By Michael Hoffer
As the 2008-09 season begins its second half, it’s clear that the Class A girls’ basketball preseason favorite is living up to the hype.
The Deering Rams have passed every test to date and cemented their status as the team to beat with recent victories at Scarborough and Noble.
The Rams held off the Red Storm 53-43 behind 25 points from senior Diana Manduca Thursday, then won 36-25 at Noble 24 hours later in a rematch of last year’s regional final to improve to 10-0 on the year.
“The key to these kids is that they’ve been there,” said first-year coach Mike Murphy. “They don’t get rattled.”
Deering won its second Gold Ball a year ago and was immediately dubbed likely to repeat after losing just one key contributor (Nicole Garland) to graduation.
Even with a last-minute coaching change, the Rams have had no trouble fulfilling expectations.
After a shaky first half against visiting Sanford in the opener, Deering dominated the Redskins and its next seven opponents by an average margin of 54-30. The Rams also beat two-time defending Class B champion Waterville en route to a Capitol City Holiday Classic tournament crown.
The Rams would meet their sternest test last Thursday at a Scarborough squad which had lost just once in eight outings.
Deering has dominated Scarborough in previous meetings since the Red Storm moved up to Class A, but Scarborough more than held its own this time, leading 14-9 early in the second quarter. The Rams rallied to go ahead 22-18 at halftime thanks to layups from sophomore Britni Mikulanecz and Manduca.
The third quarter would be all Manduca all the time, as she had all 12 of her team’s points as Deering extended its lead to 34-29.
Scarborough made it a one-possession game when junior Jenn Colpitts made two foul shots 13 seconds into the fourth, but Rams’ senior Jess Ruhlin answered with a 3-ball. After Red Storm junior Christy Manning made one-of-two free throws, Manduca buried a 3 for a 40-32 lead. Colpitts answered with two foul shots and Manning made one, but after Mikulanecz got an offensive rebound, Manduca found herself free for another 3-pointer and canned it, making it 43-35 Deering with 4:06 to go.
After two scoreless minutes, the Rams went up by 10 on a layup from sophomore Kayla Burchill. Red Storm junior Heather Carrier provided a spark with a 3-point shot, but Deering junior Claire Ramonas made a free throw. After Manduca grabbed an offensive rebound on Ramonas’ second attempt, Burchill was fouled and calmly hit two shots to make it 48-38.
Scarborough had one burst left, getting a scoop shot from Colpitts and a 3-ball from Sarah Moody to pull within five, 48-43, with 43.7 seconds to go, but Manduca made a free throw, Burchill converted two and with 12.4 seconds to play, senior Casey Everest made two shots to give Deering the 53-43 win.
“I just wanted to lead the team and get them pumped up,” said Manduca. “I’m a senior this year. I see that as my job. We just wanted to come out and control the tempo and make it more of our running game. We definitely expected a battle. We knew it was a big game and that they’d come out strong and want to beat us. We knew we had to match their intensity. We like the intensity and like to play games like this. This was a good test.”
“I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Murphy added. “That’s a quality team we beat here tonight. They have some nice guards. They can handle pressure. It was good for us to have to grind it out. We have to go back to vacation week against Waterville where we had to grind it out. It’s good for the kids.
“I thought we relied too much on the perimeter in the first quarter. Once we started going to the post in the second quarter, there was more of a flow to what we wanted to do. We had 15 possessions in the first quarter and had 12 jump shots. That won’t win many games.”
Manduca scored nearly half her team’s points.
“(Diana’s) competitive,” Murphy said. “We look for her to lead. She doesn’t force much. She lets the game come to her. We didn’t specifically run plays for her. We ran our offense and she got her shots. She did a nice job when she got the ball. The girls knew the clock was our ally in the final five minutes. We did a nice job of not forcing anything. Having the ball in Diana’s hands, Kayla’s hands and Jess Ruhlin’s hands in the final few minutes was key.”
Ramonas finished with nine points, Burchill had eight and Ruhlin added five.
For Scarborough, Manning led the way with 15 points.
Saturday, at Noble, the Rams led 13-10 after one and 21-15 at the half before opening things up with a 10-2 run in the third. Deering held on for a 36-25 win. Manduca led the way with 12 points. Ramonas added eight and Burchill had six.
The Rams (first in the Western A Heals) were home with Bonny Eagle Tuesday (too late for this edition), visit Stevens Avenue rival McAuley Thursday and play host to Kennebunk Saturday.
Believe it or not, this is still a work in progress.
“We try to take the pressure off and do it one game at a time,” Manduca said. “If we get cocky and think every game will be a blowout that will be our weakness. If we take it one game at a time, we’ll be fine. We’re still kind of the same team as last year. We still have good 3-point shooters. I think we’re a better inside team. Our defense is really great and aggressive this year.”
“I think our offensive flow and offensive understanding of spacing on the floor has to get better,” Murphy added. “We try to get better each day. We don’t want to be peaking right now. We’ve only played nine games. The kids always give a tremendous effort on the defensive end. We can get better on the offensive end with decision making.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com