Monmouth Academy keeps Searsport at arm's-length in prelim playoff encounterAlley, Ireland, Coffin lead Vikings on postseason road trip
Monmouth — When the Searsport girls basketball hit the snowy Maine roads — sneaking out between major winter storms — on Tuesday, Feb. 14 the Vikings hoped their foray into the Class C South playoffs would be competitive and possibly successful.
Unfortunately, they ran into a much too talented opponent who was in no mood to be gracious hosts — at least when it came to the outcome on the court — as No. 3 Monmouth Academy handed No. 14 Searsport a 56-25 Class C South prelim playoff loss at Stuart L. Foster Memorial Gymnasium that night.
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The Vikings knew beating the Mustangs would be a tall order, of course, especially since Searsport qualified in the final regional playoff spot and Monmouth Academy filled the top position among teams that did not receive automatic bids straight to the tournament site at the Augusta Civic Center.
So the Mustangs were motivated and that showed in a strong all-around performance, a victory and a spot in the next round of the playoffs.
Monmouth Academy (16-3) will face the prelim winner of No. 6 Waynflete of Portland (10-8) and No. 11 Traip Academy of Kittery (6-12) on Monday, Feb. 20 at 11:30 a.m. in the quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center.
The Mustangs and Vikings did not play each other during the regular season.
Veteran Viking coach Mel Grant said lack of consistent practices for his squad due to too many recent snowstorms played a role in Tuesday's overall team performance, "but that is no excuse. They were clearly a better team than us. They had the better ballhandlers, shooting. That is what we want to be at but we just weren't there."
The Vikings, who finished the campaign 8-11, played well in spurts on Tuesday and received a standout offensive performance from Mikaela Alley, as she poured in 18 points and secured 10 rebounds. The sophomore has been the team's most consistent offensive threat all season.
Senior co-captains Paige Ireland and Karigen Coffin also were steady for the visitors, as they tallied four points and one point, respectively, while Ireland grabbed four caroms and Coffin hauled down eight rebounds and dished out two assists.
Alley scored 18 of her team's 25 points and was one of only four Vikings to break into the scoring column. In fact, Alley tallied all her points in the final three quarters, including 12 in the final eight minutes.
Ashten Wells also had two points, as the Vikings made 6-of-13 free throws (46 percent) and one 3-pointer, that from Alley.
Brooklynn Alberts also grabbed two rebounds for Searsport.
Monmouth Academy used a balanced offensive attack to get the job done, as the hosts led 16-4, 31-7 and 43-10 at the quarter breaks.
For the Mustangs, Destiny Clough and Abby Ferland tallied 10 points; Tia Day, eight; Emily Grandahl, six; Julia Johnson, five; Audrey Fletcher and Hannah Anderson, four; Abbey Allen and Libby Clement, three; Kayla Brooks, two; and Kaeti Butterfield, one.
The hosts sank 9-of-17 foul shots (53 percent) and two treys from Day.
In the end, the Mustangs had too much height, speed and talent. The hosts lineup included three players at 5 feet 10 inches and a bundle more at 5-9, 5-8 and 5-7.
Coach Grant said it was a "confusing" year for his team. He said he had expectations the Vikings would have a better regular-season record and be able make a strong playoff push, as they did a year ago, but the loss of 1,000-point scorer Melinda Ogden, and others, to graduation made the transition a bit tougher.
But the return of Alley, who grew up and played in the Searsport basketball system for much of her young life before playing at Hamdpen Academy her freshman year, helped.
The coach said the lack of experience and basketball "maturity" for much of his team did not allow the players to reach the levels he thought they might.
"We just did not see us progressing enough during games and practices," he said. "I saw it. We just didn't progress enough. We usually played a pretty decent defense. We didn't so much tonight, but [Monmouth Academy is] a pretty high-powered offense. But, offensively, we just struggled all season. Unless Mikaela had the ball in her hands, we really didn't score. That is tough when you put all that pressure on a sophomore."
The coach said Monmouth Academy had speed and height, with plenty of skill, but he said his squad had played opponents at that level, but was not as mentally into Tuesday's game as perhaps it should have been.
The coach said Alley is a "sparkplug" and surely played well overall after her return to Searsport. "She loves the game and she loves to play. She is a super competitor."
Alley transferred to Hampden Academy as a freshman and swung between the junior varsity and varsity teams in the Class A program. She averaged double-figure points on jayvees, but saw limited time on the varsity for the Broncos.
"She is a our best ballplayer," coach Grant said of Alley. "She is our best ballhandler and she really was our go-to kid all season."
He said Alley, at times, struggled with the pressure and, other times, relished the role of on-court team leader. The coach said she played "very well and very hard" against Monmouth Academy.
"I like it, but it is such a hard experience," Alley said of being the focal point of a team's offense.
Alley said she went to Hampden Academy because she wanted a new experience, but, ultimately, missed her friends.
"I missed everything," she said. "It is good to be back. It is good to be with people that you know. That are your family. It feels a lot better to play with your family. I think that is what helps me improve as a player is the people who are around. I feel like I can be more like myself. I love coach [Grant] so much. He has helped me so much, with my confidence, everything about basketball he has helped me."
Alley said she and her teammates simply ran into a better team on Tuesday, but added that sometimes the Vikings "think too much" and simply need to step on the court and play the game — and let the chips fall where they may.
Alley said the thing she has struggled with most is that she always has been a perimeter player who handled the ball, mostly faced the basket and shot from the outside or drove to the hoop. This year she has learned to play in the low post with her back to the basket.
"I am not used to being in the post," said the 5-foot 7-inch Alley. "[But] that is normally where I am [now] … I am happy with my season. I just know that I can improve. I looked forward to next year a lot because I know I am going to come back and be way better than I am now."
Coach Grant said among the team's four seniors, co-captains Ireland and Coffin, two of the school's top all-around athletes, were strong leaders. They were not top offensive contributors, but keyed the Viking defense.
"They are special kids," the coach said of those two players. "They are not scorers and they don't pretend to be. It is tough because they have been on the backburner the last few years. [They were asked] to play defense, shut someone down. They have done their job. They have been the best captains I've had. They lead by example."
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Ken Waltz has been member of the media nearly 35 years and has received hundreds of Maine Press Association and New England Press Association awards for his writing, photography and page design. He studied journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. He lives in South Thomaston with his wife, Sarah. The couple has an adult son, Brandon, who lives in North Carolina.
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