, where she hit one of her two shots, locking up the EL victory.
It’s hard not to look at the last second of the game and think the action should’ve been allowed to culminate in OT. It’s hard not to feel like the call on Nadeau essentially handed the Eddies their triumph.
But those are the breaks in sports. Both Holmes and Berthiaume adopted a sportsmanlike attitude toward the moment:
“It was a tough call,” Berthiaume said. “.3 seconds left. But Reggie Grant is one of the best (officials); he’s on my list to do games every year, and if he called the foul, then it was a foul.”
“We got an unlucky call right at the end,” Holmes said. “That changed everything; nothing we can do about that. I’m proud of the effort that we put forth.”
In fact, after the buzzer buzzed, Holmes could be seen immediately trotting to the sidelines to comfort her teammates, clapping and appearing to repeatedly tell them, “It’s okay.”
Holmes finished with 24 – 16 of which came in that fourth quarter alone. Rowe added 11 for the Rams, Nadeau seven, Hamilton three, Michaud and Desjardin two apiece.
Gorham retires for the year at 14-8. The Rams started strong in the regular season, hit a mid-season skid, rediscovered just who they are – the Rams, THE Rams – and finished impressively. They entered the postseason ranked fifth in AA South, essentially on nobody’s radar as a real prospect to take it all, then knocked off both No. 1 South Portland and No. 2 Scarborough in shocking fashion.
By the time Gorham matched up with Edward Little on Friday night, they looked roughly as powerful as they did last year, and the year before, when they went back-to-back as State Champs. (They defeated EL in 2017 for the crown, in fact.)
Frankly, smart money is on the Rams to be top contenders next winter: They lose but one senior to graduation in June – Rowe, an important senior, but still just one – meaning they return the rest of their starting five. Moreover, both Nadeau and Michaud will qualify, by next December, as “seasoned veterans,” having begun their high-school careers with such a tumultuous 2017-18.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” Berthiaume said of his girls. “We made a conscious choice, in the middle of the year, to regroup and figure some things out and push through and play for each other. And I think that’s what we did.”
Holmes echoed her coach. “I’m extremely proud of us. If someone at the beginning of the season had said the Gorham Rams were going to be in the State Championship, I don’t think anyone would believe [them] – except us, because we knew the hard work we were putting in. We knew we were finally going to turn a corner, and we did.”
Adam Birt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.
The Gorham girls console one another as they receive their individual awards.
Gorham Captains Michelle Rowe (left) and Mackenzie Holmes console one another after receiving their State Runners-up plaque.
Gorham’s Courtney Brent surveys her pass options.
Jacqui Hamilton lofts up a ball vs. Edward Little.
Adele Nadeau plays keepaway vs. an EL defender.
Brittany Desjardin will not be denied, en route to the basket.
Talented freshman Olivia Michaud dishes on the drive for Gorham.
Mackenzie Holmes’s on-court persona – dominant, confident, determined, overwhelming, dialed-in – displays itself in a shot over a would-be EL defender.
Michelle Rowe dishes the ball, attacking for Gorham.
Determined, Mackenzie Holmes powered through opponent after opponent in Gorham’s narrow, controversial loss to EL.
The Gorham student section sends positive vibes to one of their girls, taking a turn at the foul line.