As Gorham players takes down the nets, Julia Colby, Emily Corbet and Jadah Adams wait for the awards ceremony.
AUGUSTA — Gorham defended its state championship by defending Oxford Hills at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday.
After a tight first half, the Rams held the Vikings to nine second-half points to win 45-31 in the Class AA girls’ basketball state championship game.
The victory was the 42nd in a row for Gorham.
“It’s pretty special,” Rams coach Laughn Berthiaume said.
“This is going to be fun to look back on.”
The Gorham student section chanted, “It’s all over,” right after the opening tipoff — which was justified considering how unstoppable the Rams have been. But Saturday’s game wasn’t going to be that easy.
The Vikings couldn’t have asked for a better start. They forced a miss and a turnover on defense. Jadah Adams scored in the post and then Julia Colby cooly splashed a 3-pointer. 5-0, Oxford Hills.
Gorham scored the next five, but the Vikings were unfazed. Hannah Kenney hit a jumper around the midway point and Adams scored again near the end of the first quarter to give Oxford Hills a 9-5 lead after one.
The Vikings kept rolling at the start of the second quarter. Anna Piirainen made a pull-up jumper, and Erin Morton drove for two points, making it an 8-0 run and giving Oxford Hills a 13-5 lead.
Gorham’s Michelle Rowe ended the run with a putback. After Oxford Hills’ Maighread Laliberte made a 3-pointer, Rowe again scored for the Rams to keep them within seven points, 16-9.
Gorham spent the rest of the half chipping away at the lead, and finally surpassed Oxford Hills when Mackenzie Holmes bucket in the final minute gave the Rams a 24-22 advantage going into the halftime break.
“The last second half of the year, we’ve started games really well,” Vikings coach Nate Pelletier said. “And I felt like against the best team in the state, we started very well. We came out and played our game.
“Obviously, they went on a run in the second quarter that we really just couldn’t stop.”
Adams scored to tie it at 24-24 about two-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter.
The Vikings held the Rams scoreless until the 3:11 mark when, yes, Michelle Rowe ended the drought with a pair of free throws.
“You know what, she’s been doing that for us,” Berthiaume said. “She’s the one that is not a returning starter from last year, and so, unfortunately for other teams, when they overlook her, she’s ready.”
Then Emily Esposito took over. The Villanova-bound senior scored seven straight points, including a trey in the final seconds to give Gorham a nine-point cushion, 33-24, with one quarter to play.
“I guess that’s what you hope a girl going to Villanova would do,” Pelletier said.
Esposito finished with a game-high 20 points.
“She really wasn’t going to be denied,” Berthiaume said. “She’s been the best player, and she acted like it today.”
Esposito found motivation in … basically, anything she could.
“We come in our with our record, and we kind of take that for granted, and then they light us up with their fans and, you know, chirping, trash talking, you know, the refs kind of going against us,” Esposito said. “So, I love that aspect of it. It fuels my fire. That’s what gets me pumped up. That’s when I had that 3 (at the end of the third quarter), trying to prove the other team wrong.”
Rowe added 11. Holmes scored eight points and pulled down 13 rebounds for Gorham, which finishes the season with a perfect 21-0 record.
As in the third, the Vikings again held the Rams scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter. During that stretch, though, the only points Oxford Hills scored was a layup by Morton that ended a nine-minute scoring drought.
A one-handed jumper by Colby was the Vikings third and final field goal of the second half.
Colby hit a free throw with 2:30 remaining to cut Gorham’s lead to 37-31.
“All in all, we wanted to give ourselves a chance to win,” Pelletier said. “And, in the fourth quarter, we cut it to six, 37-31, and we gave ourselves a chance to win — we just could not put the ball in the basket.”
The Vikings couldn’t get closer than six and were forced to foul, which inflated the Rams’ lead.
Oxford Hills made only 3 of 20 field goals in the second half after shooting 8 for 17 (47 percent) in the first.
“Defensively, our girls gave everything they’ve got,” Pelletier said. “But they played pretty good defense, too, and they weren’t allowing our kids to be comfortable anywhere they could be.”
Colby and Adams led Oxford Hills with eight points each. Morton added six.
Oxford Hills finishes the season 19-2 and with a Class AA North regional title.
“They (Gorham) are the total package, and we gave ourselves a chance to win, and I’m very proud of the girls for that,” Pelletier said.
“As a whole, it’s just an amazing journey,” he added. “We talked about it with the kids, what you’re going to remember is last week cutting down the nets to win the Northern Maine championship. This one’s stings a little bit, but you’ve got to keep your head high, because they just battled.”
Gorham’s Kristen Curley and Kayla Lunden foul Oxford Hills’ Julia Colby as she tries to get to the basket in the fourth quarter.Fans react to the Vikings’ strong start.Gorham’s Mackenzie Holmes and Kalea Lunden work together to steal the ball from Oxford Hills’ Julia Colby.Late in the first half, Oxford Hills’ Anna Piirainen tries to get through traffic.Gorham’s Mackenzie Holmes fouls Oxford Hills’ Jadah Adams.