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The Waynflete girls’ basketball team has grown pretty fond of the Western Class C tournament party it crashed and has ensured it will be around for the grand finale.
The second-ranked Flyers kept their magical season alive, barely, Thursday afternoon at the Augusta Civic Center, recovering from a woeful-shooting, 11-point first half and a 10-point deficit to No. 3 Hall-Dale early in the third period, rallying to take their first lead with 1:35 to play. But the Bulldogs tied the score on a late 3-pointer and forced overtime, where seinor standout Morgan Woodhouse capped yet another sensational performance by converting an old-fashioned three-point play in the final minute and Waynflete went on to a 43-37 triumph, setting up a regional final showdown with top-ranked Madison Saturday at 7:05 p.m., in Augusta.
“It was a close one,” Woodhouse said. “We were motivated in overtime. We didn’t want our season to end there.”
Defying the odds
After last year’s team lost a heartbreaker to Jay in the Western C Final and graduated some key components, the Flyers weren’t expected to be a top contender this winter.
But led by Woodhouse, whose game has evolved into one of the best in the state, regardless of class, and the emergence of several other up-and-comers, Waynflete passed test after test and wound up 13-3, good for the No. 2 seed in Western C. The Flyers got at battle from No. 7 St. Dom’s in the quarterfinals Tuesday, but a late surge led to a 44-40 win. Woodhouse had 27 in that one.
Hall-Dale, meanwhile, went 14-4 and had no trouble with No. 6 Livermore Falls in a 49-38 victory in the its quarterfinal.
The teams do not meet in the regular season and had no prior playoff history.
They certainly made some Thursday, although Waynflete couldn’t have asked for a worse start.
The Flyers made just 4-of-30 first half shots and gave the ball away 10 times over the first 16 minutes, but only found themselves down six at the break.
A 3-ball from Hall-Dale junior Taylor Massey got the scoring started after 2 minutes, 20 seconds. Sophomore Carylanne Wolfington added two foul shots and Massey made a layup after a steal for a quick 7-0 lead, but after Massey missed a layup with a chance to extend the margin, Waynflete finally got on the board with 3:55 to go in the first when freshman Catherine Veroneau hit a 3. Woodhouse followed with a pair of foul shots, but Wolfington countered with a 3-ball.
With 1:30 to go in the first, Woodhouse scored on a leaner, but at the other end, sophomore Kristina Buck made a 3 to give the Bulldogs a 13-7 advantage after one.
The teams combined for more turnovers (12) than points (eight) in the second quarter.
A free throw from senior Kerry Fredette made it 14-7 Hall-Dale. Waynflete senior Lydia Stegemann then got in on the act, making a leaner, but with 2:22 remaining in the half, Wolfington canned another 3-ball to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead, 17-9, ending a 6 minute, 51 second drought. The Flyers ended a 4:32 drought of their own when Stegemann scored on a putback with 1:44 left and that was it before halftime, where Hall-Dale held a 17-11 lead.
“No question, we were lucky to be down six, but if we’d made some layups, we would have been up,” Waynflete coach Brandon Salway said. “I told them I was disappointed and that people who hadn’t seen us all year probably weren’t very impressed. We had a half left to show what we’re made of.”
The Bulldogs could have been way ahead, but shot just 5-of-21 themselves and had nine turnovers (to 10 for Waynflete).
The second half would be much kinder to the Flyers, but not before Hall-Dale momentarily went up by 10.
A Massey steal and layup got the scoring started in the third quarter. Wolfington added a leaner with 5:01 to go and the Bulldogs appeared in good shape, up 21-11, but Waynflete then finally came to life.
Thirteen seconds after Wolfington’s hoop, with the Flyers 4-for-32 from the floor and having committed 13 turnovers to that point, Stegemann started the rally with a jumper. Woodhouse followed by stepping out and making a 3 to cut the deficit to 21-16. Junior Sam Oakland then made her presence felt by converting an old-fashioned three-point play and adding a runner to tie the score, 21-21, with 1:59 remaining in the period.
“Our offense just wasn’t working in the first half,” Woodhouse said. “They shut our plays down. They were double- or triple-teaming me. We had to work harder on defense. At halftime, Brandon said we had to work harder on offense and that’s what we did. Sam, Lydia, Martha and Catherine all stepped it up.”
Hall-Dale went back on top when Massey made two foul shots with 1:15 left, ending a 3:46 drought, but Woodhouse fed Catherine Veroneau for a layup 22 seconds later to make it 23-23. In the waning seconds, the Bulldogs built their lead back to four when senior Erika Brann made a jump shot, then scored on a layup for a 27-23 advantage heading for the fourth.
Waynflete would scratch and claw in the final stanza, but couldn’t take the lead until late.
Thirty-seven seconds into the fourth, freshman Martha Veroneau hit a jumper and at the 6:46 mark, Woodhouse made two foul shots to tie the game again, 27-27. With 6:12 left, Martha Veroneau went to the line with a chance to give the Flyers the lead, but she missed both attempts.
With 5:05 remaining, Hall-Dale went back on top, 29-27, by virtue of a Wolfington runner off the glass. Again, Waynflete drew even with 4:13 to go when Stegemann scored on a pretty baseline drive.
With 3:48 left, Oakland had a chance to give the Flyers the lead, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Fifty seconds later, Stegemann was fouled after an offensive rebound and went to the line, but she too missed the front end of a one-and-one. After Buck missed for the Bulldogs, Stegemann grabbed the rebound. After a Waynflete timeout, the Flyers ran down the clock before Oakland was fouled with 1:35 to play.
This time, Oakland’s aim was true and her two foul shots gave Waynflete its first lead, 31-29. At the other end, senior Jess Woods missed for Hall-Dale, but Massey grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Massey made her first attempt, but missed the second and the Flyers were still up, 31-30, with 1:12 to play.
With 46.2 seconds remaining, Oakland extended the lead by sinking two more free throws, but Waynflete wasn’t quite home free. After a Woodhouse block, the ball went out of bounds to the Bulldogs. After inbounding the ball, a pass came to Wolfington in the corner and she calmly buried a 3 to tie the game at 33-33 with 33.4 seconds to play.
“I had a feeling they’d pass it to her,” Woodhouse said. “She hit a great shot.”
“We’d told the kids about that play and Lydia was right in her face, but she still hit it,” Salway added.
The Flyers had a chance to win in regulation. Woodhouse missed a shot, but Stegemann grabbed the board. After a timeout, Waynflete ran down the clock and Oakland’s contested shot at the horn was off the mark, sending the game to overtime.
The teams traded turnovers early in the OT before two Woodhouse foul shots put the Flyers ahead, 35-33. After the teams traded misses, Waynflete got another defensive stop, but turned the ball over. With 1:08 to go in the four-minute extra session, a Woods jumper in the lane forged the sixth and final tie of the afternoon.
The biggest play of the contest would be made by Woodhouse with 48.3 seconds left. She took a pass on the left side of the lane, leaned in, got fouled, but somehow banked her shot home. Woodhouse added the free throw and Waynflete was ahead to stay, 38-35.
After Woods was off with a 3 at the other end, Woodhouse rebounded. She was fouled by Massey (her fifth) with 31.7 seconds left and again was accurate from the line, making both attempts for a 40-35 lead. After Brann hit a pullup jumper with 24.7 seconds to go, Martha Veroneau went to the line with 16.1 seconds remaining. Veroneau made her first shot, missed the second, but the rebound was tipped right back to her and she was fouled again with 11.1 seconds remaining. This time, Veroneau sank both and one final Hall-Dale turnover brought down the curtain on Waynflete’s stirring 43-37 victory.
“It would have been nice to close it out, but we felt like we were in pretty good shape going in to overtime,” Salway said. “Morgan wasn’t in foul trouble.”
Woodhouse finished with 13 rebounds, eight blocks, seven steals, four assists and scored nine of her game-high 16 points from the line (not missing a single attempt).
“We spend a lot of time on free throws in practice,” said Woodhouse. “I try to block everything out. I knew they were important. I just focus on the shot. I don’t pay attention to the other team’s fans.”
Oakland added nine points and Stegemann had eight. Each Veroneau sister finished with five.
“Sam really played confident,” Salway said. “Sam, Lydia, Martha and Catherine have all improved so much all year.”
The Flyers turned the ball over 18 times, but made 17-of-24 free throws.
“Foul shots were huge,” Salway said. “They have to make a one-and-one in practice, or they have to run. We put the pressure on in practice so they’re used to it in games.”
For Hall-Dale (15-5), Wolfington led the way with 15 points. Massey had 10, Brann six, Buck three, Woods two and Fredette one. The Bulldogs turned the ball over 19 times. They made 6-of-10 foul shot attempts.
Last winter, Waynflete dropped a 40-38 regional final decision to Jay in a contest that was decided until Woodhouse’s halfcourt prayer at the buzzer fell just shy of the rim.
Saturday night, the Flyers (15-3) will seek a first-ever Western C crown (they won the Class D championship in 2003) against No. 1 Madison (16-4 after tournament wins over Traip and Dirigo). The teams did not play in the regular season. The lone prior playoff meeting came in the 2006 preliminary round (a 71-32 victory for the Bulldogs).
Waynflete will enter the game with nothing lose, as the party crasher looking to be the last one standing.
“Even though we have a lot of young players on the team, we won’t take it for granted,” Woodhouse said. “I don’t want to fee like we did last year.”
“We’re playing with house money,” Salway added. “We feel the pressure will be on (Madison). Not too many will give us a chance to win. I think Madison’s a little better defensively than Hall-Dale, but they don’t have a tall presence. They’ve looked better and better each round. They’re the only team that hasn’t been challenged, while we’ve had to scratch and claw. They are really well-coached and play excellent defense. We’ll have to play our best game of the tournament to win.
“Early in the year, I hoped to get in and play a game here. Making it wasn’t an expectation like last year. It would be pretty unbelievable to see the kids cut down the nets.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]