Deering girls primed for three-peat; Cheverus, McAuley and Waynflete also dreaming of gold
(Ed. Note: For the full McAuley-Cheverus and McAuley-Deering game stories, please visit theforecaster.net)
If it's February, that means it's time for the Deering girls' basketball team to make a run at another Class A state championship. The Rams, along with Cheverus and McAuley, are primed to make some noise at the upcoming tournament, which begins Monday. Waynflete will be a very tough out in Western C.
Deering won't be denied
The 2009-10 campaign has been a little more challenging than last winter for the two-time defending champion Deering Rams. After downing all comers en route to a second straight title a year ago, this season, the Rams have been tested on several occasions. After a stunning upset loss at Sanford and a setback at Scarborough which saw them blow a double-digit second half lead left Deering 1-2, it hasn't lost again, but last week got a couple of close calls from fierce rivals.
First, at Portland, the Rams had to rally in the fourth period to win 48-41 behind 14 points apiece from the dynamic tandem of senior Claire Ramonas and junior Kayla Burchill. Friday, in a back-and-forth season finale at McAuley, Deering got a clutch late 3 from Burchill to go up 38-36, but the Lions tied the game on sophomore Alexa Coulombe's layup with 4 seconds to go, forcing overtime. There, a Ramonas steal and layup with 1:38 to go put the Rams on top to stay and they held on for a 44-41 triumph. Burchill and sophomore Ella Ramonas each had 14 points, while Claire Ramonas added 11 and Deering ended the season on a 15-game winning streak at 16-2 and will be ranked second behind Scarborough in the tournament.
"McAuley's a quality team that makes everything tough," said coach Mike Murphy. "Nothing's easy against them. That's how the game's supposed to be played. It was back-and-forth. What a lot of people don't realize is that we're starting three kids who played on the JV team last year, along with Claire and Burch. We had a 1-2 start. We had sickness and injuries, but we got better, which is what you hope for."
The Rams will face No. 7 Thornton Academy (11-7) in the Western A quarterfinals, Monday at 3:30 p.m., at the Portland Expo. Deering downed the Golden Trojans, 53-39 (behind 17 points from Claire Ramonas), back on Dec. 22 in Portland. The teams' lone prior playoff meeting came in the 1989 quarterfinals, a 73-63 win for the Rams.
"The tournament's wide open, so who knows?" said Murphy. "Everyone will have their hands full in the quarterfinals. Thornton Academy's very good. They're a quality team. The top eight teams will be quality teams. I like the attitude we have and the effort. If we execute and hustle, we're that much more dangerous."
Restoring the roar
From 2000 through 2007, McAuley won five regional and two state championships and became the most talked about program in the state. The Lions haven't gotten past the quarterfinals the past two seasons, but this year's team is very intriguing and is capable of great things.
Last week, McAuley won 50-42 at Cheverus (behind 17 points from Coulombe and 13 from senior Caitlin Cimino), then dropped the OT heartbreak to Deering (junior Rebecca Knight had 12 points and Coulombe 11 in defeat) to wind up 12-6, good for the No. 3 spot.
"I feel like we're constantly having this conversation," lamented coach Wil Smith after the loss to the Rams. "I'm proud of the girls. They played hard and worked hard. It just came down to one or two plays of execution. We had opportunities. (Deering has) big game experience."
McAuley will meet No. 6 Gorham (13-5) in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m., Monday, at the Expo. The Lions just beat the Rams at home, 42-31, on Jan. 30. McAuley downed Gorham 61-46 in the 2006 quarterfinals in the only previous postseason meeting.
"We have to be ready," Smith said. "The quarterfinal game is the most dangerous game. We'll get ready. If we can cut down on the turnovers, we'll have a shot. Playing on the new, big floor and under the bright lights, who knows? Throw the records out the window. The team that executes will win."
With the Lions' size, athleticism and hunger, they could prove a very dangerous draw for Deering if both teams advance to the semifinals (that game would be next Friday at 7:30 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center). The last three times the teams have played, McAuley gave the Rams fits, including last year in the quarterfinals when Deering pulled away late, 42-27.
First time for Stags
After agonizing preliminary round losses each of the past two years, Cheverus is making its first quarterfinal appearance. The Stags won 13 times this year (against five losses). To put that in perspective, it look the program until its sixth varsity season to post its 13th total victory.
Cheverus still couldn't solve McAuley in its penultimate game (despite 18 points from sophomore sharpshooter Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy), but bounced back Friday in the regular season finale to down South Portland 48-35 behind 17 points from Palazzi-Leahy and 10 from senior Theresa Hendrix.
"I'm proud of the girls," said coach Richie Ashley. "They paid a price this summer lifting and doing things. They deserve all the credit. Our four seniors have been unbelievable teammates. It's good for the school. We've come a long way."
The Stags will face No. 5 Biddeford (14-4) in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Monday, at the Expo. Back on Dec. 30, Cheverus held on for a dramatic 56-55 overtime victory at the Tigers (Palazzi-Leahy had 23 points and Hendrix came up huge in OT), perhaps the program's signature win to date. The teams have never met before in the playoffs.
"It's a tough road to hoe," Ashley said. "We beat them once and they've only lost once since. They have veteran girls and are well coached. Our schedule down the stretch helped. Closing with a win was a good thing. The girls are confident. We'll prepare the best we can to play them."
If the Stags can keep it going, they would likely face top-ranked Scarborough (18-0) in the semifinals next Friday at 6 p.m., at the Civic Center. On Jan. 9 at home, Cheverus lost 56-40 to the Red Storm after digging a steep early hole due to turnovers and poor shooting. The teams have no prior playoff history.
Still Flying high
Waynflete made it all the way to its first Western C Final a year ago, but after losing some key players to graduation, the Flyers weren't expected to soar again in 2009-10.
Waynflete, behind the dominance of senior Morgan Woodhouse, one of the premier post players in the state, and freshman twins Catherine and Martha Veroneau, only stumbled against Western B teams Falmouth and Fryeburg and at home to Traip Academy. Last Tuesday, in a 62-55 home win over Wells, Woodhouse went over 1,000 points for her career and wound up with 38 for the game, just one shy of her best.
"We talked before the game that we've been .500 against the Class B teams the past two years and a win today would make us 2-2 against pretty good Class B competition this year," said coach Brandon Salway. "We needed a game like this to go through some situations."
Friday, the Flyers finished at 13-3 with a 58-25 home win over Greater Portland Christian School. In that one, Woodhouse had 22 as Waynflete wound up with the No. 2 seed.
I'm a little surprised we went 13-3," Salway said. "I thought we had a long way to go at the start. Losing close games early was good for us. It motivated us. I'm very proud of these guys. They've come a long way."
Waynflete meets No. 7 St. Dom's (12-6) Tuesday at 4 p.m., at the Augusta Civic Center. The Saints and Flyers met regularly when St. Dom's was a member of the Western Maine Conference, but the Saints moved to the Mountain Valley Conference this season meaning the squad did not play. Just last year, Waynflete beat St. Dom's 52-34 in the quarterfinals.
"It's wide-open," said Salway. "I've seen all the Mountain Valley Conference teams and they're all good. Any of the nine teams in the tournament could play three or four games or be one-and-done. I feel like we can beat just about anybody."
A win Tuesday propels the Flyers into the semifinal round next Thursday at 2:30 p.m. (in Augusta) against either No. 3 Hall-Dale (14-4) or No. 6 Livermore Falls (13-5). Waynflete didn't play either team this season or ever in the playoffs.
No playoffs for Portland
After making it to the preliminary round a year ago, the Portland Bulldogs fell short this winter. The Bulldogs were done in by injuries and an 0-6 start. Portland was much tougher down the stretch (the high point was a 49-45 home victory over McAuley Jan. 14) and almost upset Deering last Tuesday, falling 48-41 despite 18 points from junior Nicollette Kapothanasis. Thursday, Portland wound up 5-13 (and 12th in the Western A Heals, but only nine teams qualified) after beating visiting Bonny Eagle 43-39. Kapothanasis had 17 in that one, while senior Mariah Callender had 10 in her final game.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org