PORTLAND—Last winter, the McAuley and Deering girls’ basketball teams were as even as even could be, producing three memorable battles, culminated by a regional final for the ages, which saw the Lions prevail by a single point en route to the Class A state title.
Friday evening, the rivals met for first time this winter and it soon became clear that little has changed.
McAuley, the preseason favorite, found itself tested for the first time and had to dig deep to pass.
The Rams scored the game’s first seven points to set the tone, but the Lions rallied to tie things up, 12-12, at halftime. Deering took the lead late in the third period and clung to a 23-20 advantage late in regulation, but for the second year in a row, sophomore Allie Clement saved McAuley with a 3-pointer, forcing overtime in the process.
In the extra session, even though senior standout Alexa Coulombe fouled out, the Lions found a way to prevail. A bank shot from sophomore Olivia Smith, who gallantly gutted it out despite an ankle injury, put McAuley ahead to stay and Clement and Smith iced the victory with two late foul shots apiece as the Lions improved to 8-0 with a 30-25 win, dropping the valiant Rams to 6-3 in the process.
“Deering always gives us a really good game, gives us a run for our money, makes us work for everything we get,” said Clement. “It’s always a tough atmosphere, especially since it’s such a big gym with so many people coming to watch. It’s always going to be a good game here. You never want to take it easy. It’s never easy here.”
Since McAuley burst on to the scene as a championship contender in the magical winter of 1999-2000, the Lions and Deering have dominated Western Class A, with McAuley winning the region on seven occasions and the Rams on three. Each team has won three Gold Balls in that span.
Last season, Deering and McAuley were co-favorites and did they ever play the part.
The first meeting, on the Deering end of Stevens Avenue, saw the Lions end a six-game losing streak to the Rams as Rebecca Knight (now playing at the University of Maine) had 26 points and then-freshman Clement hit a late 3 that forced an extra session, where McAuley prevailed, 47-43.
In the regular season finale, at McAuley, the Lions blew a late lead and Deering closed on a 10-0 run to earn a stunning 38-35 triumph, which gave it the top seed for the tournament.
As expected, both squads fought their way through to the regional final, where they put on a show unseen in the annals of Maine girls’ high school basketball.
McAuley was up by a point after one period and at halftime, but the Rams took a two-point lead to the fourth. With time running out, the Lions clung to a 37-36 lead, but Deering star Kayla Burchill (now playing at the University of Vermont) was fouled with 0.5 seconds left and after making the first foul shot, appeared primed to send the Rams to the state final, but her second attempt was no good and it was on to overtime. There, a three-point play from Coulombe and a Knight free throw gave McAuley a two-point lead, but Burchill was fouled with nine seconds to go. Her first attempt was good, but the second was not. Ella Ramonas’ desperation follow-up shot was no good and the Lions got possession and managed to run out the clock on the 41-40 victory.
McAuley then rolled past Hampden Academy, 39-23, in the anti-climactic state final.
Back to this season, the Lions entered as the odds-on favorite and have more than lived up to billing under new coach Billy Goodman. McAuley had little trouble in defeating Noble (62-31), Kennebunk (61-18), Portland (60-19), Marshwood (58-34), Bonny Eagle (61-26), Biddeford (60-19) and Windham (41-32).
The Rams certainly miss Burchill, but still are quite formidable. They opened with successive losses, 54-52 (on a buzzer-beater), to visiting Thornton Academy and 70-60, at Marshwood. 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).
Friday, the Rams had the crowd on their side, but in the only scheduled game between the teams this winter, the Lions again found a way to hand Deering an agonizing loss.
The Rams had their way in the early going and raced to an early 7-0 lead.
Just 36 seconds in, Deering junior Marissa MacMillan used her 6-foot-3-inch frame to draw a foul and hit the second attempt to break the ice. MacMillan then scored on a putback to make it 3-0.
With 5:03 left in the first quarter, McMillan again got an offensive rebound and bounced a shot off the top of the backboard that somehow rattled home. Fifty five seconds later, MacMillan did it again, putting home an offensive rebound that this time danced on the top of the backboard before dropping.
Just like that, the Rams had delivered an opening salvo.
“She’s getting the ball in prime real estate and she has to go up strong,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy.
“I felt Deering had a great game plan and did a great job,” Goodman said. “I felt we were a little out of control. The whole team was out of control.”
McAuley finally got on the board with 3:58 to go in the first when promising freshman Victoria Lux made a free throw.
The Lions then demonstrated just how dangerous they can be as Clement took a pass from Lux and made a layup and six seconds later, Coulombe made a layup after a steal to make it a one possession game, 7-5.
With 1:57 to go in the quarter, McAuley drew even when Clement made a layup, but 21 seconds later, Ramonas hit a jumper and the Rams had a 9-7 lead.
“I don’t think we panicked,” said Clement. “We needed to keep our composure and battle back. We supported one another and didn’t get frustrated.”
Neither team could do much of anything on offense in the second period, where they combined for a mere eight points.
With 5:32 to go before halftime, the Lions took their first lead when senior Sadie DiPierro buried a 3 from the wing and was fouled in the process, but couldn’t convert the rarely seen four-point play when she missed the ensuing free throw.
After three scoreless minutes, the hosts went back on top when Ramonas fed junior Chelsea Saucier for a backdoor layup. At the other end, Coulombe gave McAuley the lead back with a layup, but with 9.2 seconds to go, MacMillan was fouled and hit one free throw to make it a 12-12 game at the break.
After MacMillan dominated the first few minutes, the Lions adjusted and thanks to the defensive brilliance of Coulombe (four blocks in the first 16 minutes), asserted control.
“We knew we had to come out strong because obviously, Deering’s a good team,” said McAuley junior Molly Mack, who was her usual impressive self on defense and the boards. “We knew we had to play strong defense because they’d get it to Marissa and they did, almost every time. We kept our hands up straight to not foul her.”
“I think we stayed straight up and when she turned into the center, there was always someone there,” Coulombe said. “Help defense. We panicked a little bit, but after awhile, we realized we had time.”
There wasn’t much separation in the second half either.
As was the case in the first half, Deering started the third quarter strong as sophomore LeeAnn Downs, who had a solid game, hit a long jumper. After Smith made a free throw, Coulombe passed to Clement, who sank a 3-ball with 5:38 left to put McAuley back on top, 16-14.
The Rams regained the lead, 17-16, when senior Emily Cole buried a shot from behind the arc. After Coulombe put the Lions back ahead with a jumper, the next possession for the hosts ended when Smith knocked the ball free and dove to grab it, calling a timeout a split second before it was tied up. Goodman almost joined the scrum, coming far on to the court to ensure the timeout.
All the excitement went for naught as a Ramonas layup (on a pretty pass from Downs) gave Deering a 19-18 advantage heading for the final stanza.
Three minutes in the fourth, just after Clement missed two free throws, Ramonas fed MacMillan for a layup and a 21-18 lead. With 3:22 to go, a driving layup by Coulombe pulled McAuley within 21-20, ending an 8 minute, 35 second drought in the process.
“We struggled a little bit on offense,” Clement said. “We needed to pull it out. That was my fault. I was forcing things.”
With 1:57 to play, Ramonas was fouled and calmly sank both free throws and the Rams again had a three-point bulge, 23-20.
Just when an upset appeared imminent, the Lions rose off the deck again.
With just over a minute-and-a-half to go, Clement had room to shoot a potential game-tying 3, but it was off the mark. DiPierro managed to get the rebound and passed back to Clement, well behind the 3-point stripe. Clement (shooting at the same basket at which she tied the score in last year’s game) didn’t hesitate and launched a 3 that found nothing but net, tying the score for the third and final time, 23-23.
“I don’t know what it is, but it’s something about this gym,” Clement said. “I was just open and I wanted to shoot it and get my team back in the game. I just shot it. I got the ball back and I had confidence in the shot and it went in.”
“(Allie’s) always ready for the open shot,” Coulombe said. “You want to get it to her.”
“Allie’s a winner,” Goodman added. “She doesn’t care if she fails. She keeps shooting. She believes in herself. She’s a special kid.”
The hosts viewed the shot a little differently.
“We had one defensive breakdown all game and it was that 3,” Murphy lamented. “We had four kids in zone and one playing man-to-man and she wound up with two jump shots all alone off an inbounds play.”
Deering, as it did virtually all night, then ran plenty of time off the clock, but the Rams’ quest to get a good shot, or perhaps the last shot, went awry as Clement stole the ball with 30 seconds to go.
McAuley then looked for the winner, but as time wound down, Clement’s desperation 3 was short and a prayer by Saucier at the buzzer wasn’t even close, although some on hand thought she was fouled.
It was on to overtime.
The Lions won the opening tip in the extra session, but gave the ball away as Saucier came up with a steal. After a MacMillan shot was blocked by Coulombe and Clement missed a jump shot at the other end, Saucier was fouled, but missed both attempts.
With 2:28 left in OT, seconds after DiPierro somehow kept possession in spite of a high pass, Smith managed to get a shot over MacMillan and banked it home to put McAuley ahead to stay, 25-23.
It was the ninth and final lead change of the night.
With 2:07 showing, Ramonas was fouled and made the first free throw, but missed the second. After Coulombe grabbed the rebound, she was fouled by MacMillan, crashing to the court in the process.
Coulombe went to the line and made the first attempt, but missed the second and the lead was back to two, 26-24.
Deering again milked the clock, even though it trailed, and with 1:07 to play, Murphy called timeout. The Rams stayed deliberate and with 34.2 seconds remaining, MacMillan was fouled and even worse for the visitors, it was Coulombe’s fifth, forcing her to take a seat for the duration.
McAuley could have paid dearly, but MacMillan missed both free throws. Smith grabbed the rebound, but Saucier swiped the ball away and had a chance to tie things up, but her shot was no good. Mack grabbed the rebound and passed to Clement, who was fouled with 18.9 seconds to go.
While the free throws suggested pressure, the Lions had just the player they wanted at the line. Not only did Clement help McAuley win a championship as a freshman, but she also led her Firecrackers AAU squad win a national title last summer.
True to form, Clement sank the first free throw and after a timeout, added a second to make it 28-24.
“Those free throws were crucial,” said Clement. “We work on foul shots every practice. Those should be easy. No one is guarding you. At the end of the game, you need to put those in.”
At the other end, Cole missed a 3, but a held ball gave possession back to the Rams. With 5.7 seconds to go, MacMillan was fouled and made the first free throw, cutting the deficit to three, but missed the second.
Smith got the rebound and was fouled by Ramonas (her fifth). With 3.5 seconds left in OT, Smith went to the line and put the finishing touches on the victory with two foul shots and the Lions prevailed, 30-25.
“It was a struggle, but the people who came off the bench were ready and did what they had to do to keep us in the game,” Clement said. “They’re not Alexa, but they did their best and were awesome in that role. We made them work for everything on defense.”
“We prepared for a close game all week,” said Coulombe. “Every team gives us their best game. (Deering’s) still really good, even with Kayla gone. Ella stepped up and so did Emily Cole. When we play our game and don’t rush, it works to our advantage. We needed to calm down and play our game in overtime. It was like the game was starting over again. I think it’s definitely a good thing for us. We’ve been waiting for a game like this.”
“A lot of girls grew up in the second half with little things and did a great job,” added Goodman. “We just played better D and moved our feet. At halftime, we asked Alexa, Sadie and Allie to calm the team down. All three did a great job in the second half and in overtime. When you lose the best defender, it stinks, but Olivia Smith, who couldn’t walk a week ago, stepped up. Molly Mack played great D. Sadie played great D after getting in foul trouble. Allie did a great job. Every girl who played stepped up in the second half.
“Only Alexa, Allie and Sadie were on the floor last year. You can’t buy the experience we got tonight. Hopefully we learned a lot from it. No one won a championship tonight, but we got a lot of experience against a good team. Deering was great. They were patient. They executed their game plan the whole game. Credit to Mike Murphy for getting his team ready. They were well prepared. All the credit to them. They did a great job.”
Clement led all scorers with 12 points (including a pair of 3s). Clement also had four rebounds and two steals.
Coulombe had nine points before fouling out and once again stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, five blocked shots, four steals and an assist.
Smith had five points, five rebounds and two steals, DiPierro had three points (and three steals) and Lux one point (along with four boards). Mack and Welch didn’t score, but each had three rebounds.
The final rebound stats saw each team grab 27. McAuley had 12 steals to five for Deering and blocked seven shots to the Rams’ five. The Lions turned the ball over 12 times and made 7-of-12 foul shots.
For Deering, McMillan finished with 11 points, but she had just three in the second half. She also grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots.
Ramonas finished with seven points and eight boards. Cole had three points and three rebounds, Downs had two points and four boards and Saucier finished with two points, four rebounds and four steals. Senior Maura Densmore added three rebounds with some solid minutes off the bench.
The Rams turned the ball over 16 times and made only 6-of-17 free throws.
“Points were at a premium again,” said Murphy. “It was hard fought. Both teams. If you shoot 6-of-17 from the foul line, you’re not going to win games. We made poor decisions with the ball in the second half. We had layups and we made passes instead of laying the ball in and it cost us. The kids did their job defensively. I was very pleased with how Ramonas manned up on Coulombe. Saucier did a nice job on Clement. Everyone else did a good job of clogging the lane and making kids beat us.
“I like where our kids are at. We started off and couldn’t defend a fire hydrant the first two games and we played these guys tooth-and-nail for 36 minutes. We didn’t back down. We played tough, we played hard. We had them out of sync. We knew that they’re antsy. We wanted to make them work on defense and make them come down on offense and try and score 12 points on one possession and that’s what they did.
“I’m proud. We’ll take the positives out of this and work on the negatives that took place. This is the type of effort needed the rest of the season and the tournament. There are more plusses than minutes. Both teams wanted to win. It didn’t happen for us, but some great things came out it.”
Deering (which fell to sixth in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) returns to action Tuesday at Biddeford then has another huge Friday night home game against Cheverus.
The Rams will build on this effort.
“There’s plenty of season left for sure,” Murphy said. “We hope we can finish these games. Hopefully you get the same type of effort every game. We showed we can go toe-to-toe with the best.”
McAuley (now third in the Heals) also plays next on Tuesday, at home against Massabesic. The Lions host Thornton Academy next Friday.
The defending champs and favorites to do it again know they still have a lot of work to do.
“We need to keep working on offense and playing at a high pace,” said Clement. “Everyone’s going to give us their best shot. We need to work on rebounding, basically everything. There’s no way we can’t improve. We just want it so bad. We just want to win. Everyone’s willing to sacrifice and step into different roles to make sure that happens.”
“Tonight made us a better team,” said Mack. “We know we can’t beat everybody by a big margin. This prepares us for later on in the season for teams we know will be tough. We can always get better. I think we have a solid defense and our press is good, but we really need to work on our offense.”
“We have to improve on patience on offense and handling pressure,” Goodman added. “We started in the second half and hopefully from here, we get better.”
McAuley sophomore Allie Clement goes up over Deering senior Emily Cole while junior Chelsea Saucier looks on. Clement tied the game with a 3 late in regulation, then hit two clutch foul shots in the extra session to help the Lions stay unbeaten.
Deering junior Marissa MacMillan drives against McAuley junior Molly Mack. MacMillan scored the game’s first seven points.
Deering senior Ella Ramonas shoots over McAuley senior Sadie DiPierro.
McAuley sophomore Allie Clement looks to drive but is blanketed by Deering junior Chelsea Saucier.
Two of the state’s premier seniors meet up Friday night as McAuley’s Alexa Coulombe drives past Deering’s Ella Ramonas. The Lions and Rams continued their epic rivalry with another overtime classic, won again by the state champions from McAuley, 30-25.
More photos below.
M- 7 5 6 5 7- 30
D- 9 3 7 4 2- 25
M- Clement 4-2-12, Coulombe 4-1-9, Smith 1-3-5, DiPierro 1-0-3, Lux 0-1-1
D- MacMillan 4-2-10, Ramonas 2-4-8, Cole 1-0-3, Downs 1-0-2, Saucier 1-0-2
M (3) Clement 2, DiPierro 1
D (1) Cole 1
M (27) Coulombe 7, Smith 5, Clement, Lux 4, Mack, Welch 3, DiPierro 1
D (27) Ramonas 8, MacMillan 5, Downs, Saucier 4, Cole, Densmore 3
M (12) Coulombe 4, DiPierro 3, Clement, Smith 2, Welch 1
D (5) Saucier 4, Ramonas 1
M (7) Coulombe 5, Lux, Mack 1
D (5) MacMillan 3, Downs, Saucier 1