Cheverus is a Lion-slayer at last; First non-Holy War results in first Stags' win

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Cheverus junior Abby Cavallaro shoots over Maine Girls’ Academy defenders freshman Hope Olson, sophomore Jill Joyce (54) and sophomore Catherine Reid (22) during the Stags’ 56-32 win Thursday night. Cavallaro’s 19 points helped Cheverus beat the Lions for the first time in 26 all-time meetings.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Cheverus 56 Maine Girls’ Academy 32

C-  6 14 18 18- 56
MGA- 8 4 5 15- 32

C- Cavallaro 9-0-19, Briggs 2-0-6, Tillotson 2-2-6, Dawson 2-0-5, Malmquist 2-1-5, Poulin 2-0-4, Huntington 1-0-3, McElman 1-0-2, Jordan 1-0-2, Kane 1-0-2, Kelly 1-0-2

MGA- Reid 5-0-12, Olson 2-5-10, Legassey 2-0-5, Mower 1-1-3, Joyce 1-0-2

3-pointers:
C (5) Briggs 2, Cavallaro, Dawson, Huntington 1
MGA (4) Reid 2, Legassey, Olson 1

Turnovers:
C- 23
MGA- 22 

Free throws
C: 3-4
MGA: 6-19

PORTLAND—The faces are different, the names have changed and the war is no longer “holy,” but as far as Cheverus’ girls’ basketball team is concerned, Thursday night’s 56-32 win at Maine Girls’ Academy was one to celebrate.

Loudly.

For it was one for the ages.

One that took way too long in coming.

One for the history books.

And one that removed the monkey from its back for good.

Two days after holding off talented Deering in an overtime thriller, the Stags paid a visit to a new-look Lions squad that figured to be easy pickings, but proud MGA, which had taken all previous 25 meetings between the programs, refused to make life easy for Cheverus.

At least for a half.

The Sags took a quick 6-1 lead, but the Lions got a boost from freshman Hope Olson and took an 8-6 advantage after one quarter.

When sophomore Catherine Reid made a layup 19 seconds into the second period, MGA got its fan section involved and appeared primed to awaken the echoes, but determined Cheverus wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip by and closed the first half on a 14-2 run, thanks to the leadership and sharpshooting of junior standout Abby Cavallaro.

The Lions played hard throughout and only trailed by nine, 26-17, midway through the third period, but the Stags closed the quarter on a 12-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from senior Brooke Dawson, to put a stranglehold on the game and lead, 38-17, heading to the final stanza.

Cheverus was never seriously tested in the fourth quarter and went on to the victory, ending a decade-and-a-half of frustration in the process.

Cavallaro led all scorers with 19 points, 11 different Stags got in the scoring column and Cheverus improved to 5-2, dropped MGA to 2-5 and in the process, improved to 1-25 all-time against its rival/nemesis.

“We’re happy with the win and we’re happy we made history tonight,” Cavallaro said. “It’s a really cool win for us. We get to be part of the legacy and get to start a new trend. To come in here and make history is great for our confidence.” 

Fifteen-year odyssey

Since their first encounter way back in the 2002-03 season, Cheverus couldn’t beat McAuley.

Over 25 games, whether they came in the regular season or postseason, home or away, in December, January or February, the Lions beat the Stags every single time (see sidebar, below).

Last year, McAuley won at Cheverus (56-44) and at home (43-25).

This winter has featured no shortage of upheaval for the Lions, who saw the school change from the storied basketball name of McAuley to Maine Girls’ Academy and key players depart either by graduation or transfer. As a result, MGA has struggled on the floor, even though it has played hard throughout.

The Lions opened with a 58-29 loss at South Portland. After a 49-27 home win over Massabesic, losses to visiting Bonny Eagle (58-45), at Thornton Academy (53-29) and at home to Scarborough (45-32) followed. MGA got back in the win column last Friday, 50-38, over visiting Noble.

Cheverus opened with wins at Noble (53-38) and at home over Portland (63-32), then lost at home to Edward Little (37-34) and at Oxford Hills (52-44). The Stags returned to the win column, 61-39, at home over Sanford and Tuesday, Cheverus outlasted visiting Deering in a rematch and an overtime thriller, 56-53.

“We were a little down after our two losses, so to come out and beat Deering felt so good,” Cavallaro said.

Thursday, the Stags were on a mission and while Cheverus struggled at times, it managed to get the job done.

The Stags took the lead just 23 seconds when junior Emme Poulin stole the ball and went in for a layup. Cavallaro then set up senior Kaylin Malmquist for a layup and a 4-0 lead.

The Lions broke the ice with 4:31 left in the first when freshman Serena Mower made a free throw, but Cavallaro answered with a runner off the glass.

MGA then came to life and closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to take the lead.

With 2:52 left, Olson scored on a putback for the Lions’ first field goal.

Olson then knocked down a 3 to tie it.

With 28.9 seconds left, junior Madison Legassey sank a jump shot and MGA had an 8-6 advantage after eight minutes.

Cheverus committed eight turnovers in the first quarter.

In the second period, the Stags took better care of the ball and took the lead for good.

A layup from Reid 19 seconds into the new stanza pushed MGA’s lead to four, but a Cavallaro 3 ended the 9-0 run and sparked a 7-0 Cheverus surge.

With 7:08 left in the half, Malmquist’s jumper put the Stags ahead to stay and 37 seconds later, Cavallaro made a jumper, which hit the back of rim and dropped in, forcing MGA coach Billy Goodman to call timeout.

The Lions ended the run with 5:03 to go in the half when Reid hit a jumper, but they wouldn’t score again before the break.

After Malmquist momentarily left the game with an injury, Poulin set up senior Ally Tillotson for a layup, senior Alayna Briggs knocked down a 3 and junior Kat Kane scored on a third-chance putback for a 20-12 lead at halftime.

“We had a 10-6 lead, then we turned the ball over a couple times and gave them layups,” Goodman lamented.

In the first half, Cavallaro led all scorers with seven points, but the Stags were hindered by 14 turnovers.

MGA also gave the ball up 14 times and missed a lot of open looks. Olson’s five points led the hosts.

In the third quarter, Cheverus built an insurmountable lead.

The second half started with Poulin feeding Tillotson for a layup and Cavallaro scoring on a putback for a 24-12 lead.

With 6:12 to go, Reid knocked down a 3 to end the Stags’ 11-0 run and a 6:51 run, but Cavallaro countered with a jumper in the lane to cut the deficit to 26-17.

The Lions would draw no closer, as Cavallaro scored on a putback, Cavallaro took a pass from Briggs and made a layup, Briggs sank a 3, Cavallaro stole the ball and made a layup and as time expired, Dawson buried a 3 for a commanding 38-17 advantage.

“We were coming off a big game,” Cavallaro said. “We underestimated their defense. Their defense is one of the best I’ve seen. They’re long and scrappy. I knew we had to get turnovers and get easy baskets. I just ran to the ball.”

The fourth quarter was a formality, but it’s safe to say the Stags enjoyed all 480 seconds. 

After Reid hit a runner in the lane seven seconds in to end a 4:03 drought and Cheverus’ 12-0 run, junior Michaela Jordan countered with a putback, Dawson sank a jumper from the wing and Cavallaro made a baseline jumper for a 44-19 lead.

MGA got another 3 from Reid and a free throw from Olson, but Tillotson countered with a pair of foul shots for a 46-23 advantage.

After Mower made a layup after a steal, Stags senior Brooke McElman made a short jumper in transition.

Sophomore Jill Joyce hit a short jumper for the Lions, but Malmquist countered with a free throw and Poulin added a layup.

With 2:48 left, Legassey sank a 3 for the hosts and Olson added two free throws for MGA’s final points.

Down the stretch, Cheverus’ depth continued to shine, as sophomore Meg Kelly scored on a leaner and freshman Emily Huntington drained a 3.

At 7:18 p.m., the final horn sounded and the Stags got to celebrate their long-awaited 56-32 triumph.

“It means a lot to me and the team,” said Tillotson, who played for McAuley as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Cheverus prior to her junior season. “It’s history. We’re coming in off a big win and we didn’t let up. It was a tough game and I have a lot of respect for them. We regrouped at halftime and calmed down. We found our spots to break their press that we struggled with.”

“It’s important for the girls and the school,” said Stags coach Steve Huntington, who became the first of four coaches in program history to beat the Lions. “It might not be the same as before, but the smiles on the girls’ faces mean a lot. We made history, but it is just one game. We had some nerves playing here. Billy does a great job. Their kids are always ready to play. Their zone bothered us a little bit. We weren’t sure whether or not to attack. They forced us into quick 3s. We tried to attack the basket, but we settled for jump shots. Once we settled down and passed the ball, things opened up for us.”

Cavallaro not only had a game-high 19 points, but she also had eight rebounds, five steals, two assists and a blocked shot.

“Abby has great hands,” Huntington said. “She got steals on the wing tonight. She’s great anticipating. She has great basketball instincts. She got out in transition and got some easy looks.”

Briggs (four steals and four rebounds) and Tillotson (four rebounds) both added six points.

“I do what I can for the team and hopefully we pull it out,” Tillotson said.

“Ally has been great for our team,” Huntington said. “She does everything we ask of her. Her heart and desire are always there. She’s comfortable changing the game on the defensive end. This was special for her. I’m glad she was able to come here and win.”

Dawson and Malmquist had five points apiece, Poulin (five assists, four rebounds, two steals) finished with four, Huntington three and McElman (six boards, three steals), Jordan, Kane (five rebounds) and Kelly had two each.

“We’re deep and anyone can score in any given game,” Cavallaro said. “I had a pretty good game today. Brooke Dawson knocked down shots. Ally brings defense every time. Brooke McElman brings a lot. Kaylin gives help to me. It’s cool to have so much balance. Anyone on any given night can drop 20 (points).”

“We go very deep,” Huntington said. “We have a lot of kids who can play. I want to give them all an opportunity. We swing six players. We don’t have one scorer who will score 20 or 25 a game, although Abby or Emme could do that. The girls complement each other. They love playing with each other. It’s a nice luxury to have.”

Cheverus enjoyed a 35-31 rebounding advantage, made 3 of 4 free throws and committed 23 turnovers, but had more than enough to prevail.

The Lions were paced by Reid, who had 12 points, six rebounds and a steal. Olson added 10 points (to go with six rebounds and four steals), Legassey five, Mower three and Joyce two. 

MGA turned the ball over 22 times and made just 6 of 19 free throws.

“It’s tough,” Goodman said. “I love my girls. They play as hard as any team I’ve ever coached. They’re humble, they’re coachable, but the ball just doesn’t go in. They do everything a coach wants, so I can’t get upset with them. We have to work on passing and we have to work on shooting. (Cheverus has) had good teams, so for us to win that many in a row is unbelievable.”

Wins needed

MGA is back in action Tuesday when it hosts Marshwood. A visit from South Portland follows before the Lions visit Windham, Gorham, Portland and Massabesic. 

MGA needs victories to avoid missing the tournament for the first time since 1999.

“I need to do a better job coaching,” Goodman said. “We need to get better.” 

Cheverus travels to Bangor Friday, then is idle until Jan. 14, when it goes to Bonny Eagle. 

“We work hard regardless of the day,” Tillotson said. “We have to keep working on our defense and hopefully that will lead to offense.”

“This will only bring us up,” Cavallaro said. “We want to go 3-0 this week, but we have a big trip tomorrow.”

“I hope we can take care business in Bangor,” Huntington added. “Tomorrow will be a difficult trip and a big test for us. Hopefully we’ll travel well and come out with a victory.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cheverus junior Kat Kane goes up for a shot over MGA junior Madison Legassey.

MGA freshman Serena Mower lines up a shot as Cheverus senior Alayna Briggs defends.

Cheverus senior Brooke McElman drives to the basket as MGA sophomore Carly Beaulieu defends.

MGA freshman Hope Olson is sandwiched by Cheverus seniors Alayna Briggs, left, and Brooke Dawson.

Cheverus junior Emme Poulin drives on MGA freshman Serena Mower.

MGA sophomore Jill Joyce grabs a rebound over Cheverus senior Alayna Briggs.

MGA sophomore Catherine Reid battles Cheverus senior Brooke McElman for the ball as freshman Hope Olson joins the fray.

Previous McAuley-Cheverus results

2015-16
McAuley 56 @ Cheverus 44 
@ McAuley 43 Cheverus 25

2014-15
McAuley 57 @ Cheverus 46
@ McAuley 55 Cheverus 42

2013-14
@ McAuley 47 Cheverus 39
McAuley 56 @ Cheverus 35

2012-13
McAuley 51 @ Cheverus 30
Western A Final
McAuley 47 Cheverus 36

2011-12
@ McAuley 57 Cheverus 40

2010-11
McAuley 45 @ Cheverus 42
@ McAuley 58 Cheverus 39

2009-10
@ McAuley 46 Cheverus 39
McAuley 50 @ Cheverus 42

2008-09
@ McAuley 48 Cheverus 33
Western A preliminary
@ McAuley 33 Cheverus 27

2007-08
McAuley 47 @ Cheverus 41

2006-07
McAuley 59 @ Cheverus 41
@ McAuley 57 Cheverus 32

2005-06
@ McAuley 77 Cheverus 33
McAuley 67 @ Cheverus 51

2004-05
@ McAuley 73 Cheverus 37
McAuley 73 @ Cheverus 50

2003-04
McAuley 70 @ Cheverus 24
@ McAuley 85 Cheverus 31

2002-03
@ McAuley 88 Cheverus 30

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.