PORTLAND – For much of the game, the Edward Little girls’ basketball team was within striking distance Saturday night.

Whatever shot the unbeaten Gorham Rams hit in the first Class AA championship game at the Cross Insurance Arena, the Red Eddies matched it.

But as the game wore on, Gorham had more solutions and Edward Little had less answers.

The Rams turned a narrow lead into a double-digit advantage in the third quarter and EL couldn’t keep pace. Though EL rallied in the fourth, Gorham pulled away for a 46-36 win in the first Class AA title game.

“We thought we might score in the 36 to 44 range and we were trying to hold them in that same range,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “That’s about what it was.”

Gorham hit its first five shots of the third quarter and that changed the game. EL was down by four to start the quarter, but when the Rams started hitting, EL couldn’t match Gorham’s proficiency. The Rams had the lead up to as much as 33-21. Though EL got within 35-30 entering the fourth and were within one early in the final quarter, the Rams finished the game off with 12 straight points.

“They hit some back-breaking shots,” Jipson said. “They have the kid (Emily Esposito) who has 20 DI offers and had 22 points. I didn’t think we did a terrible job on her. We had some kids there and she just shot the ball really well.”

Esposito, a junior guard, finished with 22 points and eight rebounds. She had eight in the final quarter to deliver the Rams (21-0) to the finish. Mackenzie Holmes added 10 points, while Danasia Fennie added three points, nine rebounds and a solid defensive effort on EL’s Emily Jacques.

“It wasn’t just the scoring,” said Gorham coach Laughn Berthiaume about Esposito. “It was the defending, the ball handling, the rebounding. There’s really no aspect of her game that’s not valuable for us.”

Jacques led the Red Eddies (16-5) with 15 points. Jordyn Reynolds had eight, while Piper Norcross chipped in seven.

“The journey with these girls was unbelievable,” Jipson said. “This is a great group of kids. They’re winners. They’ve been to the states in soccer and have been to two regionals in basketball. Their kids that know how to win. I’m extremely proud of them.”

Gorham was up 19-15 at the half. That was after late baskets by Esposito and Kaylea Lundin broke a 15-15 tie. Baskets by Esposito and Holmes to start the second half were answered by Norcross and Reynolds, but it was at a pace that was to Gorham’s liking.

“We know that’s our best offense, a 3-on-2 or a 2-on-1 and if we can get them off guard,” Esposito said. “We have Kaylea and she’s one of the best point guards in the league. We want to get them on their heels, and I think we did a really good job of that in the second half.

Gorham shot 8-for-24 in the first half and struggled to get on a roll offensively. Starting 5-for-5 in the third changed that.

“They played great defense and it was tough to get the ball around the rim so we could play inside-out,” Bethiaume said. “We took some shots that were a little rushed. I thought we were more settled down in the second half.”

It was a pair of Kristen Curley 3’s that sparked a 7-0 run that turned the lead into 31-19 with 4:48 left in the third.

“She’s the best shooter we have on our team,” Berthiaume said. “Sometimes I have to fight with her to shoot it a little bit more, but that’s why I want her to shoot it.”

EL got a 3 from Norcross and two free throws by Jacques late in the third. A rebound by Reynolds cut the Gorham lead to 35-30 after three.

EL kept charging to open the fourth. Norcross and Karli Stubbs each scored on rebounds, and EL was within 35-34 with 6:37 left. Gorham answered with a fadeaway jumper by Esposito and an inbounds pass by Holmes to Fennie with 4:40 left.

“One of the things that she can do that not a lot of other kids can do is that she can create her own shot,” said Berthiaume of Esposito. “So when we struggle, we’ve always got a bailout.”

EL was forced to foul the rest of the way. The Rams sank eight straight free throws in the final minutes to pad the lead. Esposito had six of them.

“I don’t think we got too concerned when we missed our shots,” Esposito said. “It one of those things where you’re coming into this arena and the depth perception is off. We know we have the skills to make the shots. It’s a matter of being confident enough to take them. I think we did more of that in the second half.”

Jacques had seven points in the first quarter and EL was right with the unbeaten Rams. Her basket to end the quarter tied it 11-11. Baskets by Reynolds and Stubbs gave EL the 15-11 lead early in the second, but Gorham finished the half with eight straight. Esposito hit a pair of jumpers. Holmes scored in the post and Lundin finished it off with a score to give Gorham the 19-15 lead at the half.

EL did a number of things well and gave Gorham all it could handle. The Rams did have a 32-22 edge on the boards, including 20 defensive rebounds.

“I asked a lot of these kids and they gave me everything they had,” Jipson said.

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