FORT FAIRFIELD JOURNAL
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Lady Tigers Topple
Greenville Lakers to Win State Title
First Gold Ball in FFHS Basketball History
“Finally,” said Lady Tiger Coach Larry Gardner as he stood at the podium on Sunday afternoon to speak to hundreds of fans gathered to celebrate the return of the Lady Tigers. “Finally, I get to introduce the first State Championship basketball team in the history of Fort Fairfield High School.”
That statement was in some doubt early in the game on Saturday in Augusta at the Lady Tigers had to dig deep to make the dream of winning a State title a reality. A huge throng of Fort Fans wore the red and white with pride as they sat behind the Tigers bench ready to cheer their beloved team on to victory. Nobody could have predicted that this game would have the “fireworks” and intensity of a game that people will talk about for years to come.
Greenville, the Western Maine Champions with a record of 17-2, scored two quick baskets to jump out to a 4-0 before Courtney Churchill hit two free throws to put the Tigers on the scoreboard. From that point on it was a quarter of amazing outside shooting from both clubs as the scoreboard went back and forth with teams trading leads. Tiger Coach Larry Gardner said, “I thought both teams would be scoring inside most of the game as that had been both teams’ trademark all season but after seeing the shots both teams were making I was amazed at the pace and accuracy.” Fort got in major foul trouble early in the first quarter with both junior center Brooke Beaulieu and senior forward Kelsie Wilson picking up their second fouls and had to sit the rest of the first half. Enter sophomore Kaci York and freshman Sydney Churchill! This duo connected for 16 first half points and kept the Lady Tigers in the game as Greenville was double and triple teaming Fort’s Amanda Hotham and limited her to 12 first half points. Gardner said, “Kaci and Sydney played the game of their lives today. When Brooke and Kelsie got into foul trouble we had to go to our two youngsters to step in and play! What a spot to put them in. It’s a State Championship game in front of a huge crowd and a television audience. And I’ll tell you what—it was fun to watch them trade baskets. First Kaci, then Sydney then Kaci then Sydney! That’s something everyone will remember for a long time! And to top it all off they did a great job on the defensive end!”
Greenville however, was not the Western Maine Champion for any reason. They had five outstanding players led by senior guard McKenna Peat who could not miss from the outside hitting for 15 first half points against Fort’s various defenses. Add to that the scoring of forward Gretel Breton from the inside for 10 first half points and center Saige Weeks, a tall and physical presence in the middle, scoring 8 points in the half and the Lady Tigers found themselves down 40 -34 at halftime. The Lakers from Greenville shot 50 percent(18-36) in the half while the Tigers were shooting 52 percent (12-23).
Coach Gardner commented, “I was not really happy at halftime knowing we had given up 40 points to a team in a half when we don’t normally give up 40 points in a game. We had used our 2-3 zone, our diamond and one and our triangle and two defenses but to Greenville’s credit they found the openings and hit the shots. We certainly had to make some adjustments at halftime because we couldn’t let them keep getting open looks like they had been getting. We knew we’d have Brooke and Kelsie back in the second half and we were only down 6 points so the girls had 16 minutes to play their best ball!”
As the third quarter began the teams traded baskets before Greenville’s McKenna Peat hit another three to put them up by nine points. Then the Fort side drew silent as Amanda Hotham was knocked to the floor by Greenville’s Weeks and lay their holding her ankle. As the trainer and Coach Gardner came on the floor to check the injured star Fort fans watched intently as Hotham slowly rose to walk off the floor into the locker room with the trainer. After another Greenville basket a roar erupted as Hotham emerged back onto the floor and sat on the bench. After a quick nod to Coach Gardner, Hotham reentered the game and the Tiger fortunes began to turn. Hotham grabbed a lose ball in the corner on her first play in and calmly hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 8. Courtney Churchill then stole the ball and scored on an open lay-up to cut it to 6. A smooth move and score by Brooke Beaulieu inside cut the lead to 4. Another Greenville turnover and a Hotham hoop cut it to a 2-point Greenville lead and momentum was on the Lady Tigers side. At the end of the quarter the team had turned an 11-point deficit into a 2-point lead. What a dramatic turnaround! Coach Gardner commented saying, “ That had to be one of the more intense quarters we have played this year and it started with our defense going man to man. I think it really changed the complexion of the game and gave us a lift as we were getting after the lose balls and rebounding and running the floor much better. After Amanda hit the three you could see it in our players eyes----that ‘refuse to lose’---attitude that they’ve had all season. It was like, we’re not coming this close to go home empty handed.”
The Tigers never trailed again as they limited Greenville to 9 points in the fourth quarter while scoring 15 points themselves, 13 of those from the free throw line on another clutch fouls shooting performance by the entire team. With 5:30 to go in the game and Fort clinging to a 2-point lead the Gold Ball arrived at the scorers table. Many fans thought the timing was poor to bring out the ball with the game so close.
Gardner had instructed his players that this would happen so as not to be distracted and to keep playing. And play they did! They played the full 32 minutes like their coach has asked them to do all season. When Fort went into its double post delay offense players the Fort fans new what was coming. It was lay-ups or nothing! The other team had to get the ball or foul and by fouling you were sending probably the best foul shooting team in the State to the free throw line.
STATE CHAMPIONS AT LAST! LET THE CELEBRATION BEGIN!
As the remaining seconds ticked off the clock the Fort Fans were having the time of their lives celebrating the long awaited championship.
Super sophomore Amanda Hotham, who had 27 points, 10 rebounds and shot 11-12 from the free throw line, led the Tigers. Senior Courtney Churchill, playing the last game of her career, had 15 points including a 9-10 effort from the free throw line while playing outstanding defense on McKenna Peat who did not score another point after Fort went man to man in the second half. Freshman Sydney Churchill had 10 points, all in the first half while junior Brooke Beaulieu connected for 8 points and several rebounds and blocks. Sophomore Kaci York added 6 huge points and Kelsie Wilson and Danielle Tracy were the defensive stoppers as they were guarding Breton and Weeks from Greenville and limited them to 6-second half points each. An outstanding defensive effort. Coach Gardner commented, “The job that Kelsie and Danielle did on their scorers was a key factor in our win. Every player has a role to play and they all played it well today. We tell them all of the players to ‘Just do your job’ and things will work out. It’s a great feeling!”
Senior Captain Courtney Churchill who hit 9 of 10 free throws in the game said, “to win games down here you have to be able to shoot fouls shots. We shoot at least 50 a day at practice. And when Amanda hit that three it just kind of sparked all of us. I’m just so ecstatic!”
That sums it up for everyone, the whole town is ecstatic over this record-breaking championship season. The Lady Tigers broke several school records including most wins ever (21) by a team. They also broke two Eastern Maine records as Amanda Hotham hit the most free throws (15) in a tourney game and most in the tournament (35).
The team also broke two State records, one for most team free throws made in a game (24) and most points scored by two teams (126) breaking a record set in 1981.
Summing up the season, Coach Gardner reflected by saying, “It’s a long season and to come out with a State Championship is well worth the time and effort put in by all.
I am so proud of this team and each of these players and our coaching staff for the effort they have given and for the way they conducted themselves on and off the court. Their families should be extremely proud of their daughters as well for the character they displayed and the way they represented themselves all season long. I have long pictured this moment and it is worth all the time and effort to finally say we are State Champions and to put a Gold Ball in our trophy case. This Gold Ball is for all those players, both boys and girls, who I have coached and all the players and coaches before me who have worked tirelessly to achieve this dream! Thanks to all of our loyal fans who have followed us all season and for believing in us. Your support has meant so much!”