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PORTLAND—The Deering girls’ basketball team is still unblemished.
Cheverus, meanwhile, continues to wonder what it takes to beat one of its elite city rivals.
In a Saturday afternoon special at Keegan Gymnasium, the Rams improved to 11-0 behind a stellar team-wide effort, paced by 24 points from senior standout Kayla Burchill, the league’s leading scorer, and a best-varsity-effort-to-date 14 points from sophomore Marissa MacMillan, to down the now 9-2 Stags, 56-44.
Deering took command in the second quarter and dominated in the paint at both ends as it made yet another statement that perhaps its championship days aren’t over.
“The kids have a lot of pride,” said Rams third-year coach Mike Murphy. “We knew Cheverus was tough and they’d come out with an extra little step. We slowed them down and the kids did a great job of playing within themselves.”
Both teams came into 2010-11 viewed as top contenders in the region.
Deering’s pedigree is as impressive as anyone’s, as the Rams took the 2008 and 2009 Class A state championships and almost three-peated a year ago, before a late collapse spelled doom in a regional final loss to eventual champion Scarborough.
Cheverus has shot to prominence under coach Richie Ashley and made it to the quarterfinals for the first time a year ago. This winter, the Stags won nine of their first 10 contests, most recently downing host Scarborough, 49-35, last Saturday. The one loss, however, certainly stung. Despite leading McAuley most of the way and having a first-ever win over the Lions in its grasp, Cheverus couldn’t make plays late and lost, 45-42.
Deering, meanwhile, has barely been tested in the regular season. The Rams won eight of their first 10 games by double-digits. The closest calls were a 51-45 home victory over South Portland two days before Christmas and a 53-46 triumph at Thornton Academy on Jan. 7. Thursday night, Burchill (who eclipsed the 1,000 career points mark in a home win over Massabesic a week ago) continued her onslaught with 29 points in a 62-24 home victory over Noble.
Entering Saturday’s contest, Cheverus had never beaten Deering. Last year, the Rams won, 66-34, at home. The closest the Stags ever came in the 10 previous meetings with Deering was a 47-30 road loss on Feb. 8, 2005.
This time, the game was closer, but in the end, the Rams had all the answers again.
Cheverus had the upper hand in the first period, riding a fast start to the lead.
Just six seconds in, junior Morgan Cahill (the league’s ninth-ranked scorer at 12.4 points per game) made a layup to put the hosts on top. A minute later, junior sharpshooter Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy (13th in the SMAA in scoring) buried a 3 and it looked like the Stags were in business, but Burchill hit a bank shot and MacMillan made her presence felt by scoring on a putback.
Cheverus then rattled off six straight for its biggest lead as senior Britni Mikulanecz (who spent her first three years at Deering before transferring) made a jumper, Cahill hit a layup and Mikulanecz scored on a layup after a steal.
Undaunted, the poised Rams battled right back within a point on a layup from MacMillan, a layup off an inbounds pass by sophomore Chelsea Saucier and a Saucier jumper. A coast-to-coast Mikulanecz layup and a pair of Cahill foul shots pushed the Stags’ lead back to 15-10, but junior Ella Ramonas made a free throw and MacMillan made a layup as time expired to pull Deering within two, 15-13, after one period.
The Rams then controlled the second quarter and took the lead for good.
After Ramonas made a free throw, Burchill hit two foul shots with 6:53 to play in the half to give Deering its first lead, 16-15. The hosts went back on top for the last time on a Mikulanecz jumper, but Burchill hit two foul shots, Burchill made a layup, MacMillan did the same, Ramonas sank a pair of free throws and Burchill banked home a shot to cap a 10-0 run, giving the visitors a 26-17 advantage in the final minute of the half.
“(Cheverus is) the first team that tried to make it miserable for Kayla for more than a trip or two,” Murphy said. “For the most part, she did a good job with it and the other kids did too.”
Cheverus answered on two Mikulanecz free throws and a finger roll from Palazzi-Leahy as time expired to pull within five, 26-21, at the break.
The Stags were hindered by foul trouble in the first 16 minutes, as Cahill picked up three and sophomores Brooke Flaherty and Mikayla Mayberry two apiece.
“Fouls were 12 to 4 in the first half, but we didn’t shoot very well,” Ashley said. “We had a lot of shots that just didn’t fall. We have to hit open shots to win.”
Things didn’t get any better for Cheverus in the third quarter.
After Saucier opened the second half scoring with a jumper, Palazzi-Leahy answered with a 3-ball to pull the Stags within 28-24, but that’s as close as they’d get.
A pair of jumpers from senior Aarika Viola, two Burchill free throws and a Burchill layup gave Deering its biggest lead to that point, 36-24, midway through the third. The Stags got a layup from Cahill, a 3-pointer from Palazzi-Leahy and two free throws from Cahill to crawl back to 36-31, but in the span of 14 seconds, MacMillan made a layup and Burchill hit a 3. Seconds later, Cahill picked up her fourth foul and Cheverus was on the ropes entering the final stanza, down 41-31.
The Stags would get as close as eight in the fourth, but never managed to make a serious run.
MacMillan opened the period with a layup and Burchill added two free throws. After Mikulanecz knocked down a 3, Burchill made a layup to make it 47-34. Palazzi-Leahy hit a 3 with 5:15 to play and Cahill made a layup with 4:54 to go to pull Cheverus within 47-39, but Deering, featuring its signature experience and poise, never panicked.
Instead, the Rams got a free throw from Ramonas and two more from MacMillan. After Cahill got a point back at the line, Ramonas made two free throws and Viola one to make it a 53-40 game. Palazzi-Leahy made a layup and Flaherty did the same with 1:23 to play, but the Stags wouldn’t score again. Burchill made three free throws down the stretch and Deering put the finishing touches on its 56-44 triumph.
“It feels good,” MacMillan said. “We got into it. Both teams worked hard on offense and defense.”
“The kids did a great job of dictating the pace,” said Murphy. “This gives them the extra confidence.”
The University of Vermont-bound Burchill overcame her slow start to finish with 24 points, 11 rebounds and two steals, another spectacular effort for arguably the best player in the state.
“We have been working hard in practice to face these teams and hopefully come on top like we did today,” Burchill said. “Other people were scoring (early in the game). The ball wasn’t in my hands at the time. That was OK because we were still doing well. Everyone stepped up.”
“Kayla really helps us because of her skill,” MacMillan said. “She can shoot anywhere on the floor. She can do anything.”
MacMillan also sparked scoring 14 points, adding five rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.
“I feel like it was my best game,” MacMillan said. “I was playing against Morgan and she’s a real challenge for me. I felt like I had to step up my game. She’s a really good player.”
“(Marissa) really finished well today, got boards and helped on Cahill a lot,” Burchill said. “She’s worked really hard in practice finishing and boxing out and it showed today.”
“MacMillan really stepped up,” Murphy added. “It’s her best game on the offensive side.”
Ramonas finished with eight points, but more importantly added 12 reboumds. half of which came on the offensive end.
“Ella does all the intangible things,” Murphy said. “She’s a tough high school player. She did a great job.”
Saucier added six points (along with four rebounds, a block and a steal) and Viola had four points, three boards and a steal.
Truly a phenomenal team effort.
“I like the fact that Chelsea and Marissa as sophomores, led us to a nice win on the road,” Murphy said.
For Cheverus, Palazzi-Leahy led the way with 16 points. She also blocked three shots. Cahill had 13 points despite her foul trouble. Mikulanecz scored 13 points, had four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Flaherty added two.
“Deering’s size inside hurt us,” Ashley said. “Their big girl has really improved. It shows what hard work can do. She’s a big girl and they have Burchill and the other girls are good players too. They deserved to win. They played a good game. They made shots when they needed to.
“It’s not demoralizing at all. We had a starter out (sophomore Kylie Libby). That might have made a bit of a difference. They just hit shots. Once we break the ice, we’ll break the ice. We still have a ways to go.”
Cheverus (now fifth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) hopes to bounce back at home Tuesday versus Biddeford. The Stags still have several tough games on their schedule, including home tilts versus South Portland and Sanford and trips to Gorham, McAuley (Feb. 8) and South Portland.
Deering (second to McAuley in the standings) is at Westbrook Tuesday and plays at Portland Friday. The Rams are gearing up for two games versus McAuley in a nine-day span (Feb. 3 at home and Feb. 11 at the Lions).
Deering hopes its best is still to come.
“This is only one game and we play McAuley twice,” Murphy said. “We’ll learn from mistakes. We hope to get better.”
“We still have big games coming up,” MacMillan said. “We still need to work on everything. Passing, shooting, dribbling.”
“I think we can be on top if we keep playing like we did today,” said Burchill. “We knew people didn’t want us to be on top since we have been, but we’re going to prove we can again. Last year drives me so much. I don’t want to be a senior and end my high school career like Claire Ramonas or Maria Salamone did last year.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Deering sophomore Chelsea Saucier is challenged by Cheverus sophomore Brooke Flaherty as she goes up for a layup.
Cheverus junior Morgan Cahill is trapped by Deering senior Kayla Burchill (left), sophomore Marissa MacMillan (32) and senior Aarika Viola (right) after pulling down a rebound.
Cheverus senior Britni Mikulanecz goes up for two while being defended by Deering sophomore Chelsea Saucier.
Deering junior Ella Ramonas dribbles to the hoop as she’s defended by Cheverus senior Britni Mikulanecz.
Cheverus sophomore Mikayla Mayberry out leaps Deering junior Emily Cole for a rebound during Saturday’s game at Cheverus High School.
Deering senior Kayla Burchill goes to the hoop while surrounded by Cheverus junior Morgan Cahill (left), sophomore Brooke Flaherty and
senior Britni Mikulanecz (right). Burchill had 24 points and helped the Rams stay perfect with a 56-44 win at the Stags Saturday afternoon.
More photos below.