Deering sophomore Delaney Haines arrives too late as Oxford Hills freshman Julia Colby takes a shot during the teams’ Class AA North Final Friday evening. The Rams played heroically, but ultimately lost an epic 46-41 overtime decision.
Daryn Slover / Sun Journal photo.
AUGUSTA—Heartache and pride.
The three-month odyssey of the Deering girls’ basketball team ultimately culminated with a gutwrenching loss, but the Rams left in their wake much to be proud of.
Friday evening in the Class AA North Final at the Augusta Civic Center, Deering, the forgotten No. 3 seed, overlooked after an up-and-down regular season, gave the top-ranked Oxford Hills Vikings all they could handle for 32 minutes and more, but ultimately fell just short and left the floor lamenting what-if.
A month after Oxford Hills edged Deering on a buzzer beater in the regular season, the teams once again played dead-even basketball, this time for 36 minutes.
The Vikings threatened to run the Rams out of the building in the first period, as sophomore Jadah Adams scored 10 points, Deering was whistled for six fouls and Oxford Hills opened up a 16-7 lead, but behind the poise and strong play of senior Tasia Titherington, who had 11 first half points, the Rams crept back within three, 21-18, at halftime.
When senior Amanda Brett, whose return from injury to play a critical role in the tournament run was one of the highlights of the season, started the second half with a putback and sophomore Mandy Mastropasqua followed with a bank shot, Deering had its first lead.
The Rams would eventually go ahead by six, 30-24, on a Titherington three-point play, but a late, clutch 3-point shot from senior Erin Eastman pulled the Vikings back within a single point, 30-29, after three periods.
The fourth quarter would be intense and points were at a premium.
Oxford Hills went back ahead on two foul shots from freshman Julia Colby, but Titherington tied the game with a free throw.
With 2:20 to play, a Colby runner gave the Vikings the lead, but 35 seconds later, after a steal, Mastropasqua made a layup to tie it again, 33-33.
Deering would get the ball late with a chance to win it and in a sequence that will cause sleepless nights for a long time to come, couldn’t convert on three golden opportunities to punch its ticket to the state final.
First, Titherington drove and had a great look at a layup, but the ball just rolled off the rim. Brett then missed a follow-up shot and after the rebound was tied up and the Rams had the possession arrow in their favor, Titherington inbounded the ball underneath the basket to senior Abi Ramirez, but as time expired, Ramirez had it knocked away and the game went to a four-minute overtime.
Where Oxford Hills finally salted away its regional crown.
An Adams three-point play put the Vikings ahead to stay and Oxford Hills made all nine of its foul shots in the extra session as it went on to survive and advance, 46-41.
Deering got 21 points from Titherington in her swan song, but 13 points apiece from Adams and Colby were enough for the Vikings to improve to 19-2, end the Rams’ season at 13-8 and advance to meet top-ranked, defending state champion Gorham (20-0) in the Class AA state final Saturday, March 4 at 6 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center.
“We played them tough,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “Both teams wouldn’t give an inch. I’m proud as hell of our effort, believe me.”
Deering advanced to its eighth regional final all-time, but Friday was its first since its agonizing one-point, overtime loss to McAuley in an instant classic back in 2011.
For much of this season, it didn’t appear that the Rams would be one of the final teams standing, but they saved their best for last.
Deering finished 11-7 and as the No. 3 seed, held off No. 6 Lewiston (51-47) and knocked off second-ranked Edward Little, the defending regional champion, 46-40, to advance.
Oxford Hills lost just one game all year, to Bangor, and as the top seed, earned a bye into Tuesday’s semifinals, where it handled No. 5 Bangor, 69-36.
Back on Jan. 24, the Vikings beat the host Rams, 38-35, on Colby’s improbable buzzer- beater in the teams’ lone regular season encounter.
Deering had won two of the previous three postseason games, including a 55-43 win in the 2008 Class A state final, but in last year’s semifinals, Oxford Hills sent the Rams packing, 45-35, despite 15 points from Titherington.
This time around, the Vikings won again, but it sure wasn’t easy.
Adams single-handedly gave Oxford Hills an early lead.
Just 23 seconds in, she made a layup. The next time down the floor, Colby set up Adams for a layup and the next time down, Adams was fouled and hit both free throws for a quick 6-0 advantage.
With 6:09 to go in the quarter, the Rams got on the board when Mastropasqua hit a jumper, but Adams scored on another putback for an 8-2 lead, forcing Murphy to call timeout.
It helped, as Titherington knocked down a 3-pointer, but the next seven points went to the Vikings.
After Adams completed her personal 10-point run with yet another putback, Colby set up junior Maighread Laliberte for a fastbreak layup and Adams kicked the ball out to Colby for a 3-ball and a 15-5 lead.
Ramirez countered with a runner, but with 49.7 seconds left, freshman Cecilia Dieterich made a free throw for a 16-7 advantage after eight minutes.
In the second quarter, Deering crept back in the contest.
Titherington started the frame with a free throw and after senior Erin Morton made two foul shots for Oxford Hills, Ramirez drove for a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and Titherington added two free throws to make it 18-13.
With 1:44 remaining in the half, Adams was called for her second foul, on a Titherington drive, and was then whistled for a technical foul, her third, forcing her to sit the remainder of the half.
Titherington made three of the ensuing four free throws and the Rams kept the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead, but couldn’t convert.
With 1:07 left, Laliberte took a 3 which hit the rim and rattled in to stem the surge, but with 47.8 seconds showing, Titherington drove for a layup to pull Deering within three, 21-18, at halftime.
“We fell behind early and digging out of that hole expended a lot of energy,” Murphy said.
Titherington led all first half scorers with 11 points. Adams had 10 points and five boards for Oxford Hills.
In the third period, the Rams went on top.
It took nearly two minutes for a basket in the second half before Brett scored on a putback.
With 5:06 to go, a Mastropasqua runner off the glass gave Deering its first lead, but 13 seconds later, Laliberte countered with a 3.
With 4:16 left, Mastropasqua put Deering ahead with a 3 and 25 seconds later, Haines drove for a four-point lead, forcing Vikings coach Nate Pelletier to call timeout and reinsert Adams into the game.
Oxford Hills then closed the quarter strong.
After Morton made a free throw, Titherington drove for a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw to complete the three-point play for a six-point advantage, but Laliberte scored on a putback and just before the horn, Eastman’s 3 pulled the Vikings within a single point, 30-29.
That set the stage for an intense and dramatic fourth period.
Oxford Hills retook the lead 1:42 into the stanza when Colby made two free throws, but with 4:22 left, Titherington countered with one.
Neither team then scored until 2:20 was showing, when Colby’s runner put the Vikings on top, 33-31.
After a Deering turnover, Mastropasqua came up huge with a steal and layup to tie it, 33-33.
Oxford Hills ran over a minute off the clock, then turned the ball over, allowing the Rams a chance to win it.
Deering ran the clock down to 9.5 seconds left, then took timeout.
The Rams then had three chances to win it.
Ramirez inbounded the ball to Titherington, who drove past a defender and had a look at a layup, but it rimmed out. Brett got the rebound and followed, but her shot too was just off.
The rebound was tied up and Deering kept the ball with a second to go.
Titherington then inbounded to Ramirez under the basket, but she couldn’t handle the pass and the clock hit zero.
“We had some big time looks at the end,” Murphy said. “I saw the lane wide open and I thought (Tasia would) get fouled or finish it. Even on the inbounds play, Abi had it and their kid got a finger on it somehow. She can get up off the floor and make that layup. It was a big play on their part to deny it.”
In Maine high school basketball, teams play four-minute overtime periods and just one would be needed as Oxford Hills won it at the charity stripe.
The Vikings went on top 12 seconds into OT when Colby scored on a runner, but with 3:32 remaining, Haines drove for a pretty reverse layup to tie it.
Nine seconds later, Oxford Hills went on top to stay when Adams, who hadn’t scored since her 10-point first quarter burst, made a bank shot while being fouled, then hit the free throw for the three-point play and a 38-35 lead.
A driving layup by Titherington cut the deficit to one, but Morton countered with two foul shots.
With 1:13 remaining, Titherington was fouled and made both attempts to make it 40-39, but Morton made two more free throws and after Haines missed the front end of a one-and-one, Colby hit two more foul shots with 28.2 seconds to go, pushing the lead to five.
After Titherington was short on a 3, Vikings senior Anna Piirainen got the rebound and out of a timeout, Colby was fouled.
With 7.6 seconds to go, Colby iced it with two free throws and while Titherington drove for one final layup just before the horn, Deering’s dream was dashed, 46-41.
“A lot of teams would have begged to be in our situation,” Murphy said. “I could name certain plays that tore our hearts out, but that’s high school basketball. This group worked hard for me and I’ve got nothing but positive thoughts and comments about each kid.”
Oxford Hills was paced by 13 points, five rebounds and three assists from Colby and 13 points, six rebounds and two steals from Adams.
“(Overtime) was the longest four minutes of my life,” Adams said. “(Going to states) is definitely kind of surreal because last year we were in the same position and our season came to an end right here (with a regional final loss to Edward Little), but we have a chance to move further on and we’re ready.”
Laliberte added nine points and six rebounds, Morton finished with seven points, Eastman had three and Dieterich one.
The Vikings only turned the ball over 10 times in 36 minutes and won the game at the foul line, where they made 17 of 19 attempts, including all nine in the crucible of overtime.
“When it comes down to it, if you make free throws, you’re going to win games,” Pelletier said. “We work on free throws so much because I watch these tournament games and you see teams miss free throws and shoot themselves in the foot. I think the girls really understand why we did it now.”
Now, Oxford Hills aims for its first Gold Ball, but it will have to beat a Gorham team riding a 41-game win streak, one which barely survived South Portland by two points in its regional final.
Oxford Hills and Gorham didn’t meet this season.
The Vikings got to the Class A state final in 1990, 2008 and 2014, but lost to Lawrence, Deering and McAuley, respectively.
Deering was led by Titherington, who had 21 points, five rebounds and a pair of steals as she was named the regional tournament’s most outstanding player. Titherington and Ramirez (five points), who suffered an ankle injury and got banged up at the end of the game and had to be checked for a possible concussion, were the team’s heart and soul and will be missed.
“Tasia has just grown immensely from freshman year,” Murphy said. “Abi we’ve been blessed to have. She’s so mentally and physically tough out there. She caused havoc with the opponents. Two great, great kids.”
Mastropasqua had a breakout game with nine points. Haines added four points and Brett, in her final game in a Rams uniform, scored two points.
“We were happy to get Brett back,” Murphy said. “She was a shadow of herself, but she was big on defense. I wish we had her for a couple weeks first. She went from zero to 100 in Tuesday’s game with no practices.”
Sophomore Victoria Garand didn’t score, but grabbed five rebounds.
Deering finished with a 29-27 rebounding advantage, only turned the ball over 11 times and made 11 of its 15 foul shots.
“Going into the season, I thought we had a really good shot,” Murphy said. “We got here without an all-league player. We’re not very big and we struggled at times to rebound, but when it was said and done, the kids stepped up in their roles and doing the little things to make us competitive. The Gorham game was the only game we were blown out.”
In addition to losing Brett, Ramirez and Titherington, the Rams also part with captain Sydney Giroux, who gave them key minutes off the bench.
Next winter, Garand, Haines, Mastropasqua and sophomore Ashleigh Mathisen will be the building blocks and it’s safe to say that Deering will be in the hunt again.
“We have a nice nucleus of sophomores, but we’ll need other kids to step up,” Murphy said. “Amanda, Tasia, Abi and Sydney are tough to replace, but that’s the beauty of high school sports. Someone will. We’ll keep plugging.”
Sun Journal staff writer Randy Whitehouse contributed to this story.
2016 Class AA North semifinals
Oxford Hills 45 Deering 35
2008 Class A state final
Deering 55 Oxford Hills 43
1991 Western A prelim
Deering 50 Oxford Hills 45