BIDDEFORD—Throughout January, February, the championship month of March and now December, the McAuley girls’ basketball team has been simply perfect.
The Lions capped their undefeated calendar year in emphatic style Friday afternoon by nearly pitching a first half shutout in a 60-19 victory at Biddeford.
McAuley had a double digit lead a little over three minutes in, was in command with a 20-0 advantage after one quarter and until the Tigers scored with 14.3 seconds remaining before halftime, was on the verge of a shutout feat rarely seen.
The Lions built on their 37-2 halftime lead and never looked back, riding a typically balanced performance to their sixth straight victory this season, extending their three-season win streak to 32 games in the process.
“Coming in, everyone knew how seriously we took it last year and that we lost important players, so we knew we had to bring it this year,” said McAuley junior standout Allie Clement, who led all scorers with 14 points. “It’s really cool. We’ve worked really hard. We want it. We know what it takes to win.”
The Lions went 22-0 a year ago under new coach Billy Goodman and capped their season with a 54-41 victory over Cony in the Class A state final.
McAuley graduated Miss Maine Basketball Alexa Coulombe and defensive standout/team heart and soul Sadie DiPierro, both of whom are playing in college (Coulombe at Boston College and DiPierro at the University of New England), but several key players returned and the Lions were bolstered by the addition of sophomore Olivia Delphonse (who played at Bonny Eagle her freshman year) and freshman Sarah Clement, Allie’s younger sister.
McAuley was hardly tested in its first five games, wins at home over Noble (79-12) and Kennebunk (86-30), at Portland (74-26), at home over Marshwood (75-24) and at Bonny Eagle (71-41).
Biddeford, which went 4-14 in 2011-12, lost its first three games this season, 54-19, at home to Cheverus, 53-38 at South Portland and 39-23 at Windham, before getting in the win column with a 48-43 triumph at Massabesic. The Tigers’ last outing resulted in a 36-31 home loss to Westbrook.
Last year, the Lions handled the visiting Tigers, 60-19.
Saturday, all of McAuley’s brilliance was on full display as the Lions won by the same score.
It took just 49 seconds for McAuley to go ahead for good. Junior Olivia Smith did the honors with a turnaround jumper.
Smith added a free throw, Allie Clement made a layup after a steal and sophomore Victoria Lux scored on a putback for a 7-0 lead.
Clement added a driving layup, Lux scored on another putback and with 4:17 to go in the first quarter, Lux fed Smith for a layup and a 13-0 advantage.
The hosts had a chance to break the ice 21 seconds later when junior Bailey Cote went to the foul line, but she missed both attempts.
Lions junior Jackie Welch came off the bench and made her presence felt with a 3. Clement added a pullup jumper and as time wound down, Welch converted a floater to make it 20-0 after one.
In the first eight minutes, McAuley had a 12-2 edge in rebounds and forced six turnovers.
The Lions were only getting warmed up.
Welch knocked down a 3 23 seconds into the second quarter to make it 23-0.
“I was glad I finally hit some shots,” Welch said. “I’d been cold for awhile. I was glad to contribute like that today. Most teams play zone against us, so good ball movement is paramount. We try to run. Games we haven’t been as successful it’s because we haven’t run.”
What transpired next had to warm the hearts of Brian and Carolyn Clement, as their daughters put on a show.
Racing down the floor, Allie Clement passed up a shot to feed Sarah, who buried a 3-ball.
The next possession, Sarah fired a crosscourt pass to Allie, who nailed a 3 of her own to make it 29-0.
Talk about sisters who’ve mastered the art of sharing.
“It’s really special,” said Allie Clement. “We played together in middle school, but this obviously is more special. I always know where she is. She always knows where I am. My Dad will ask how I know where she was and I’ll say, ‘She’s my sister. I can just tell.’ We’ve gotten closer through the basketball season. Being able to play together is really cool. It’s something not a lot of people get to experience.”
Unheralded Lions senior captain Molly Mack followed with a layup, Allie Clement hit a pullup jumper, Smith hit a bank shot and Mack made a leaner for a 37-0 advantage.
As time wound down in the first half, the only remaining drama would be if Biddeford could get on the board.
With 14.3 seconds left, a bank shot from senior Erica Letellier ensured it would.
In the first half, McAuley had a 21-6 rebound advantage and forced 16 turnovers while committing only four.
To their credit, the Tigers hung tough and played hard in the second half.
A 3 from freshman Charlotte White and a jumper by sophomore Jillian Sheltra capped a 7-0 Biddeford run.
Clement ended it with a free throw, sophomore Laura Holman hit a 3 and Sarah Clement scored on a pullup jumper to push the lead back to 43-7.
A free throw by Cote was answered by a coast-to-coast layup by the explosive Allie Clement. Senior Laci Gilblair made a free throw for the hosts, but Sarah Clement capped the quarter with a 3 to give McAuley a 48-10 advantage.
The Lions got the first eight points of the final stanza, as Delphonse hit a runner, Welch made two free throws, Mack hit a jump shot and Lux made a layup for a 56-10 lead.
Biddeford got a layup from Gilblair and a bank shot 3-ball from Sheltra, but Welch hit a jumper and Lux made a left-handed layup to finish McAuley’s scoring. A runner off the glass from White and a layup by Gilblair accounted for the 60-19 final score.
“We wanted to work on defense today,” Goodman said. “I thought the girls came out and executed really well. We’d been struggling. We asked them to do stuff and they did it. These girls take every game seriously. They’re like professionals. They bring the energy and they bring the effort. We’re trying to play basketball the right way. We’re trying to be disciplined.”
Allie Clement (14 points and two steals) and Welch (12) finished in double figures. Sarah Clement and Lux both had eight points. Smith finished with seven (along with three blocked shots), Mack six, Holman three (and three blocks) and Delphonse two (to go with three steals).
“Laura, Sarah and Olivia have stepped into big shoes,” said Clement. “They’re getting better every day. Defense is what we’re known for. It’s what we can always rely on. Ball movement is important for our team. We have so many players who can score. We’ve all played since we were little. Offense has always been there. If we have defense, it separates us from teams.”
Lux led all players with 10 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive glass.
“Victoria is one of the best young players I’ve seen in the post,” said Goodman. “We’re trying to get her to shoot more. She’s a very good passer. She has all the talent in the world. She’s playing confidently this year.”
Mack was her usual active self with eight boards, while Smith grabbed seven and Holman five. McAuley finished with a 41-16 advantage on the glass.
The Lions only committed nine turnovers and forced 19.
If you’re looking for a sign of mortality, McAuley only made 4-of-10 free throws.
For Biddeford, Gilblair led the way with six points. White and Sheltra both added five points, while Letellier had two and Cote one. Cote had a team-high four rebounds. The Tigers made 3-of-6 foul shots.
McAuley actually has one final 2012 game, Saturday, in a non-countable holiday tournament contest versus Winnacunnet, N.H. (which beat the Lions a year ago in holiday play).
The regular season resumes Wednesday with a home game versus Windham, which is a rematch of last year’s Western A semifinal. On Jan. 4, McAuley plays host to rival Deering. The Lions also have tests upcoming versus Scarborough (a rematch of last year’s regional final) and private school rival Cheverus. McAuley will face resurgent South Portland twice as well.
The Lions know there is plenty of work still to be done.
“I think we still need to rotate on defense to get better,” Welch said. “We know a lot of teams will play us in a zone so hitting shots and ball movement will be crucial.”
“We’re looking forward (to tougher games),” Clement said. “I think we’re ready for it. We just have to bring it like we have been.”
“We’re not about records, just playing,” Goodman added. “We just play games and if we make mistakes, we fix them. It comes from the players. They just want to play. We have games coming up where we’ll be tested. Deering’s undefeated. Scarborough’s undefeated. South Portland’s undefeated. Cheverus is undefeated.”
M- 20 17 11 12- 60
B- 0 2 8 9- 19
M- A. Clement 6-1-14, Welch 4-2-12, S. Clement 3-0-8, Lux 4-0-8, Smith 3-1-7, Mack 3-0-6, Holman 1-0-3, Delphonse 1-0-2
B- Gilblair 2-2-6, White 2-0-5, Sheltra 2-0-5, Letellier 1-0-2, Cote 0-1-1
M (6) S. Clement, Welch 2, A. Clement, Holman 1
B (2) Sheltra, White 1
M (41) Lux 10, Mack 8, Smith 7, Holman 5, A. Clement 4, Welch 3, S. Clement, Muzika 2
B (16) Cote 4, White 3, Gilblair, Hubbard, Oliver, Sheltra 2, Hale 1
M (6) Delphonse 3, A. Clement 2, Smith 1
B (3) Hubbard 2, Letellier 1
M (9) Holman, Smith 3, Lux, Mack, Mukiza 1