In Portland, basketball season was something special

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(Ed. Note: Watch for a recap of the rest of the winter sports season next week)

Entering the 2010-11 boys’ and girls’ basketball season, consensus held that it wasn’t going to be anything special, that the quality of play would be down and that there weren’t that many talented players in our midst.

Guess again.

In reality, the season which just ended proved to be one for the memory banks, as all five local schools produced thrills from December into the tournament.

This winter, the girls took centerstage as one of the state’s flagship programs, and McAuley fought its way back to the pinnacle. Along the way, the Lions had to get through a talented and determined rival in Deering. McAuley finally dispatched the Rams for good in an epic regional final and went on to win Class A for the first time in eight seasons.

Cheverus posted its best mark to date. Waynflete once again defied the pundits and made a deep run in the Western C tournament.

On the boys’ side, Cheverus once again made headlines, this season (happily) just on the floor, as the Stags went undefeated and returned to the state final before being upset by Bangor.

Deering made it to the Civic Center for the first time in five seasons, Portland came from nowhere to be a semifinalist and Waynflete enjoyed its best run since moving up to Class C.

Before basketball recedes into the background, at least somewhat, here’s a look back at the five top stories of the 2010-11 campaign.

5) Waynflete teams steal the show

Neither Waynflete team was expected to go far in Western C this year. The boys didn’t even made the playoffs a year ago, while the girls lost their standout, Morgan Woodhouse, to graduation. Both teams enjoyed solid regular seasons, as the boys won 11 of 16 games and the girls capturing 15 of 18. The boys went to Augusta as a No. 4 seed and held off No. 5 Wiscasset in a double-overtime classic in the quarterfinals behind the heroics of senior Joe Veroneau. The girls took the floor the next day and Martha Veroneau did her brother one better, setting a new Western C tournament record with seven 3-pointers as the second-seeded Flyers downed No. 7 St. Dom’s. Both squads went home in the semifinals, the boys losing to top-ranked Dirigo and the girls to No. 3 Livermore Falls, but there’s no denying the boys and girls in green and white had sensational runs.

4) Deering boys make it to Civic Center

The Deering boys won the 2006 Class A state title, but hadn’t won a postseason game since. After an up-and-down 10-8 campaign, the Rams entered the tournament as a No. 6 seed, but made an immediate statement by upsetting No. 3 Thornton Academy, 41-33, in the quarterfinals at the Portland Expo behind the scoring of junior Jon Amabile and the leadership of senior Jamie Ross. Deering punched its ticket to the semifinals at the Cumberland County Civic Center and there, gave No. 2 Bonny Eagle a scare. Despite a late dunk from Ross that brought the crowd to its feet, the Rams couldn’t quite complete a second straight upset and wound up 11-9 after a 43-34 loss. With plenty of talent returning, Deering should be one of the top teams again in 2011-12.

3) Portland boys come to life

The Portland boys’ team didn’t even appear playoff bound after losing by 27 points at Cheverus at the end of January. That loss left the Bulldogs 6-7 and longtime coach Joe Russo more or less resigned himself to playing out the string. Instead, he did arguably the finest job of his long and distinguished coaching career, steering Portland to five straight wins to end the regular season. The Bulldogs, ranked fifth, dominated No. 4 South Portland in the quarterfinals at the Expo, then gave No. 1 Cheverus fits in the semis, leading the Stags by five in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, Cheverus managed to rally and hold on for a 45-41 victory, ending Portland’s campaign at 12-8. With an abundance of youngsters on the roster, look for the Bulldogs to be even better in 2011-12.

2) Cheverus’ dreams denied

Cheverus’ boys’ team was looking to do a couple things no Stags squad had managed in three decades: Go back-to-back as state champion and finish undefeated. Cheverus was its usual unrivaled self during a dazzling regular season, which resulted in 18 straight wins with virtually no scares. In the regional tournament, however, the Stags started to show some mortality, struggling against Marshwood, Portland and Bonny Eagle before managing to win all three games to make it to the state final for the third time in four years. Against Bangor in the season’s final game, however, Cheverus overcame a sluggish start and led by six points in the fourth quarter, but the Stags couldn’t close and their dreams were denied. When the final horn sounded, the Rams were 58-49 victors. Cheverus finished 21-1, but it didn’t realize the ultimate goal. Don’t be surprised if the Stags bounce back and return to the top next winter.

1) McAuley-Deering rivalry

The two best girls’ basketball teams in the state of Maine this year resided roughly a mile apart on Stevens Avenue. Preseason favorite McAuley and proud championship contender Deering emerged as the cream of the crop and played three games in 26 days that will go down in memory. The Lions and Rams met for the first time four days after Christmas in a non-countable holiday tournament game (won by Deering, 52-48).

On Feb. 3, the fun began at Deering where the hosts rallied from a 13-1 first quarter deficit and led by three points in the waning seconds. Then, McAuley freshman Allie Clement began her legend with a game-tying 3. The Lions went on to win in overtime, 47-43.

Eight days later, at McAuley, the Lions appeared on the verge of sweeping their rival and locking up the top seed, but they couldn’t hold a 28-14 lead and were outscored 24-7 down the stretch as the Rams won, 38-35. As fate would have it, the teams met one last time in the regional final, Feb. 28. In a 36-minute passion play of artistry, skill and will, neither team led by more than five points. McAuley clung to a one-point lead as time wound down, but Deering senior standout Kayla Burchill (the eventual Miss Maine Basketball winner) was fouled with 0.5 seconds to go. She made the first free throw, but couldn’t salt away the crown as she missed the second. The game went to OT and there, the Lions found a way to hold on and win, 41-40. The state final versus Hampden Academy five days later was anticlimactic and McAuley went on to a 39-23 triumph, winning its first title since 2003.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at and followed on Twitter @foresports

Sidebar Elements

Not much separated the Deering and McAuley girls’ teams this winter. In the end, the Lions and freshman Allie Clement were one point better than the Rams and sophomore Chelsea Saucier when it mattered most.

The Cheverus and Portland boys’ teams met in a thrilling semifinal last month. Despite the heroics of Bulldogs freshman Jayvon Pitts-Young, the Stags, featuring sophomore Matt Cimino (left) and senior Connor O’Neil, prevailed and marched on.

Waynflete senior Joe Veroneau helped his team reach the semifinals for the first time in a decade.

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