GRAY — It was a bit of a play-in game Tuesday night.
With both Gray-New Gloucester and Poland hovering around the final playoff spots in Western B, one of those teams was going to take a sizable step toward the postseason.
With games against Greely and Lake Region to end the regular campaign, the Patriots knew Tuesday’s game with their Route 26 rivals was as good as any chance they’d have to secure a tourney berth.
With a slim, three-point lead at the half, Gray-NG opened the third quarter with 13-5 surge to open up the lead. The Patriots never looked back in a 48-33 victory.
“The way we looked at it was that the winner of this game probably assures themselves of a playoff spot tonight,” said Gray-NG coach Mike Andreasen. “So that was a big win for us. I thought that probably assures us of one of those spots.”
Gray-NG (8-7) was ranked ninth in the latest Western B standings and Poland (5-10) was close behind in 11th. The top 12 in Western B make the tourney. The Knights still have three games to punch their ticket. They play Fryeburg, Freeport and Yarmouth, all teams crowded around the final few spots.
“I told the girls at the end of the game that I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of them for battling as hard as they battle in a tough situation tonight,” said Poland coach Darren Littlefield, whose team had four players get injured Tuesday, including two starters. “We have three games left, all against teams that are right around us in the Heal Points.”
Maria Valente led the Patriots with 18 points while Haylee Cote added 12. Gray-NG got scoring from all nine players.
“What was nice was that we played hard,” said Andreasen, whose team lost to Poland earlier in the year, 51-48. “When we led up there, we had a lead of seven or eight points in the third quarter. We just kind of rolled over. I thought tonight we didn’t.”
Leading 17-14 at the half, the Patriots opened the third with a strong effort and quickly had the lead up to double digits with that run.
“I think we played a lot smarter tonight than we had early in the season when we’d make bad decisions and bad passes.,” said Valente, who had nine of her team’s 12 points in the second quarter. “
The Knights struggled to keep pace. Poland lost starting post player Michaella Arsenault to an ankle injury in the first half. Then Kat Seeley was lost in the second half because of a possible concussion. Emily Bolduc led the Knights with 19 while Maheux added eight. Arsenault and Seeley were the only other players to score, combining for six.
“We felt pretty good at halftime being down three shooting as poorly as we did in the first half,” said Littlefield. “Injuries really took a toll on us. We had two starters knocked out of the game.”
Valente started the scoring in the third with a rebound. After Seeley scored for the Knights, Valente added two free throws and Cote scored in the paint for a 23-16 lead. Bolduc scored on a drive, but Stephanie Greaton put back a rebound. After a Maheaux free throw made it 25-19, Cote hit a 3 and Julia Martell followed with a jumper for a 30-19 lead.
“We needed to score,” said Valente. “We had to have a bigger lead and hold that lead. I knew we just needed to score in that third.”
Poland cut the lead to nine on a Bolduc drive, but the Patriots finished the quarter with six straight. Valente hit a jumper and Cote hit another 3 that helped built a 15-point lead.
Bolduc scored all 10 of Poland’s points in the fourth before fouling out. The Patriots were able to maintain the lead with baskets by Valente, Sammie Wilkins and an abundance of free throws down the stretch.
“They made some shots in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter that enabled them to open up the gap,” said Littlefield. “We usually play very well in the second half.”