POLAND — The last thing Gray-New Gloucester wanted was another preliminary game.
Last year, the Patriots’ girls’ basketball team had to earn its way to a Western B quarterfinal via the tournament prelim. They didn’t fare so well, and watched their tourney hopes dashed by Wells before getting anywhere near Portland.
Friday, Gray-New Gloucester was determined to punch its own tourney ticket, and likely did so with a 59-44 win over Poland.
“It’s really exciting,” senior center Steph Greaton said. “I’m so pumped. The entire team is excited to make it back to the Expo. We knew if we lost this game, we’d have to play a prelim.”
The Patriots (11-7) were eighth in Western B entering the regular season finale but bounced up to sixth with the win. That enables them to avoid the preliminary round and sets up a rematch with third-ranked Wells in the quarterfinals.
Poland (9-9) finishes in the final playoff spot and likely draws a preliminary matchup at Fryeburg. The Knights split with the Raiders (11-7) during the regular season.
“If everybody does what I thought they were going to do, it looks like we’ll probably go to Fryeburg,” Poland coach Darren Littlefield said. “I talked to four other coaches in the conference and they all thought Fryeburg would go by Oak Hill (and into seventh).”
Gray-NG got 17 from Maria Valente and 13 from Alicia Dumont. Greaton added 11 as the Patriots broke open a 24-24 game with a strong second half.
“Poland is always a tough team to play against,” said Greaton, whose team beat the Knights in overtime in the first meeting. “We have a lot of respect for them. They’re our rivals, and we really wanted this game.”
Poland was playing without guard Michaella Arsenault because of a concussion suffered in the previous loss to the Patriots. Emily Bolduc led the Knights with 24. Her sister Sarah, added 12.
“Emily is as tenacious as you can get,” Littlefield said.
Gray-NG outscored Poland 18-6 in the third to open the lead. The Patriots got scoring from six different players and six points from Valente in the quarter. Poland missed its first four shots and went just 1-for-9 from the floor in the quarter.
“The way they were shooting in the first half, they had six 3s,” said Gray-New Gloucester coach Mike Andreasen. “If you double that, it’s a tournament record. So our goal was to just wear them down with the uptempo and with the running and the pressing. If they’re still making their shots, then they deserve it.”
Valente hit a short jumper early in the third to give the Patriots the lead for good. After two free throws from Greaton and one from Zoe Adams, Poland got two free throws from Lindsay Theriault. The Patriots then produced a 13-3 run to finish the quarter.
After a jumper from Dumont, Valente hit a pair of outside shots. Sarah Bolduc scored off a pass from her sister to make it 35-29 with 1:46 left. After two free throws by Skye Conley, Dumont hit a jumper and Grace Kariotis drilled a 3 to finish the quarter 42-30.
“If we can hit some mid-range jump shots, I think we’re much more effective,” Andreasen said. “When we struggle as a team, it’s offensively. Defensively we’re pretty good but if we don’t make shots, we can struggle.”
With Theriault dealing with foul trouble, the Knights missed their top defender and with Arsenault on the bench, Poland was without an extra ball handler and scoring threat. That made it hard for the Knights to rally.
The Patriots had the lead up to as many as 20 in the fourth. Poland shot 4-for-13 and didn’t make much of a surge until a 3 from each Bolduc in the final minute.
“We did shoot the ball in the first half from 3-point line pretty crazy, which was great,” Littlefield said. “That’s encouraging, but we can’t live by that. We should have scored more against their press and we didn’t.”
Emily Bolduc had a trio of 3’s in the first half. Sarah Bolduc had a pair and Caroline Littlefield hit one. That enabled the Knights to hold the lead for most of the first half. It was back-and-forth at times. The largest lead with six points and the game was tied four times at the half.
Poland didn’t get the same kind of shots in the second half. Meanwhile, the Patriots execute effectively. Gray-NG also shot 19-for-29 from the foul line, including 13-for-19 in the second half.
“Coach just stressed to us that we had to have more confidence in our shots and to make the entry passes,” Greaton said. “We just exceeded that during the second half.”