Led by a defense that held York to two points in the fourth quarter, Gray-NG turned a tense showdown of unbeaten Western Maine Conference teams into a blowout, 52-35, on Tuesday night.
Gray-NG (4-0) has been competitive since Katie Whittier’s teams won back-to-back regional titles in 2001 and 2002, but not a year-in, year-out championship challenger in the tradition of York (3-1).
“Our big thing tonight was we wanted to treat this like a tournament game. We got to Portland last year, and our kids were overcome by the surroundings. We didn’t beat Lake Region last year. We didn’t beat York last year,” Gray-NG coach Mike Andreasen said. “These kids weren’t jumping around at the end of the game. They act like they’ve been through this before.”
Down by eight early in the second quarter, the Patriots used a 14-5 run, capped by Grace Kariotis’ put-back with three seconds remaining, to grab a 26-25 halftime lead.
Reilly Smedley restored York’s lead at 31-30 on a 3-point play with 4:06 remaining in the third period, but Gray-NG went on a 22-2 tear thereafter.
Five different players scored a field goal in the third quarter for the Patriots. Maria Valente was 5-for-6 from the free-throw line in the fourth, with Alicia Dumont and Izzy Detroy each chipping in two baskets.
“Our defense definitely made the difference, and in the second half, our foul shots toward the end,” Valente said. “We were confident in those. We were on top of things in the second half.”
Detroy was largely responsible for the defense that slowed down York star Shannon Todd after a torrid start. Todd finished with a game-high 15 points before fouling out with a minute remaining.
Valente paced the Patriots with 13 points, nine rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots. Dumont added 10 points. Skye Conley contributed nine points, eight rebounds and four assists. Detroy chipped in seven points and Kariotis six.
“That was just a good team win. We focus on team defense a lot, just communicating,” Conley said. “It’s a lot of fun being able to depend on everyone.”
Gray-NG overcame 32 turnovers by harassing York into 13-for-59 (22 percent) shooting. The Wildcats were shut out in the fourth quarter until Lily Posternak’s steal and layup with 21 seconds remaining.
“We’ve been exactly the opposite this year. The first half has been sloppy and the second half has been great. (Tonight) we played the first half decent, not so in the second half,” York coach Rick Clark said. “It was a more physical game than we’ve seen all year. We didn’t respond well. We played their game in their gym. It’s tough to beat a team as good as Gray going that route.”
The Patriots lost Kariotis to the bench with her fourth foul on Smedley’s basket midway through the third quarter. Gray-NG responded with a go-ahead runner from Dumont, a drop pass from Conley to Alanna Camerl for an uncontested layup, and a steal by Dumont that led to a 3-point play for Valente.
Todd interrupted the run with a basket off a Posternak swipe, but it was the Wildcats’ final bucket for more than nine minutes.
“I’d like to think our defense had something to do that,” Andreasen said. “That wasn’t the way we started the game. It looked like Shannon was going to score 50 herself.”
Dumont and Detroy each drained a short jumper to keep the Patriots rolling in the opening minute of the fourth.
“That run they had, they couldn’t miss. Could not miss,” Clark said. “Hopefully we learn from it. I told them before undefeated doesn’t mean a darned thing. I’ve been undefeated before and didn’t win states. We’ve won it a few times at 17-1 and worse than that. There’s nothing wrong with finding out you have flaws you’ve got to work on.”
York threatened to run away early. Todd scored eight in the first four minutes. Suzanne Donovan’s hoop in the closing seconds of the quarter gave the Wildcats a 14-12 lead.
That grew to an eight-point margin on layups by Smedley, Todd and Posternak in a 26-second span, the last two off steals in the backcourt.
“We just closed out shooters better,” Valente said of the ensuing adjustments. “We knew the specific people we needed to face guard, stuff like that.”
Emma Thompson’s 3-pointer with 50 seconds to go was York’s lone field goal in the final seven minutes of the half. Despite missing seven free throws that could have created an even bigger margin, Gray-NG scaled the mountain with points from six different players, including five from Conley.
Gray-NG is not only winning games but overcoming the other heavy hitters of the WMC. The four teams the Patriots have beaten — York, Greely, Fryeburg and Cape Elizabeth — are 10-1 against the rest of the league.
“We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied,” Kariotis said. “We just want to keep moving up and keep working and play our best by the end of the season.”