THE PLAYOFFS Deering fights past McAuley into semifinals
Cheverus, Portland fall in prelims; Waynflete opens Western C play
By Michael Hoffer
The Deering Rams girls' basketball team's expected stroll through the tournament field ran into an obstacle in the form of a familiar foe Monday night. The Rams were pushed for 32 minutes and didn't pull away until late in a 42-27 victory over the McAuley Lions in the Western Class A quarterfinals.
Deering advances to meet No. 4-seeded Noble (15-4) in the semifinals Friday at 6 p.m. at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
McAuley finished 11-9, but not before the Lions ended Cheverus' season (8-11) with a 33-27 win over the Stags in the preliminary round last week.
Portland also fell in a prelim, 56-50 to South Portland to finish at 7-12.
In Western C, top-ranked Waynflete began its title quest late Tuesday night (too late for this edition) with a quarterfinal game against St. Dom's at the Augusta Civic Center.
SUBHEAD-Rams silence the roar
Deering has been close to untouchable this winter, winning 18 times and only severely tested once, at Scarborough. On Jan. 15. The Rams went to McAuley and won 47-23. Deering was 1-2 in prior playoff meetings with their Stevens Avenue rival, beating the Lions in the 2004 regional final (56-46) and losing to them in the 2001 quarterfinals (58-47) and the 2007 semifinals (47-36).
The Rams learned quickly Monday that they wouldn't enjoy a blowout win as McAuley raced to an 8-4 advantage. Deering rallied to lead 11-8 after one and went up 18-10 in the second, but the Lions rallied to within 18-15 at the break thanks to a late 3-pointer from junior Caitlin Cimino.
The Rams clung to a 22-20 advantage in the third period and fought off five McAuley attempts to pull ahead. Deering took a 24-20 lead into the fourth after sophomore Kayla Burchill made a short hook shot.
"That's tournament basketball," Lions coach Wil Smith lamented. "That's the difference between the teams that go and those who don't. When you get opportunities the shots have to go down."
Burchill took over in the fourth, making back-to-back 3's to help the Rams seal the 42-27 win.
"They were leaving me open at times," Burchill said. "We didn't get nervous. We just got our intensity up more and played our best. I expected a battle because they play intense every game."
Burchill led all scorers with 20 points, 16 coming in the second half.
"I thought Kayla had a great second half," Deering first-year coach Mike Murphy said. "I told people and people laughed, but McAuley was the best eighth-seeded team. They're young, but they're very talented. We got pushed and that's what we want. I was very proud of the kids. They were very resilient."
McAuley was paced by 10 points from Cimino. Freshman Alex Coulombe had six blocks to show signs of great promise.
"I'm proud of the girls," Smith said. "Coming close is almost as satisfying as winning. We stuck with them for a long time. There's a reason they're champions. They did what they needed to and hit big shots and free throws when they had to down the stretch. They have great kids over there. My hat's off to Deering."
The Lions finished 11-9, but are very young and could return to glory very soon.
"I feel good for the girls," Smith said. "They grew up tonight. They stayed within the game plan. That was probably was the most positive sign going forward. I'm confident they can follow a game plan. That's going to be big going into next year.
"We had a great bunch of seniors. Great leadership off the court. The core of this team is coming back. I hope this gave them a taste and makes them want to work hard in the offseason. I'm looking forward to next year. We have to get stronger."
Deering moves on to face Noble. The Rams were a 36-25 winner at the Knights Jan. 9.
Deering downed Noble 35-32 in the quarterfinals three years ago and 53-39 in last year's regional final.
"I think it will be a good game," Burchill said. "I'm excited to play them. The first game was close. They're a good team. Being a top team, a lot of people want us to lose. We just want to prove we're as good as we've been playing."
The Western A Final is Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center. The Class A final is Saturday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in Augusta.
SUBHEAD-One and done
Before the Lions fell to Deering, they sent No. 9 Cheverus packing in the preliminary round.
The Stags had an up-and-down season, winning five in a row, then losing six straight en route to an 8-10 finish.
McAuley defeated Chevrus 48-33 on Jan. 10.
This was a 32-minute battle. McAuley raced to a 9-2 lead after one quarter, but Cheverus battled back within 15-11 at the half.
Junior Hanna Lyons made a three-point play early in the third to pull the Stags within one, 15-14, but the hosts rode a 7-0 run to a 24-18 lead after three.
Points were at a premium in the fourth. The game turned for good with 47 seconds remaining when Lions sophomore Rebecca Knight (10 points) fired a mid-range jumper while being fouled. The shot hit the rim and rattled home to the delight of most of the crowd. Knight then hit a free throw to make it 31-25. McAuley then closed out the 33-27 victory,
"We got a win," said Smith. "I'll take hard wins over easy losses any day. The basketball purists are rolling over in their graves, but like I said all year, if you want to see an exciting finish, you want to follow us."
Cheverus wound up 8-11. Junior Theresa Hendrix led the way with nine points.
"It seemed like every shot McAuley shot rattled in," Stags coach Richie Ashley lamented. "Ours didn't. They got a couple more opportunities than we got. I give them credit. We fought as hard as we possibly could. The girls left everything on the floor. There was nothing more they could do.
"The seniors were part of a program that hadn't won and for two years they made the playoffs. Seven wins last year, eight wins this year. We're losing nine seniors, two starters. We'll come back and try to get over the hump."
Portland went 7-11 this year to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season. Last Wednesday, the No. 10 Bulldogs traveled to No. 7 South Portland for a preliminary game.
The teams met Jan. 26 at the Portland Expo with the Red Riots winning 58-47.
The Bulldogs had a 5-2 edge in prior playoff meetings.
South Portland raced to a 19-9 lead after one and stretched its advantage to 35-19 at halftime before Portland roared back. A 15-4 run, sparked by seven points from senior Nyachuol Biliew, made it a 39-34 game, but Biliew (22 points) was sidelined with foul trouble and the Red Riots were able to hold on for a 56-50 victory.
"I told the team at the half that we had three starters out most of the way and we were still within 16 points," said Portland coach Jan Veinot. "We came out confident. (Biliew) got in foul trouble and we tried to give her some time on the bench and hang on to that five-point deficit. I don't know, maybe we should have left her in there. You never know. But I'm very happy with the way we played tonight. We played a great game."
SUBHEAD-Waynflete eying the prize
Top-ranked Waynflete opened Western Class C tournament play Tuesday night in Augusta. The Flyers, 15-3 in the regular season, sought to avenge a loss when they battled No. 8 St. Dom's (13-6).
Waynflete opened the year with a 65-30 home win over the Saints, but was upset 47-40 in Auburn on Jan. 27.
The teams had never met in the postseason.
"Everybody knows that any team can beat anybody, we've already learned that," Waynflete coach Brandon Salway said. "Whoever we play will be tough, but if we play our game, we should win."
A victory would put the Flyers into the semifinals Thursday at 4 p.m. in Augusta to face either No. 4 Mt. Abram (13-6) or No. 5 Dirigo (13-6). The Flyers didn't meet either team in the regular season.
Last year, Waynflete drubbed the Cougars 71-36 in the preliminary round, then defeated the Roadrunners 52-40 in the quarterfinals.
The Western C Final is Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Augusta. The Class C state game is Saturday, Feb. 28 at 7:05 p.m. at the Bangor Auditorium.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com