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PORTLAND—No girls’ basketball team in Class A has taken part in more postseason games than the Deering Rams over the past four seasons.
This time around, the Rams’ stay was short and not very sweet.
Deering, ranked fourth, battled the Meghan Gribbin-led Windham Eagles, seeded fifth, in the quarterfinals Monday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, where it started slowly and never really recovered.
The Rams didn’t score their first basket until the final minute of the first period, only managed six points in the whole first half and never were able to rally as Gribbin, a senior, dominated with 26 points and helped the Eagles pull away late for a 45-33 triumph.
Windham improved to 15-4 with its first Western A quarterfinal round win in 14 years, advanced to meet top-seed McAuley in Wednesday’s semifinals and brought Deering’s season to a close at 14-5.
“Give Windham credit,” said Rams coach Mike Murphy. “Gribbin was voted the best player in our league and she ripped us apart. It’s too bad to go out that way. We had a good season. I hate to see it end this way.”
Deering has been as good as any program in Class A over the past decade, winning Gold Balls in 2004, 2008 and 2009. Each of the past two seasons have ended in agony, with regional final losses to Scarborough two years ago and an overtime heartbreaker against McAuley last winter.
After graduating 2011 Miss Maine Basketball Kayla Burchill (who is now playing at the University of Vermont), the Rams took awhile to hit their stride this winter, opening with losses to visiting Thornton Academy (54-52, on a buzzer-beater) and at Marshwood (70-60). Deering bounced back to beat host Massabesic (55-31), visiting Noble (63-28), host Sanford (38-32), visiting South Portland (46-32), visiting Bonny Eagle (50-35) and host Kennebunk (66-14) before visiting McAuley administered another painful defeat, 30-25. The Rams then put it together, winning seven of eight. After downing host Biddeford (55-28) and beating visiting Cheverus (53-37), Deering dropped a tough 53-47 decision to visiting Scarborough before defeating host Westbrook (41-29), visiting Windham (41-32), host Portland (45-27), visiting Gorham (46-33), host South Portland (49-35) and host Cheverus in the finale, 48-42.
Windham, which was ousted in last year’s quarterfinal round by Gorham, had a superb regular season, thanks in large part to Gribbin, who surpassed the 1,000-point mark and became the school’s all-time leading scorer along the way.
The Eagles started with victories at South Portland (55-47), at home over Noble (73-20) and at Biddeford (51-23) before dropping a 46-44 decision at Scarborough. After a 64-58 home loss to Marshwood, Windham enjoyed a 46-26 triumph at Thornton Academy, then was handed a 41-32 home defeat by McAuley. The Eagles closed by winning 10 of their final 11, downing Portland (66-34), Gorham (59-47), Massabesic (56-39), Bonny Eagle (55-39) and Cheverus (61-58, in double overtime) and after a 41-32 setback at Deering, they defeated Kennebunk (70-20), Westbrook (41-27), Sanford (46-43), Gorham (51-43) and Bonny Eagle (49-33).
The teams’ lone prior postseason meeting resulted in a 63-42 Rams’ victory in the 2005 preliminary round.
Deering’s preparation was torn asunder last week when junior Chelsea Saucier’s father passed away unexpectedly. As a result, the Rams never had a full group together and understandably, had a difficult time focusing.
“We had one bad week with the passing of Chelsea’s dad,” said Murphy. “We dealt with that and with sicknesses. We had eight kids at most at practice all week and three of the starters were not there. It showed. We played that way.”
Offense was nearly non-existent in the first half, but the Eagles managed to open up a lead.
After 2 minutes and 12 seconds of scoreless basketball, Gribbin broke the ice with a 3. Senior Diandra Berthiaume took a pass from Gribbin and hit a jumper and Gribbin (from sophomore Sam Frost) buried a jumper to make it 7-0 midway through the first period.
Deering didn’t get on the board until 27.9 seconds remained in the quarter when junior Marissa MacMillan took a pass from sophomore Leeann Downs and made a short bank shot to pull the Rams within 7-2.
Things didn’t change much in the second quarter.
After grabbing a rebound, Gribbin went coast to coast for a layup. Deering then got a driving layup from junior Chelsea Saucier and a pair of MacMillan foul shots with 3:05 to go before halftime, but Windham closed on a 5-0 run as senior Stephanie Frost made a pair of free throws, Gribbin made a layup after a steal and with 3.2 seconds to go, Gribbin was fouled and hit one attempt for a 14-6 halftime advantage.
“I was nervous at the beginning, but I’m the leader of the team so I knew I had to go out and set the tempo,” said Gribbin. “We have a tendency to come out flat, so I knew I had to pick up the pace and get everybody involved. We did a good job of coming out quick and getting a lead.”
Despite their lack of production, the Rams were still very much within hailing distance.
“I was losing my mind at halftime, but the good thing was we were only down eight points,” Murphy said.
Both teams finally heated up in the third quarter, but Deering could never quite catch up.
Two free throws from Ramonas and a Saucier layup made it a 14-10 game, but Gribbin managed to shoot a leaner over MacMillan and got to bounce home. She followed with a leaner in the lane and the lead way back to eight, 18-10.
After Downs made two free throws after being fouled on an offensive rebound, sophomore Haley Batchelder made a foul shot, but Ramonas took a pass from Saucier, made a layup, was fouled and made the free throw and it was 19-15.
Again, the Eagles pushed the lead as Stephanie Frost hit a runner and after a possession was twice kept alive by offensive rebounds, Batchelder passed to Sam Frost for a 3-pointer to make it 24-15 with 1:58 to go in the quarter.
Ramonas answered with a driving layup and senior Emily Cole heated up from the perimeter, knocking down a 3-ball, but as time wound down, Gribbin somehow threaded a pretty pass through traffic to Batchelder, who made a layup to give Windham a 26-20 advantage heading for the fourth.
“I want assists before I want points,” Gribbin said. “My head’s always up. Coach has to remind me to shoot. I try not to do anything too fancy. If someone’s open, I try to get it to them.”
There, Deering again got within four on a jumper from junior Alexis Stephenson, but the Eagles then scored seven straight to get some breathing room.
Another pretty Gribbin to Batchelder pass led to a layup. Gribbin was then fouled and made two free throws. With 5:43 to go, Gribbin split the defense, made a layup, was fouled and completed the three-point play to push the lead to 33-22.
Cole answered with a 3-pointer, but Berthiaume made a free throw and after getting around three defenders, Gribbin delievered a pass to Batchelder, who made another layup to make it 36-25.
“There’s a reason Meghan’s the SMAA Player of the Year,” said Windham coach Jessie Cummings. “She hit key foul shots. She makes it difficult for teams to press us. She’s a smart ballhandler. She sets up her teammates nicely. She does it on both ends of the floor. She did a nice job on Cole today. She’s as calm, cool and collected as they come. She’s had the ball in her hands for four years. She’s used to that role. I think she enjoys it.”
With 4:33 to play, Ramonas made a leaner and 32 seconds later, Saucier went coast to coast for a layup, was fouled and made the free throw to make it a 36-30 game.
After Gribbin missed two foul shots, Saucier made a free throw to pull the Rams within five.
Saucier then stole the ball and Deering had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but MacMillan missed a shot and Batchelder got the rebound.
With 2:45 to go, Gribbin made two free throws. A minute later, senior Bebe Butts did the same and it was 40-31.
Ramonas made a leaner with 1:26 remaining, but the Rams wouldn’t score again.
Gribbin made five of six free throws in the final minute and Windham slammed the door on its 45-33 triumph.
Gribbin put on a show on the big stage, not only scoring 26 points, but also grabbing a team-high nine rebounds, dishing out four memorable assists and grabbing two steals. She also spearheaded an offense that turned the ball over a mere six times, a staggeringly low number in the crucible of the tournament.
“(This win) means the world,” said Gribbin. “This is the biggest game of my career. We spent so much time preparing. We were the only team who knew our matchup for a week. We watched so much film and studied their players and plays and knew exactly what we were going to do. Steph and I have been on the team for four years and couldn’t get past the quarterfinals.”
Batchelder had seven points and five rebounds. Stephanie Frost added four points, Berthiaume (five boards)and Sam Frost three each and Butts two (with four rebounds and two steals).
Windham hit 17-of-24 free throws.
“This is the first playoff win for the seniors,” said Cummings. “Deering was the only team they hadn’t beaten. This was important. Their goal was to win a playoff game and as seniors, there’s nothing more special. Different people stepped up. Haley Batchelder and Sam Frost did an excellent job stepping up and filling a void with the loss of Lonnie (Staten, who wasn’t with the team for the game). We had a week to prepare. The girls knew Deering’s players, tendencies, strength and weaknesses maybe better than Deering did. The girls bought into the defensive strategy and made the score low. We had shots fall in the second half.”
Windham will face 19-0 McAuley (riding a 23-game win streak) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the Cumberland County Civic Center in the semifinals. The teams have no playoff history. The Lions won the regular season meeting back on Jan. 3, doing a good job limiting Gribbin’s effectiveness in the process.
This time around, the Eagles are playing with house money and will look to keep the good times rolling.
“We have to do the same thing we’ve been doing,” said Gribbin. “Everyone knows their roles. As long as we don’t get flustered and take it one possession at a time, we’ll be fine. We’ll take it like any other game.”
“I kind of wish we had a week to prepare for McAuley,” said Cummings. “We have to go in with some confidence. We’ll have to box out their bigs. Defenisvely, we’ll have to figure out their tendencies and try to shut them down.”
For Deering, Ramonas’ swan song resulted in 11 points and five rebounds. She was a big part of the program’s success the past four years and will certainly be missed.
“Ella was in one state final and won it,” Murphy said. “She was in two Western Maine Finals and could have won those. She was our leader this year. She brought intensity and heart.”
Saucier, considering the circumstances, was valiant, scoring eight points and adding three steals.
“I give Chelsea Saucier credit,” Murphy said. “She played well and she played hard. She was a bright spot on the team.”
Cole had the team’s lone two 3-pointers for six points. MacMillan had four points (and six rebounds), Downs (six boards) and Stephenson each added two points.
The Rams were outrebounded, 29-24. They turned the ball over 13 times and shot 9-of-13 from the foul line.
“We played better in the third quarter,” said Murphy, “We took the ball to the basket and we scored. (The first half) we looked like we hadn’t played before. We had tournament pressure.”
Deering doesn’t just graduate Ramonas. It also loses Cole, Maura Densmore (four rebounds Monday), Katryna Gilson, Amber Kennedy and Caley Presby.
The 2012-13 Rams will build around MacMillan and Saucier and should be right back in the tournament looking to avenge this loss.
“We have a good junior nucleus,” Murphy said. “Out of that group, who’s going to give us the intensity? Right now, that’s the question mark.”
Deering junior Marissa MacMillan tries to go to the basket against a defender.
Deering senior Ella Ramonas, in her final game, goes up for a shot in the second half Monday.
The Rams’ bench told the story in the waning moments as Deering’s season came to an end at 14-5.
Deering junior Chelsea Saucier goes up for a shot over a Windham defender during the Rams’ 45-33 Western A quarterfinal round loss to Windham Monday night.
More photos below.
W- 7 7 12 19- 45
D- 2 4 14 13- 33
W- Gribbin 7-11-26, Batchelder 3-1-7, St. Frost 1-2-4, Berthiaume 1-1-3, Sam Frost 1-0-3, Butts 0-2-2
D- Ramonas 4-3-11, Saucier 3-2-8, Cole 2-0-6, MacMillan 1-2-4, Downs 0-2-2, Stephenson 1-0-2
W (2) Sam Frost, Gribbin 1
D (2) Cole 2
W (29) Gribbin 9, Batchelder, Berthiaume 5, Butts 4, Sam Frost 2, St. Frost, Ulmer 1
D (24) Downs, MacMillan 6, Ramonas 5, Densmore 4, Saucier 2, Presby 1
W (5) Butts, Gribbin 2, Batchelder 1
D (4) Saucier 3, Ramonas 1
W (1) Cummings 1
D (3) Downs, MacMillan, Saucier 1
2005 preliminary round
Deering 63 Windham 42