PORTLAND — Grace Fontaine stepped to the free-throw line with three-tenths of a second to play and everything on the line.
“She was probably shaking when she shot that. It was a huge shot,” teammate Hannah Chaput said.
Fontaine made the first, and that was all she needed to give Edward Little its first girls’ basketball state championship with a 50-49 win over Gorham in the Class AA state title game Friday at Cross Insurance Arena.
“I was so scared,” Fontaine said, “and I just wanted to make the first one so I didn’t have to focus on making the second one.”
After Fontaine’s tie-breaker, the four other Red Eddies on the floor swarmed her, knowing that Gorham’s options were limited.
“I was so confident in her. I knew she could do it,” EL senior Piper Norcross said. “I was like, ‘Oh, we have this. Grace is going to the line, we’re fine.’
“We were all so excited. I couldn’t stop hugging her, I didn’t want to let go, I didn’t want to let her shoot the second one. I just wanted to keep hugging her.”
Fontaine missed the second free throw. The Rams rebounded, but there wasn’t enough time to get a shot off.
For the first time in school history, the Red Eddies were state champions.
“This has been my dream,” Norcross said. “I’ve grown up in the gym, and this is the most amazing feeling ever.”
“From the beginning of the season, I told myself, we’re winning the gold ball,” Fontaine said. “I just wanted it so bad.”
Fontaine’s game-winning shot game after Gorham’ Mackenzie Holmes tied the score for the third time in the final two minutes.
But the Rams were going against the experts of crunch time. Fontaine made the game-winning shot against Oxford Hills in the AA North regional final. Chaput’s late layup helped Edward Little survive Lewiston in the quarterfinals. The Red Eddies also pulled out a close win over South Portland in late January.
They were used to being making plays with the clock ticking down.
“We’ve talked a lot about resiliency,” Edward Little coach Chris Cifelli said. “We’ve talked a lot about being a team. People have really stepped into roles, and roles that they’ve accepted and felt confident in. We’ve also worked on and really tried to discuss preparing for things that might come up.”
The Red Eddies had to tap into their resilience early in Friday’s game.
They fell behind 4-0 early as the offense sputtered trying to figure out Gorham’s defense. Cifelli went to his bench for a boost, and Chaput provided it.
The sophomore scored two straight baskets to tie the game at 4-4 soon after entering the game, and later hit a pair of free throws to tie it at 6-6.
“She’s amazing,” Norcross said. “She’s so feisty. I love it when she’s out there, she’s not afraid to score, she’s a very confident player, and so we can always count on her to hit buckets for us.”
Gorham went a quick 7-0 run, but Chaput drained a corner 3-pointer that beat the first-quarter buzzer and cut the Rams’ lead to 13-9. Chaput had all nine of the Red Eddies’ first-quarter points.
“She was a huge spark plug,” Cifelli said. “She had some big baskets right off, she had some deflections and some steals. When they started to get a little bit of a mini-run at the start, she kind of squelched that a little bit, and kept it close enough for us.”
Chaput’s trey kick-started a 12-0 run by Edward Little. In the second quarter, the Red Eddies’ speed took over, turning rebounds into transition points as well as quickly plugging holes in the defense and creating steals.
At the other end, they started attacking the hoop. Chantel Ouellette drove for a bucket, then Jade Perry drove for two more to give EL its first lead of the game, 15-13.
Edward Little kept going, and after trailing by seven near the end of the first quarter, it built a double-digit advantage with about two minutes left in the second. The lead was 29-21 at the break.
Gorham scored the first eight points of the second half to tie the game, but by the end of the third quarter, Edward Little’s lead was back up to nine, 40-31.
Perry opened the fourth quarter by lofting a shot into the hoop from about the foul line, giving the Red Eddies their largest lead of the game, 42-31.
Perry caught the 6-foot-2 Holmes off-balance on the play, and Gorham’s top scorer fell to the court and stayed there for a few minutes in pain. She had to be helped up, but walked to the locker room by herself.
She returned a few minutes later — only 20 seconds of game time — and nearly led the Rams on a comeback.
“She came back, you could just see … she came back a lot more determined,” Cifelli said.
Gorham’s Michelle Rowe scored to make it 42-33, and then Holmes’ scored the teams’ final 16 points, finishing with a game-high 24.
“When you watch on film, you don’t get the appreciation for just how dominant she can be,” Cifelli said. “She can beat you in so many different ways.”
Holmes finally tied it at 45-45. Perry broke the tie with a drive to the hoop.
Holmes again tied it again at 47-47, but Ouellette drove for a hoop that made it 49-47 with 36 seconds remaining.
Holmes scored off an inbounds pass to even the score for the final time with about 20 seconds left.
The Red Eddies called a timeout with 11.8 seconds left to set up a play that gave Fontaine the ball on the wing.
“We set up our play that had gotten us the best looks in tight situations,” Cifelli said. “We went to it and we got another really, really good look. I just had a lot of confidence in Grace not only knowing if she had the ability to get to the rim, but also knowing who to get it to and finding that read in case they did collapse.”
As she drove the baseline, she drew the foul that set up the game-winning shot.
“When she went to foul line, I had a lot of confidence,” Cifelli said. “I remember her playing as a freshman for me on the JV team, she’s just cool as a cucumber on the foul line. I was delighted. When it left her hand, I knew it was in.”
The Red Eddies’ only previous state title game appearance was in 2016, when the lost to Gorham, which entered Friday as the two-time defending state champs.
“I thought the biggest key was they made some shots there,” Gorham coach Laughn Berthiaume said. “I don’t know what their percentage was, but they made some big shots.”
Holmes also pulled down 15 rebounds.
Perry and Chaput each scored 16 to lead Edward Little. It might be fitting that there wasn’t one team-high scorer, because the Red Eddies are used to not having just one player stand out.
“Every game we’ve gotten closer and closer,” Norcross said. “And I think coming up to this, we all put it in perspective, like, it doesn’t matter who’s the star this day, we all just got to win. That’s our one goal.
“It’s awesome to make history with my family.”
Edward Little basketball players rush to the crowd with the gold ball after winning the Class AA state championship Friday over Gorham at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. Holding the trophy are Jade Perry, left, and Piper Norcross. Other players, from left, are Julia Milks (13), Grace Beaudet (20), Grace Fontaine (14) and Taylor Depot. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
EL’s Jade Perry celebrates her team’s state championship. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
EL’s Piper Norcross celebrates her team’s state championship. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Edward Little’s Jade Perry hits a layup during Friday night’s state championship game in Portland against Gorham. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
EL’s Grace Fontaine is fouled as she heads to the basket in the final seconds of Friday night’s state championship game in Portland. She would make the free throws that were the difference in the game. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
The EL girls’ basketball team celebrates with the gold ball they received after defeating Gorham in the AA state championship game at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland Friday night. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
After receiving the gold ball, EL players share their state championship with the fans at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland Friday night. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Gorham’s Mackenzie Holmes, right, can’t stop EL’s Chantel Ouellette as she drives to the hoop for two points during the first half of Friday night’s state championship game in Portland (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Gorham’s Mackenzie Holmes, left, can’t stop EL’s Grace Beaudet as she drives to the hoop for two points during the first half of Friday night’s state championship game in Portland (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Edward Little’s Jade Perry drives to the basket past Gorham’s Michelle Rowe during the first half of Friday night’s state championship game in Portland. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)