PORTLAND—This time it took four extra minutes, but the Deering girls’ basketball team found a way to hold off neighbor and rival McAuley once again.
Just eight days after holding on for a nine-point win at home, the Rams went to the Lions’ Den and endured a late tying basket by the hosts which forced overtime. In the extra session, a clutch steal and layup from senior Claire Ramonas put Deering ahead to stay and last-second 3-point attempt from McAuley senior Caitlin Cimino was off the mark allowing the Rams to win 44-41 and end the season on a 15-game winning streak.
Deering, the two-time defending Class A state champion, winds up 16-2 and will be the No. 2 seed for the upcoming tournament. McAuley finishes 12-6 and will be ranked third, meaning there’s a good chance the squads could square off once more in the semifinals.
“McAuley’s a quality team that makes everything tough,” said Rams coach Mike Murphy. “Nothing’s easy against them. That’s how the game’s supposed to be played. It was back-and-forth.”
Offense was hard to come by in the first half and Deering was up 11-7 after eight minutes and took an 18-16 lead to the break.
The second half was tight throughout.
A Ramonas foul shot pushed the Rams’ lead to 19-16 in the first minute of the third period, but the hosts answered on a Cimino layup. After sophomore Ella Ramonas made a layup for a 21-18 advantage, the Lions grabbed a 23-21 lead on a layup from junior Rebecca Knight, a jumper from freshman Hannah Cooke and a free throw from Cimino. A jumper from junior Aarika Viola tied the score. Junior Britni Mikulanecz followed with a jump shot to give Deering the lead back, 25-23, and Ella Ramonas followed with a putback to make it 27-23. An old-fashioned three-point play from Knight with 29 seconds to go made it a one-point game, but with time about to expire in the quarter, Rams junior standout Kayla Burchill hit a baseline jumper for a 29-26 advantage heading into the fourth.
When Claire Ramonas made a free throw and Ella Ramonas took a pass from her sister (who falling out of bounds) and made a layup, Deering had a 32-26 lead, but sophomore Alex Coulombe answered with a layup to make it 32-28. After Claire Ramonas made one of two foul shots, junior Chantelle Desjardins buried a 3-pointer and Knight tied the score with two free throws with 3:49 to play.
With 3:22 left, Burchill put the Rams back on top, 35-33, taking a pass from Ramonas and making a layup, but Knight responded with a free throw and with 2:10 to play, Desjardins sank a long jumper for a 36-35 advantage.
Claire Ramonas looked to put her team back on top, but her bid was blocked out of bounds by Coulombe. The teams then traded turnovers and with 41 seconds left in regulation, a shot from Deering senior Maria Salamone was altered by Coulombe and hit the side of the backboard. The Rams retained possession and the inbounds pass came to Burchill, who calmly buried a 3 to put the visitors up, 38-36, with 37 seconds to play.
McAuley looked to answer, but a held possession gave the ball back to Deering. The Rams promptly turned it back over and time wound down, Cimino hit Coulombe cutting to the basket. Coulombe’s layup went through with 4 seconds to play and it was on to overtime tied at 38-38.
The Lions won the overtime tap and got the ball in good position to Knight, but her leaner went in-and-out. At the other end, Claire Ramonas’ 3-pointer fell short. McAuley then sandwiched a pair of turnovers around one by Deering. With 2:37 left in the four-minute OT, Mikulanecz made the second of two free throws for a 39-38 lead. At the other end, Coulombe was fouled after an offensive rebound and made one attempt to tie the game.
The Rams weren’t able to score on their next trip as Ella Ramonas was short on a 3 and Claire Ramonas’ follow was wild and out of bounds. Claire came up huge seconds later on defense, however, stealing the ball and racing in for a layup and a 41-39 advantage with 1:38 left.
The hosts again turned the ball over and Deering ran 50 seconds off the clock before Burchill was fouled with 31 seconds to play. She hit the front end of a one-and-one, but missed the second. Coulombe missed at the other end, but Knight grabbed the rebound and drew a foul. She then sank both free throws to make it 42-41 with just 19 seconds to play.
The Rams were able to get the ball in to Burchill and with 15 seconds showing, she was fouled. This time, Burchill sank both free throws to restore a three-point advantage, 44-41. The Lions had a chance to tie and force a second overtime, but with 2 seconds left, Cimino’s shot was short. The rebound bounced out to Coulombe, who threw up a 3-point prayer as the horn sounded, but it was way off-target.
Deering had survived.
“I feel like we’re constantly having this conversation,” lamented McAuley coach Wil Smith. “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.”
“We didn’t execute the final 25 seconds of the fourth period, but I’m proud the kids didn’t let that dictate their overtime mentality,” said Murphy. “We played hard and smart. Burch hit the big 3 on a nice screen from Claire. Viola played good defense. Britni played terrific defense. Maria Salamone was big on both ends of the floor.”
The Rams got 14 points apiece from Burchill and Ella Ramonas. Claire Ramonas added 11, Mikulanecz had three and Viola two.
The Lions were paced by a dozen points from Knight, 11 from Coulombe, seven from Cooke, six from Cimino and five from Desjardins.
Deering, which began the 1-2 after losses to Sanford and Scarborough, appears to be peaking at the right time and really needed a couple of close games down the stretch (prior to Friday’s win, the Rams had to rally for a 48-41 victory at Portland Wednesday) to refocus.
“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,” Murphy said. “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, Feb. 16 at 3:30 p.m., at the Portland Expo. Deering downed the Golden Trojans, 53-39, back on Dec. 22 in Portland. The teams’ lone prior playoff meeting came way back 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.”
McAuley has been up-and-down this winter, largely because Knight hasn’t been 100 percent due to an ankle injury. When she’s in the lineup, the Lions are formidable and capable of frustrating anyone. McAuley will meet No. 6 Gorham (13-5) in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m., Monday, Feb. 16, 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.”
If both teams survive their first playoff test, they’ll square off once more in the semifinals, Friday, Feb. 19.
And don’t think for a minute that the Rams don’t know just how hard it would be to beat a very good Lions team a third time.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com