PORTLAND—On 21 previous occasions over the past dozen years, McAuley’s girls’ basketball team more or less had its way with Cheverus in the “Holy War,” but Tuesday evening at Keegan Gymnasium, the Stags didn’t play scared and for a change, took the fight to the Lions.
Just two minutes in, Cheverus, paced by the play of seniors Laura Holman and Jillian Libby, had a 6-0 lead, but eventually, McAuley came to life.
Lions senior Ayla Tartre once again played the sparkplug role, getting her team going, and junior sharpshooter Sarah Clement rediscovered her touch in a big way.
Even though McAuley got its offense in gear, the Stags still led, 12-9, after one quarter and extended it to 15-9 early in the second, but this group of Lions wasn’t about to be the first to lose to their crosstown rivals.
An old-fashioned three-point play from Clement put McAuley ahead to stay and sparked a 13-0 run which helped the Lions grab a 30-23 advantage at the half.
Cheverus drew within seven points early in the third quarter, but a 9-2 surge, fueled by a pair of Clement 3s, gave the visitors some breathing room.
While the Stags fought hard to the end, even after Libby left with an apparent knee injury with just under four minutes to go, McAuley refused to buckle and went on to a 57-46 victory, its 22nd in 22 all-time meetings against Cheverus.
The Lions got a game-high 19 points from Tartre, 16 more from Clement and improved to 5-1 with their fifth straight win, as they dropped the Stags to 3-3 in the process.
“At halftime, we talked about who wanted it more,” Tartre said. “We talked about coming out and bringing energy. The whole team stepped up. Once one person starts it, it’s a chain reaction. There’s pressure (not to be the first team to lose to Cheverus), but it drives you to play well in these games. It’s the “Holy War.” You come out and play your best.”
Whenever McAuley and Cheverus square off, emotions are at a peak. The teams meet twice a year most winters and have even squared off twice in the playoffs, but competitively, it’s been a mismatch.
Heading into Tuesday’s showdown, the Lions had won all 21 meetings and almost all of them were decisive (15 had been decided by double digits).
Both teams were off to promising starts this winter.
McAuley, despite some major offseason departures, won four of its first five. After losing the opener, 37-34, at Thornton Academy, the Lions rolled at Massabesic (66-20), beat visiting Gorham (54-43), host Deering (in a 49-48 thriller) and dominated visiting Noble (65-16).
Cheverus, which also has a dramatically different look this winter, starting at the top with new coach Steve Huntington, won its first two: 63-50 at Windham and 66-48 at home over Bonny Eagle. After falling at home to Thornton Academy (50-28), the Stags won at Massabesic (66-28), then lost at home to Deering Friday (59-43).
Tuesday, on a night where the past three Miss Maine Basketball Award winners (McAuley’s Alexa Coulombe and Allie Clement and Waynflete’s Martha Veroneau) were in the building, Cheverus was hoping to end the McAuley jinx, but the Lions managed to improve to 22-0 all-time against the Stags and 10-0 all-time at Cheverus.
Unlike so many previous encounters, the Stags came out confident and put McAuley on its heels.
Just 49 seconds in, a jumper from senior Laura Holman, a former Lion, gave Cheverus not only the game’s first basket, but also its first lead over McAuley in over 40 minutes of action (dating to the third quarter of the teams’ first encounter in 2013-14).
When senior Casey Simpson banked home a shot and senior Jillian Libby made a pair of free throws, the Stags had a 6-0 advantage 2:01 into the contest.
The Lions needed a spark and not surprisingly, it was Tartre who provided it.
Wiht 4:50 to play in the first quarter, Tartre was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer and earned three free throws. She made two of them to get her team going.
“(Ayla) steps up every night,” Lions coach Billy Goodman said. “I’m so proud of her. She’s come a long way.”
Tartre added a pullup jumper and with 3:19 left in the opening stanza, Sarah Clement, who has been on verge of finding her long-range stroke in recent games, buried her first 3-point attempt for a 7-6 lead.
“I was working all week in practice on my shot,” said Clement. “I guess it paid off. It felt good. It was good for my confidence. I’ve been waiting to come out and do that.”
Tartre added two free throws to culminate a 9-0 run, but the Stags got a putback from sophomore Brooke McElman, another putback from Libby and a putback from junior Anne Veroneau to take a 12-9 lead after one quarter.
When McElman canned a 3 10 seconds into the second period, Cheverus was feeling pretty good about itself, but the Lions would soon take over.
After Tartre sank a 3, Holman made a long jumper for a 17-12 lead, but McAuley freshman Eva Mazur sank a free throw, junior Jess Willerson (who played for the Stags her first two years) made a pair and Tartre added two more to tie the score, 17-17.
Two free throws from freshman Emme Poulin gave the Stags their final lead, 19-17, but Clement drove for a layup, was fouled in the process and added the free throw to convert the old-fashioned three-point play to put the Lions ahead for good.
Mazur added a long jump shot, Dalphonse converted a three-point play, junior Chelsea Rairdon hit a leaner and with 1:33 to go in the first half, Clement made another 3 and just like that, McAuley had a 30-19 advantage.
With 42.5 seconds to go before halftime, Holman scored on a putback to end the Lions’ 13-0 run. Freshman Deirdre Sanborn then made two free throws and despite the run, Cheverus was only down seven, 30-23, at the break.
McAuley got 11 points from Tartre and nine from Clement in the first half, but the Stags hung close, as Holman had six points, McElman five and Libby added four with 10 rebounds.
The game remained taut in the third period.
After Willerson scored on a putback, she picked up her fourth foul. Holman set up Veroneau for a layup, but Clement made her third 3 to stretch the Lions’ lead to 35-25.
Libby scored on a runner, but Clement stepped back and made her fourth straight 3.
“You can’t have just one person score,” said Tartre. “When (Sarah) lights up, everyone feels it. There’s so much energy on the court.”
“Sarah has been working on her shot,” Goodman said. “She’s focused on getting better and she got better. I was proud of her tonight.”
Dalphonse added a free throw, then hit two more to make it 41-27, but as time expired, Holman made a 3 to cut the deficit to 11.
“Laura can step out and hit an outside shot,” Huntington said. “She’s such a good passer. She gets the ball in the post and she’s not looking shot first, she looks for cutters.”
Cheverus never did make a serious run in the fourth quarter, even it was competitive to the bitter end.
Dalphonse drove for a layup to start the period. After Holman made a free throw, McAuley senior Mary Furlong hit a jump shot and Clement added a foul shot to make it 46-31.
McElman countered with a putback and Poulin sank a long 3, but Lions sophomore Ally Tillotson drove for a layup and with 3:58 to go, Tartre made a 3 to restore a 15-point bulge, 51-36.
Of far greater concern for the Stags was an injury to Libby, which stopped play. Libby appeared to hurt her knee and didn’t return.
When play resumed, Sanborn made a layup and sophomore Brooke Dawson knocked down a 3 to make it 51-41 with 3:12 remaining, but Tartre calmly answered with a 3.
Cheverus sophomore Alayna Briggs hit a jumper, but Tartre drove for a layup for her final points.
With 1:56 left, McElman hit a 3 to make it a 10-point game, but it was far too little, too late and a free throw from Dalphonse with little time remaining gave McAuley a 57-46 victory.
“Cheverus has good shooters and they’re aggressive,” Goodman said. “They played good D. Steve’s doing a good job with them.”
Tartre produced the latest in a series of clutch performances this winter, leading all scorers with 19 points, while adding three rebounds.
Clement finally found her stroke and had 16 points (12 of which came from behind the arc). She also grabbed six rebounds.
Dalphonse came up huge in the second half and tallied nine points, five boards, four assists and two steals. Willerson added four points (and five boards), Mazur had three (to go with five rebounds, four assists and four steals) and Furlong, Rairdon and Tillotson (five boards) finished with two apiece.
McAuley turned the ball over a respectable 13 times and canned 16 of 21 free throws.
Cheverus was paced by 10 points each from Holman (six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot) and McElman (four boards, two blocks and two assists).
Libby tallied six points and more importantly, tallied a game-high 12 rebounds (as well as two assists and a block) before she had to leave the game.
“(Jillian) plays such a big role for us,” Huntington said. “She’s so versatile. She can defend any position. She can put the ball on the floor.”
Poulin added five points (to go with five rebounds and two assists), Sanborn (three rebounds, three steals) and Veroneau each had four, Dawson finished with three and Briggs and Simpson (four boards and a block) both had two.
“(Cheverus’) young players did a really good job,” Clement said. “I would have thought they’d played for years. Jillian Libby did a good job leading the team, so they knew what to expect.”
The Stags had a 38-37 rebounding advantage. They committed 14 turnovers and made 7 of 8 foul shots.
“We’re a young team trying to find its offensive rhythm,” Huntington said. “We ran the offense as well as we could at the end. We go through our seniors, Jill and Laura, quite a bit. Sometimes the other girls stand around and let them to do their thing.
“We’ve had a rough schedule. Thornton and Deering and now McAuley. We didn’t really come out to fight against TA. That’s something we addressed. If we come out with passion and drive, we can play with anybody. We have a lot of skilled players. We go nine deep and everyone can shoot and defend and put the ball on the floor.”
Holy War XXIII takes place in the season finale Feb. 5 at McAuley, but both teams have a lot of work to do first.
The Stags hope to bounce back Tuesday, when they host dangerous Portland. Cheverus opens 2015 at Noble Jan. 2.
“I feel good,” Huntington said. “Once we hit our stride, we’ll put it together.”
The Lions are at Windham Tuesday and visit Biddeford Jan. 2. A home showdown versus Thornton Academy looms Jan. 6.
“That (Opening Night) loss made us tougher,” said Tartre. “Now we know what we have to do to beat them.”
While McAuley isn’t the juggernaut of old, it’s slowly getting back to the upper echelon.
“I think things are finally coming together,” Clement said. “We’ve worked so hard in practice to make it all work. We’ve improved and we know what to expect. Each game we play, we get better as we get more and more familiar with each other.”
“It’s a good feeling to know we’ve improved,” Tartre said. “Everybody put us down in the beginning. It’s nice to show how we can play as a team.”
“We’re a young team that’s trying to perfect our offense,” Goodman added. “It’s my job to get us better. We have good practices. We need to apply it in games.”
McAuley junior Sarah Clement rises up for a shot. Clement hit four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points.
McAuley senior Olivia Dalphonse drives to the basket for two of her nine points.
Cheverus senior Laura Holman prepares to go up for a shot.
Cheverus senior Jillian Libby throws a pass over McAuley freshman Eva Mazur.
McAuley freshman Eva Mazur beats a pair of Cheverus defenders up the floor.
McAuley junior Chelsea Rairdon battles Cheverus senior Casey Simpson (left) and freshman Deirdre Sanborn for possession.
Cheverus freshman Deirdre Sanborn drives to the basket.
McAuley senior Ayla Tartre goes up for two of her game-high 19 points.
Cheverus coach Steve Huntington urges on his team during Tuesday’s contest.
@ McAuley 57 Cheverus 40
@ McAuley 46 Cheverus 39
McAuley 50 @ Cheverus 42
@ McAuley 48 Cheverus 33
Western A preliminary
@ McAuley 33 Cheverus 27
McAuley 47 @ Cheverus 41
McAuley 59 @ Cheverus 41
@ McAuley 57 Cheverus 32
@ McAuley 77 Cheverus 33
McAuley 67 @ Cheverus 51
@ McAuley 73 Cheverus 37
McAuley 73 @ Cheverus 50
McAuley 70 @ Cheverus 24
@ McAuley 85 Cheverus 31
@ McAuley 88 Cheverus 30
McAuley senior Olivia Dalphonse (20) and junior Sarah Clement celebrate (as junior Chelsea Rairdon (far left) and senior Ayla Tartre join the fray during the Lions’ 57-46 win at Cheverus Tuesday night. McAuley improved to 22-0 all-time in the “Holy War,” even if it didn’t come easily.
More photos below.
M- 9 21 10 17- 57
C- 12 11 7 16- 46
M- Tartre 5-6-19, Clement 5-2-16, Dalphonse 2-5-9, Willerson 1-2-4, Mazur 1-1-3, Furlong 1-0-2, Rairdon 1-0-2, Tillotson 1-0-2
C- Holman 4-1-10, McElman 4-0-10, Libby 2-2-6, Poulin 1-2-5, Sanborn 1-2-4, Veroneau 2-0-4, Dawson 1-0-3, Briggs 1-0-2, Simpson 1-0-2
M (7) Clement 4, Tartre 3
C (5) McElman 2, Dawson, Holman, Poulin 1