PORTLAND—Gorham seemed to suffer a bit of an identity crisis this winter when they hit a mid-season skid and dropped four games in a row – the program’s first losses in more than two years. By playoffs, though, the Rams clearly knew who they were: First, the team shocked No. 1 South Portland 53-42 in the semis; then – on Friday afternoon, Feb. 23 – they did the same to No. 2 Scarborough.
As they had vs. the Red Riots, Gorham powered to a huge lead in the first half vs. the Red Storm – a crushing lead, in fact: an insurmountable lead. By contest’s end, the Rams stood on top 48-27.
“I don’t know if it was so much an ‘identity crisis,’ or we were learning what our identity was,” Gorham head coach Laughn Berthiaume said. “We’re playing two freshmen, and it’s expected that there’s going to be some growing pains along the way. We had a four-game stretch where our weaknesses got exposed, and really taught us what we needed to work on.”
“The biggest thing that helped us in that stretch,” Berthiaume said, “was that the upperclassmen, the kids that had been there before, were really positive with the new kids. You don’t want them to feel like it’s their fault. They worked through it together.”
“Every game, since playoffs started, we’re like, ‘New season; 0-0,’” said Gorham standout Mackenzie Holmes, one of Maine’s very best. “We want to come out, every game, leave it all on the court, no regrets, and hope for the best.”
Scarborough held the upper-hand in the very early going on Friday. Sophie Glidden kicked things off with a Storm three. Gorhamite Michelle Rowe responded with a driving layup, but Isabella Dickinson made it 6-2 on another Scarborough downtowner. The Rams then evened things up on Holmes and Adele Nadeau buckets.
Holmes remarked on the Rams’ defensive scheme. “Shooting-wise, we wanted to make sure – we noticed that, when they drove, they tend to kick it out – so we wanted to make sure not to help too much on that kick-out. I thought we did a good job of that.”
Dickinson sank another two, but Gorham next broke into a run – a relentless, 21-0 assault that extended well into the second. Brittany Desjardin began it with a three; Holmes hashed a pair from the line; Nadeau hit a three and Olivia Michaud a two. Desjardin added another two after grabbing a long feed and holding up momentarily while a hot-on-her-heels defender careened passed. As the first wound down, Courtney Brent turned a Rams steal and dished to Desjardin, who delivered a buzzer-beater drive for two more.
Michaud and Brent knocked down back-to-back threes for the Rams as the second dawned. Then, finally, Scarborough scored again – Julia Freeman did the honors, basketing from beyond the arc – but Gorham were simply off and running, and not about to look back.
“I think we all get pretty fired up before the games,” Holmes said, asked about Gorham’s recent hot starts. “We know what we want, and we try our hardest to go out and get it.”
“Honestly, to me, I thought it was a two-point game the whole game,” Holmes said. “Then I came out, fourth quarter, and I’m like ‘Holy crap!’”
The Storm managed to match the Rams in both the third and fourth: The teams tallied eight apiece in the former quarter and seven in the latter. While Glidden, Dickinson, Madison Blanche, Jocelyn Couture, Emily Jeffords and Lindsey Kelley all reeled in points for Scarborough in the downhill half, Holmes, Desjardin, Nadeau, Rowe and Brent all contributed for the Rams, as did Jacqui Hamilton and Tatyanna Biamby.
A bit of a misperception perhaps entered the public consciousness when the Rams began losing, midway through the regular season. Superstar Emily Esposito had led the team in recent years, but was off to college now. As Gorham’s L column ratcheted from zero, to one, to two and so on, it’s likely many began to question whether the Rams could still battle at the top.
And, given that Esposito and Holmes had long formed such a formidable outside-inside combination threat, the possibility that Gorham might have become a one-trick pony – well, it seemed a real danger to their chances.
But the Rams are experienced; they’ve been on the big stages and they know how to win there. Moreover, they’re expertly coached, and their bench remains deep. The addition of new talent like Nadeau and Michaud only bolsters an already-impressive roster. Clearly, rumors of the Rams’ demise are wildly premature.
“I tell my freshman, every game, ‘You may be a freshman, but don’t act like one,’ because as soon as you stop looking to score, you’re a liability on offense,” Holmes said. “Like, Olivia Michaud…I’m like, ‘Make [them] guard you,’ so she comes up, hits two big shots, and that was a huge game-changer.”
“If teams are going to guard Mackenzie with two or three kids, other kids have got to step up,” Berthiaume said, “and I thought they did. When they had open shots, they took them. Olivia Michaud and Adele Nadeau have played great, being on the big floor for the first time. They haven’t been scared. And our veterans, Brittany Desjardin and Michelle Rowe and Courtney Brent were all huge the last two years, so they know what it takes.”
In the end, Scarborough failed to gain much ground on Gorham, and the Rams proved, for all of Southern Maine to see, that they’ve still got what it takes. And for that, they earned a trip to next Saturday, March 2’s State Final. It’ll be the Rams’ third trip to the big game in as many years; they brought home the gold ball in both 2016 and 2017.
“We’re a small team this year, but we’re a really tight-knit group,” Holmes said, asked what’s different about the 2018 team. “We play for each other, every single game.”
“Our team chemistry is great,” Holmes said. “It’s just trusting what we’ve done to prepare for these games, trusting each other and loving each other. Everyone having that confidence that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.”
Nadeau accrued the game-high, with 12. Desjardin and Holmes dropped in eight apiece, Michaud seven, Rowe and Brent four each, Hamilton three and Biamby one. Glidden logged the Storm’s biggest output, with nine.
Gorham advanced to 14-7 with the victory. When the Rams met Scarborough in the regular season, they prevailed 66-53.
Next weekend, Gorham will rematch with Edward Little, whom they defeated two years ago for the title. The Rams took the teams’ regular season bout 48-36.
“Coming in as the five-seed and being able to do this with such a great group of girls,” Holmes said, “is a great feeling. We’re going to try to get better every day.”
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.
Gorham’s Brittany Desjardin contributed eight points to her girls’ victory.
Adele Nadeau, Gorham freshman standout, clashes with a pair of Storm defenders.
Mackenzie Holmes battles a Red Stormer in midair.
Gorhamite Jacqui Hamilton dishes the ball.
Michelle Rowe and Mackenzie Holmes hug following the Rams’ win.
The Gorham girls rejoice immediately following their victory over Scarborough.
Mackenzie Holmes celebrates atop the ladder after the Rams’ victory over the Storm.
The Rams pose as a team with their new plaque.
The Gorham girls hoist the newest addition to their trophy case.
Michelle Rowe works the baseline perimeter for Gorham vs. Scarborough.