PORTLAND—If the Deering girls’ basketball team goes on to become the championship contender it fancies itself to be, it will look back at the events of the penultimate evening of 2014 as the reason why everything changed for the better.
Playing without sophomore standout Tasia Titherington and faced with the daunting task of going up against talented, tall and athletic South Portland, the host Rams faced an uphill battle and that was before they dug a 20-point halftime hole.
But this Deering squad has the potential to be special and after a spirited halftime talk from coach Mike Murphy, it came to life and produced perhaps the most shocking result of the season to date.
The Red Riots had shot to leads of 20-11 after one period and 34-14 at halftime, thanks to sizzling outside shooting from the likes of sophomore Lydia Henderson and freshman Abby Cavallaro, while the Rams shot themselves in the foot by missing eight of 12 foul shots.
But 16 minutes does not a full basketball game make and Deering immediately proved its mettle as the second half began.
Just 22 seconds in, junior Lodia Ismail set up sophomore Amanda Brett for a layup and the comeback was underway.
Brett would score 11 points in a third period third which saw the Rams creep back within seven, 42-35.
Deering only needed 2 minutes and 18 seconds of the fourth quarter to complete the comeback, as sophomore sparkplug Abi Ramirez somehow converted a reverse layup from an impossible angle to make it 42-42.
When Rams junior Cierra Burnham made a layup with 4:29 to go, the hosts led for the first time.
Deering actually held a 48-43 advantage with less than two minutes to play, but South Portland, which went nearly eight minutes without a field goal, rallied to tie, as Cavallaro buried a 3 and freshman Megan Graff made a layup in a 21-second span.
After Ismail and Red Riots junior standout Maddie Hasson traded free throws, Rams senior Courtney Brett made two foul shots with 1:04 remaining to put her team back on top by two, but with 37.8 seconds left, Hasson answered with a putback to make it 51-51.
After Courtney Brett missed the front end of a 1-and-1, the visitors had a chance to sneak out of town with a win, but a Hasson shot at the horn hung on the rim for an agonizing second before falling off and it was on to overtime.
And there, Deering finished the job.
Forty-four seconds in, an Ismail jumper put the Rams on top to stay. South Portland managed one free throw in the four-minute extra session and layups from Amanda Brett, senior Mary Tadsse and Burnham put the finishing touches on an inspirational 59-52 triumph.
The Rams got a game-high 23 points from Brett, 13 more from Burnham and improved to 5-2 with their third successive victory, dropping the Red Riots to 5-2 in the process.
“This speaks volumes,” Murphy said. “We’d won a couple other games with Tasia in foul trouble, so these kids believe in themselves. That’s the pride factor which came in at halftime. They picked each other up.”
Both Deering and South Portland are viewed as top threats to end McAuley’s four-year title reign and perhaps deny preseason favorite Thornton Academy as well.
The Rams began with a 56-52 victory at Bonny Eagle, then were decimated by the flu, which sidelined several players and helped produce a 42-22 home loss to Thornton Academy. After a 45-20 win at Noble, Deering dropped a 49-48 home heartbreaker to McAuley, but the Rams then hit their stride by downing host Cheverus (59-43) and visiting Westbrook (49-35).
The Red Riots dominated their first three foes: visiting Noble (79-26), host Sanford (55-26) and visiting Westbrook (74-29), before losing at Thornton Academy, 50-33. South Portland then bounced back to beat host Portland (65-55) and visiting Bonny Eagle (62-38).
South Portland snapped a nine-game skid at the hands of Deering with a 50-48 home victory last season (see sidebar, below).
Tuesday night, the Red Riots sought their first win on the Rams’ floor since Jan. 5, 2008 (45-35) and for a half appeared well on their way, but Deering put it all together after the break in a stunning turn of events.
South Portland came out confident and Henderson opened the scoring with a baseline jumper 23 seconds in. Henderson added a free throw 44 seconds later for a quick 3-0 lead.
The Rams pulled even when Courtney Brett banked home a shot while being fouled and added the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play, but another Henderson foul shot made it 4-3 Red Riots.
Deering then took what looked like would be its only lead of the game when Ramirez drove for a layup, but Cavallaro hit a long jumper, Hasson made a layup after a nice spin move and Hasson canned a long jump shot for a 10-5 advantage.
After Burnham scored on a putback, Red Riots freshman Grace Soucy hit a jumper and Henderson was spot on from behind the arc to make it 15-7.
Courtney Brett set up Amanda Brett for a layup, but Hasson made two foul shots. After Rams junior Delaney Donovan made one free throw, Cavallaro knocked down a 3 and even though Amanda Brett made a free throw in the waning seconds, it was all South Portland after one quarter, 20-11.
The Red Riots’ dominance was even more pronounced in the second period, as they appeared to all but ice the victory.
A long jumper from Soucy started the frame. Hasson then set up Henderson for a layup, junior Meaghan Doyle added a free throw, Cavallaro made a layup, Cavallaro hit a runner and with 2:55 to go before halftime, sophomore Paige Lemelin banked home a long shot for a 31-11 advantage.
Murphy called timeout to turn momentum, but his pleading didn’t help.
With 2:25 left in the half, an Amanda Brett free throw ended an 11-0 South Portland run and a 5:45 drought, but Henderson countered with a free throw and Lemelin hit a baseline jumper to give the Red Riots their biggest lead, 34-12.
With 29.7 seconds remaining before the break, Burnham scored on a putback, Deering’s first field goal in 8:54, but that only cut the deficit to 34-14.
In the first 16 minutes, South Portland showed more tenacity and skill and the only remaining drama figured to be the final score.
But the Rams were undergoing a transformation in the locker room, as they had to figure out a way to score without Titherington (who was unavailable to play).
“I really thought it was over, but Coach said in the locker room that it was 0-0,” Burnham said.
“There was no feeling sorry for ourselves,” Murphy said. “I was more upset about our defensive effort, not challenging, giving up wide open shots. It wasn’t falling for us, but we needed to take some pride on the defensive end.”
Ismail fed Amanda Brett for a layup to start the second half, but South Portland senior Holly Black answered with a jumper and it appeared that little would change.
Instead, Brett hit a leaner and Ismail set up Tadsse for a layup to give the Rams some life.
After the Red Riots got a pair of free throws from Graff, Burnham fed Brett for a layup and Ismail buried a 3 to allow the hosts to creep within 13, 38-25.
Hasson answered with a putback, but a Brett bank shot, another Brett bank shot, single free throws from Ismail and Brett (after an offensive rebound) and a Burnham jumper with 1:33 left in the third suddenly cut South Portland’s lead to a mere seven, 40-33.
A driving bank shot from Graff ended the 8-0 run, but two Ramirez foul shots (Hasson was called for her fourth foul on the play) pulled Deering back within seven, 42-35, with eight minutes to play (or so we thought).
The directive for the third period was simple and the Rams had executed it perfectly.
“We wanted to get the ball into Amanda,” Murphy said. “You saw what happened when the ball went to her. They were conceding shots. She was a horse in the second half.”
Brett’s 11 third quarter points had given Deering life and the Rams completed their rally in the fourth.
Just 19 seconds in, Brett scored on a putback.
With 6:57 to play, Brett took a pass from Burnham and hit a short jumper to make it 42-39.
“Cierra’s passes were great,” Brett said. “We’re getting better at the high-low.”
“I’m really comfortable giving Amanda the ball in the post because I know she’s such a difference for our team,” Burnham said.
After Burnham added a free throw to make it a two-point game, Hasson returned, but she (and no one else) had a prayer of stopping what came next.
With 5:42 left in regulation, Ramirez drove the baseline, found herself under the basket and if her angle wasn’t impossible enough, her maybe-5-foot stature seemingly ensured that a reverse layup attempt had no chance, but somehow, the fall snuck over the rim and dropped into the net to make it a brand new ballgame, 42-42.
“(That shot) was crazy,” Burnham said. “I don’t know how she got that to go.”
“Abi’s minutes were spectacular, even though she was in foul trouble,” Murphy said. “She gets off shots better than kids who are bigger. She has great body control for her size.”
With South Portland unable to make shots or get to the line, momentum stayed in Deering’s corner and with 4:29 remaining. Tadsse threaded the needle beautifully with a pass to a cutting Burnham, who made a layup to give the Rams their first lead since 5-4.
A Brett putback with 3:38 to go made it 46-42 Deering, capping a 13-0 run.
With nothing going their way, the Red Riots, to their credit, rose off the deck.
A Hasson free throw eight seconds later ended a 5:46 drought, but with 3:17 to play, Tadsse fed Burnham for another layup and a 48-43 lead.
After the Rams failed to run time off the clock and forced a shot, South Portland capitalized, as Cavallaro hit a 3 with 1:47 left and 21 seconds later, after a Cavallaro steal, Graff’s layup made it a brand new game again, 48-48.
Ismail was fouled with 1:18 remaining and made her first free throw, but missed the second. The rebound came to Doyle and six seconds later, Hasson was fouled. She missed her first attempt, but made the second, tying the game at 49-49.
With 1:04 left, Courtney Brett went to the line for a critical 1-and-1 and calmly made both attempts, putting Deering back on top by two.
The Red Riots’ size and willingness to crash the boards then produced the tying hoop.
After Hasson missed an initial shot, she got her own rebound. Her putback attempt was no good, but Graff got the ball and tried a shot, which also failed. Hasson got that rebound, missed again, but got the ball back and finally managed to put it in with 37.8 seconds to play, tying the game for the fourth and final time, 51-51.
The Rams had a chance to go back on top when Courtney Brett was fouled with 24.3 seconds left, but this time, Brett missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Doyle rebounded.
After Hasson had a shot blocked by Amanda Brett, Deering threw the ball away, giving South Portland the final possession of regulation.
And the Red Riots almost prevailed.
With just over a second to go, a Hasson miss bounced out of bounds off a Ram and South Portland got to inbounds from under their basket. Out of a timeout, the ball came to Hasson up top, who made a move, then threw up a desperation bid, which hit the backboard, hung for a tantalizing second on the rim, then gave in to gravity and fell off.
Teams play four minutes of OT in Maine high school basketball, but it didn’t take that long to become clear that the Rams weren’t going to squander their memorable comeback.
After Amanda Brett and Hasson traded misses, Deering went on top to stay, as off an inbounds set, Courtney Brett passed to Ismail in the lane and Ismail buried her shot.
“It was a big basket,” Ismail said. “We needed that motivation. It was a set play. It just came to me.”
With 2:50 left, Hasson made the front end of a 1-and-1, but she missed the second.
The hosts then transitioned to offense and one final time, Burnham set up Amanda Brett for a layup and a 55-52 lead.
After South Portland turned the ball over, Henderson stole it back, but she couldn’t convert her shot. Doyle kept possession, but Graff’s shot was no good and Amanda Brett got the rebound.
With 1:48 to go, Burnham fed Tadsse for a layup and a two-possession lead, 57-52.
Tadsse then stole the ball, but Cavallaro took it right back. Cavallaro couldn’t cut into the deficit, but the rebound went out of bounds to the Red Riots.
South Portland desperately needed points, but Courtney Brett stole the ball and with 13.5 seconds to play, Courtney Brett set up Burnham for a layup, which proved to be the dagger.
As the final horn sounded, the Rams celebrated their 59-52 overtime victory, sparked by a 45-18 run after halftime.
“It was team effort and intensity,” Amanda Brett said. “All that and defense. We were missing layups and taking quick shots in the first half. I knew at halftime we could come back. Coach got us fired up and we hit a few shots. That got us in the game.”
“It took a lot of composure,” Ismail said. “We just had to relax. We needed to stop worrying about getting shots up. We just needed to play defense.”
“We stepped it up,” Burnham said. “It feels really good. I was really scared, but we pulled through. We knew we had to step it up. It felt really good to come from 20 points down.”
“We were careless with the ball and got sloppy on defense and to their credit, South Portland came back,, but going into overtime, I said, ‘Listen, they won the first half, we won the second half, let’s go win the game,'” Murphy said. “It was our four minutes. We did a good job with it. We made big plays.”
Amanda Brett continued to emerge into a star with 23 points, seven rebounds and a blocked shot.
Burnham added 13 key points and just as importantly, finished with nine assists and seven rebounds.
“Burnham knew where the ball was supposed to go and that allowed her to get open as well,” Murphy said. “She made some big baskets. It was by far her best effort.”
Ismail (five rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block) had seven points.
“Lodia did a great job controlling the ball in the second half,” Murphy said.
Ramirez added six points, Courtney Brett (three assists, three rebounds, two steals) had five, Tadsse (four steals, three rebounds, two assists) four and Donovan one.
Deering had 15 turnovers and made just 12 of 25 free throws, but somehow earned the win.
South Portland was led by Hasson’s 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Cavallaro had 12 points, four steals and three assists. Henderson finished with 10 points, Graff (five rebounds) had six, Lemelin and Soucy four apiece, Black (seven rebounds) two and Doyle (10 boards) one.
The Red Riots outrebounded the Rams, 36-33, but turned the ball over 20 times and made only 11 of 20 free throws.
“I’m disappointed,” said South Portland coach Lynne Hasson. “We had them on the ropes in the first half, but we couldn’t finish them. We had a horrible second half. We had some bad turnovers in overtime. We didn’t read their defense. We didn’t defend very well. We didn’t rebound. I think we’re a better rebounding team, but it just wasn’t there.
“I know my kids wanted it, but we didn’t match their intensity. We got outshustled, outworked and outmuscled. We didn’t match their physical play. Brett’s a very physical inside player and we didn’t have an answer for that. We got a lead and when things started to swing the other way, the girls panicked and played not to lose. We need to figure out how to keep playing. Until we find an answer underneath, we’ll be in trouble.”
Even in defeat, the Red Riots made an impression on the Rams.
“They have a good squad,” Murphy said. “Hasson has been a threat for them now for three years. She’s so dangerous. She’s a threat on the drive and they have kids who can hit it from anywhere.”
South Portland (now fifth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) travels to Massabesic Saturday and plays host to Scarborough Tuesday of next week before welcoming McAuley in its next big showdown three nights later.
The Red Riots have shown they can do great things in stretches, but they’re still seeking a signature victory.
“I told the girls it’s still early in the season,” Hasson said. “There are some things we’ll have to do differently moving forward. This was a big game. We need to beat a top team. Deering, on paper, was behind us. We have to figure out a way.”
Deering, meanwhile, which is now second to Thornton Academy in the Heals, is at Marshwood Friday and returns home Tuesday to meet Windham.
The Rams were highly touted entering the season and as this group continues to evolve, it’s clear why.
“This shows we have the talent to take it all the way,” Ismail said.
“This proves that we have talent and we can come back even as far down as we were,” Amanda Brett said.
“Teams better watch out for us,” Burnham said. “It’s up in the air this year. No one knows what to expect. We have to work on our plays, but I like the direction we’re heading.”
“I think we struggled early because we’re not used to playing together and we had the flu bug, but the league’s good,” Murphy added. “There’s a lot of parity. Now, we have to put this one behind us and get ready to go play Marshwood.”
@ South Portland 50 Deering 48
@ Deering 46 South Portland 32
Deering 49 @ South Portland 35
@ Deering 51 South Portland 45
Deering 44 @ South Portland 31
Deering 46 @ South Portland 24
@ Deering 46 South Portland 35
South Portland 45 @ Deering 35
Deering 30 @ South Portland 28
@ Deering 48 South Portland 28
Western A quarterfinals
Deering 50 South Portland 30
@ South Portland 42 Deering 38
@ South Portland 52 Deering 39
@ Deering 55 South Portland 23
Deering 57 @ South Portland 47
@ Deering 45 South Portland 40
South Portland 42 @ Deering 32
@ South Portland 40 Deering 27
SP-20 14 8 9 1- 52
D- 11 3 21 16 8- 59
SP- Hasson 4-5-13, Cavallaro 5-0-12, Henderson 3-3-10, Graff 2-2-6, Lemelin 2-0-4, Soucy 2-0-4, Black 1-0-2, Doyle 0-1-1
D- A. Brett 10-3-23, Burnham 6-1-13, Ismail 2-2-7. Ramirez 2-2-6, C. Brett 1-3-5, Tadsse 2-0-4, Donovan 0-1-1
SP (3) Cavallaro 2, Henderson 1
D (1) Ismail 1