Firecrackers Shock USJN with win over Powerhouse Cy Fair
The Maine Firecrackers were placed in the top division (Diamond) for the second consecutive year at US Jr Nationals and for the second year drew one of the top ten national perennial girls AAU programs in the first round. Last year it was the Philly Belles (2 US National Team players) and this year the challenge would be Cy Fair (Texas), which has had numerous WBNA alumns and has sent players to Baylor, Notre Dame, UConn, Duke and Stanford (Chiney Ogwumike) to name a few. This year’s team is also a powerhouse, with several high level recruits (Louisville , NC State, Texas, Wake Forest, Texas A&M, etc.) The size and speed of Cy Fair was evident in the first 30 seconds of the game as the Firecrackers fell behind 0-4 before Maggie Whitmore broke the ice with a foul line jump shot, Amanda Kabantu banked in a runner, and Camille Clement connected on a three to put the Mainers ahead 7-4. Gemima Motema checked into the game and scored on three consecutive soaring drives before Whitmore hit her own three and the Firecracker lead was 20-16. Cy Fair kept its intense full court press on in spite of the Mainers getting scoring opportunities in large part to a tremendous performance from trusty point guard Julz Colby, who frustrated the Texans with good decisions and help from Amanda Kabantu and Maggie Whitmore to break incessant pressure. When Paige Cote knocked down 2 foul shots after getting an offensive rebound the Firecrackers led 30-22 and then went on a 6 point run to end the half courtesy of a nice Whitmore to Towle feed, another Motema finish at the rim, and a terrific finish by Glory Blethen assisted by Colby and the Mainers led 36-24 at half while a stunned group of 25 D2 and D3 (Division One is not allowed until tomorrow) coaches observed.
After two quick Texas baskets, Camille Clement connected on a long three to start the second half before Kabantu and Motema separated (literally) themselves from the pack and each scored twice in transition to build the Firecracker lead to 58-44 but Cy Fair continued to press and fatigue set in on the Firecrackers with turnovers leading to easy baskets and the lead was suddenly 60-53 with the Firecrackers in a steep tailspin. Fortunately, Towle stepped up and dropped in a nice jump shot off the dribble (using most of the rim) before Caroline Smith (HUGE minutes in this game) made a terrific “and one” in traffic and followed it with a second difficult finish to extend the lead to 11. Kabantu and Motema each scored in transition off press breaker before Cy Fair was forced to foul and Maggie Whitmore went 6-6 from the line as the Firecracker coaches began to breath again and the final was 67-56 Maine.
Whitmore had a fantastic all around game with 16 points and six assists, Motema was the most explosive athlete on the court (saying a lot) while shooting 7-9 from the floor for 15 points, Clement finished with 12 (three treys) Kabantu 10 (8 offensive rebounds), Towle 4 (4 rebounds), while Cote (7 rebounds and physical play), Colby (5 assists and 4 steals), and Blethen all added baskets to go with excellent all around play.
This will go down as a top 3 upset in Firecracker history along with the Mac Irvin Fire (Chicago) win led by Emily Esposito, Sierra Tapley, and Kelsey Shaw in 2015 and last year’s win over the Philly Belles top team led by Anna DeWolfe, MacKenzie Holmes, Gracie Martin, and Faith Blethen.
Unfortunately, the Firecrackers will only have tonight to relish the triumph since they will face two difficult challenges again tomorrow afternoon.