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PORTLAND—For 16 minutes, the Deering girls’ basketball team didn’t come anywhere close to resembling the two-time defending Class A state champion.
Luckily for the second-ranked Rams, they came to life in the second half and thanks to clutch play from junior Kayla Burchill and sophomore Ella Ramonas, rallied to defeat No. 7 Thornton Academy, 44-30, in a Western Class A quarterfinal round game at the Portland Exposition Building.
Ramonas scored all 13 of her points in the second half and Burchill finished with 23 total as Deering gradually pulled away to earn a shot at No. 3 McAuley in Friday’s semifinal round.
“There were no style points,” said Rams coach Mike Murphy. “The first game of a tournament is tough. It’s always nice to get a win, no matter how good, bad or ugly it is. Give credit to Thornton. They played hard.”
Best for last
The Rams struggled early in the season, losing back-to-back games to Sanford and Scarborough to drop to 1-2, but they won their final 15 contests to earn the No. 2 seed.
Thornton Academy, meanwhile, enjoyed its best season in years and wound up with the No. 7 seed.
Deering downed the Golden Trojans, 53-39 (behind 17 points from Claire Ramonas), back on Dec. 22 in Portland. The teams’ lone prior playoff meeting came in the 1989 quarterfinals, a 73-63 win for the Rams.
Monday, Deering got off to a slow start, to say the least.
After nearly two minutes, Thornton Academy got the scoring started on a layup from junior Lauren Titus. Burchill tied the score on a layup, but senior Emily Higgins had a putback and Titus made a layup for a 6-2 lead with 3:24 to go, inducing Murphy to call timeout.
Senior Claire Ramonas made a layup with 2:24 left and Burchill followed with a putback, but a Higgins free throw gave the Golden Trojans a 7-6 lead after one quarter. Luckily for Deering, it forced seven turnovers to stay close.
The second quarter featured just 10 points, 15 turnovers and 11 missed foul shots.
The Rams went up 8-7 on a Claire Ramonas layup, ending a 5 minute, 39 second drought in the process and stretched it to 11-7 when unheralded sophomore Emily Cole sank a 3 with 2:32 left in the half, but Thornton Academy got a 3 from Titus and a jumper from junior Hannah Ebling to grab an improbable 12-11 lead at the break.
The Golden Trojans had 15 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, while the Rams turned it over 10 times. The teams combined to make just one of 13 foul shots.
“We threw the ball away,” Murphy said. “We had more turnovers than shot attempts in the first half. You can’t win games that way. I was pleased with the defense in the first half.”
Deering finally got it going in the second half.
Thirteen seconds in, Burchill made a 3-pointer for a 14-12 lead. The Golden Trojans got a jumper from Higgins and a Ebling putback to take their final advantage, 16-14, but Ella Ramonas tied the score with two free throws and with 4:36 left in the quarter, Burchill put Deering ahead to stay with a free throw. Ella Ramonas followed with a jumper, but Ebling ended the 5-0 mini-run with a reverse layup.
With 2:15 to go in the period, Ella Ramonas made two more foul shots. Burchill hit one a minute later and with 45 seconds remaining, Buchill stepped back and canned a dagger of a 3. An Ella Ramonas foul shot with 34.3 seconds showing was followed by another huge Burchill 3. Sophomore Meghan Agger ended the 10-0 run with a layup in the waning seconds, but the Rams could finally exhale, up 29-20.
“We just weren’t playing as a team,” Burchill said. “We were taking crazy shots. I wasn’t getting the team involved. Once we did, we played a lot better. Hopefully we got our bad game our of system.”
“We had to push it on offense and knock down some shots,” Murphy added.
After missing all seven of their first half free throws, Deering made seven of 10 in the period.
An Ebling layup started the scoring in the fourth. Agger followed with a putback to cut it to five, but Burchill hit a turnaround jumper with 4:42 to go. Senior Alanna Richard again made it a five-point game, 31-26, after a pair of foul shots, but with 3:42 to go, Ella Ramonas buried a 3. She added two foul shots a minute later and the lead was back to 10, 36-26.
“We just started to hit our shots,” Ramonas said. “That motivated us and got us shooting better and giving us confidence. I got all the nerves out and settled down and took my time more and concentrated. This is really the first time I’ve played here. It took a little while to get used to it. It started out slow, but we started to play our game in the second half. We came out really strong with Burch hitting shots and got offensive rebounds. We limited our turnovers and played really good defense.”
A putback by Agger with 1:20 remaining cut the Golden Trojans’ deficit to eight, but Ella Ramonas made a foul shot and Burchill hit four free throws in succession for a 41-28 lead. With 32.7 seconds left on the clock, Ebling hit a jumper for Thornton Academy’s final points. Two Burchill foul shots and one more from freshman Chelsea Saucier in the waning seconds accounted for the 44-30 final score.
“We weren’t in panic mode at halftime,” said Murphy. “It’s a tournament atmosphere and only Kayla and Claire have been in this atmosphere. Ella and Kayla with their jump shots and foul shots in the second half were the difference. I told Ella she wasn’t utilizing her size. She did a great job settling everyone down. I think she did a great job on the Ebling kid, who’s one of the best athletes in the league.”
“Ella played great defense,” Burchill added. “She’s really stepped up in the point guard position. She came along for us.”
Claire Ramonas had four points, Cole three and Saucier one. The Rams finished 17-of-30 from the line, making 17-of-23 in the second half. Deering turned the ball over 13 times, just three of them coming in the second half.
Thornton Academy (11-8) was led by Ebling’s 10 points. Titus had seven, Agger six, Higgins five and Richard two. The Golden Trojans were done in by 23 turnovers and made only 3-of-10 attempts from the charity stripe.
Deering (17-2) will meet McAuley (13-6, after Monday’s 33-22 win over Gorham in its quarterfinal) Friday at 7:30 p.m., at the Civic Center in the semifinals.
The Rams have managed to beat the Lions in recent meetings, but the last three have been especially difficult.
Last year, in the quarterfinals, McAuley pushed Deering more than any foe before the Rams pulled away late to win, 42-27. This season, Deering won 42-33 at home and 44-41 in overtime at McAuley.
The Lions are fired up for another crack, but the Rams like their chances.
“McAuley’s a very good team,” Burchill said. “We have to come out strong just like we did in the second half today.”
“It’s one game,” Murphy added. “It all comes down to 32 minutes. We won’t think about what happened in the past. They’re a good team. We’re looking forward to playing them.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]