McAuley sophomore Eva Mazur keeps a close eye on Thornton Academy sophomore Alex Hart during Friday night’s showdown. Mazur’s unrivaled defense helped the Lions prevail, 41-31, and avenge last year’s regional final loss.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
TA- 8 9 4 10- 31
M- 6 12 14 9- 41
TA- Howe 3-4-12, Campbell 1-2-5, Burns 2-0-4, Lee 2-0-4, Robinson 2-0-4, Hart 1-0-2
M- Weisser 5-2-12, Willerson 4-1-9, Howard 3-1-7, Mazur 1-4-6, Rairdon 1-2-4, Clement 1-0-3
TA (3) Howe 2, Campbell 1
M (1) Clement 1
PORTLAND—Talk about getting defensive.
Ten months after their four-year championship reign came to an end at the hands of Thornton Academy, the McAuley Lions got their shot at revenge Friday night and made the most of it in a compelling early season girls’ basketball showdown on Stevens Avenue.
While McAuley’s offense is still a work in progress, its defense is already in midseason form and that unit, led by sophomore Eva Mazur, ensured the Golden Trojans, who had beaten the Lions in three of the past four meetings, would struggle from start to finish.
After a first quarter which saw both teams fail to find their form, Thornton Academy clung to an 8-6 lead.
The Lions’ then turned up their offense in the second period, going on an 11-0 run, sparked by clutch play from senior Brooke Howard and sophomore Emily Weisser, but the Golden Trojans awakened from a 6 minute, 30 second slumber and scored the final seven points of the half and as a result, McAuley’s halftime lead was a mere point, 18-17.
The Lions still led by a point, 22-21, midway through the third period, then closed the quarter on a 10-0 run, as Weisser continued to shine.
McAuley had let recent fourth period leads slip away against Thornton Academy, but not on this night.
Even though the Lions let a 13-point advantage dwindle to four with just over a minute to go, McAuley slammed the door from there, as Weisser scored on a putback and Mazur hit four consecutive free throws and the Lions prevailed, 41-31, reversing the score of last year’s regional final.
Weisser had a team-high 12 points, Mazur finished with six points and eight steals and the Lions improved to 5-0, increased their home win streak to 38 games and in the process, handed the Golden Trojans their first loss in five outings.
“I told the team it wasn’t about getting revenge, it was about showing everyone how much we’ve improved,” said McAuley coach Billy Goodman, who improved to 89-3 at the Lions’ helm. “I feel like we’ve really improved a lot. Sometimes it showed and sometimes it looked like we’re beginners.”
Heading into the 2013-14 season, Thornton Academy, like the rest of the state, had no answer for the McAuley juggernaut, but in the teams’ second meeting that winter, the Golden Trojans proved the Lions were mortal by upsetting them in Saco, 50-49, snapping their 56-game win streak in the process.
Last winter, Thornton Academy got the better of McAuley on two of three occasions, winning the opener at home, 37-34 and after the Lions prevailed in Portland, 29-25, the Golden Trojans won the one that mattered most, taking the Western A Final, 41-31.
Those three losses were the only setbacks McAuley faced in an 87-game stretch over four seasons.
Both squads are once again very much in the hunt this winter.
Thornton Academy held on for a 35-31 victory at Bonny Eagle to open, then downed visiting Marshwood (50-40) and Massabesic (49-33) before winning at Biddeford (58-27).
The Lions opened with a 46-37 home victory over South Portland, then won at Massabesic (48-34), Bonny Eagle (59-38) and Noble (71-29).
Friday, McAuley wasn’t focused on revenge, not that it would admit anyway, but this was a game the Lions wanted badly and they went out and did what it took to prevail.
The first quarter was choppy, as the teams combined for 13 turnovers and just 14 points.
Howard opened the scoring 56 seconds in with a putback, but Golden Trojans junior Isabella Robinson answered with a runner.
After Lions senior Chelsea Rairdon made two free throws after being fouled on an offensive rebound with 4:50 to play in the period, Thornton Academy drew even on a leaner from senior Maizie Lee, then took its first lead, 6-4, on a jumper from Robinson.
With 1:32 to go in the first, after a 3:18 scoreless stretch, the hosts drew even on a driving layup from Weisser, but with 47.9 seconds left, the Golden Trojans went back on top, as a steal from senior Ashley Howe led to a layup by senior Kaylee Burns and Thornton Academy was ahead, 8-6, heading to the second quarter.
There, McAuley’s offense hit its stride.
After Howard started the new period with a free throw, the Golden Trojans took their biggest lead on a jumper from Burns, but the Lions scored the next 11 points, as they dedicated themselves to driving to the basket.
First, Mazur scored on a left-handed layup after a drive.
Then, with 6:16 to go in the half, a driving layup from Weisser put McAuley ahead to stay, 11-10.
A layup from Howard was followed by Howard setting up senior Jess Willerson for another layup and with 1:58 left in the half, senior Sarah Clement drained a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 18-10.
“I pleaded, I begged, I did everything I could for us to run an offense,” Goodman said.
Just when it appeared the Lions were going to take a double digit lead to the half, they let the Golden Trojans back in the game.
First, senior Barrett Campbell, who had been sidelined by two early fouls, knocked down a 3 to end the run and a 6:30 drought. Campbell added two free throws and with 3.1 seconds showing, Howe grabbed an offensive rebound, was fouled and hit two more free throws and just like that, Thornton Academy was only down one at the break, 18-17.
In the first half of play, the teams combined for 25 turnovers (McAuley had 13) and the game was very much in doubt heading into the third quarter, but there, the Lions did what it took to finally gain some permanent separation.
With 6:42 to play in the third, Mazur found Willerson for a layup to snap the Golden Trojans’ 7-0 run and a 3:16 drought. Willerson then banked home a shot for a 22-17 lead.
Thornton Academy answered as Howe hit two free throws and when Howe set up Lee for a layup with 3:49 to go in the stanza, the deficit was only a point, 22-21.
McAuley then closed the quarter on a 10-0 run.
First, Howard spun past a defender and made a layup. Weisser then drove for a layup and on the fast break, freshman Catherine Reid set up Rairdon for a layup and a 28-21 lead.
In the final minute, Weisser made two free throws and Willerson put home a missed shot for a 32-21 advantage.
In any other circumstance, against any other foe, McAuley would have felt comfortable, but the Golden Trojans had rallied against it in the second half to win three times over the past two seasons.
While Thornton Academy indeed made things interesting, the Lions roared last.
After 100 scoreless seconds in the fourth period, Mazur stole the ball and set up Weisser for a layup and the hosts’ biggest lead, 34-21.
With 5:06 to play, Howe buried a 3 to snap McAuley’s 12-0 run and a 6:43 drought.
Howe then drove for a layup and after Willerson hit a free throw, Howe made another 3 with 1:38 to play, cutting the Lions’ lead to 35-29 and making the partisan crowd sweat.
When Thornton Academy sophomore Alex Hart made a layup after a steal with 1:04 to go, the spread was a mere four points, but after a missed shot at the other end, Weisser grabbed the offensive rebound and scored two critical points on the putback to restore order.
With 26.2 seconds left, Mazur went to the line for a 1-and-1 and hit both ends. She did the same with 13.7 seconds showing and that brought the curtain down on McAuley’s 41-31 victory.
“This was good for us,” Mazur said. “(Thornton’s) a very good team.”
“There’s obviously a rivalry there,” Weisser said. “I think it’s fun, good, healthy competition. For us, it’s been someone different every game. We did well as a team. We wanted to win. We had a drive to win.”
“When we finally ran an offense, we got good shots and made good decisions,” Goodman added. “I’m proud of them. When the going got tough, they produced.”
Weisser continued to emerge as a top talent, scoring 12 points and grabbing five rebounds despite coming off the bench.
“I’ve worked hard in practice and that’s helped a lot,” Weisser said. “It was mostly the passes I received from teammates.”
“Emily is a very good basketball player,” Mazur said. “I love playing with her. She does smart things with the ball.”
“We have a rotation this year and each girl has volunteered not to start and tonight, Emily volunteered not to start,” Goodman added. “She’s worked 15-20 minutes every day on her shots, on her moves. Defensively, she moves as well as anyone I’ve seen. I’ve been begging her to score and be aggressive. What she did tonight, that’s why I coach. To see a girl work on something and have success, that makes me so happy.”
Willerson had nine points, a game-high 11 rebounds and three steals. Howard added seven points.
Mazur stuffed the stat sheet with six points, eight steals, seven rebounds and three assists.
Her defense is what has impressed the most as it appears she’s replaced former teammate Olivia Dalphonse as the league’s premier player on that side of the ball.
“My teammates tell me what’s going on behind me and that’s very helpful,” Mazur said. “We talk a lot. Howe’s a really good shooter. Hart’s very quick. I was focused on Hart and making sure we shut her down.”
“Eva is everywhere,” Weisser said. “She helps the team so much. Without her, I don’t know where we’d be. We had to get back in the paint and stop fastbreaks and layups.”
“Eva averaged two points a game last year, but I couldn’t take her off the floor because she’s such a special player,” Goodman added. “The last time I coached a girl who filled the stat sheet it was (2012 Miss Maine Basketball) Alexa Coulombe. (Eva) gives me everything. She’s naturally a great basketball player.”
Rairdon had four points and Clement finished with three (to go with five rebounds).
McAuley committed 27 turnovers, but made 10 of 13 free throws and enjoyed a 31-18 rebounding advantage.
“We’ve worked on handling pressure,” Goodman said. “It didn’t look like it tonight, but we executed a few times well and that was the difference.”
Thornton Academy, which still hasn’t won at McAuley this century, was paced by 12 points from Howe, who also had five rebounds, two steals and an assist.
Campbell finished with five points, Burns, Lee and Robinson (three rebounds and three steals) had four points apiece and Hart (four steals, four boards, three assists) had two.
The Golden Trojans made all six of their foul shots, but gave the ball away 23 times.
“Every time we play (McAuley), it’s always a game of runs,” said Thornton Academy coach Eric Marston. “Both sides, the girls and coaches, know that. I told the girls I thought we left a lot of plays out there. I thought we had some uncharacteristic misses in the first half and those added up. I feel we should have had a decent lead in the first half. We played well, but we missed shots.
“It seemed like the ball bounced their way most of the night. I give all the credit to McAuley and Coach Goodman. They played really hard, especially defensively. That’s something we haven’t seen yet this season. The trap on the perimeter caused problems for us. They rotate really well. They close out well. They don’t give up open shots. They’re very scrappy. We didn’t get to the hoop as much as I would have liked. That’s something we’ll learn from.”
The teams, who arent’ scheduled to play again this winter, have a lot to look forward to in 2016 and they both have unfinished business before the calendar flips.
Thornton Academy is home against Noble Tuesday, then hosts Sanford Monday, Dec. 28.
“Hopefully we’ll take what we didn’t do correctly tonight and learn from it and hopefully it will help us in February,” Marston said. “We hope to see them again (in the tournament). If we do, that means we’re making a run at it.”
McAuley plays at Scarborough Tuesday. The Lions are then idle until Jan. 2, when they play the first of two “Holy Wars” at Cheverus.
“Getting this win gives us a lot of confidence,” Mazur said. “We need confidence for the rest of the season. We have a lot to improve on, obviously. We’ll look at this game and fix our mistakes and get better.”
“This gives us confidence we can compete with a good team, a well-coached team,” Goodman said. “I can’t buy this experience. These close games, we learn where our weaknesses are and hopefully fix them and we figure out what we do well.
“Scarborough is a good team. Cheverus has a lot of talent. It won’t be easy. Last year, we played the toughest schedule and this year, we have another tough schedule. I like my team. Win or lose, these girls are fun to coach. Now we have to fix some things.”
McAuley senior Sarah Clement brings the ball up the court as Thornton Academy senior Kaylee Burns defends.
McAuley senior Brooke Howard fights Thornton Academy senior Ashley Howe for a rebound.
McAuley senior Chelsea Rairdon looks for a shot as Thornton Academy senior Barrett Campbell defends.
McAuley sophomore Eva Mazur goes up for a shot.
McAuley freshman Catherine Reid tries to swat the ball away from Thornton Academy junior Isabella Robinson.
McAuley senior Jess Willerson goes up for two points.
McAuley sophomore Emily Weisser knocks the ball away from Thornton Academy senior Cassidy Cochrane.
McAuley 64 @ TA 38
@ McAuley 41 TA 36
McAuley 46 @ TA 21
@ McAuley 35 TA 32
McAuley 48 @ TA 45
@ McAuley 67 TA 33
McAuley 51 @ TA 41
@ McAuley 64 TA 17
McAuley 54 @ TA 18
@ McAuley 84 TA 21