PORTLAND—To say that the favored teams dominated in Tuesday night’s Cheverus-Deering boys’-girls’ basketball doubleheader would be a mighty understatement.
In the girls’ contest, the two-time defending Class A state champion Rams reminded everyone why they still must be taken seriously as they rode a sizzling shooting performance from junior standout Kayla Burchill and a solid defensive effort to a 66-34 triumph over the upstart Stags.
In the nightcap, the Cheverus boys stayed perfect by putting on an absolute clinic, racing to a 15-0 lead and never looking back en route to a 72-42 victory over a Deering squad that was left shellshocked.
Still the champs
When Deering’s girls were upset at Sanford Dec. 8, then failed to hold a double-digit lead in a loss at Scarborough three nights later, it appeared as if the Rams’ two-year reign as the best team in the state was in jeopardy. But Deering has since hit its stride and entered Tuesday’s contest on a six-game win streak.
“When the Sanford thing happened, the pressure was off,” Deering coach Mike Murphy said. “I thought we played three good quarters against Scarborough, then we ran out of gas. They’re still the team to beat, but I like the way we’re playing. We had a great holiday tournament in Augusta. We beat Skowhegan twice. I think they’re the best team up north”
Cheverus, meanwhile, won nine of its first 10 contests, establishing a new program victory mark, but the Stags’ five-game winning streak came to end Saturday with a 16-point home loss to Scarborough.
Cheverus hoped to hang tough against the Rams, but as it did against the Red Storm, dug too deep a hole right out of the gate.
When Deering senior Maria Salamone made a layup 53 seconds in, the Rams were ahead to stay.
Then, Burchill erupted. With 6:37 left in the first period, she drained a 3 pointer. Thirty-nine seconds later, she hit another and when senior Claire Ramonas followed with a layup, the hosts were up 10-0 just 3 minutes, 8 seconds in, forcing Stags’ coach Richie Ashley to call timeout.
It didn’t help.
With 4:21 left, Burchill got free for another 3-pointer. After Cheverus finally got on the board 10 seconds later on a driving layup from sophomore Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy, Burchill canned one more from behind the arc for a commanding 16-2 advantage.
“Yesterday, I was shooting well in practice and I shot well in warmups,” Burchill said. “I made my first shot and I wasn’t going to hold back. I was very out of shape in the beginning of the season, but after I started practicing and running, I was good.”
“People don’t realize Kayla missed five weeks with tendinitis,” added Murphy. “Those first couple weeks were her first weeks back. She’s starting to come through.”
The Stags got back-to-back hoops from freshman Mikayla Mayberry and senior Theresa Hendrix, but Rams sophomore Ella Ramonas answered with a jump shot. After Palazzi-Leahy made a free throw and Hendrix sank a jumper to make it 18-9, the hosts ended the quarter with a layup from Salamone and a jumper from junior Aarika Viola for a 22-9 lead.
Eight turnovers and Burchill’s 12 points helped doom the visitors.
“(Deering) shot the lights out,” said Cheverus coach Richie Ashley. “What can you do if a girl’s hitting from 26-feet out? We didn’t get many shots in the beginning. We were overwhelmed. They had a barrage. It’s hard to come back.”
Early in the second, it appeared as if the Stags might yet make a game of it before the Rams ended all doubt.
Burchill started the quarter with a jump shot for a 24-9 lead, but Palazzi-Leahy made a bank shot, Hendrix hit a runner off the glass and freshman Victoria Nappi sank a 3 of her own to make it a 24-16 game.
Deering answered with the next nine to re-seize control. Claire Ramonas hit a leaner to get the run started. Burchill made two foul shots, junior Britni Mikulanecz sank one, Burchill buried two more, then Mikulanecz hit a runner for a 33-16 lead.
After Hendrix ended the run with a jumper, Claire Ramonas hit a long jump shot and Salamone made a layup to make it 37-18. Freshman Brooke Flaherty answered with a layup for Cheverus, but a layup from Burchill and a putback at the horn from Salamone capped a 17-4 quarter-ending surge and gave the Rams a 41-20 lead at the break.
In the third, Palazzi-Leahy scored on a putback at the 6:47 mark, but the Stags wouldn’t score again. The hosts got the final 15 points of the quarter to put it away. Ella Ramonas started the run with a runner, Burchill made another 3, Claire Ramonas scored on a driving layup, Ella Ramonas made a runner, freshman Chelsae Saucier hit a jumper, Burchill made a short jumper and Ella Ramonas’s jump shot got Deering a 56-22 lead with eight minutes to go.
Down the stretch, Cheverus got no closer than 32 and didn’t garner more points as a team than Burchill had as an individual until 50.9 seconds remained. A layup from Mayberry in the waning seconds accounted for the 66-34 final score.
“We started off really well,” said Ella Ramonas. “Kayla was just making all her shots and we just came out strong and didn’t turn it over and kept the intensity up and focused. The plan was to try not to let Palazzi get the ball and try and limit their dishes down low. We’re just starting to click. We’re playing really well together. We’re running our offense better. I think we’re at that level where everyone knows we’re back and we know we can compete with anyone.”
“We wanted to make a statement,” Burchill said. “We want to prove we’re still one of the top teams in the state, even though we have a couple losses. We’re still as strong. Now that we know our roles, I feel like we can three-peat, hopefully.”
“We’ve played great in minutes, but it hasn’t been consistent,” Murphy added. “It was a great team effort. We had 20 assists to just 10 turnovers. Obviously, we played terrific team defense. Our kids are starting to jell. We’re starting three kids who started on JV last year. Britini’s not close to 100 percent with her foot injury. She was terrific in the minutes she gave us. The other kids had to come around. It’s taken us some time.”
Burchill led all scorers with 31 points (hitting 5-of-8 3-pointers). Claire Ramonas added 11, while Ella Ramonas and Salamone both finished with eight.
“When you play good defense and the ball goes in early, the defense plays that much harder for being rewarded,” Murphy said. “Claire was tough. Burchill knocked down jumpers and was great on the defensive end as well. Ella was terrific on Hendrix on the ball. I’m very pleased.”
Cheverus fell to 9-3 with the loss and will look to regroup. The Stags (who are fifth in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) are idle until Jan. 22 when they go to South Portland.
“I don’t know what to take from this,” Ashley said. “We’re a young team. They’re the back-to-back state champs. They played hard and played well. I was proud of my girls for playing hard. They had a good attitude and never quit.
“We have six games left. We’re 9-3. No Cheverus team had ever won nine games. It’s good to have realistic expectations. We have to get better. We have nine days off to get better. This was a good measuring stick, playing Scarborough and Deering back-to-back.”
Deering (now 8-2 and second to Scarborough in Western A) is at Noble Thursday and visits Westbrook Monday. The Rams don’t face Scarborough again, but still have two games remaining with Stevens Avenue rival McAuley.
“I think McAuley’s the most dangerous team out there,” Murphy said. “With Knight, they’re scary. They gave us the toughest tournament game last year. Those kids are all back.”
Putting on a show
The Cheverus boys won the 2008 Class A title and appeared repeat-bound last winter before slumping in the tournament and losing to eventual champion Thornton Academy in the semifinals. This year’s team is already looking championship-worthy. The Stags entered Tuesday’s contest 9-0 and also won three holiday tournament games, including a 49-37 decision over Deering in the title tilt.
The Rams have impressed as well this winter, winning seven of nine prior to Cheverus’ visit, with the lone setbacks being close decisions to Thornton Academy and South Portland.
While Deering was able to hang with Cheverus in the holiday tournament, the Rams had absolutely no answers for the Stags this time around.
Cheverus junior Griffin Brady got the party started with a jump shot. Sophomore Louis DiStasio followed with a 3-pointer, Brady scored on a putback, senior Indiana Faithfull hit a 3, DiStasio followed with a jumper and with 1:15 to go, Brady buried a 3 from the left wing for a 15-0 lead.
Deering coach Dan LeGage lamented to his assistants that his team was going to get shut out for the quarter, but with 23.5 seconds left, senior Eddie Tirabassi finally got the Rams on the board with a putback. Then, with just 1 second to go, in a fitting ending to the period, sophomore Cameron Olson tipped home Faithfull’s miss in impressive fashion to give the Stags a stunning and commanding 17-2 advantage.
“Coming out strong helped,” said DiStasio. “We just attacked harder. We sped their offense up, which I think hurt them. We try to do same thing for every team. We pressure, move the ball and do what we can.”
“There were some spectacular plays,” added Cheverus coach Bob Brown. “We played well together. To me, the beauty of the whole thing, was that we really played together. I think we were ready for what they were going to do. We didn’t panic. We had possessions and scored and it was (15-0). That really destroyed what they were trying to do.”
Things didn’t improve for the home team in the second.
After Olson started the period with a layup, Tirabassi answered with one of his own, but DiStasio hit a turnaround jumper, then, in transition, took a highlight-reel pass from Olson and made a layup while being fouled. He canned the and-one and the Stags had a 24-4 lead. A putback from junior Jamie Ross momentarily stemmed the tide, but DiStasio hit yet another 3 and Faithfull threaded the needle to set up junior Alex Furness for a layup and a 29-6 bulge.
“We just moved the ball well,” DiStasio said. “That was our plan. Indy did a good job moving it around and I just got open.”
Junior Riko Augustino sandwiched a pair of floaters around two foul shots from Cheverus junior Peter Gwilym to make it 31-10. After Gwilym made a layup, Tirabassi answered with a jumper. Brady then made a layup and Tirabassi did the same to make it 35-14 at halftime.
The Rams did not score back-to-back hoops at any point in the first 16 minutes.
Another Cheverus surge to start the third ended all drama and inspired LeGage to mutter, “This is a good, old-fashioned (beating).”
Brady got it started with a hook shot. Faithfull followed with a 3, then provided highlight-reel material again with a behind-the-back pass to Brady for a layup. After senior Dennis Ross made a layup for the hosts, Faithfull hit two foul shots and it was 44-16.
By quarter’s end, the Stags had a 51-22 lead and after a foul-plagued, reserve-heavy fourth period, Cheverus slammed the door on its 72-42 win.
“I thought we played well,” Brown said. “We had a lot of contributions. The kids feel good. They like to play with each other. There are no individual personalities. We play very good defense. Offensively, we play together. It’s a very good combination.”
DiStasio led all scorers with 19 points. Brady and Faithfull both added 13. Eleven different Stags scored.
Cheverus (10-0 and first in the Western A Heals) visits Portland Friday night and hosts Biddeford in a playoff rematch Monday.
Deering (7-3 and fifth in Western A), which was paced by Tirabassi’s 11 points, looks to bounce back Friday night at home versus Noble. Tuesday, the Rams are at Westbrook.
Cheverus hosts Deering on Feb. 2.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org