PORTLAND—You can’t come any closer to winning a title without actually doing so than what the Deering girls’ basketball team experienced last winter.
This season, the Rams struggled out of the gate with successive losses, but Deering has returned to form and now resembles the top contender so many expected it to be.
Wednesday evening, in a rare holiday week countable game, the Rams hosted South Portland and sizzled out of the gate.
Deering forced seven Red Riots’ turnovers in the first quarter and junior Marissa MacMillan scored four points and grabbed seven boards to help the Rams build a 13-4 lead. Deering never looked back and despite a late South Portland surge, improved to 4-2 with its fourth straight win, 46-32, dropping the Red Riots to 3-3 in the process.
MacMillan led everyone with 12 points and 11 rebounds and got plenty of help from the likes of seniors Emily Cole, Maura Densmore and Ella Ramonas and junior Chelsea Saucier.
“We wanted to play the game right,” MacMillan said. “We ran plays right, played defense and boxed out and played together as a team.”
Deering won the Class A state title in 2008 and 2009 and was a couple plays away from winning four straight.
The Rams saw Scarborough rally for a win in the 2010 regional final and last year, they and rival McAuley took 36 minutes to determine that the Lions were a single point better in one of the greatest postseason games in tournament history.
After graduating Miss Maine Basketball Kayla Burchill (now at the University of Vermont), Deering was expected by some to come back to the pack and after season opening losses to visiting Thornton Academy (54-52) and host Marshwood (70-60), there was cause for panic.
“I was concerned at 0-2,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “Ramonas had been sick the first game. She hadn’t practiced for two days and was spent after six minutes. I was pleased with the output from the other kids. Marshwood’s a very good team. We led by 10 or 12 points in the third period and Ella picked up her fourth foul and all heck broke loose. We scored 52 and 60 points and we were 0-2. I wasn’t pleased with our defensive effort. We lost at the buzzer because we broke down and we gave up 70 points, which is ridiculous.”
The Rams have hit their stride, however, and prior to Wednesday, enjoyed wins over host Massabesic (55-31), visiting Noble (63-28) and host Sanford (38-32).
“We didn’t play well, but we beat Sanford,” Murphy said. “The kids stepped up. Anytime you can win down there, it’s a plus.”
South Portland, meanwhile, was also a victim of Class A champion McAuley a year ago, falling to the Lions in the quarterfinals. This year’s squad hopes to contend and the Red Riots have been up and down in the early going.
After opening with a 55-47 home loss to Windham, South Portland eked out a 37-33 overtime win at Biddeford and held off visiting Westbrook, 29-28. The Red Riots then dropped a tough decision at Thornton Academy, 47-43, but got back in the win column three days before Christmas with a 38-25 home victory over Kennebunk.
A year ago, Deering rallied to beat visiting South Portland, 51-45. It was the Rams’ fifth straight victory over the Red Riots, dating back to a 45-35 home loss to the Red Riots on Jan. 5, 2008.
Wednesday, it didn’t take long for Deering to make it an even half dozen.
Just 35 seconds in, MacMillan fed Ramonas for a layup and the Rams were on top to stay. After Ramonas scored on a putback, Ramonas hit a leaner, Densmore made a free throw and with 4:15 to go in the opening stanza, MacMillan scored on a putback for a 9-0 lead, forcing South Portland coach Mike Giordano to call timeout.
“I was disappointed in how we started,” Giordano said. “We didn’t match intensity. You have to match intensity against Deering. They took us out of the game right away. Their press didn’t allow us to get anything going. Even when we broke the press, we were so rattled that we didn’t settle and get a good shot.”
The timeout worked momentarily as junior Danica Gleason made a layup, but senior Katryna Gilson answered with a jumper for the home team. After Red Riots junior Emily Gray hit a leaner, MacMillan scored on a putback and Deering was up, 13-4, after one period.
“We were going for putting them away early,” MacMillan said. “I feel like I’ve progressed. I’ve worked hard, especially in the post. I’ve worked on being strong on offense and looking at the basket.”
“We’re definitely acting more as a team,” said Saucier. “We just needed to get on the same page and work together. We’ve worked in practice on defense. We wanted to make it hard on (South Portland) with our pressure.”
“Mike does a great job with (his team),” added Murphy. “They do a great job with tempo. We got them to be helter-skelter and it was to our advantage.”
A baseline jumper nine seconds in to quarter number two got Saucier in the scoring column. After Gleason fed promising freshman Holly Black for a layup to make it a nine point game, 15-6, junior Alexis Stephenson answered with a jump shot and Cole buried a 3-ball to push the lead to 20-6.
A putback from senior Jill Legere got South Portland back within a dozen, but Densmore banked home a 3-pointer and Saucier hit a jump shot to make it 25-8.
Late in the half, senior Libby Grant buried a 3 for the Red Riots, but sophomore LeeAnn Downs fed MacMillan for a layup and another 3 from Densmore gave Deering a 30-11 halftime advantage.
The Rams quickly squashed any South Portland comeback hopes in the third quarter.
Saucier got things started with a layup. Cole made a 3 with 4:57 to go for a 35-11 lead. After a bank shot from senior Emily Masters got the Red Riots their first points of the second half, Cole fed MacMillan for a layup, Ramonas set up MacMillan for a layup and Cole drained another 3 and it was 42-13 Deering. One final Ramonas to MacMillan play for a layup gave the hosts a 44-13 advantage with eight minutes to go.
“(MacMillan’s) 6-foot-4 and we don’t see many 6-4’s in our league,” said Giordano. “She’s very athletic and did a nice job. She’s aggressive. We had trouble with her.”
To its credit, South Portland dominated the final stanza.
Junior Ivy Mahaka came off the bench and sparked a surge with a long jumper and a 3. Black made a layup, Gray hit a pair of foul shots, Black made a bank shot, Gray scored on a putback and hit a leaner and with 1:41 left on the clock, sophomore Mackenzie Bowring hit a jump shot to make it 44-30.
Murphy put Saucier back in the game and the junior hit a bank shot to end a 8 minute, 23 second drought and the 17-0 Red Riots’ run.
“When we’re up big like that, I hate playing starters,” Murphy said. “I let Ella play a little bit because she sat out much of the first half and I put Chelsea in there to calm everyone down. I was pleased with the first three quarters of our output, effort and intensity.”
A jumper from Black with 55 seconds remaining accounted for the 46-32 final score.
Deering was paced by 12 points (and 11 rebounds) from MacMillan.
“(Marissa) played with confidence tonight,” Murphy said. “She has habit of playing too quick and not letting things happen, but tonight, she made moves and countermoves. She went after it like an athlete tonight. She’s 6-4 with some ability. She’s had a couple big games now. She won the Sanford game for us. She’s taking advantage of her size.”
Saucier also excelled. She had eight points, six rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot.
“Chelsea finally asserted herself,” Murphy said. “She hasn’t been asserting herself. I told her she has to step up. This team needs her to be multifaceted. She’s aggressive with the ball and aggressive defensively. This was probably her best output of the year.”
Other scorers for the Rams included Cole with nine points, Densmore with seven, Ramonas with six (she also had six rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block, despite sitting much of the first half with foul trouble) and Gilson and Stephenson with two apiece.
Deering won with ease, but only made 1-of-9 free throws and committed seven turnovers.
South Portland got eight points, five rebounds and three steals from Black.
“I knew Holly would help us right away, but she can score,” Giordano said. “She’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Gray also had eight points (and six rebounds). Mahaka added five points, four boards and a blocked shot in her limited minutes. Grant finished with three points, Bowring, Gleason, Legere (four boards) and Masters all had two.
“The younger kids a really nice job to finish the game,” Giordano said. “I was really pleased.”
The Red Riots turned the ball over 13 times and made 2-of-5 foul shots.
South Portland is back in action Friday at 1 p.m., when it hosts Massabesic. A trip to undefeated Scarborough looms Tuesday of next week. The Red Riots look to keep improving as the season progresses.
“We’re right where I thought we’d be,” Giordano said. “We’re in the hunt for the 7th to 11th playoff spot. We’ll keep pounding away and see if we can’t win games to get in the tournament. We have to handle pressure against the better teams and we have to try to control tempo a little bit and play at our pace.”
As for Deering, it hosts Bonny Eagle Friday. The Scots almost upset the Rams in last year’s quarterfinals. Deering is at Kennebunk Tuesday then hosts McAuley Jan. 6.
The Rams have shown improvement, but know they still have work to do.
“There’s no one to rely on now,” Saucier said. “We have to do it together as a team. We’re still working on defense. We have to put some points up.”
“We have to keep practicing and playing as a team and working on defense,” MacMillan said. “I think we have good players. Emily and Ella and Maura and Chelsea, especially. We just have to work together and use our talents.”
“We’re still finding our identity,” Murphy added. “(The girls) have to believe in themselves and that they’re pretty good. Going forward, we’ve got to keep in mind that we have to play defense.”
Deering junior Alexis Stephenson can only watch as South Portland junior Danica Gleason soars in for a layup.
South Portland sophomore Brianne Maloney finds room to shoot between Deering sophomore LeeAnn Downs (15) and senior Maura Densmore. The Rams’ defense held the Red Riots to just 13 points over the first three quarters.
South Portland senior Jill Legere and Deering junior Marissa MacMillan fight for a loose ball.
You can’t score if you can’t see. That’s the defensive approach taken by South Portland sophomore Brianne Maloney as she fouls Deering senior Ella Ramonas.
Deering junior Marissa MacMillan rejects the shot of South Portland junior Danica Gleason Wednesday night. MacMillan also had a game-high 12 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Rams to a 46-32 win over the Red Riots.
More photos below.
SP- 4 7 2 19- 32
D- 13 17 14 2- 46
SP- Black 4-0-8, Gray 3-2-8, Mahaka 2-0-5, Grant 1-0-3, Gleason 1-0-2, Masters 1-0-2, Legere 1-0-2, Bowring 1-0-2
D- MacMillan 6-0-12, Cole 3-0-9, Saucier 4-0-8, Densmore 2-1-7, Ramonas 3-0-6, Gilson 1-0-2, Stephenson 1-0-2
SP (2) Grant, Mahaka 1
D (5) Cole 3, Densmore 2
SP (28) Gray 6, Black 5, Legere, Mahaka, Neal 4, Gleason, Gurnee, Larochelle, Maloney, Wing 1
D (35) MacMillan 11, Ramonas, Saucier 6, Cole, Gilson 3, Downs, Presby, Stephenson 2
SP (5) Black 3, Legere, Neal 1
D (10) Saucier 4, Ramonas 3, Cole, Downs, MacMillan 1
SP (2) Grant, Mahaka 1
D (4) Cole, MacMillan, Saucier, Stephenson 1