Firecrackers roll to 5-0 at USJN
Game 4 vs. PA Running Rebels:
The Firecrackers were assured of winning their pool if they won this game but it wouldn’t be easy with the Rebels having D1 commits at Villanova, Lehigh, Lafayette, and Loyola. Fortunately the Mainers got off to a great start with 2 quick threes by Camille Clement and another from Maggie Whitmore to jump out to a 9-4 lead. The game was a contrast of styles with PA being much bigger and pounding the ball in the post to get foul line (22 attempts) opportunities while the Firecrackers only got there 12 times. When Kaleisha Towle knocked in a pull up the lead was 13-7 before Clement connected on two more three’s and Whitmore drained her own triple plus a highlight drive in traffic. Julz Colby, Amanda Kabantu, and Caroline Smith registered several assists finding the hot shooters while Cote, Towle, and Blethen took turns defending the huge frontcourt. This was probably the best Shooting half of the year for the Firecrackers as they put 38 points on the board while giving up just 24.
In the second half the Rebels did an excellent job of limiting opportunities for Whitmore and Clement as they whittled the lead down to 7 at 42-35 before Julz Colby drained a long three over a 6’3” defender and the lead was back to 10, when Gemima Motema wowed the crowd with her explosiveness blowing by defenders and soaring through the air with 3 fantastic finishes (one she came out on the other side of the basket to the amazement of many). Not to be outdone, Amanda Kabantu knocked down two jump shots and rose above the crowd on several occasions to rip offensive rebounds down (8 for the game). Though the final was 57-40 this was intense and felt much closer virtually the whole game.
Whitmore was outstanding in all aspects and finished with 18, Clement continued to shoot well from long range with 15 (5 threes), Motema and Kabantu had 7 each, and Colby played very well running the show and finishing with 6 points, 4 assists and 3 steals.
Game Five vs Team Ontario
Once again the Mainers came out with a great bounce and shot the ball well. Paige Cote got the Firecrackers on the board with a nice finish over a 6’5” defender, Maggie Whitmore knifed through two defenders for a layup, and Camille Clement hit two long bombs for a 10-4 lead. Caroline Smith was excellent this game, coming up with a steal, a rebound, a three, and a two in her first two minutes of action. Gemima Motema entered the game and immediately blew past defenders for two finishes near the rim and the Firecracker lead was 25-16. Colby made an amazing off balance leaner before Whitmore drained a jumper before a three and 2 by Clement extended the lead to 33-19 at halftime .
Thanks to an inspired Coach Whitmore halftime speech, excellent team defense, and an offensive spark from Amanda Kabantu (three baskets) to start the second half the Firecrackers built a comfortable lead and were able to close out the game with a 56-29 victory.
Clement led the scoring with 16, Whitmore netted 10 (4 assists), Kabantu and Motema had 7 each while displaying incredible athleticism, Colby and Smith 5, Blethen 4 with solid minutes, while Cote (9 rebounds) and Towle (3 steals) a basket each to go with outstanding interior defense against much larger Canadian post players.
Last year’s Firecracker team was the first Maine team placed in the top USJN bracket and had a terrific 4-1 performance in pool play while this year’s team in a much more blue collar manner managed to to 5-0 and advance to Diamond bracket Final Four. The Mainers will be heavy underdogs tomorrow for sure.