PORTLAND—After undergoing a massive roster transformation and winning just once this summer, it’s fair to say the bar was set pretty low for the Deering girls’ basketball team this winter.
But Ram Pride can’t be quantified and as a result, not only has Deering qualified for the playoffs, it’s going to host a preliminary round game thanks to an upset win over visiting rival Portland Friday evening.
Facing a team they had narrowly lost to just a few weeks prior, the Rams controlled play most of the way, riding 17 points from freshman Tasia Titherington to a 31-22 halftime lead. The Bulldogs, in the midst of their best season in a decade, rallied within five on three separate occasions, but could never draw closer and behind some big shots from senior LeeAnn Downs, the lone returner from last season, and freshman Amanda Brett, Deering went on to a 61-48 victory.
Titherington led all scorers with 25 points, Downs added 14 and Brett had 10 as the Rams finished 8-10 and garnered the No. 8 seed for the upcoming tournament, earned a preliminary round date with No. 9 Scarborough, and dropped Portland, which will be fourth, to 13-5 in the process.
“We just said to ourselves that we had to win the game,” said Downs, the lone returning starter from last year’s regional semifinalist. “It means beating our city rival and getting a prelim at home, which is awesome, so we can have our school come out and support us like they did tonight. That pushed us the whole time. It was a good game. We were definitely more hyped up and we played as a team.”
This winter, for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, Portland boasts a better record than Deering, but both teams have had their moments since the onset of the campaign.
The Rams opened with a 35-29 home win over Bonny Eagle, then lost at Thornton Academy, 41-27. After beating visiting Noble (52-18), they fell at McAuley (46-33) and at home to Cheverus (65-42). Deering then enjoyed a 41-32 victory at Westbrook before closing 2013 with a 50-48 setback at South Portland. After opening 2014 with a 56-48 home win over Marshwood, the Rams fell at Windham (40-22), then won at Massabesic (58-36). Deering then dropped three in a row, all winnable games: at home to Gorham (53-44), at Portland (60-55) and at Sanford (43-37). The Rams turned things around with a 49-44 home win over Scarborough, then prevailed at home over Biddeford, 55-35, before struggling from the field in a 44-29 loss at Cheverus. Monday, Deering lost a home to McAuley, 62-39.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, opened by downing visiting Massabesic (59-36) and Noble (78-29), host Marshwood (76-55) and visiting Gorham (63-50). After holding off host South Portland, 50-46, Portland finally fell from the unbeaten ranks, 51-35, at Thornton Academy. After closing 2013 with a 62-60 home win over Cheverus, the Bulldogs beat visiting Westbrook (64-45), host Sanford (55-52), visiting Biddeford (47-27), host Bonny Eagle (61-44) and then visiting Deering (60-55). After dropping a gutwrenching 61-59 decision at Scarborough, Portland fell at home to McAuley, 79-47, before winning at Windham (58-52). After falling at home to South Portland (48-35), the Bulldogs prevailed at Biddeford Tuesday, 72-35.
While Portland once beat Deering with regularity, over the past decade, the rivalry has taken on a particularly purple-tinted hue.
Entering Friday’s contest, the Rams held a 16-2 edge since the start of the 2003-04 season (please see sidebar, below). Portland’s victory Jan. 17 snapped a 13-game Deering win streak and was its first over the Rams since Dec. 21, 2004.
Friday, Deering made a statement, getting clutch play throughout.
While the Rams were able to hold the lead in the first half, they never got too far ahead. Deering led, 16-11, after one quarter and 31-22 at the break, behind Titherington’s sizzling shooting.
The freshman had 17 points in the first half alone.
“I felt it and I believed in my shot,” said Titherington. “In the beginning, it was very difficult on varsity, but I worked at it and now I just go out there.”
While Titherington stole the show with her shooting, the most poignant moment of the half came after a Portland technical foul, when Rams senior Delaney Coyne, who’s missed the whole season with injury, came out to shoot the free throw and made it, bringing the partisan crowd to its feet.
The second half featured the Bulldogs making a run, but Deering never buckling.
After Titherington started the third period then way she ended the first half, with two more points, courtesy the foul line, Downs set up senior Kiana Ward for a layup to push the lead to 35-22.
Back came Portland, as senior Mariana Angelo scored on a putback and freshman Kate Johnson again made a big impact off the bench, making a free throw and after sophomore Cierra Burnham scored on a bank shot, making another foul shot and scoring on a putback to cut the deficit to just five points, 35-30.
At the other end, Deering stemmed the tide, as Downs grabbed an offensive rebound, was fouled on her way back up and sank both free throws. After Burnham hit a jumper, Brett made a layup, but Johnson made another jumper and the Bulldogs again were within five, 39-34.
Then rally was then thwarted by a call which left the Portland side of the building apoplectic. Donato appeared to drive in for a layup while being fouled, but instead of having a chance for a three-point play, she was called for a charging foul, her fourth, negating the basket.
The hosts took advantage, as Downs set up Titherington for a 3.
The Brett sisters then showed how nicely they can play together, as junior Courtney twice set up Amanda for layups. A free throw from freshman Abi Ramirez pulled the Bulldogs back to 46-35 with eight minutes to go.
“Once (Portland) got to (within) five, we didn’t get rattled,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “I liked the rhythm we displayed.”
Early in the fourth, Portland again tried to rally, but again, couldn’t get over the hump.
After a leaner from junior Sydney Frederick pulled the Bulldogs within nine, Downs countered with a long jump shot. Johnson made a free throw and Ramirez sank a pair to make it an eight-point game, but with 5:10 remaining, Courtney Brett scored on a runner.
A driving layup from senior Brianna Holdren made the score 50-42, but off an inbounds play, Titherington set up Downs for a layup and 26 seconds later, with 3:36 to go, Titherington put the punctuation mark on her night by scoring on a putback while being fouled and adding the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play, giving Deering a commanding 55-42 advantage.
Ramirez made a driving layup, Burnham hit a foul shot and Ramirez scored on a leaner to make the score 55-47, but the visitors would draw no closer.
Amanda Brett stemmed the run with a driving layup, Courtney Brett converted a three-point play and senior Christiana Viney added a free throw. Late in regulation, a foul shot from Burnham accounted for the 61-48 final score.
“It’s very, very exciting,” Titherington said. “We worked hard and we wanted to beat them. We played together, we played hard and we didn’t give up. We were worried when they came back, but we knew we could do it. We played together and we didn’t give up. I knew we’d be a good team when we develop. We looked good out there tonight.”
“The first time we played Portland, we were more helter-skelter, but tonight we were more composed and passed the ball,” Downs said.
“It’s a great way to end the season,” Murphy added. “We ended with three tough games. It was a learning experience. We wanted to get better each day. I think the girls have come a long way. I told them (in the locker room), ‘Not bad for a group that won one game this summer.’ We played with fire tonight. It hasn’t been there many nights. The kids responded and wanted to control their own destiny. Deep down, we know we gave the first game away. We did a good job of handling the pressure and taking care of the ball for the most part. We got sloppy early in the fourth against their 1-2-2 (zone). We settled for jumpers. Once we took it to the basket, we were fine.”
Titherington had a game to remember, making six two-point baskets, a 3 and 10 free throws for a game-high 25 points.
“(Tasia’s) play as a freshman has been great,” said Downs. “It’s helped the whole team. She knows what to do and can handle the ball.”
“Tasia responded,” Murphy said. “She really, in my opinion, struggled the first time we played them, but tonight she was comfortable.”
Downs added 14 points and helped guide the team to victory.
“My hat’s off to LeeAnn,” Murphy said. “I think we believed last year, but I’m not sure she believed. She knew coming into this year that she’d have to lead and she’s done a nice job with that. She does all the little things, defensive rebounding, talking to the kids, getting the ball to the right people. The kids trust her having the ball in her hands.”
Amanda Brett had 10 points, Courtney Brett five, Ward three, junior Kate Howard two and Coyne and Viney one apiece.
Portland was paced by Burnham’s 12 points. Holdren and Ramirez each had nine, Johnson seven, Angelo four, Donato, Frederick and senior Pam Lobor two apiece and junior Gabby Wagabaza one.
“It’s not how we wanted to end,” said Bulldogs coach Jan Veinot. “I just don’t think we were prepared. We practiced at King Middle School yesterday because we had no gym. We had a snow day, then King Middle School. We really didn’t have a practice. We came out and weren’t prepared. We have to get back to doing what we did the first part of the season that got us here.”
Portland will compete in the quarterfinal round a week from Monday for the first time since losing to McAuley in 2005. The Bulldogs last won a quarterfinal round game in 2004, when they downed Noble in that round before losing to eventual champion Deering in the semifinals.
This time around, Portland will face either No. 5 Gorham (13-5) or No. 12 Falmouth (6-12). The Bulldogs didn’t face the Yachtsmen in the regular season. in one of its most impressive regular season victories, Portland downed the visiting Rams, 63-50, eight days before Christmas. The Bulldogs have no playoff history with either school.
“We’ve come a long way,” Veinot said. “The kids are so excited about it. We got on a really good run, but they have to continue to do the work. I think they realize that now. They need to know that just because we won those earlier games, we still have to come to play every night. I think we’ll bounce back. Let the fun begin.”
Deering beat visiting Scarborough (9-9), 49-44, two weeks ago. The Rams lost the only prior playoff meeting between the schools, a heartbreaking 37-34 decision in the 2010 Western A Final.
The winner gets the honor of meeting three-time defending state champion, top-ranked McAuley (17-1), in the quarterfinals Monday, Feb. 17, at the Portland Exposition Building.
This Deering team is ready to take its chances.
“We’ve become more of a family,” Downs said. “We were all new at the beginning, but now we’re more composed and we trust each other. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew we had good freshmen coming in. I knew we could do it, but I didn’t know what place we could come in. We’ll be the underdog and we’ll try to upset some teams. We have to play composed as a team and stay calm.”
“We’re very happy to have a home game,” said Titherington. “We have to play how we did (against Portland) and we can’t give up. We hope to make a run.”
“I’m pleased with our record,” Murphy added. “A break here or there and we’d be at .500 or then some, but we’re in and now anything can happen. You never know.”
@ Portland 60 Deering 55
@ Deering 55 Portland 37
Deeriing 45 @ Portland 27
Deeriing 63 @ Portland 44
@ Deering 56 Portland 46
@ Deering 74 Portland 38
Deering 48 @ Portland 41
@ Deering 59 Portland 40
Deering 73 @ Portland 45
@ Deering 52 Portland 27
Deering 43 @ Portland 19
@ Deering 45 Portland 32
Deering 30 @ Portland 26
@ Portland 58 Deering 52
@ Deering 57 Portland 36
@ Deering 53 Portland 31
Deering 47 @ Portland 46
Western A semifinals
Deering 51 Portland 33
P- 11 11 13 13- 48
D- 16 15 15 15- 61
P- Burnham 4-4-12, Holdren 4-0-9, Ramirez 3-3-9, Johnson 2-3-7, Angelo 2-0-4, Donato 1-0-2, Frederick 1-0-2, Lobor 1-0-2, Wagabaza 0-1-1
D- Titherington 7-10-25, Downs 4-6-14, A. Brett 5-0-10, C. Brett 2-1-5, Ward 1-1-3, Howard 1-0-2, Coyne 0-1-1, Viney 0-1-1
P (1) Holdren 1
D (1) Titherington 1