Firecrackers Fall in Final 4 of USJN Top Division
The Maine Firecrackers found themselves in unusual position after last nights victory over Team Ontario- In the Final Four of the highest division (there are 8 divisions where teams are placed based on ability) at US Junior Nationals with 3 Nike Sponsored behemoths(the Philly Belles, Boo Williams, and Kentucky Premier). There was a buzz in the AAU and coaches community that a team from Maine had made the semifinals against such storied programs.
The game started with around 20 division one coaches in attendance and for the first time all week the Firecrackers got off to a rough start and within 40 seconds KY was up 9-0. Maggie Whitmore (one of the top performers in the tournament) broke the ice with a long 2 after several prior good looks didn’t fall. The length and speed of KY proved problematic but the Firecrackers kept chipping away and after a Julz Colby floater and Amanda Kabantu drive the Firecrackers trailed 21- 12 midway through the first period. Caroline Smith provided a terrific spark off the bench with two beautiful hoops as did Gemima Motema. With 5 minutes left in the first half Colby drained a three and after consecutive stops Whitmore had two outstanding drives to cut the lead to 25-21. Unfortunately Kentucky responded with their own run, hitting 3 consecutive treys as they extended the lead to 39-23 at halftime.
In the second half the Firecrackers continued to make runs but Kentucky was able to get to the rim and also had several players who could shoot the long ball (9 total threes) so it was a huge challenge for Maine. Camille Clement shook off a cold first half and knocked a three down while Whitmore and Kabantu continued to have success offensively. When Kaleisha Towle stepped in front of a pass and fed Paige Cote on a terrific finish the score was 51-39 but Kentucky proved too much and cruised to a 65-47 win. Whitmore was the leading scorer again with 16 and had an all around excellent week while Amanda Kabantu (also a terrific tournament) finished with 10. Smith and Colby contributed solid play and five points, while Clement was held in check for 3 and Paige Cote added a basket plus 8 rebounds. Kaleisha Towle provided energy and excellent defense while Glory Blethen made the most of her minutes to help prepare her for a much larger role next season.
This Firecracker team exceeded all expectations after graduating a stud class (Holmes to Indiana, DeWolfe to Fordham, Martin to Harvard, Blethen to GW, Oullette to St Anselm’s, and Whitmore to St. Joes). They were consistently placed against the top teams in MA, NH, NJ, NC, and DC and finished with a record of 26-3 and more importantly got battle tested by great competition and lots of exposure from colleges.
The girls were emotional after the game knowing it is the end of the Firecracker journey for Colby, Obar, Whitmore, Smith, Towle, and Cote but they certainly made their mark in what is a storied Firecracker history. Cote received a full ride to UNH, Obar and Whitmore received scholarships to Bentley, Colby has a D2 offer she is considering, Towle is committed at Williams, and Smith is undecided while being recruited by several excellent academic institutions. They will be missed.