The Waynflete girls’ basketball team had waited a long, long time to play in the state final, so the Flyers weren’t about to let an injury to a key player and a 14-point second half deficit get them down Saturday evening.
In a display of heart, will and clutch performance that defined to a T this unique unit, Waynflete saved its best for last and became a team for the ages.
Facing pedigreed Calais in the Class C Final, in the penultimate game ever to be played at the storied Bangor Auditorium, the Flyers, undermanned due to the loss of do-everything sophomore Julianna Harwood to a knee injury, fell behind 9-2 early and trailed by 14 points less than a minute into the second half.
But behind the brilliance of the singular player in program annals and one of the transcendent talents to be found anywhere in the state of Maine, senior Martha Veroneau, Waynflete came to life.
Veroneau scored eight points in the third period to help the Flyers draw within eight and in a less-than-four-minute span of the final stanza, Waynflete came all the way back, taking its first lead on a Veroneau 3 with 4:10 to play.
Calais didn’t give in and retook the lead with 2:53 showing, but a Veroneau leaner with 2:22 to go gave the Flyers the lead for good and with the game and the Gold Ball on the line, Veroneau made seven of eight foul shots to help Waynflete hold on for an inspirational and palpitating 59-55 victory.
Veroneau scored the Flyers’ final 16 points, had 19 in the fourth quarter alone and led all scorers with 34. Senior Rhiannan Jackson added 17 points and senior Catherine Veroneau, junior Leigh Fernandez, sophomore Helen Gray-Bauer and freshman Anne Veroneau all provided key contributions as well as Waynflete finished 20-3 and handed the Blue Devils their first loss in 22 outings.
“It was so much fun,” said Martha Veroneau, still beaming 24 hours after cutting down the nets. “It’s a great way to end it, but it sure was nervewracking.”
For the past four years, Waynflete edged closer and closer to the top, but in 2009, 2010 and 2012, the road ended in the regional final.
This winter, the senior-laden Flyers had higher expectations than ever and did they ever meet them.
Waynflete cruised in its first two outings this season, 59-32 over visiting Old Orchard Beach and 65-33 at home over Traip, a game which saw Veroneau break the 1,000-point threshold for her career. After a hard fought 60-55 loss at defending Western B champion (and eventual Class B runner-up) Lake Region, the Flyers handled host Sacopee (48-17), visiting North Yarmouth Academy (76-22) and Greenville (71-25), in a game played at the Augusta Civic Center.
The arrival of the new year wasn’t kind, however, as Waynflete lost in overtime to Cape Elizabeth, 49-45. The Flyers responded with wins at Fryeburg (53-39) and Old Orchard Beach (50-38), at home over Kents Hills (64-39) and Yarmouth (58-37) and at Traip (67-23). Waynflete then dropped a close 57-49 decision at Wells before bouncing back with one-sided victories at Hebron (81-20), NYA (75-25) and Kents Hill (69-40, a game which saw Veroneau pass her older sister, Margaret, to become the program’s all-time leading scorer), and at home over Greater Portland Christian School (64-23) and Sacopee (63-20).
As the No. 4 seed in Western Class C, the Flyers had to host a preliminary round game, but they rolled past No. 13 Carrabec, 73-36. Waynflete then completed its decisive steamrolling of the region by ousting fifth-ranked Dirigo in the quarterfinals, 69-39, top-ranked Boothbay in the semifinals, 73-52, and finally No. 2 Madison in the regional final, 63-41, to get to the Class C Final for the first time (the Flyers won the Class D championship in 2003, 39-36, over Woodland).
As for Calais, it has a long history of playing into March. The Blue Devils first played in a state game in 1991, losing to Mt. Abram. They won it all in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2010 and also reached the final in 1996, 1998 and 2002.
This winter, Calais handled all 18 regular season foes, but the Blue Devils were pushed in the regional tournament. surviving No. 8 Narraguagus (55-54), fifth-ranked Mattanawcook (46-45) and No. 3 Orono (63-54).
Waynflete and Calais had no playoff history entering the game, but they did square off in a regular season game back on Jan. 8, 2011, a 56-48 Flyers’ triumph.
Saturday, Waynflete, playing without Harwood, a tenacious rebounder and defender, sidelined by a knee injury, started slowly, but put it all together late to deliver its fairy tale ending.
A putback from Calais junior Taylorae Carter gave the Blue Devils an early 2-0 lead. After Martha Veroneau took a pass from Catherine Veroneau and made a layup to tie it, a Carter free throw, followed by a leaner from sophomore Madison McVicar made it 5-2 Calais.
Making matters worse for the Flyers, sophomore Helen Gray-Bauer, filling in for Harwood, was whistled for her second foul just 2 minutes, 22 seconds in.
The Blue Devils continued to pour it on as junior Paige Gillespie scored on a short jumper and sophomore Olivia Smith banked home a shot to make it 9-2, forcing Waynflete coach Brandon Salway to call timeout.
“I value timeouts for late in the game, so for me to call a timeout there, I was concerned,” Salway said. “I didn’t feel we were competitive at any level. We got beaten down the floor and were getting killed on the boards.”
Waynflete snapped out of its early malaise courtesy an unexpected source, freshman reserve Anne Veroneau, who buried a 3-pointer in her first attempt in the ancient building, cutting the deficit back to four points.
“I got the ball open at the top of the key and was like, ‘I guess I’ll shoot it,'” Anne Veroneau said. “I’ve been working on my shot. I felt confident. I was just praying it wouldn’t be an airball. I think it helped us settle in. Once we start hitting shots, we feed off that.”
“Anne had to play huge minutes with no Julianna and with Helen in foul trouble,” Salway said. “That was a big 3.”
Calais bounced right back with a hook shot from Carter and a Carter bank shot to go up eight, but Jackson answered with a 3 and it was 13-8.
“I was definitely nervous,” Jackson said. “I wanted to win and I didn’t want to play badly. That 3 got my confidence up a little. I hadn’t been hitting my 3s.”
After a Smith putback, Catherine Veroneau scored on a driving left-handed layup. Smith set up Gillespie for a layup, but Jackson countered with a driving layup of her own, making it 17-12 Blue Devils.
In the frantic final minute, Smith scored on a runner and senior Sierra Young scored on a putback, but as time expired, Martha Veroneau somehow banked home a desperation 3-pointer and despite the early obstacles, the Flyers were still within hailing distance, down just 21-15 after one quarter.
Despite not shooting well early, Veroneau’s 3-ball would set the tone for late quarter heroics that would ultimately be the difference in a razor thin contest.
“We had to get used to a different atmosphere and floor,” Veroneau said. “I had placement, but my shots weren’t falling. Brandon pulled me over and calmed me down. He said I was better than that. He’s great at getting me calmed down.”
When Jackson made a 3 to start the second period, Waynflete was within a single possession, but McVicar countered with a left-handed leaner. Martha Veroneau made a short jumper after a steal to make it 23-20, but the Blue Devils got a long jumper from senior Meaghan Cavanaugh, a Carter free throw, a putback from Young, two layups from Young and a putback from sophomore Kaylee Johnson to take a seemingly safe 34-20 lead.
With nothing going their way, the Flyers needed a spark heading into the half and they got it courtesy Anne Veroneau, who put home a Jackson miss with just 1.7 seconds remaining, snapping an 11-0 Calais run and a 5 minute, 5 second drought, pulling her team back within a dozen, 34-22, at halftime.
“Rhiannan stole the ball and I was at halfcourt and ran with her,” Anne Veroneau said. “I expected her to make it because she’s such an unbelievable player, but the defender threw her off a little. The ball just fell into my hands and I put it back up. Being down 12 was better than being down 14.”
“That play was good for us going into the locker room,” Martha Veroneau said. “It gave us confidence.”
Waynflete got further inspiration on its walk to the locker room.
“We heard cheering coming from the (Calais locker room),” said Martha Veroneau. “We talked about just playing our game and playing for each other and for Julianna on the bench and for Brandon for getting us to that point. We wanted to chip away. We know what it takes. We had more of an attitude going out for the second half. We talked about just going for it.”
“I was a little concerned because we weren’t playing like ourselves,” said Anne Veroneau. “Catherine said we were playing scared and that we had to slow down. She said,’ We’re so much better than this.'”
Despite the late hoop, Salway feared his team was still very much in danger.
“The basket was definitely helpful, but it was still looking bleak,” Salway said. “I told the girls we couldn’t play much worse. But we were down 20 at Wells and almost came back. I felt like we had four minutes to make something happen one way or the other. We talked about getting it back to six points by the end of the third quarter. We didn’t quite get there.”
As expected, Waynflete (which was outrebounded by 10 and missed all four first half free throws) came out a different team in the third quarter and the Blue Devils found offense much harder to come by as the Flyers’ offense slowly chipped away.
A Carter transition layup put Calais up, 36-22, 33 seconds into the second half, but the Blue Devils would quickly see their lead dissolve.
A driving baseline layup from Martha Veroneau was followed by a Veroneau steal and a pass to Jackson for a bank shot to bring Waynflete back within 10, 36-26.
Carter answered with a free throw, but Veroneau hit two foul shots, then banked home another 3 to make it a 37-31 game.
Calais pushed the lead out again when Cavanaugh made a 3 and later took a pass from Johnson and made a layup to make it 42-31 inside the final minute of the quarter, but Jackson converted a left-handed bank shot while being fouled and made the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play,
Martha Veroneau made a free throw after a steal and after a putback from Smith, Catherine Veroneau was fouled while going back up with an offensive rebound as time expired and made one of two free throws, giving the Flyers six points in the final seconds of the first three periods, cutting the deficit back to a manageable eight, 44-36, as the fourth quarter dawned.
“It was pretty cool for the three sisters to have points at the end of quarters,” Catherine Veroneau said. “I just remember getting hit on the rebound. It was nervewracking to be by myself on the line.”
“Over the last two years, I felt one of our deficiencies was closing out quarters,” said Salway. “Other teams have made shots. It’s nice we made some for a change.”
It didn’t take long for Waynflete to cap its comeback, a surge which coincided with the arrival of the Gold Ball at center court.
“Once the Gold Ball came out, my eye caught it,” Martha Veroneau said. “It just hit us that we had eight minutes left to play together.”
A Jackson free throw started the fourth. Veroneau then canned a long 3 and the Flyers only trailed, 44-40, with 6:32 to play.
Twenty-one seconds later, Jackson pulled off one of the most determined and pivotal plays of the season as she missed a layup, got a rebound, missed another layup, got the rebound again, missed the layup a third time, then got yet another rebound before finally finishing while being fouled. Jackson added the free throw to complete the memorable three-point play and the deficit was a single point, 44-43.
“It was really exciting to put it in finally,” Jackson said. “The whole team got excited. We knew we were going to win.”
“Rhiannan came up clutch,” said Martha Veroneau. “Her steals and her rebounds were huge. We teased her she was padding her stats. It was such a momentum boost for us. She never gave up. She’s such a physical and emotional leader.”
“We were close, but that play just made (winning) realistic,” Salway said. “That’s the attitude we’ve talked about for two years. I don’t care if you miss shots, just get rebounds.”
After Cavanaugh missed the front end of a one-and-one, Waynflete took the lead for the first time.
Not surprisingly, it was Martha Veroneau doing the honors.
With help from both sisters.
After an Anne Veroneau steal, the ball came to Catherine Veroneau, who spotted her twin sister behind the stripe. Martha Veroneau thought about the shot for a split second before letting it fly and it trickled through the net to put the Flyers on top, 46-44.
“That was a great moment,” said Martha Veroneau. “Our family is so invested in the team and in basketball. Coming back from 14 was a huge feat.”
“We definitely enjoy playing together,” said Catherine Veroneau, of her and her sisters. “We’ve done it so long that we know each other’s tendencies on the court.”
“Martha’s 3 was big,” said Jackson. “She’s our rock. She knows what she needed to do. She picked up her game.”
Calais ended Waynflete’s 15-2 run when Gillespie scored on a putback to tie the score with 3:29 remaining. The Blue Devils then retook the lead, 48-46, on another Gillespie putback with 2:53 to go, but the Flyers would answer.
Martha Veroneau tied the game with two free throws with 2:47 to play.
After Smith missed two free throws, Veroneau somehow banked home a tough angle leaner to put Waynflete on top for good, 50-48.
After two Calais misses, Gray-Bauer got the rebound and Veroneau came down and banked home another shot to push the lead to 52-48 with 1:45 to play.
“I kept searching for a play to get Martha going,” Salway said. “We ran the play where she dribbles to her left. She scored on a couple of those jack-knife layups. We were desperate for her to be the real Martha. She became the classic Martha.”
The Blue Devils drew back within two, as McVicar was fouled on an offensive rebound and hit both free throws.
The Flyers then turned the ball over, giving Calais a chance to tie or go ahead, but Gillespie’s leaner went in-and-out and Martha Veroneau outfought the taller Blue Devils for the rebound.
Veroneau was fouled with 59 seconds showing and she was true on both attempts, pushing the lead back to four, 54-50.
Catherine Veroneau then fouled out with 52.8 seconds to go and the game still in the balance.
“Personally, I thought that was a clean block,” Veroneau said. “I felt helpless on the bench, but I had a lot of trust in my team.”
After Johnson missed two foul shots for Calais, Veroneau got another rebound, was again fouled and this time saw her first attempt go in-and-out before getting her second to bounce in, stretching the advantage to 55-50 with 33 seconds to go.
McVicar missed a 3 and Waynflete junior Leigh Fernandez got the rebound, but Fernandez missed two foul shots and junior Malorie Black hit a jumper with her toe on the 3-point line, cutting the Flyers’ lead to 55-52 with 15.4 long seconds still to play.
Waynflete got the ball in to Veroneau and the standout was fouled with 8.7 seconds to go. This time, Veroneau wasn’t about to miss a key free throw and she sank both to push the lead back to five, 57-52.
The win was all but assured, however, no one told McVicar, who banked home a long 3 with 3.4 seconds showing, keeping Calais’ faint hopes alive.
With just over a second left, out of a timeout, the Flyers just had to get the ball inbounds to lock up the win and Jackson calmly waited for Veroneau to make a cut and got the ball to her. Veroneau was fouled with just 0.1 second left on the clock.
“We worked on pressbreak this week,” Veroneau said. “Brandon’s great at getting us into those scenarios in practice. We were hyped up being two points from a state title. I came off a double screen and got the ball. I felt like it still wasn’t over and I had to make (the free throws).
“We had to let Martha get the ball and let her close it out with foul shots,” Salway said. “Fortunately, the day before, we went over a fullcourt pressbreak. No one had done it to us since Scarborough in the preseason. I had a feeling (Calais) might press us. We went over it in practice. We screened for Martha to get the ball. I was concerned because they could have gotten a deflection and a shot.”
The free throws were academic, but Veroneau’s final act in her nonpareil career was to sink both.
“As I was dribbling the ball, I was thinking these were the last free throws I’d take in my career,” Veroneau said. “I recalled playing in my driveway and pretending I’d take free throws in a championship game. It was incredible to be in that moment.”
At last, it was party time.
Waynflete 59 Calais 55.
“It was incredible to celebrate with my sisters, with Brandon and with everyone on the team,” said Martha Veroneau. “It was such a great feeling.”
“I’m doubly excited because I got a Gold Ball and I made it through the season,” said Catherine Veroneau, who lost most of her sophomore and junior campaign to knee injuries. “It was so exciting to be able to rush on to the court. We put so much work into this. It’s a great way to end and it’s a great group to do it with. We like to be tested in a close game. Calais is a great team. That made the win that much more exciting.”
“It was so exciting,” said Anne Veroneau. “I don’t think anything can match up to this. Everything fell into place.”
“It feels really good,” Jackson said. “We earned it. We had a lot of other playoff games that weren’t close, but this one, we had to work hard all the way. It was our first state championship game in basketball. We wanted to win it so badly. It’s unbelievable we pulled it out.”
Martha Veroneau, who didn’t have her typical hot shooting night, still finished with 34 points, 27 of which came after halftime. She also led Waynflete in rebounds with 13, had a stunning nine steals and threw in a couple assists for good measure.
Veroneau, a Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist, who, truth be told, should be named a finalist Monday, capped a career to remember with an effort that won’t be forgotten as she departs with 1,465 points.
“Martha’s an absolutely amazing player,” said Catherine Veroneau, older than Martha by 10 minutes. “She’s just determined. She puts in hard work and stays extra hours to get in her shots. You just know she won’t let us lose. She had that look in her eyes in the fourth quarter. She carried the team on her back.”
“(Martha’s) so fun to play with,” said Anne Veroneau. “She gives it her all. When the Gold Ball came out on the table, she knew she wasn’t going home without it. Her fourth quarter performance was incredible. She’s not a showy player. She just did what she had to do.”
“No one takes (Martha) for granted,” Salway added. “She’s a once-in-a-lifetime player. She did it in the fourth quarter when we needed her the most. She’s a great leader. She shined the brightest with the money on the table. That’s a testament to her work ethic. Her skill and offensive prowess were unmatched, but her heart put her over the top. There will never be another Martha.”
Per usual, Veroneau had plenty of help from a group of teammates who did what it took to finish the job.
Jackson, one of the league’s top athletes, has now won a state title in three straight seasons (also celebrating titles in lacrosse last spring and soccer this fall). She had 17 points, 12 boards and three steals.
“I feel like Rhiannan is still improving,” said Salway. “She gets better and better basketball-wise every week. She made plays she wouldn’t have made a month ago. She’s a great kid. I think she had the play of the game and that helped us get over the hump.”
Anne Veroneau will likely go on to become a Waynflete standout just like older sisters, but she’ll have a hard time producing a more clutch performance than the one she submitted Saturday. Veroneau had just two baskets, good for five points, but they were both enormous and timely and her team wouldn’t have won without them. Veroneau also had four rebounds, an assist and a steal.
“Anne played incredibly well,” said Martha Veroneau. “This was the most she played in a tough game. She was unfazed. I was so happy to get to play one year with her. She’s going to be great the next three years.”
“Anne absolutely stepped up,” Catherine Veroneau said. “She got a couple minutes in early playoff games, but having to play so much in the state game, she did amazing.”
Catherine Veroneau got to play all the way through this year and also played an integral role in the title run. Veroneau had three points, a dozen rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots Saturday.
“Catherine’s gone through so much,” Martha Veroneau said. “For her to play so well, you wonder what she could have done with the two years she was hurt. She set such a great example to the rest of the team.”
“We saw glimpses of how good (Catherine) was after missing two seasons,” Anne Veroneau said.
“Catherine was such an inspiration,” Jackson said. “When we needed her, she stepped up.”
“Catherine played in all 23 games,” added Salway. “She played so hard during the tournament. She played great in the regional final and saved her best for the second half of the state final. It was great to see her finish that way. She overcame a lot of adversity. It was very inspirational.”
Gray-Bauer didn’t score, but had two rebounds, while Fernandez had two steals, two rebounds, a block and an assist.
“Helen played phenomenal,” said Martha Veroneau. “She came in and wasn’t fazed. It was devastating not to have Julianna, but it sums up our team that we could overcome.”
Harwood was missed, but Waynflete rose to the occasion.
“It was definitely weird playing without Julianna,” said Catherine Veroneau.
“Once we knew she was going to be out, which was devastating for the team, we knew we’d all have to step up and try to fill her shoes,” said Anne Veroneau. “Helen took over her starter spot and gave her all. I knew I’d have to play more. It was a little daunting.”
“Julianna gets a lot of rebounds and plays inside defense as our center,” Jackson said. “Catherine and I had to take over her role.”
The Flyers were outrebounded, 48-45, but were much better on the glass in the second half. They had 17 steals, overcame 17 turnovers by forcing 27 and made 16-of-26 foul shots to prevail.
Calais had a balanced attack, led by 11 points from Carter (who also had a game-high 14 rebounds). McVicar had nine points (and four boards), Gillespie (11 rebounds, a steal and a block), Smith (nine rebounds) and Young eight points apiece, Cavanaugh seven and Black and Johnson two each.
The Blue Devils might have been cost a championship by their inability to make free throws. Out of 15 attempts, Calais made only five.
The loss of Jackson, Catherine Veroneau and Martha Veroneau will be felt mightily and the seniors will have a hard time saying goodbye.
“We’ve been together since freshman year,” said Jackson. “We worked so hard to get to this point.”
“I didn’t want to take off my uniform,” Martha Veroneau said. “It’s been such a great experience. It will be hard not going to practice this week.”
“It’s been so much fun, but I’m sad it ended,” Catherine Veroneau said.
“The three seniors were a very special group,” Salway added. “I won’t have three like them again.”
Even with their absence, it’s not as if the Flyers won’t be in contention again next winter.
Fernandez will lead the senior class, Gray-Bauer and Harwood will be juniors and Anne Veroneau, joined by Arianna Giguere, who saw limited minutes Saturday, will pace the sophomores. There’s always young talent in the pipeline too, so Waynflete will be in position to go for a repeat.
“Rhiannan, Catherine and Martha will be missed greatly,” Anne Veroneau said. “Their leadership was incredible. With two returning starters and having others step up, I feel next year we’ll still be good.”
“I haven’t thought about next year at all,” Salway said. “That’s not usually the case. I haven’t gotten there yet. We do have great kids coming back.”
Whatever happens next season, this Flyers team will be the one by which all future editions are measured.
“It didn’t exactly go as scripted,” Salway said. “It was nice to win a close game. We won a lot of games this year with good shooting, but this was heart and not quitting. We won ugly, but it’s a great win. This group put in the time. Personally, it’s satisfying, but it’s more satisfying because I feel the girls really deserved it. It was incredible afterwards. It was a ‘locker-banging’ win. You don’t do that unless it’s a big game. This group deserved it. I’ve never been more proud.”
Waynflete 39 Washburn 36
The 2012-13 Class C girls’ basketball champion Waynflete Flyers posed with their new Gold Ball following Saturday night’s epic 59-55 come-from-behind victory over Calais.
W- 15 7 14 23- 59
C- 21 13 10 11- 55
W- M. Veroneau 9-12-34, Jackson 6-3-17, A. Veroneau 2-0-5, C. Veroneau 1-1-3
C- Carter 4-3-11, McVicar 3-2-9, Gillespie 4-0-8, Smith 4-0-8, Young 4-0-8, Cavanaugh 3-0-7, Black 1-0-2, Johnson 1-0-2
W (7) M. Veroneau 4, Jackson 2, A. Veroneau 1
C (2) Cavanaugh, McVicar 1
W (45) M. Veroneau 13, Jackson, C. Veroneau 12, A. Veroneau 4, Fernandez, Gray-Bauer 2
C (48) Carter 14, Gillespie 11, Smith 9, Johnson, McVicar 4, Cavanaugh, Young 2, Black, Cundiff 1
W (17) M. Veroneau 9, Jackson 3, Fernandez, C. Veroneau 2, A. Veroneau 1
C (7) Black 2, Carter, Cavanaugh, Gillespie, Smith, Young 1
W (3) C. Veroneau 2, Fernandez 1
C (1) Gillespie 1