Searsport pushes Rangeley to limit in semifinal playoff lossViking girls hoop team plays well against taller, higher-ranked Lakers
Augusta — Just three days after winning a regional quarterfinal playoff game for the first time in 20 years, the Searsport District High School girls basketball team made a serious — and strong — bid to earn a Western Class D championship berth with a tremendous all-around performance against a higher-seeded opponent on Thursday morning, Feb. 20 at the Augusta Civic Center.
The No. 3 Vikings (15-5) pushed No. 2 Rangeley (19-1) to the limit before the Lakers made enough plays — and free throws — down the stretch to earn a tough, gritty 59-54 semifinal victory.
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The win thrusts the Lakers into the regional final on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 1:05 p.m. in Augusta against No. 1 Forest Hills of Jackman (20-0), which was a 64-52 semifinal winner over No. 4 Pine Tree Academy of Freeport (14-4), also on Thursday.
A stellar campaign, which also included a 73-53 quarterfinal playoff victory over No. 6 Richmond (8-11) on Monday, Feb. 17 in Augusta, ended for the Vikings, who will lose six seniors to graduation.
Searsport, which experienced tremendous community support during their playoff run in Augusta, had played in Eastern Class C for decades but dropped to Western Class D this winter.
On Thursday, the Vikings more than held their own and had solid chances to upset the Lakers, but could not make enough plays in crucial situations to overcome Rangeley's significant height advantage and talent.
Searsport led 13-12 after the first quarter, before Rangeley led 24-21 and 39-35 at the next two breaks.
For the Vikings, Briana Grant turned in a stellar 19-point performance that included 13 points in the second half when she, at times, tried to will SDHS to victory. Alicen Brooks also added 10 points; Melinda Ogden, nine; Brittany Ward, eight; Anna Bucklin, four; and Kelli Gibbs and Allison Walker, both two.
Ogden, Bucklin and Grant connected on 3-pointers for SDHS and the team made 5-of-6 free throws (83 percent). Grant tallied 13 points and Ogden nine in the second half.
Pacing the Lakers were Taylor Esty with 18 points; Tori Letarte, 14; Blayke Morin, 11; Maddison Egan, nine; and Seve Deery-Deraps, seven. The Lakers netted three 3-pointers, including two from Esty, and 12-of-22 free throws (55 percent).
Rangeley made 8-of-14 foul shots (57 percent) in the fourth quarter to close the door on the Vikings' uset bid.
Letarte scored 11 points in the second half and Esty nine during the final 16 minutes. Morin is 6 feet 2 inches and Esty 6-1.
The Vikings, who had no starter over 5-7, worked hard defensively against those two taller opponents, often putting a defender in front and in back of Morin and Esty in the low post or when either of those Lakers set up offensively near the foul line.
Esty also went to the locker room with a knee/ankle injury early in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers held the fort — and the Vikings at bay — during their center's absence before Esty returned to the court later in the game.
Rangeley also defeated No. 7 Valley of Bingham (9-11) 69-24 earlier in the playoffs.
SDHS did not play the Rangeley during the regular season.
The Viking program last won a preliminary playoff game during the 2000-2001 season, but did not win its quarterfinal playoff game that year. During the 1992-93 season, the Vikings earned an Eastern Class C quarterfinal playoff victory over Central of East Corinth before falling to Calais in the semifinals.
So, this season, the Vikings advanced to a regional semifinal playoff game for the second time in two decades.
"There are just lots of emotions," said Grant, a senior who could not play her junior year due to a knee injury. "It is awesome to be here. It is so different then what we are used to. We should be really happy that we made it here, but, I don't know, it is just hard [to lose such a tough game]."
Grant, who will play at Central Maine Community College in Auburn next year, said it was fun to make key shots during the game to help her team stay close. "It felt awesome at the time and I felt we were just going to keep going up and up and up," she said, adding that the Vikings practiced hard to prepare for Rangeley but she felt the team was "really nervous" and "intimidated" by the Lakers' height. "Once we started boxing out that wasn't really an issue. It was when they were on offense they could see over everybody."
A disappointed Brooks said after the game that the Vikings gave it 100 percent, adding that she was not affected by Rangeley's height because she is used to playing against taller opponents because most foes have a height advantage over Searsport.
On Thursday, Rangeley took a 7-2 lead in the first quarter but the Vikings hung tough and did not let the game get out of hand early. Grant banked in a shot and Kelli Gibbs made a steal and score. Then the Vikings went to work as Grant connected on a sideline jumper, Ward converted a drive and Brooks put in an offensive rebound with 59 seconds left to give Searsport a 12-10 edge. After a Rangeley score, Bucklin netted a free throw with 10.3 seconds left to give the Vikings a 13-12 lead at the break.
The Vikings continued their poised, tough play and gained a 15-12 cushion early in the second quarter on Brooks' jumper as the game remained competitive. Searsport grabbed a 17-16 edge, but Deery-Deraps and Esty scored for Rangeley to give the Lakers a 20-17 advantage midway through the stanza. That cushion grew to 24-19 as Esty drilled a 3-pointer. However, Walker scored in the final seconds to slice Rangeley's halftime cushion to 24-21.
The Lakers appeared to take control early in the third quarter as they grabbed a 34-21 cushion, highlighted by Esty's 3-pointer after a Searsport timeout. At that point, it appeared SDHS would fade, but Ogden and Grant hit banks and Ward two free throws to slice the Viking deficit to 37-27. Then Grant scored six straight points to bring Searsport within 39-33. Ogden's inside score brought the Vikings within 39-35 at the break.
The fourth quarter also was tight and competitive. And it appeared Rangeley suffered a significant blow when Esty was hurt under her hoop when she and Grant went for a loose ball. The Laker laid on the floor for some time before being helped to the locker room with 7:29 left and Rangeley leading 41-35. It appeared Esty tweaked her ankle or knee.
Rangeley maintained its slim lead until Bucklin canned a 3-pointer and Brooks scored inside to bring the Vikings within 48-45. Searsport stayed close as Grant had two free throws and Brooks a bank as SDHS clawed within 54-51.
Thinks really got interesting when Grant hit 3-pointer to make it 57-54 with 20 seconds left, but that was the last gasp for the Vikings as Rangeley made just enough free throws and plays down the stretch to pull out the win.
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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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