In beating Sanford in a preliminary game to get into the Western Maine playoffs, the Windham High School Eagle girls’ basketball team displayed great team defense. Coach Brody Artes knew his squad would have to duplicate that performance again on Monday, against second ranked Thornton Academy. "If we play that good, strong defense, limit turnovers, and force (Kaitlyn) McCrum out of her groove-as she sets the tone for their offense, we have a great chance for success," Artes said before the game. Windham played T.A. on January 14th, and lost 37-24. Thornton Academy came in with a 16-2 record, while Windham held the seventh seed, with a record of 12-7.
"We will look to have Frost put the clamps on McCrum...similar game plan to the Sanford game. It’s not so much their height as it is their strong point guard play, but of course-we need to put the orange thing in the bucket, and limit our lapses where we can’t seem to score and we should be alright. The first meeting's score, (37-24), was not indicative of the game itself as we went nine minutes without scoring during one stretch...if we can limit those stretches, we have a real chance with this defense," said Artes.
Right out of the gate, the Lady Eagles let it be known their defense was going to be front and center all game long. Forcing Thornton Academy into five first quarter turnovers, Windham held a 6-3 lead after the first eight minutes. Heading into the second quarter, Thornton Academy stepped up their own defensive pressure, and forced Windham into several bad passes and turnovers of their own. This was exactly one of the stretches Coach Artes was talking about avoiding. Fortunately Windham's defense was keeping them in the game.
Kaitlyn McCrum's bucket with 4:07 left in the second put the Lady Golden Trojans up 8-7. It was obvious Thornton Academy was looking to go inside more in the second quarter, and it was clicking, sending TA to the free throw line eight times. Kaylee Burns and Olivia Shaw led the way with four points apiece to give Thornton Academy a 15-9 lead heading into the locker room at halftime. Sadie Nelson netted five points, while Haley Batchelder added four to pace Windham in the first half. The Eagles' Sam Frost was doing the defensive work on McCrum, limiting the highly touted point guard's ability to run the offense smoothly.
Coming out of halftime, it was more defensive pressure by the Eagles. After Nelson's 15-footer to start the period, Windham forced two turnovers in a row with great rotating defense. After a hoop by Windham's Lonnie Staten, the Eagles forced Thornton Academy into yet another turnover. With four minutes to go in the third, Batchelder got Windham within three, 18-15, with a put back rebound while getting fouled. Missing her free throw, Thornton Academy then scored on three straight possessions to go up by 11, 26-15, with 30 seconds left in the quarter. Windham's Nelson gets a bucket to go at the end of the third, to cut it to nine, 26-17 heading into the fourth.
Again the Eagles come right out and set the tone. After a bucket by Luisa Sbardella, two free throws by Batchelder, and another turnover forced by Windham's press--the momentum was starting to favor the Lady Eagles. Thornton Academy's Strickland broke the drought with a bucket at the six minute mark, putting the Lady Golden Trojans up 28-21. Windham did not give up. After two straight hoops by Batchelder, and two more turnovers forced by the Eagle defense, Trojans coach Eric Marston called a timeout with 4:20 to play, his team up by 3, 28-25. The near capacity crowd was getting behind their respective teams, as playoff basketball was alive and well.
Immediately out of the timeout, T.A.'s Strickland commits a player control foul, giving the Eagles the ball. Batchelder converts a left-handed layup to cut it to one, 28-27, with 2:55 remaining. Full court pressing, the Eagles force Thornton's McCrum into a bad pass and got the ball back. Nelson lets a three fly from the top of the key, although it comes up short, she rebounds her own miss and drives down the right side for a layup, and the foul, giving Windham its first lead since the first quarter, 29-28. Thornton calls a timeout to settle his players down after the wild sequence. Nelson comes out and swishes her free throw to put the Lady Eagles up 30-28, with two minutes to play.
Thornton Academy's Shaw rebounded a missed jumper to tie the game at 30. 1:50 to go. Windham comes down the floor and Sbardella gets fouled, sending her to the line for two. She hits both, and Windham goes up 32-30 with 1:40 remaining. Windham's defense was now swarming, as Thornton Academy was having trouble getting the ball inside until Strickland got loose and earned a trip to the line with 1:15 to go in the game. She swishes both to tie it yet again, at 32. The Eagles miss a chance to go ahead, as does Thornton Academy. Windham rebounded the Thornton miss, and calls timeout with 25.5 on the clock.
The Lady Eagles came out of the timeout, working the ball around the perimeter in a spread formation. With quick, sharp passes flying around the three point line, time was winding down. Windham patiently moving the ball, Frost gets it and finds a cutting Batchelder in the paint for a driving bank shot that gives Windham the lead with 4.6 seconds to go. No timeout called by Thornton, they inbound and get to half court for a heave that was just short. The Windham Eagles pulled off the upset, 34-32. Batchelder led Windham with 14 points, and Nelson added 14 for the Eagles. Thornton Academy was paced by Strickland who netted 12 points, while Shaw chipped in with 10.
A beaming Coach Artes said after the game, "Defense was the key, tenacious D all year long and they brought it tonight. They never backed down or quit. They played together from start to finish. Haley Batchelder did the job in the second half…got us some huge buckets down the stretch." Artes was all smiles in having to play Friday night, adding, "The girls really earned this one, now I got three days to prepare for Cheverus!"
Windham advances to play those Lady Stags on Friday night, at the newly renovated Civic Center, at 7:30 p.m.