PORTLAND—The Deering girls’ basketball needed a test and the Rams’ Stevens Avenue rival McAuley was happy to provide one Thursday evening.
The Lions gave the two-time defending Class A titlists everything they could handle and even led late in the third period before Deering tapped into its championship heart, poise and skill to earn its 13th straight victory, 42-33, dropping McAuley to 10-5.
Senior Claire Ramonas led the way with 19 points, but this was a true team effort, as the Rams got eight clutch points from junior Aarika Viola and key foul shots from junior Kayla Burchill as they closed on a 19-8 run.
“It’s nice to be able to have a tournament-type game,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “It’s to both schools’ advantage to have games like this going into the tournament. Neither team gave an inch. They’re a very strong team with their size.”
The Rams have run roughshod over Western A the past three seasons, but always get a stern test from the Lions. In last year’s quarterfinal round, McAuley gave Deering its biggest challenge of the tournament before bowing out by the decisive score of 42-27.
This winter, the Rams came back to earth a bit when after rolling past Bonny Eagle in the opener, Deering was upset at Sanford (ending a 37-game win streak) and blew a 12-point lead in a 52-50 setback at Scarborough. The Rams quickly righted the ship, however, winning 12 straight heading into Thursday by an average of 23 points.
McAuley has been up-and-down in 2009-10 as it’s had to play several games without injured junior standout Rebecca Knight. Knight, who has missed two different stretches with an injured ankle, returned during Saturday’s win at Kennebunk.
Thursday, after a Senior Night ceremony, neither neighbor gave an inch and the game was tight throughout.
It took 3 minutes, 19 seconds for the first basket, a runner from Burchill. Burchill added two free throws 33 seconds later and Ramonas got on the board with a layup at the 3:58 mark for a quick 6-0 lead, but a bank shot from Knight with 3:44 to go gave McAuley its first points.
After a Ramonas putback gave Deering an 8-2 lead, freshman Hannah Cooke sank a 3-ball and junior Chantalle Desjardins followed with a shot beyond the arc to tie the score with 1:21 to go in the period. In the final minute, the hosts retook the lead on a layup from Ramonas, making it 10-8 after one.
The Rams started hot in the second, getting a layup and a baseline jumper from Viola, but Desjardins made another 3, Knight scored on a putback and with 1:35 to go before the half, Ramonas was called for a technical foul and Knight sank both free throws to give the Lions their first advantage, 15-14.
With 50.7 seconds left, Ramonas made a jumper to end a 4 minute, 13 second drought. Senior Maria Salamone added a layup, but with 9.4 seconds left, Desjardins made a long jumper to pull McAuley within a point, 18-17, at the break.
The Lions flustered the Rams as sophomore Alexa Coulombe had four blocked shots and her defense, along with that of senior Caitlin Cimino, turned Burchill into a non-factor offensively for much of the half.
McAuley kept the pressure on in the third.
With 5:04 to go, a pair of foul shots from freshman Molly Mack made it 19-18 Lions. With 3:56 left, Mack made a layup for the visitors’ biggest lead. Ramonas answered with an old-fashioned three-point play, ending a 5 minute, 36 second drought, but with 1:54 to go, Mack made two more free throws. After Ramonas went coast-to-coast for a layup, a left-handed layup from Cooke gave McAuley its final lead, 25-23.
Deering turned it up just in time and closed the third on a 5-0 run.
After Burchill made a free throw (her first point since midway through the first quarter), Burchill took a pass from Viola and put her team ahead for good, 26-25. Then, with time winding down, Burchill fed Ramonas for a layup and a 28-25 advantage heading for the fourth.
Mack had six points and a block in the quarter, but eight turnovers hindered the Lions.
In the fourth, the Rams showed why they’re the two-time champs.
After a long jumper from Coulombe got McAuley within a point early in the fourth, Viola calmly answered with a jump shot. With 6:14 left, Knight scored on a turnaround to make it 30-29, but the visitors would draw no closer.
With 5:55 to play, Viola made a bank shot to push the lead to three.
“It was great,” Viola said. “The energy was there. Everyone was so fired up. We played the same mentally and stayed calm and composed. We got baskets when we needed to.”
After Viola and junior Britni Mikulanecz both missed the front end of one-and-ones, Ramonas calmly made two foul shots with 4:01 to go to make it 34-29. Ramonas added two more, Mikulanecz sank one and with 1:05 to play, Burchill essentially iced it with two free throws.
A Knight layup with 53.1 seconds remaining ended a 5:21 drought, but it was too little, too late. Burchill (12 points) hit three free throws before Cooke’s runner accounted for the 42-33 final score.
“It helped us to have a game like this,” said Ramonas. “After losing to Sanford and Scarborough, we definitely wanted to come out and prove we’re still a top team. Us big girls knew they have two of the top shotblockers and that we had to go at them and get them in foul trouble. We kept going strong and the guards got us the ball. Kayla played good defense. Aarika was huge on offense.”
“I was pleased with our play down the stretch,” Murphy added. “We didn’t force it and took care of the basketball. I like that we didn’t turn it over. It’s been a long time since Scarborough that we’ve had a game come down to the end. We needed it.”
Down the stretch, Deering got it done on both ends of the floor.
“I like the way our kids responded,” Murphy said. “Both teams go after it. Viola gave us some big minutes on the offensive end, but she also did a great job on the defensive end. Salamone and Mikulanecz did their job. Claire, in the second half, attacked. Too many times in the first half, we gave it up too soon. She responded really well.”
McAuley coach Wil Smith said that in the end, the Rams were able to better execute.
“(Deering) played like champions,” Smith said. “They played like they always play. They play tough, physical defense. I thought we matched them defensively. They got physical with us. We shot fadeaways and they went to the basket hard. We have to get to where we go to the basket hard. We didn’t execute our offense great tonight. Two of the top defensive teams around, that will happen.
“(Burchill) did what she does. She made a mini-run by herself. She’s one of the best players in the state. Viola’s baskets were huge. She’s really steady. Claire went hard to the basket. For us to take the next step, we need to win one of these games and not settle for just being in them.”
Knight led the Lions with 10 points, even though she’s clearly not 100 percent.
“Rebecca’s trying to play her way back into shape,” Smith said. “You can tell her timing is off, reading the defense is off, reading her teammates is off. It’s frustrating for a player. Hopefully, the more games she plays, the more she’ll let things come to her and not rush.”
Desjardins finished with eight points, Cooke had seven, Mack six and Coulombe two (with six blocks).
“I’m really proud of the freshmen, Cooke and Mack,” Smith said. “They played important minutes. Molly’s the one that took it to the basket.”
McAuley was fourth in the latest closely bunched Western A Heal Points standings. The Lions host Gorham Saturday, go to Cheverus Tuesday and welcome Deering in the rematch Feb. 5.
“Gorham won’t be easy,” Smith said. “We have to forget about this one. We have to be ready and focused on them. We’ll go back to the drawing board and hopefully have a better plan for when we play Deering again next week.”
The Rams appear locked into the No. 2 spot behind Scarborough. They’re off until Wednesday when they go to Portland. Two nights later, Deering closes at McAuley. The champs feel they’re ready for another title run.
“The two losses at the beginning reminded us we’re not invincible,” said Ramonas. “I think we’re peaking at the right time. We’re putting it all together. Everyone’s coming up with big plays.”
“It was a little rocky in the beginning, but we’ve figured it out,” Viola said. “We’re playing really well now.”
“I’m sure it will be another battle over there next Friday,” Murphy added. “Right now, I like the way we’re playing. I’m very pleased.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
McAuley freshman Molly Mack had a huge third period Thursday, scoring six points (including this basket over Deering senior Maria Salamone) and blocking a shot.
McAuley freshman Hannah Cooke tries to get a shot off over Deering senior Claire Ramonas. Ramonas led all scorers with 19 points in the Rams’ 13th straight win.
McAuley senior Caitlin Cimino shoots over Deering junior defenders Aarika Viola (30) and Kayla Burchill. The Rams’ defense proved to be the difference down the stretch.
McAuley sophomore Alexa Coulombe swats away a shot from Deering junior Kayla Burchill during the first half of Thursday night’s Stevens Avenue battle. Coulombe blocked six shots in all, but 12 Burchill points helped the Rams rally for a hard-fought 42-33 victory.