PORTLAND—Cheverus’ girls’ basketball team served notice Monday night that it’s on the verge of being able to knock off a top contender.
But the Stags aren’t quite there yet.
For 16 minutes, Cheverus, playing without injured senior standout Jill Libby, put forth a tremendous effort against the red-hot Gorham Rams.
The Stags rode the sizzling 3-point shooting of sophomore Brooke Dawson and the steady leadership of senior Laura Holman to open up a 20-16 lead after one period. When Dawson set up Holman for a layup early in the second, Cheverus was up eight, but the Rams turned up their defensive intensity, started forcing turnovers and behind sophomore sensation Emily Esposito, began to take control of the game, going up, 30-29, at the break.
The Stags still had hope of springing an upset when they opened the second half on a 5-0 run to go up, 34-30, but Gorham would erupt behind Esposito, who did a little of everything, and closed the third quarter on a 15-2 run to seize control.
The Rams’ defense was just as imposing early in the fourth period and when senior Caitlyn Hawxwell banked home a 3 with 5:31 remaining, a 24-2 run had opened up a 54-36 lead. Gorham never looked back from there and went on to a 66-47 victory.
Esposito went off for 23 points, the Rams made it six victories in succession, improved to 8-1 and dropped Cheverus to 4-5 in the process.
“I wouldn’t say the first half is as well as we can play, but we played well for sure,” said first-year Stags coach Steve Huntington. “If we played that way in the second half, we would have been right there. Were trying to put it all together. Roles have changed with Jill being out. We had something going. We start out well, but roles aren’t defined yet and it affects how we played.”
Cheverus, a regional finalist in 2013 and a semifinalist last winter, underwent an offseason coaching change and lost several key players to graduation and transfer, meaning this season was going to be a challenge, but the Stags have hung tough even after Libby’s injury.
Cheverus 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 (59-43), to nemesis McAuley (57-46), despite a valiant effort, and to Portland (66-60). Cheverus got back on track Friday with a 67-32 triumph at Noble.
As for Gorham, it won its first two games, 43-40, over visiting Marshwood and 59-24 at Biddeford before losing at McAuley (54-43). The win streak began with home victories over Portland (51-47), Windham (52-28) and Scarborough (64-37) and continued at Sanford (44-28) and Bonny Eagle (52-39).
Entering Monday’s contest, Cheverus held a 6-4 all-time advantage over Gorham, dating back to the 2005-06 season (see sidebar, below).
The Stags were hoping to beat the Rams for the fifth straight time, but Gorham won at Cheverus for the first time since Jan. 26, 2010 (35-27) and beat the Stags for the first time anywhere since a 46-39 home win Feb. 4, 2011.
The Rams opened the scoring when sophomore Kaylea Lundin hinted at a big game to come when she hit a baseline jumper 29 seconds in, but Cheverus would get its offense going when junior Anne Veroneau made a left-handed layup while being fouled and she added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.
After Lundin drove for a layup, Dawson’s first 3 put the Stags back on top. Sophomore Kristen Curley answered with a corner 3 for Gorham, but Holman hit a leaner for an 8-7 advantage.
After Esposito hit a jumper for her first points, Dawson took an inbounds pass from freshman Emme Poulin and canned a 3 and Poulin added a left-handed runner to make it 13-9.
After Esposito drove and hit a runner, Holman made a baseline jumper. After a free throw from Rams senior Ashley Woodbury, a driving layup from Casey Simpson put Cheverus up five.
Gorham roared right back behind a foul shot from senior Aliza Jordan and a Woodbury 3-ball, Holman converted a three-point play in the waning seconds to make it 20-16 Stags after eight up-tempo minutes.
Cheverus picked up where it left off when sophomore Alayna Briggs pulled up for a jumper and Dawson fed Holman for a layup for the biggest lead of the night, 24-16, but the Rams were about to turn the tide.
Esposito made a free throw, then in the highlight reel play of the night, stole the ball and with a behind her back pass, fed Curley for a short jumper. Sophomore Brooke McElman got two points back for the hosts, but Curley scored on a putback, Esposito went coast to coast for a layup, Esposito set up Lundin for a layup, Jordan scored on a putback and with 59 seconds to go before halftime, after a Jordan offensive rebound kept possession alive, Esposito capped an 11-0 surge with a 3.
With 39 seconds left, Dawson made a 3, but the Stags were down, 30-29, at the break.
Cheverus, in a harbinger of things to come, turned the ball over five times in the second quarter, but nine points apiece from Dawson and Holman had it right in the thick of things at the break. Problem was, Esposito already had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals and her second half would be even better.
The Stags controlled the first two minutes of the third period, as Holman put them back on top with a 3 and Veroneau put home a miss to make it 34-30, but the Rams roared to life again.
Esposito got the run started with a floater on the baseline. A driving layup from Lundin tied the game. Then, with 4:37 to go in the third, a layup after a steal by Esposito put Gorham ahead to stay, 36-34.
After Jordan hit a jumper, McElman canned a long jumper, but Cheverus wouldn’t score again for over six minutes.
Before the quarter was over, Esposito hit a free throw, Woodbury canned a pair, Lundin drove and banked home a shot and Esposito set up Curley for a layup and a 45-36 advantage heading for the fourth period.
Where the Rams then ended all doubt.
After a nice spin move, Esposito hit a jumper. She then stole the ball and drove in for a left-handed layup. After a Lundin steal, Jordan made a layup and with 5:31 remaining, Hawxwell’s 3 off the glass opened up an 18-point advantage, 54-36.
Eleven seconds later, the Stags ended a 6:22 drought and a 24-2 Gorham surge when sophomore Alayna Briggs made a jumper, but Esposito set up Hawxwell for a layup. Hawxwell was fouled on the play and added the free throw to make it 57-38.
Freshman Deirdre Sanborn hit a 3 for Cheverus, but Lundin made a jumper, Esposito hit a free throw, Jordan made a foul shot and with 2:59 left, Esposito made a layup after a steal, good for a 63-41 advantage.
The hosts got a jumper from freshman Michaela Jordan, but Esposito hit a foul shot for her final point. Two Sanborn free throws were countered by a layup from Rams junior Molly Merrifield. Sanborn then hit a jumper to account for the 66-47 final score.
“I told the girls that we can’t use being a younger team with a new coach as an excuse anymore,” said Huntington. “We have to play better fundamentally.”
Cheverus just couldn’t stop Esposito, who entered the game as the league’s second leading scorer and rebounder. Monday, Esposito had a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds and she also stuffed the stat sheet with a half dozen steals, six assists and a blocked shot.
“(Esposito’s) a heck of a player,” Huntington said. “I think we bothered her at times, but Emme got tired, Casey got tired. The help defense wouldn’t be there when she penetrated. She passes the ball. She’s a tough player. She can score wherever.”
Lundin finished with 12 points, three assists and three steals. Curley (three rebounds, two steals, two blocks) added nine, Jordan (eight boards, four steals) had eight, Hawxwell (three steals) and Woodbury added six apiece, while Woodbury wound up with two.
Gorham made 10 of 18 free throws and only committed nine turnovers.
For the Stags, Holman led the way with 12 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a block. Dawson had nine points, six boards and two assists. Sanborn added seven points, Veroneau finished with five, Briggs and McElman (three blocks) four each and Jordan, Poulin and Simpson (three assists, three rebounds) two apiece.
Cheverus made 4 of 4 foul shots, but was done in by 28 turnovers, 19 of which came in the second half.
“It was the same mistake, passing over the top,” Huntington said. “I took a timeout and tried to fix it and it didn’t get any better.”
Gorham (fourth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) remains on the road Friday with a trip to Westbrook. Next Tuesday, the Rams will get a stern test when Deering pays a visit.
As for Cheverus (ranked 11th), it’s back in action Friday with a trip to Sanford. A home game against Westbrook and a tough draw at South Portland follow next week.
The Stags could soon be bolstered by the return of Libby, who is the league’s leader in rebounds and assists, but nothing is guaranteed as she rehabs a knee malady.
“I’m not sure how much longer she’ll be out,” Huntington said. “I’m hopeful she’ll be back and she’s hopeful. She wants to get back. She changes the game. She does a lot of things.
“We want to make the playoffs, but we have to find a way to win games like this. It’s making a stop, or not making a turnover. It’s not a skill or athletic thing. We have the players to do it.”
Cheverus junior Anne Veroneau looks to pass.
Cheverus senior Laura Holman is closely defended.
Cheverus freshman Kathryn Kane goes up for a shot.
Cheverus sophomore Brooke McElman takes the ball to the basket.
Cheverus freshman Emme Poulin brings the ball upcourt.
Cheverus freshman Deirdre Sanborn tries to drive on Gorham sophomore Kaylea Lundin.
Cheverus senior Casey Simpson drives to the basket.
Cheverus junior Anne Veroneau saves the ball from going out of bounds.
Cheverus coach Steve Huntington talks to his players during a timeout.
Gorham sophomores Erin Esty (10) and Emily Esposito celebrate near the end of the Rams’ victory.
Cheverus 42 @ Gorham 40
@ Cheverus 57 Gorham 34
Cheverus 51 @ Gorham 43
Western A preliminary round
@ Cheverus 50 Gorham 44
@ Gorham 46 Cheverus 39
Gorham 35 @ Cheverus 27
Cheverus 36 @ Gorham 32
@ Cheverus 39 Gorham 21
@ Gorham 71 Cheverus 38
Gorham 65 @ Cheverus 64
Cheverus senior Laura Holman has the ball stolen by Gorham sophomore Emily Esposito during Monday night’s showdown. Esposito had six steals, to go with 23 points, and the Rams erupted in the second half to win, 66-47.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
G- 16 14 15 21- 66
C- 20 9 7 11- 47
G- Esposito 9-4-23, Lundin 6-0-12, Curley 4-0-9, Jordan 3-2-8, Hawxwell 2-1-6, Woodbury 1-3-6, Merrifield 1-0-2
C- Holman 5-1-12, Dawson 3-0-9, Sanborn 2-2-7, Veroneau 2-1-5, Briggs 2-0-4, McElman 2-0-4, Jordan 1-0-2, Poulin 1-0-2, Simpson 1-0-2
G (4) Curley, Esposito, Hawxwell, Woodbury 1
C (5) Dawson 3, Holman, Sanborn 1