Deering holds off McAuley with late surge, advances to regional final
PORTLAND—The Battle of Stevens Avenue moved its show to the Cumberland County Civic Center Friday night and for the third time this season, the Deering Rams and McAuley Lions girls' basketball teams gave each other fits.
Ultimately, for the third time, the two-time defending state champion Rams found a way to win, 45-35, and advanced to Saturday's Western A Final against top-ranked Scarborough.
This time, Deering had to do it from behind. The Rams were down 32-29 early in the fourth quarter, but thanks to a spirited effort led by junior Kayla Burchill, closed the contest on a 16-3 run to improve to 18-2.
"We had to take it to the basket," Burchill said. "Our outside shots weren't falling. (The Lions) always play hard. It's a rivalry. It's fun to play them in the playoffs. We didn't want to lose. We wanted to keep it going and win another state title."
Finding a way
Deering won an undefeated state title last winter, but stumbled twice in December before closing this season on a 15-game win streak to wind up 16-2 and second in the Heal Points standings. In the quarterfinals, the Rams dispatched No. 7 Thornton Academy, 44-30.
McAuley showed glimpses of greatness in the regular season, but was hindered by an ankle injury to junior standout Rebecca Knight. The Lions wound up 12-6, earned the No. 3 seed, then held off No. 6 Gorham, 33-22, in the quarterfinal round Monday.
Last year, in the quarterfinals, McAuley gave Deering a scare before the Rams pulled away late to win, 42-27, en route to an undefeated state title. The teams also met in the postseason in the 2001 quarterfinals (a 58-47 Lions win), 2004 regional final (a 56-46 Deering win) and 2007 semifinals (where McAuley rolled, 46-35).
On Jan. 28, Deering won 42-33 at home. In the regular season finale Feb. 5, the host Lions took the Rams to overtime before losing 44-41.
Friday, both teams struggled from the floor in the early going.
Deering broke the scoring ice 36 seconds in when senior Claire Ramonas drove for a layup. With 5:49 to go in the first period, Burchill drove coast-to-coast for a layup and 13 seconds later, Ramonas was fouled after a steal and made both free throws for a 6-0 advantage. When sophomore Ella Ramonas made a driving layup with 5:01 left in the quarter, McAuley coach Wil Smith took timeout to calm his girls.
It seemed to work as Knight drew a foul, but she missed her first free throw, then sank her second to get the Lions on the board with 4:36 to go. Knight then took a pass from sophomore Alexa Coulombe and made a layup to make it 8-3. With 1:33 left in the first, Knight converted an old-fashioned three-point play and McAuley was within 8-6 after one period.
Both teams turned the ball over five times in the first eight minutes.
Early in the second, the Lions took the lead for the first time, courtesy of an unlikely source. Senior Allina Verrillo, who is usually an inside presence, stepped out and sank a 3-ball for a 9-8 advantage.
With 6:45 left in the half, a Burchill foul shot snapped a 6 minute, 44 second drought, but Knight answered with a leaner to put McAuley back on top, 11-9.
"I don't think (Rebecca's) close to 100 percent, but she really wanted to win this game," said Smith. "She's our best matchup. You go with your best matchup. We took advantage of it."
With 5:29 to go before halftime, senior Maria Salamone made a layup to tie the score. Junior Britni Mikulanecz then put Deering ahead with a jumper, but freshman Hannah Cooke answered for the Lions with a 3.
The see-saw affair continued as a Burchill layup was answered by one from Knight. With 1:09 left, Salamone made one free throw to tie the score, but with 39.4 seconds to go, Cooke scored on a putback to give McAuley an 18-16 lead. Salamone was fouled with 5.5 seconds remaining and made one shot to make it an 18-17 contest at the break.
Each team had eight turnovers in a very even first 16 minutes, which saw the lead change hands five times.
That trend continued in the third.
After Burchill made a runner for Deering, senior Caitlin Cimino hit a leaner to give the Lions the lead back, 20-19. Junior Aarika Viola made a pair of foul shots for the Rams, but Coulombe answered with her first points, a floater, then Knight took a pass from Coulombe, made a layup while being fouled, then buried the free throw for a 25-21 advantage with 4:24 to go in the period.
Burchill answered with a jump shot, but Knight responded with a leaner to make it 27-23.
With 2:31 left in the third, Burchill scored on a runner and a minute later, a pretty Claire Ramonas reverse layup tied the game anew, 27-27.
In the final minute, Coulombe showed her range and stepped out and sank a jumper to put McAuley on top, but Burchill hit Ramonas with a pass that led to a layup and another tie, 29-29.
With 11.1 seconds left in the third, Verrillo was fouled and made the second of two attempts to give the Lions the lead back, 30-29, heading for the fourth.
Forty-two seconds into the final stanza, Knight scored on a pretty spinner off the glass, but at the other end, she picked up her fourth foul and had to sit. With 6:18 to go, Ramonas got her fourth foul for Deering.
With 5:33 left, a Burchill steal led to an old-fashioned three-point play from Salamone that tied the score. Mikulanecz then had a steal and Burchill drew a foul with 5:10 to go. Burchill made both shots (marking the 10th and final lead change) and Knight returned for McAuley, with her team now down two points, 34-32. After another Mikulanecz steal, the Rams ran some time off the clock before Ella Ramonas missed a shot. Cooke got the rebound and was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one, but missed and Burchill got the board. At the other end, with 4:04 left, Burchill banked home a leaner to stretch the lead to four.
Cooke missed a 3 and Mikulanecz grabbed the rebound, but Burchill's bid at the other end was off and the Lions got another chance.
With 3:05 remaining, McAuley committed its fifth turnover of the quarter and after a timeout, Deering pounced as Burchill faked a 3, stepped in and banked home a jumper.
"The inexperience on this floor and getting behind forced us to hurry against their zone defense," said Smith. "The pressure of being behind in a big game is when you can turn it over. We made one pass too many and tried to do too much."
After the Lions missed a couple looks on offense, the Rams stretched the lead to 40-32 when Ella Ramonas made a layup.
Finally, with 1:48 to go, McAuley snapped an 11-0 run and a 5:30 drought when Coulombe was fouled on a 3 and hit all three foul shots to make it 40-35, but that would be the Lions' final points of the game.
Burchill got two back at the foul line with 1:37 left and after another McAuley turnover, Ella Ramonas buried another free throw for a 43-35 advantage. The Lions gave it away again the next time down, but Deering returned the favor.
At the other end, a 3-point attempt from junior Chantelle Desjardins was short and Viola grabbed the rebound. With 37.9 seconds remaining, Viola put it away with two foul shots and the Rams went on to the 45-35 triumph.
"I was very worried," Salamone said. "I knew we had the ability to step it up and play Deering defense and come through and win and that's what we did. We knew we needed to attack. That was our plan at halftime."
"That's three wins against a real quality opponent," Murphy added, alluding the three McAuley showdowns this winter,. "I know they were shorthanded during the season, but all three games were well played and could have gone either way. Great effort by both teams. Both teams were scrappy tonight. I'm very pleased with our effort. We switched up to a 2-3 zone and took away the post-ups they were scoring baskets on. Knight's an outstanding player. On offense, kids set great screens.
"I think it speaks volume to the juniors and seniors who have such a tremendous competitiveness. They won't settle. What's impressed me in my two years is that they're good teammates to each other. The school's had a good 10-year run. (Former coach) Mike (D'Andrea), (assistant coach) Bill (Ramonas) and (former assistant and current Greely girls' coach) Billy Goodman set a great foundation. These kids get it."
Burchill led all scorers with 19 points. Claire Ramonas had eight, Salamone seven, Ella Ramonas five, Viola four and Mikulanecz two. Deering turned the ball over a respectable 12 times and sank a clutch 15-of-20 foul shot attempts.
"Kayla took the ball to the basket and got fouled," Murphy said. "She hit big, big shots. Maria played a great game. Britni gave us great minutes off the bench. Ella was outstanding after picking up two fouls. Claire's always going to give you blood and guts. She gave us great minutes, along with Viola, who does the dirty work and plays her role."
For McAuley, Knight finished with 17 points, Coulombe had seven, Cooke five, Verrillo four and Cimino two. The Lions were done in by 21 turnovers, nine in the fourth period. McAuley did make 7-of-12 free throws.
"I told them at halftime that Burchill would try and take the game over and she did," Smith said. "We didn't lose this game, she won it. Everyone wants a kid like that. Alexa's one of the better defenders in the state and Burchill's one of the best offensive players in the state and tonight, offense won over defense in the fourth quarter. The turnovers came after we lost the lead. We got tight. They turned up their pressure for about three series, like they do, and those three series, we didn't handle it well and they capitalized, went down and scored."
McAuley wound up 13-7 and has a very bright future.
"I'm really excited," Smith said. "The seniors this year got us back to the Civic Center. They worked really hard on the court, but more important, I'm proud of how we came together off the court and became a team. We had great senior leaders. Even those who weren't on the court much, were great off the court. That's what McAuley basketball is all about. We lost to a team that I think is definitely one of the best in the state. Nothing to hang our heads about. The future is bright. We have a lot of girls coming back."
The big show
Deering and Scarborough have no playoff history. On Dec. 11, the Rams let a double-digit second half lead slip away on the road in a 52-50 loss, the teams' lone regular season meeting. Scarborough is playing in the regional final for the first time in Class A and only the second time ever (Murphy led them to the 1999 Western B Final, a loss to Gorham).
The Rams are familiar with this setting and like their chances.
"(We'll try to) get our revenge," Salamone said. "We know it won't be easy. One of their starters is out and that's to our advantage, but we can't think that it's an automatic win."
"We have to stop (Christy) Manning and watch their outside shooters and I think we'll be OK," Burchill said.
"Obviously, (Scarborough's) an outstanding squad," Murphy said. "A bunch of their kids have run the table in basketball, field hockey and softball and they have a great soccer program. Those kids are winners. The female sports there always produce. It's a quality team. It'll be a pleasure to go out there and play against them. They won't quit. Matchup-wise, we had a great game earlier in the year where we gave away a 12-point lead. That doesn't matter now. Hopefully the kids will execute and not get caught in the moment. Good players wipe out the atmosphere and just play basketball."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com