PORTLAND—There aren’t any style points in basketball, just wins and losses.
That’s a good thing for the top-ranked Deering girls’ team, which redefined the phrase “winning ugly” Monday night, but win the Rams did and they survived and advanced, which in late February is a beautiful thing indeed.
Facing No. 9 Bonny Eagle, a squad Deering beat by 20 points back in December and one that won 10 fewer games in the regular season, the Rams sleptwalked through the first half and found themselves on the ropes, down, 18-14, at halftime.
Thanks to better intensity at both ends of the floor in the second half and sparked by unheralded sophomore Keneisha DiRamio, who put the team ahead to stay with a layup after a steal with 3:38 to go in the third period, Deering managed to hold on for a 37-30 victory.
The Rams improved to 18-1 on the season, ended the Scots’ year at 8-12 and moved on to face No. 5 Sanford (15-4) in the Western Class A semifinals Friday (6 p.m.) at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“It’s never easy,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “Give Bonny Eagle credit. They dictated tempo. It made them believe they could win the game. They played that way.”
Deering, the 2008 and 2009 Class A champions, who dropped a heartbreaker to Scarborough in last year’s regional final, lost just once in the regular season, at home to McAuley in overtime, but beat the Lions in the rematch in the regular season finale and locked up the No. 1 seed for the third time in four seasons. The Rams also enjoyed victories at playoff participants Gorham and Cheverus and at home over Sanford, South Portland and Windham.
Bonny Eagle, which won only three games in 2009-10, made nice strides this season before losing their final five regular season outings to drop to 7-11. The Scots then sprung a mini-upset at No. 8 Thornton Academy in the preliminary round Wednesday, 50-42.
Deering won at Bonny Eagle in the regular season opener, Dec. 10 (56-34). The teams had no playoff history prior to Monday night.
Most on hand expected the Rams to come out and end things early, but despite a relatively strong first period, Deering found itself in a precarious situation by halftime.
The game started in optimal fashion for the Rams when sophomore Marissa MacMillan won the opening tip, sending it to junior Ella Ramonas, who passed to senior standout Kayla Burchill for a layup just four seconds in.
The Scots tied the score on sophomore Samantha Campobasso’s layup after a steal. After Ramonas made it 4-2 with a putback, the Scots tied things up again on two free throws from their senior leader, Sarah Assante.
Deering then got in foul trouble as both MacMillan and sophomore Chelsea Saucier received their second fouls. A layup from senior Aarika Viola and an old-fashioned three-point play (a putback after two offensive boards, a foul and a free throw) from Burchill gave the Rams a 9-4 advantage, but they wouldn’t score again for over seven minutes.
By quarter’s end, it was 9-9, thanks to a long bank shot from Bonny Eagle sophomore Jordan Ray, an Assante foul shot and a pullup bank shot from Assante.
The lower seed simply wants to stay close to feel like it has a chance and the Scots got more and more confidence by the minute. They turned Deering over six times, got good looks, got to the free throw line and would continue to dictate play in the second stanza.
Forty-nine seconds in, sophomore Shannon Sanborn put Bonny Eagle on top with a free throw. Murphy called timeout, but his team didn’t respond. Junior Jessica MacDonald added two foul shots for the Scots and Sanborn converted back-to-back layups to make it 16-9, forcing Murphy to again call timeout.
Again, the Rams didn’t answer as a jumper from MacDonald with 4:07 to go before halftime made it 18-9 Bonny Eagle.
“It was lousy,” Murphy said. “We weren’t rusty or overlooking them. We had sophomores in the starting lineup who played like sophomores. Their heads were somewhere else. Timeouts didn’t help. We hurt ourselves by taking probably two miles worth of jump shots in a building where you can’t do that. You have to take the ball to the rim in the tournament.”
Enter a spark named DiRamio, who has been hampered by injury her first two seasons (shoulder last year, torn MCL most of this winter). DiRamio’s layup after a steal with 3:07 left in the half ended a 7 minute, 26 second drought and a 14-0 Scots’ run. Burchill added a free throw and a Ramonas jumper pulled Deering within 18-14 at the break.
In the first 16 minutes, the Rams were 6 of 28 from the floor, 2 of 5 from the foul line and turned the ball over nine times.
Things improved slightly in the second half and Deering was able to do just enough to win.
Just nine seconds into the third period, Burchill buried a 3 from the wing. With 6:21 remaining in the quarter, Burchill’s putback gave the Rams their first lead since the score was 9-7, but with 5:29 showing, the Scots went back on top when MacDonald made a layup after a steal. That ended a 10-0 Rams’ run and a 6:38 drought.
With 3:38 to go in the third, DiRamio stepped up again, making a layup after a steal to put Deering ahead to stay, 21-20.
“I’m back now and I feel pretty healthy,” said DiRamio. “I was really nervous in the beginning, then I was OK and just played.”
“We had a sophomore coming off the bench who played a great game,” Murphy said.
A leaner from DiRamio and a pair of Burchill free throws gave the Rams a 25-20 lead after three quarters, as Bonny Eagle managed just two points in eight minutes, while giving the ball away eight times.
“We knew we couldn’t give up anymore easy layups,” said Ramonas. “We tried to pressure them handling the ball.”
The Scots wouldn’t go quietly in the fourth quarter, but eventually Ramonas took over and put it away.
A layup from Sanborn a minute into the fourth made it 25-22. After a Ramonas putback, on the fourth shot of the possession, pushed the lead to five, MacDonald was fouled after an offensive rebound and made both attempts to make it 27-24 with 4:59 to go, still anyone’s game.
Deering would close on a 9-3 run.
First, Burchill made a layup. With 4:02 left, Ramonas made one of two free throws for a 30-24 advantage. With 2:39 to go, Ramonas went back to the line and again hit one of two tries. With 2:05 remaining, Ramonas made two attempts and the Rams were up, 33-24.
“I was very nervous since I haven’t been doing too well at the foul line recently,” Ramonas said. “I just tried to concentrate and make them.”
With 1:49 to play, Sanborn made two free throws, but 15 seconds later, Ramonas drove in for a layup, was fouled and essentially salted the win away with an and-one free throw. Sanborn and Burchill then traded foul shots before Bonny Eagle freshman Kaitlynne Morse hit a late 3 to account for the 37-30 final score.
“Our defense really helped us a lot,” DiRamio said. “The offense wasn’t doing well. We couldn’t get anything off on offense. We finally starting driving and getting fouled and that helped us. The team played hard in the last quarter.”
“I’m happy with the outcome,” said Ramonas. “(Bonny Eagle is) a really good team and they always try hard and make you work for it. We didn’t come out ready and they outplayed us in some parts of the game. Our experience really helped. A lot of us have been on the floor before and we know what it’s like. We’re more used to the environment than other teams.”
“That’s all it’s about, moving on,” added Murphy.
Burchill led all scorers with 16 points. She also had four rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. Ramonas wound up with 13 points, eight boards and four steals.
“I thought Ramonas did a great job on the defensive end,” Murphy said.
DiRamio stole the show with six points, seven rebounds and four steals. Her spark can’t be quantified.
“It’s big for us to have (Keneisha) back,” Ramonas said. “No one really knows how good she is.”
Viola ended up with two points. Sophomore Emily Cole didn’t score, but grabbed four rebounds and had a steal.
“Emily Cole didn’t score, but did a good job defensively,” Murphy said.
For the game, the Rams committed 18 turnovers and made 10 of 17 free throws.
“We did some things uncharacteristically on the offensive end,” said Murphy, who let his team know in no uncertain terms in the locker room following the game just how disappointed he was in their performance. “We just got in their heads about selfish play.”
Bonny Eagle was led by Sanborn’s 10 points, nine rebounds and two steals. MacDonald had eight points, five boards and a pair of steals. Assante fouled out after being held to five points and four rebounds. Morse had three points, Campobasso and Ray two apiece. Junior Alicia Hoyt didn’t score, but had four steals, three rebounds and a blocked shot. The Scots were done in by 27 turnovers. They made 12 of 18 free throws.
Bonny Eagle graduates Assante and Nicole Taylor (four rebounds Monday), but return everyone else. The Scots project to be a contender again next winter.
The Rams will have a much tougher test in the semifinals Friday when they meet Sanford, a 45-42 quarterfinal round victor over Cheverus.
Deering beat the visiting Redskins, 47-30, way back on Dec. 14. The teams have met in the postseason in the 1989 semifinals (Rams, 67-66, in double overtime), the 2003 quarterfinals (Deering, 44-33), 2005 quarterfinals (Sanford, 52-41) and 2006 semis (Redskins, 42-30).
Obviously, the Rams know they’ll need to bring much more intensity to the Civic Center to earn an opportunity to play for the regional championship.
“We have to play our game and play Deering basketball and not take anything for granted,” Ramonas said. “We just have to work hard.”
“We’ll have to come out harder Friday and get our heads in the game and play,” said DiRamio. “We need to stop their scorers. Our offense needs to execute. If we do, I think we’ll be alright.”
Murphy, understandably, was wary.
“I hope we’ll play better Friday, but we have our limitations and weaknesses, just like everyone else,” he said. “If you don’t come prepared mentally, you’ll get results like we did tonight. Sanford’s got three very good guards and a quality post player and they play well together and they just beat a very good team in Cheverus. That did not surprise me at all.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @foresports