Hoops hysteria heating up

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(For the complete Deering-Oxford Hills, Portland-Edward Little and Waynflete-Wiscasset boys’ and Deering-Cheverus and Deering-Oxford Hills girls’ game stories, with photos, see theforecaster.net)

It didn’t take long for the newfangled high school basketball tournament to make an impact on local teams.

At press time, the Deering, Portland and Waynflete boys and the Deering and McAuley girls were still standing.

Here’s a look back at the early rounds and a glimpse at what’s on tap:

Two down, two left

Waynflete’s girls took the court first last Tuesday when they went to Madison for a Class C South preliminary round contest.

The Flyers, ranked 13th in the region, met No. 4 Madison, and gave the Bulldogs a fight to the finish. Waynflete was down 10 points entering the fourth quarter, but rallied before falling one point short in a 39-38 loss. Lydia Giguere had 18 points and Annika Brooks added 12 points and nine rebounds as the Flyers finished 7-12. 

“Our team showed a tremendous amount of resilience, heart and grit,” said Waynflete first-year coach Mike Jefferds. “We entered the playoffs without two of our starters and senior captains due to injury. The girls were ready to step up and fill the void however. Ali Pope and freshman Emi Boedeker filled in and played really well for us. Much like a lot of games over the season, we found ourselves in a hole late, but we never gave up. Sophomores Izzy Burdick and Lydia Giguere did a great job of playing inspired basketball and exhibited great floor leadership, while Annika Brooks continued her outstanding season and dominance in the paint and on the boards. LZ Olney and Ava Farrar provided us with some really solid minutes off the bench. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and our comeback fell just short, but we’re proud of our effort.

“Our season was a success although we fell short of our goal by one point. This was a transition year for us with new coaches and two senior starters who did not play with the team last year. The girls worked extremely hard to learn all the new things we were throwing at them and despite a tough schedule, never got down on themselves or the process. The school, players and parents were so accepting of us as new coaches and supportive of the girls that it made for a wonderful experience. Added to that experience was the very fortunate opportunity we had to have coach Ron Cote on our staff. His experience, energy and knowledge of the game were so beneficial for the girls and for me as a first-year coach. We all feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to have him with us.”

Look for Waynflete to learn from this experience and be back among the top Class C South contenders in 2016-17.

“We are very excited for the future,” Jefferds said. “We will feel the sting of losing our two seniors, Anne Veroneau and Arianna Giguere, but feel the talent we have returning gained some great experience this year and those seniors set such a great example for us to follow for the future. We are committed to each other and to improvement as a team and individually, as players and coaches.”

Last Wednesday, Cheverus and Deering traveled to Augusta for a Class AA North quarterfinal. Although the crowd was sparse (maybe 200 fans for a game between two Portland teams meeting in Augusta on Ash Wednesday), the teams produced a thriller.

The fourth-ranked Rams couldn’t buy a basket in the first half, while No. 5 Cheverus, behind the long range shooting acumen of  Abby Cavallaro, seemingly couldn’t miss as it built a 27-12 lead. Deering started to show life late in the half, however, and despite all of its travails, only trailed by 10, 27-17, at the break.

And in the second half, the Rams returned to form, thanks to a team-wide effort.

Sparkplug Abi Ramirez, who was hindered by an injured ankle and foul trouble, sandwiched layups around a layup from freshman Delaney Haines to get Deering right back in the game. Then, an improbable 3-point shot from well behind the stripe from Cassidy Coyne provided even more energy. The Stags would hold the lead until the waning seconds of the third quarter, when a leaner from Haines made it 34-34 heading for the fourth period.

There, the Rams put Cheverus away.

Forty-four seconds in, freshman Mandy Mastropasqua’s runner off the glass gave Deering its first lead and the Rams wouldn’t look back. With 3:31 to play, Ramirez, who had been sitting with four fouls, returned to action and made successive layups to help the Rams stretch the lead to six, 42-36.

“I sprained my ankle against Portland (in the regular season finale) on a fastbreak layup,” Ramirez said. “It was excruciating pain going in for the layups tonight, but it was a once in a lifetime game and I couldn’t think about it. I just wanted to go out there, play my game and get the team the ‘W.’ I’d rather go out and hustle and go to the basket and go out trying than to play scared.”

After Emme Poulin pulled the Stags within four, Ramirez set up Haines for a layup, Ramirez made two free throws and junior Tasia Titherington sank four free throws down the stretch to help Deering survive and advance, 50-43.

Titherington led the Rams with 16 points, Haines added 13 and Ramirez also finished in double figures with 10.

“To be honest, I was about to give up on the game, but we had that pep talk in the locker room (at halftime), we all were fired up and we knew we had a chance,” Ramirez said.

“I just told them, it’s the best tournament win, other than winning the state championship, I’ve been involved in,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “The girls didn’t quit or put their heads down. We stopped playing tentative.”

For much of the game, Cheverus appeared on its way to just the third quarterfinal round victory in program history, but the still-young Stags weren’t able to finish strong and wound up 10-9.

“Offensively, we did some things very well in the first half,” Cheverus coach Steve Huntington said. “I think our defense surprised them by playing a 1-3-1 zone. It might have startled them a little. We held them at bay and Abby shot the ball well. That helped. We did a good job getting in the paint and that led to Abby’s 3s. The first half was the best half that anyone in the league I bet has played all year. We showcased our skills and what we can do. In the second half, we just were a young team. Deering went on a run and we just couldn’t control their dribble penetration. They got into the paint.

“We just couldn’t put a complete game together all season. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but the girls grew up and learned a few things. I was certainly very proud of the girls.”

Cavallaro did have a terrific outing, leading all scorers with 20 points, which included six of Cheverus’ nine 3-pointers. Poulin added 12 points.

The Stags don’t have a single senior on the roster, which suggests that they’ll be very much in the hunt next season.  

“We’ve put the pieces together,” Huntington said. “We’ll get to work this summer. We’re looking forward to next year. We have to be better defensively. We have to get out and pressure. Offensively, we can’t have these lulls. We’re too good for that to happen.” 

Deering (12-7) advanced to meet top-ranked Oxford Hills (15-3) in the semifinals Tuesday evening in Augusta.

The Rams lost the regular season meeting, 44-37, in Oxford Jan. 18. Deering won both prior playoff meetings with a 55-43 victory in the 2008 Class A Final the most recent.

If Deering advanced to its first regional final in five years, it would face either No. 2 Edward Little (14-4) or No. 6 Bangor (10-9) Friday at 7:05 p.m. in Augusta. The Rams beat both teams in the regular season, downing the visiting Red Eddies, 61-47, Dec. 11, and winning at Bangor, 46-41, eight days later. Deering has no playoff history versus either school.

Portland missed the playoffs this season with a 2-16 record.

In Class AA South, McAuley went 16-2, earned the No. 2 seed and had a bye into the semifinals where it faced No. 3 South Portland (16-3) Tuesday afternoon in Portland.

The teams split this year, with the Lions winning at home in the opener Dec. 4, 46-37, and the Red Riots returning the favor at home Jan. 12, 57-45, a victory which snapped an eight-year, 11-game losing streak at the hands of McAuley. South Portland won three of the five prior playoff meetings, but the Lions took the last two, including a 39-34 semifinal round triumph a year ago.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” said McAuley coach Billy Goodman. “They’ve had a great season. They played a really good game against us last time out. We have to be focused on what we’ve done lately to make it a good game.”

The McAuley-South Portland winner meets either No. 1 Gorham (18-0) or No. 5 Bonny Eagle (9-10) in the regional final Friday at 7 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland (formerly known as the Cumberland County Civic Center).

The Lions won at the Scots, 59-38, Dec. 11 and lost at home to the Rams, 53-48, Jan. 14. McAuley has never faced Bonny Eagle in the postseason. The Lions are 4-0 all-time in the tournament versus Gorham, with a 46-31 victory in the 2013 quarterfinals the most recent.

The Class AA state final is Saturday, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena.

Showdown upcoming?

At press time, the powerhouse Deering and Portland boys’ teams were one away from squaring off in the Class AA Final, while Waynflete was hopeful of a deep run in Class C South.

Cheverus hoped to win its first tournament game, but instead, the Stags suffered a painful loss to Edward Little in the AA North quarterfinals in Augusta last Thursday.

Cheverus, ranked fifth, and the fourth-ranked Red Eddies were close throughout. The Stags led, 11-9, after one period, while Edward Little took a 21-15 advantage to halftime and a 28-25 lead to the fourth quarter. There, Cheverus seemingly took control with a 11-0 run, but the Red Eddies rallied from a 43-36 deficit, scoring the final 10 points to win, 46-43, and leave the Stags in agony. Jack Casale had 16 points and 15 rebounds and Andrew Roberts added 11 points and six boards, but it wasn’t enough as Cheverus wound up 9-10.

“It was a tough game to swallow,” said Stags first-year coach Ryan Soucie. “Credit EL as they played disciplined basketball and executed their game plan. We struggled early to execute our plan on offense, which was getting the ball into the paint and not relying on the 3-point shot. Credit their defense. They played a triangle-and-two for a majority of the game in an effort to slow our offense and it was effective until we were able to figure it out and get some easier baskets in the second half. We made a defensive adjustment at halftime, switching from zone to man, and for the most part we were able to get stops when we needed to in the second half and I think that sparked our offense a bit. We got the ball inside more effectively in the second half and eventually took the lead in the fourth quarter. We were up seven with a little over a minute left, but made a series of untimely errors and turned the ball over against their pressure and that allowed them back in. 

“Anytime your season ends earlier than you want it to, you’re disappointed and that’s how I feel. I felt going into this game we were playing our best basketball of the season and I was optimistic we could make a run, but it wasn’t meant to be. Overall, our season was a mix of ups and downs. I’m proud of our group of seniors and I am going to miss the positivity, energy and team first attitude they brought to the table this season.”

Cheverus is primed to make a jump up the standings next winter.

“Looking ahead, I’m hoping our underclassmen use the outcome of this season as motivation,” Soucie said. “I’m optimistic about the group we have returning and I believe our program is trending in the right direction. I really love our young kids and I believe the future is bright, next year and beyond. We play in the toughest league in the state, in my opinion, and winning in the SMAA and Class AA is extremely tough. I think our players have a better understanding of that now. My hope is that they are willing to put in the work during the offseason, both on the court and in the weight room, in order to elevate our program back to the upper echelon of our region.”

Edward Little (11-8) advanced to meet Portland, the top-ranked team in AA North after a 17-1 regular season, in the semifinals Tuesday night in Augusta. The Bulldogs downed the visiting Red Eddies, 82-64, three days before Christmas. Portland was 6-2 in previous playoff meetings against Edward Little, with a 65-60 loss in the 2003 Western A semifinals the most recent.

No. 2 Deering (16-2) met No. 3 Oxford Hills (15-4) in its semifinal Tuesday night after the Vikings eliminated No. 6 Bangor in the quarterfinal round. On Jan. 18, the Rams beat visiting Oxford Hills, 81-59. Deering  last met Oxford Hills in the playoffs in the 1964 Class LL quarterfinals (a 76-57 Rams’ victory).

If the Bulldogs and Rams, as expected, advanced to the regional final, they’ll square off Friday at 8:45 p.m. in Augusta. Portland won both regular season meetings: 61-51 at Deering Jan. 14 and 74-62 at home 15 days later. The teams have played each of the past two years in the postseason, punctuated by the Bulldogs’ thrilling 59-57 semifinal triumph a year ago. The teams last met in a regional final 10 years ago, when the Rams prevailed, 70-64, en route to their first state title.

The Class AA state championship game is Saturday, Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

In Class C South, Waynflete earned the No. 4 seed after a 16-2 campaign and met No. 5 Wiscasset (14-5) in Monday’s quarterfinals in Augusta. The Flyers didn’t face Wiscasset this season. Waynflete won both prior playoff meetings: 50-48 in overtime in the 2011 Western C quarterfinals and 59-48 in the Western C quarterfinal a year later.

If the Flyers advance, they’ll likely face top-ranked Dirigo (17-1) in the semifinals Thursday at 7 p.m. in Augusta. The teams didn’t play in the regular season. The Cougars won three of four previous playoff meetings, including a 58-36 triumph a year ago in the semifinals.

The Class C South Final is Saturday at 8:45 p.m. in Augusta.

The Class C state championship game is Saturday, Feb. 27 at 8:45 p.m. in Augusta.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Sidebar Elements

Deering’s Abi Ramirez drives past Cheverus’ Emme Poulin en route to the basket during the Rams’ come-from-behind 50-43 victory in last Wednesday’s Class AA North quarterfinal. Deering advanced to meet top-ranked Oxford Hills in the semifinals.

Cheverus’ Austin Boudreau defends Edward Little’s Samatar Iman during the Stags’ 46-43 loss in the Class AA North quarterfinals last week. The Stags let a late lead slip away. 

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.