Banner night at McAuley; Lions celebrate title, improve to 5-0
PORTLAND—It's the gift that keeps on giving.
Friday evening in their bandbox gymnasium on Stevens Avenue, the McAuley Lions raised the banner hailing their 2011 Class A state championship, one final tip of the cap to those who made the school's first crown since 2003 so memorable.
Then, on the floor, they took another step toward a repeat championship with their fifth straight win this winter, 61-26, over outmanned Bonny Eagle.
McAuley was in control from start to finish, taking the lead for good just 22 seconds in on a layup from sophomore Olivia Smith, scoring the game's first 13 points and opening up a 31-14 advantage before cruising to the final margin of victory behind 17 points from sophomore Allie Clement, 16 from senior Alexa Coulombe and 15 from Smith.
"A couple games in a row now we've come out and been focused," said first-year Lions coach Billy Goodman. "We played good, disciplined defense. I'm pleased how we started out the game and the third quarter."
The Lions went 20-2 in 2010-11, winning the regional championship in epic fashion before dispatching Hampden Academy in the state final. Coach Amy Vachon left McAuley in the offseason to take an assistant coaching position at the University of Maine, her alma mater. She was joined there by Rebecca Knight, one of last year's standouts.
Goodman took over the program and stepped into a self-described hoops nirvana, inheriting a veritable all-star team that has lived up to billing in the month of December.
The Lions opened by breaking open a close game with a second half run in a 62-31 triumph at Noble. The next time out, they led host Kennebunk by a 39-4 margin at halftime en route to a 61-18 win. In its home opener, last Friday, McAuley had no trouble with Portland (60-19), then had its way Tuesday night with a Marshwood team that's made a lot of noise in the early going, 58-34, in South Berwick.
While Clement and Coulombe, the team's most recognizable names, have led the way, they've had help from the whole roster, which also includes returning key contributors senior Sadie DiPierro and junior Molly Mack and a pair of newcomers, Smith and freshman Vanessa Lux.
Bonny Eagle nearly upset Deering in last year's quarterfinal round and expects to be in the hunt in 2011-12. The Scots dropped a tough 39-37 home decision to Sanford in the opener, downed host Massabesic, 58-44, lost to visiting Thornton Academy, 53-43, then balanced their record Tuesday with a 59-38 triumph at Portland.
A year ago, McAuley had no trouble beating visiting Bonny Eagle, 48-33. In fact, over the past eight seasons, the Lions had beaten the Scots every time, by an average of 31 points.
Friday night was more of the same.
On McAuley's first possession, Coulombe fed Smith for a layup and the Lions were ahead for good.
"We got a wide open layup in motion and that got us revved up to play," Smith said.
Coulombe followed with a runner off the glass, Clement made a layup after a steal, was fouled and hit the free throw, Smith made a layup, sophomore Jackie Welch scored on a putback and a pullup jumper from Clement gave the hosts a 13-0 lead with 2:25 still to play in the opening stanza.
With 1:34 left, Bonny Eagle finally got on the board when junior Shannon Sanborn made a free throw. Sanborn added another foul shot 31 seconds later and the Scots cut the deficit to 13-2 heading for the second period.
There, Coulombe made a layup (from Welch) and hit a fadeaway baseline jumper for a 17-2 lead.
"(Bonny Eagle's) really physical, but we came out and hit them first," Coulombe said. "We built the lead."
With 6:36 to go before halftime, Bonny Eagle got its first field goal, a putback by Sanborn.
The Lions kept the pressure on and kept building their lead as Coulombe fed Smith for a layup, Clement drained a pullup jumper in the lane, Welch got an offensive rebound and passed to Coulombe for a layup and Welch made a foul shot to make it a 24-4 contest midway through the quarter.
After the Scots answered with a 3 by junior Jordan Ray, a free throw from senior Alicia Hoyt and a long jumper from freshman Olivia Dalphonse, for a six-point possession, Smith made a foul shot, Welch fed Coulombe for a layup and Coulombe showed off her athleticism by dribbling from the right wing, under the basket to the left of the key before hitting a floater to make it a 29-10 game with 1:45 to go.
In the final minute, Sanborn's jumper and Hoyt's two free throws were sandwiched around a putback by Coulombe and McAuley was up 31-14 at the break.
Then, then fun really began.
During a halftime ceremony, the McAuley swim team unveiled the sportsmanship banner it won last winter and the basketball team did the same.
Vachon was then presented along with three graduated members of last year's squad, Kayla Daigle, Olivia Porch and Knight, the school's reigning Winter Athlete of the Year, who's turned heads at the University of Maine so far this season.
The girls, along with the current team, then unwrapped the school's third state championship banner (joining the 2002 and 2003 titlists).
"It's really nice to be back," said Vachon. "It's kind of sad for me. Such great people and memories of the kids. It's really nice. I'm glad the three seniors were able to come back."
"Amy coming back is great," Goodman said. "When I got the job, I wanted to make sure last years team was recognized, including Amy. It was good."
The Lions then ended the competitive phase of the contest at the start of the third quarter.
After Clement (who had to sit late in the first half after being whistled for her third foul) drained a jumper, Smith made two free throws, Coulombe converted on a leaner and Clement took centerstage with a breakaway layup, a coast-to-coast layup after a rebound and after feeding Smith for a layup, hitting a pullup jumper in the lane for a commanding 45-14 bulge.
"Sometimes I'm feeling it," Clement said. "I'm ready to shoot. Sometimes I get on a roll."
A 3-pointer from senior Danielle Day ended the 14-0 run and a 6 minute, 44 second field goal drought for the Scots, but freshman Ayle Tartre answered with a jumper for McAuley. After Dalphonse made a 3, Smith hit a floater as time expired and the Lions took a 49-20 lead to the final period.
There, sophomore Rebecca Howell hit a free throw for Bonny Eagle, but the underrated DiPierro hit a layup, Smith drained two foul shots and Clement made a bank shot after an offensive rebound.
With 5:20 left in the game, Goodman pulled the starters with a 55-21 lead.
The rest of the McAuley roster didn't do too badly either.
After Dalphonse made a layup after a steal, Lions senior Morgan Wheeler fed Lux for a layup. Lux then got an assist of her own, setting up freshman Laura Holman's layup. After Howell made a free throw for the Scots, Lux (from senior Mary Leasure) scored McAuley's final basket of the night on a layup. As time expired, Bonny Eagle sophomore Kaitlynne Morse made a jumper and that made the final score 61-26.
"We focused on this game for a couple days," Clement said. "We lost to them in summer league. We wanted to show they couldn't compete with us. I think everything's looking pretty good. We're focusing on getting together as a team and learning to play with one another and trying to get that down so we can play high pressure defense. It's been really good. (Captains) Alexa, Sadie and Kate (Liziewski) are great about getting everyone to work together and getting us to work together. We all blend really well."
"Bonny Eagle brings it," Goodman added. "They don't give up for 32 minutes. They get offensive rebounds. I wasn't happy how we boxed out, but we had spurts of good basketball.
"It's been great so far. The kids work hard. When we make mistakes or have trouble, they adjust quickly. The captains don't let things get out of control. It's been really fun."
The Lions had many heroes on the night.
Clement continued to demonstrate why she already has an ever-lengthening list of colleges clamoring for her services as she scored 17 points and added seven rebounds and two steals.
"We'd like (Allie) to have fewer fouls, but she fixed it," Goodman said. "She was able to adjust and did a good job."
Coulombe reminded everyone in attendance how multi-faceted her game has become, scoring 16 points, swatting aside five Bonny Eagle shots, grabbing seven rebounds and snaring a pair of steals.
"Alexa did a lot of little things," Goodman said. "I'm very happy. She did a lot of things I asked her. It helped us get off to a good start."
If contending with Coulombe isn't daunting enough, Smith made her presence felt with 15 points, four rebounds and two steals.
"It's really fun," said Smith, who came to McAuley after turning heads as a freshman at Yarmouth High. "Working and winning together is fun. Alexa has helped me be a better post player. Coming here was a great advantage for my game. Mostly my role is to play in the post so Alexa can play outside to help her develop (for playing in college). I score some, but I try to be a big contributor to the team."
Smith is already a special player and will only continue to become more dominant as she gains confidence and gets used to playing at the Class A level.
"It's nice (having Olivia on the team)," said Coulombe. "It brings me back to when I had Caitlin (Cimino) as a teammate. She has a strong defensive impact and can rebound. Her defense is always solid."
"It's awesome to have two 6-foot-3 girls," said Clement. "Most teams don't even have one. It's cool to have two. No one can really stay with them."
"Olivia brings a lot," Goodman added. "She struggled in the first half and had a great third quarter. She brings a great attitude and a work ethic. She does all the little things."
Lux, a work in progress with tremendous upside, finished with four points, four rebounds and a pair of blocks.
"Victoria loses discipline sometimes," Goodman said. "She has bad habits we're trying to get her out of. She does good things too. When she's confident, she does it. We're trying to get her some confidence."
Welch wound up with three points, but did so much more, playing with great heart and toughness, even returning to the game after smacking her head on the court. She added six rebounds and two steals.
"We need everyone to win," Welch said. "Everyone has a distinct role. I've been eased into my role. I was nervous as first, but it's very easy to come in. Everyone has to play good defense. I have to try to pass to Alexa, Olivia and Allie. The press was good tonight. We had good defense. It's always there."
"Jackie has played great all year," Goodman said. "She plays defense. She plays the point. She can pass and shoot. She's come a long way."
DiPierro (three steals), Holman and Tartre all added two points. Mack didn't score, but had six rebounds.
"(Molly and Sadie) do a lot," Goodman said. "They're like linemen in football. Sadie knows how much I appreciate it. Molly does the little things. They add up."
Seniors Mary Leasure, Liziewski and Monia Mukiza and sophomore Lauren Coulombe also got minutes.
McAuley did turn the ball over an uncharacteristic 23 times and only made 7-of-16 foul shot attempts.
Bonny Eagle was paced by seven points from Dalphonse, six from Sanborn (to go with seven boards), three apiece from Day, Hoyt (six rebounds) and Ray and two each from Howell and Morse. Sophomore Allison Pike didn't score, but led everyone with eight rebounds. Junior Samantha Campobasso was also active all over the floor.
The Scots turned the ball over 23 times and shot 7-of-15 from the charity stripe.
Bonny Eagle (2-3) returns to action Tuesday at home versus Gorham, then visits Deering next Friday.
McAuley, meanwhile, will take part in the holiday tournament at the Portland Expo Monday and Tuesday before returning to league play next Friday at home versus Biddeford.
Look for the Lions to keep getting better and for them to get some tests once the calendar flips (they're at Windham Jan. 3, Deering Jan. 6 and Scarborough Jan. 20).
"We still need to improve on defense, basic discipline," Smith said.
"I think we're ready to test what we can do," Coulombe said.
"We need to keep up the way we've been playing and get everything working well," Clement said. "We won't take anything for granted."
"The better the games are, it's only to our advantage," Goodman added. "As the year goes on, teams adjust and get better."
At least one observer likes the Lions' chances.
"They're so good," Vachon said. "Big and long. I haven't seen the other teams, but I don't know who can be close to them."