Oxford Hills junior Bailey Whitney tries to block the shot of Cheverus senior Kat Kane during the teams’ Class AA North semifinal Wednesday. The Stags lost, 59-49.
Jason Gendron photos.
More photos below.
C- 8 9 19 13- 49
OH- 21 16 11 11- 59
C- Poulin 6-1-17, Cavallaro 6-0-14, Kane 3-1-7, L. Jordan 2-2-6, M. Jordan 1-3-5
OH- Laliberte 7-7-24, Colby 6-3-17, Dieterich 3-0-8, Adams 0-4-4, Carson 1-0-3, Hartnett 1-0-3
C (6) Poulin 4, Cavallaro 2
OH (9) Laliberte 3, Colby, Dieterich 2, Carson, Hartnett 1
PORTLAND—Oxford Hills couldn’t miss and Cheverus wouldn’t quit, but ultimately, the top-ranked Vikings’ early shooting exhibition was just enough to hold off a late Stags’ rally in a compelling Class AA North semifinal round playoff game Wednesday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena.
The defending regional champion Vikings hit their first seven shots, four of them 3-pointers, and made 8-of-10 attempts in a first quarter which saw them open up a 21-8 lead.
Oxford Hills was almost as lethal in the second period and by halftime, it held a 37-17 advantage.
Fourth-seeded Cheverus refused to buckle, however, and after trailing by as many as 25 points, 45-20, early in the third quarter, it roared back behind the long-range shooting acumen of senior standouts Abby Cavallaro and Emme Poulin and a strong effort off the bench from senior Kat Kane.
The Stags trimmed their deficit to a dozen points, 48-36, heading to the fourth period, where they kept pressuring and with 1:53 to go, a Poulin foul shot made it 55-49.
Cheverus then had three chances to make things really interesting, but the Vikings stole the ball twice and another shot missed and Oxford Hills hit four free throws down the stretch to close out a 59-49 victory.
The Vikings got a game-high 24 points from senior Maighread Laliberte and 17 points from sophomore Julia Colby as they improved to 17-3, advanced to face No. 3 Edward Little (13-7) in the Class AA North Final Friday at 2 p.m., in Portland and in the process, ended the Stags’ season at 12-8.
“(Oxford Hills) shot unbelievably,” said Cheverus first-year coach Gary Fifield. “They couldn’t miss. I had no answer for the way they shot the ball. I’m not so sure I’ve ever seen a high school team shoot the ball as well as they did in the first half in this facility.”
Cheverus posted an 11-7 regular season mark, then, as the No. 4 seed in Class AA North, had to go to overtime to hold off No. 5 Windham, 56-50, in last Thursday’s quarterfinal.
After losing to Gorham in the Class AA state final last winter, Oxford Hills remained a powerhouse this season, winning 15 of 18 games (losing only to Edward Little, South Portland and Greely), to earn the top seed in AA North. The Vikings then held off eighth-ranked Deering, 55-40, in last week’s quarterfinal round.
On Jan. 31, Cheverus was on the wrong end of a 62-27 decision at Oxford.
Wednesday, the Vikings simply couldn’t miss early in the game and they put the Stags in a steep hole.
Twenty-nine seconds in, Colby drove for a layup.
Cheverus pulled even, as Cavallaro set up sophomore Lauren Jordan for a layup, but sophomore Cecilia Dieterich hit a 3 from the corner and Colby made a runner for a 7-2 Vikings’ lead.
Poulin made her first 3, but that’s as close as the Stags would get, as Laliberte converted an old-fashioned three-point play (bank shot, foul and free throw) and sophomore Margaret Hartnett buried a 3 for a 13-5 advantage.
Senior Michaela Jordan got a point back for Cheverus at the line, but the 3-point parade continued, as first Dieterich, then Laliberte buried long range shots for a 19-6 lead, making Oxford Hills a perfect 7-of-7 from the field to that point.
After Cavallaro drove for a layup and the Vikings finally missed a shot, Dieterich hit a leaner in the lane to produce a 21-8 lead after one period.
Oxford Hills 8 of 10 shots in the first eight points, four of them coming from behind the 3-point arc.
“For the most part, they weren’t wide open, we contested the shots, but they have that ability,” Fifield lamented. “They can drive and when you help, they kick it out. There’s not much you can do. You feel helpless. It’s not like they just have one player (Hartnett) is a great shooter, but (Laliberte), (Colby) and (Dieterich) are too and (junior Jadah) Adams is tough inside.”
The Vikings cooled down slightly in the second quarter, but extended their lead.
After Poulin started the frame with a 3-pointer, Colby made a leaner, then sank two free throws.
Michaela Jordan answered with two free throws, but Laliberte hit a jumper, then took a pass in transition from Colby and made a layup before sophomore Brooke Carson buried yet another 3 to make it 32-13 with 3:48 to go in the half.
Poulin countered with a layup after a steal, but Adams made a pair of free throws.
In the final minute, Kane scored her first points on a putback, but Laliberte, fittingly, capped the half with a 3, and Oxford Hills took a 20-point advantage, 37-17, to the break.
In the first half, Laliberte led all scorers with 13 points, while Poulin led Cheverus with eight points.
The third period started out as more of the same, but by the end of the quarter, the Stags had life.
Colby started the second half with a 3, but Poulin answered with a 3-ball of her own.
After Laliberte scored on a leaner, Laliberte hit a long 3 with 5:55 left in the frame and the lead was a seemingly commanding 25 points, 45-20.
But Cheverus would go on a 16-3 run to end the quarter.
A layup from Cavallaro got things started. After a Lauren Jordan putback, Cavallaro hit a baseline jumper and Poulin made a jump shot to make it 45-28.
Colby countered with yet another 3-pointer, but Poulin made a 3, Lauren Jordan made two foul shots and with 10.7 seconds left, a Cavallaro 3 pulled the Stags within 48-36 heading for the fourth quarter.
There, Cheverus almost completed an epic rally, but the Vikings did enough to survive and advance.
Michaela Jordan drove for a layup to start the final stanza and Kane added a free throw before a foul shot from Colby with 6:42 to play ended the 11-0 run. Colby then added a runner in the lane to make it 51-39.
Cavallaro set up Kane for a layup, but Adams made two free throws to restore a 12-point lead.
The Stags kept coming, however, as Cavallaro knocked down a jumper, then set up Kane for a layup to cut the deficit to eight with 2:58 remaining.
After Laliberte made both ends of a one-and-one, Cavallaro hit a 3-ball with 2:03 left to make it 55-48.
Then, in a controversial call at midcourt, Laliberte, who had the ball, was called for an intentional foul and after Poulin made one of two free throws, Cheverus kept possession and had a chance to draw even closer than six.
It didn’t happen, as Adams stole the ball.
After Colby missed the front end of a one-and-one, Colby stole the ball back.
“We penetrated in off the pick-and-roll and they read it well,” Fifield said. “They have quick hands. They came up with steals that were huge.”
Colby missed another one-and-one front end, but at the other end, Kane missed and this time, the Vikings extended their lead, as with 47.5 seconds to play, Laliberte hit one of two free throws.
After Poulin missed a 3, Laliberte made a foul shot and with 18.5 seconds remaining, two more Laliberte free throws brought the curtain down on Cheverus’ season and Oxford Hills’ 59-49 victory.
“Our kids haven’t been in this facility, but I’m very proud of the way (the girls) came back,” Fifield said. “They showed heart and they showed desire. It takes so much energy to come back and we’re not a deep team.”
The Vikings were led by 24 points from Laliberte. Colby added 17 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists. Dieterich finished with eight points and three assists, Adams had four points, four rebounds and two steals and Carson and Hartnett each wound up with three points.
Oxford Hills only turned the ball over 10 times and hit 14 of 26 free throws.
The Vikings and Red Eddies figure to put on a show in the regional final Friday, as they split during the regular season. In the opener, Dec. 8, Edward Little won, 49-42, in Oxford. In the rematch Jan. 25 in Auburn, the Vikings prevailed, 53-37.
Cheverus got 17 points from Poulin in her swan song and 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists from Cavallaro in her final contest. Both girls plan to play in college next year.
Kane had seven points, Lauren Jordan six (to go with eight rebounds) and Michaela Jordan five (to go with seven boards).
The Stags had a 27-21 rebounding advantage and only turned the ball over nine teams, but were hindered by 7 of 16 foul shooting.
Cheverus got to the semifinals for the first time in four years and made great strides over three months.
“In terms in what I wanted to try to get across and establish, we were able to do that,” Fifield said. “The girls enjoyed it in terms of being taught some things, the expectations and structure that were established. At the same time, we had fun in practice.”
Cavallaro, Michaela Jordan, Kane, Poulin and Sara Taylor all depart, but the Stags expect to be back in contention in 2018-19.
“I’d like to have a few kids back,” Fifield said. “I lose some special seniors. They showed up as leaders.
“We’ll build from this. The kids saw what it took, how hard you have to work to be successful.”
Cheverus senior Abby Cavallaro and Oxford Hills senior Maighread Laliberte fight for the ball.
Cheverus senior Michaela Jordan takes a shot.
Cheverus junior Meg Kelly is defended by Oxford Hills sophomore Julia Colby.
Cheverus seniors Abby Cavallaro (with ball) and Emme Poulin race up the floor.
Cheverus senior Kat Kane gets caught in traffic.
Cheverus senior Emme Poulin goes up for two of her team-high 17 points.
Cheverus coach Gary Fifield talks to his team during a timeout.