Two of the best defensive players around square off as Deering junior Abi Ramirez guards McAuley sophomore Eva Mazur during the teams’ Stevens Avenue showdown Friday night. Mazur and the Lions had the last laugh, prevailing, 52-43.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
M- 14 15 9 14- 52
D- 8 9 9 17- 43
M- Willerson 6-3-15, Howard 4-4-13, Clement 3-2-10, Mazur 3-1-7, Weisser 2-1-5, Rairdon 0-2-2
D- Titherington 6-3-17, Brett 3-2-8, Mastropasqua 3-0-7, Ramirez 3-0-6, Mathisen 1-0-3, Haines 1-0-2
M (3) Clement 2, Howard 1
D (4) Titherington 2, Mastropasqua, Mathisen 1
PORTLAND—On the heels of a rare two-game losing skid, McAuley’s girls’ basketball team has gone on the defensive.
And that has spelled bad news for every team in the Lions’ path.
Friday evening, host Deering discovered just how frustrating it can be to try and solve McAuley, as the Lions led from start to finish in the latest installment of the Stevens Avenue rivalry.
McAuley, which was humbled in its last road outing, at South Portland, came out with great intensity and shot to a quick 6-0 lead and was up, 14-8, after one period, as senior Jess Willerson had six points and sophomore Eva Mazur had three steals.
Any Rams’ comeback hopes were extinguished in the second quarter, as Willerson, senior Brooke Howard (who did a terrific job containing Deering junior standout Tasia Titherington) and senior Sarah Clement all hit big shots to extend the Lions’ advantage to 29-17 at halftime.
Deering tried its best to make a game of it in the second half, but the Rams never drew closer than nine and McAuley stayed poised and went on to a 52-43 victory.
Willerson led the way with 15 points and is now eight shy of 1,000 for her career, Howard added 13 points and Clement finished with 10, while Mazur nearly produced a triple-double as the Lions improved to 11-2 and dropped Deering to 8-5 in the process.
“The girls did great,” McAuley coach Billy Goodman said. “It was an amazing effort. Deering has a lot of offensive power, but the girls were disciplined.”
Entering play Friday, McAuley had won four straight games at Deering.
This winter, both teams have excelled at times and struggled at others.
McAuley opened with a 46-37 home victory over South Portland, then won at Massabesic (48-34), Bonny Eagle (59-38) and Noble (71-29), avenged last year’s playoff loss by downing Thornton Academy, 41-31, then closed 2015 with a 63-44 victory at Scarborough. The Lions kicked off 2016 by rallying to beat host Cheverus, 56-44, then downed host Marshwood (49-41) and visiting Windham (61-52), but the road got rocky last week, as McAuley lost to host South Portland for the first time in nearly eight years, 57-45, then suffered consecutive losses (with a 53-48 home setback against Gorham) for the first time since January, 2010, as its 39-game home streak which dated to February of 2011 was also snapped. The Lions righted the ship Monday with an 81-49 home victory over Massabesic.
Deering opened by beating visiting Portland, 65-47. After a 40-37 loss at South Portland in a playoff rematch, The Rams won at home over Edward Little (61-47) and at Sanford (47-32) and Bangor (46-41), but fell at Lewiston three days before Christmas, 49-38. After closing 2015 with a 59-42 home win over Cheverus, Deering began the new year by beating visiting Massabesic (54-31) and Windham (51-37). After a 40-34 overtime loss to visiting Thornton Academy, the Rams won at Noble (47-32) and lost at Oxford Hills (44-37).
McAuley won both meetings a year ago.
In the first, at Deering, two late free throws from Olivia Dalphonse and a blocked shot at the horn by Willerson produced a 49-48 victory. The Lions then won the rematch at home, 49-40. That made it eight straight wins in the series, beginning with McAuley’s victory in the epic 2011 Western A Final (see sidebar, below).
Friday, the Rams hoped for their first win over the Lions since Feb. 11, 2011 (38-35 at McAuley) and their first over the Lions in their gym since Jan. 28, 2010 (42-33), but McAuley started fast and wouldn’t be denied.
The Lions got a driving layup from sophomore Emily Weisser a little over a minute in to go on top for good. Mazur added a layup after a steal and after another Mazur steal, Willerson was fouled and sank two free throws to make it 6-0.
Deering finally got on the board with 4:43 to play in the first quarter when junior Abi Ramirez scored on a leaner, but Weisser drove for a layup and Weisser set up Howard for a layup and a 10-2 lead, forcing Rams coach Mike Murphy to call timeout.
“A fast start was important for momentum and set the tone for the game,” Mazur said.
Deering tried to respond as junior Amanda Brett scored on a leaner, but Howard set up Willerson for a layup at the other end. After Ramirez made a free throw, senior Chelsea Rairdon passed to Willerson and Willerson, after freezing a defender with a drop step, made a layup. Titherington hit a 3 which rolled around the rim and in as time wound down, but McAuley was up, 14-8, after eight minutes.
In the first minute of the second period, the Lions extended their lead to double digits as Willerson converted a bank shot and after a Mazur steal, Howard made a layup for an 18-8 lead.
After Willerson added a foul shot, the Rams got a runner from freshman Mandy Mastropasqua, but Clement countered with a 3 and seconds later, Howard took a pass from Mazur and buried another 3-pointer for a 25-10 advantage.
Deering then came to life, scoring seven straight points, as Titherington made a layup, Brett made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and after a steal, Ramirez barreled in for a layup to cut the deficit to 25-17.
McAuley closed the half strong, however, as Willerson scored on a putback and Clement cut into the lane before banking home a shot to make it 29-17 at the break.
In the first half, Willerson had 11 points, Howard added seven and Mazur had a whopping seven steals.
Try as they might, the Rams never could cut into the deficit in the third quarter.
Mastropasqua started the second half with a jumper, but Clement buried a long 3, Mazur hit a leaner and Willerson made a jump shot for a 36-19 lead.
After Brett countered with a driving bank shot, Ramirez made a layup and Titherington converted a three-point play to cut the deficit to 36-26, but in the final minute of the frame, a runner from Mazur gave McAuley a 12-point advantage heading for the final stanza.
There, the Lions put it away.
Rairdon started the fourth quarter with a free throw. After Mastropasqua banked in a 3, Rairdon added another foul shot and Willerson made a layup for a 42-29 lead with 6:02 left.
Brett got a point back at the line, but Clement made a free throw and off an inbounds set, Mazur threw a home run pas to Howard for a layup and a 45-30 advantage with 5:03 remaining.
Titherington kept hope alive with a 3, but Howard made a free throw.
After a 3 from Rams freshman Ashleigh Mathisen made it a 10-point game, Clement made a foul shot.
With 1:37 to go, Deering freshman Delaney Haines made a layup to cut the deficit to nine, but Howard, Weisser and Mazur all made single free throws for a 50-38 lead.
With 38.2 seconds remaining, Titherington converted a three-point play, but two Howard free throws ended all doubt. A leaner from Titherington as time wound down brought the curtain down on the Lions’ 52-43 triumph.
“Deering’s a great team,” Willerson said. “We wanted to come out and have a quick start. Defense has turned us around. It was a big part of why we won. We were aware of Tasia and Brett. We had to make sure Tasia didn’t shoot and we had to get on Brett’s left side.”
“It was a good win for us,” Mazur said. “It gives us a lot of confidence. We wanted to help each other and pump each other up. Defense is how we do that.”
“Tonight showed all the work we’ve done in practice,” Howard said. “Talking and defense were the keys to this game. We were concerned with Tasia, Brett and Ramirez. They’re very good players. We never stopped moving our feet on defense. Losing to South Portland was a wakeup call for us. We got back to basics.”
“We had to play tough on everyone,” Goodman added. “Brooke did a great job on Tasia. I’m very impressed with our defensive effort. They’re all stepping up. They’re working hard. We moved the ball too. I don’t know who’s going to shoot and if I don’t know who is going to shoot, that’s pretty good offense.”
Willerson had a team-high 15 points, which left her eight shy of the 1,000 threshold. She also had five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
“I was aware of (1,000 points),” Willerson said. “Coach has been keeping track for me and he told me I was close. Hopefully (next game). All the hard work I’ve done. It means a lot.”
“We made the girls aware she was getting close, but we needed her to score anyway,” Goodman said.
Howard had another solid performance, scoring 13 points, grabbing five boards, dishing out two assists and playing solid defense on Titherington.
Clement added 10 points (and five rebounds).
Mazur stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, 10 rebounds, eight steals and five assists.
“We all feed off Eva’s energy,” Howard said. “She’s an amazing player. She’s the core of our defense.”
“Eva was amazing tonight,” Goodman said. “She can be an amazing player.”
Weisser (six boards) had five points and Rairdon finished with two.
The Lions only made 13 of 30 free throws and turned the ball over 19 times, but held a 32-24 rebounding advantage and rode their defense to victory.
Deering got 17 points from Titherington, eight from Brett (to go with seven rebounds), seven from Mastropasqua, six from Ramirez, three from Mathisen and two from Haines.
The Rams had 16 turnovers and made 5 of 12 free throws.
“The last five, six games, we haven’t answered the bell,” Murphy said. “I’ve tried everything, but we’re not responding. Give McAuley credit. They came out and played hard. We gave free trips to the other team by throwing the ball away and we didn’t play defense. We found ourselves in a hole. I give the kids credit for fighting back, but when you find yourself down 10, 15 points because you’re lackadaisical, it costs us big-time.”
The only way Deering and McAuley can play again this winter would be in the Class AA state final Feb. 27.
Before either team can think about the big stage, however, they have plenty of heavy lifting remaining.
The Rams (now fifth in Class AA North) are right back in action Saturday afternoon with a makeup game at Gorham. After playing at Bonny Eagle Tuesday, Deering hosts South Portland and Scarborough before closing the regular season at Portland.
“I think Oxford Hills and Edward Hills have the top two spots now, which is fine,” Murphy said. “If you have a bye, you don’t play for 11 days. It doesn’t matter where you finish, we have to play a lot better.”
The Lions (third behind Gorham and South Portland in Class AA South) also play a makeup game Saturday, at home against winless Portland. After hosting Scarborough Tuesday and Sanford Friday, McAuley goes to Portland and closes at home versus Cheverus.
“This boosts our confidence a lot, but we won’t get comfortable,” Howard said. “Hopefully we’ll execute tomorrow. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re excited to see how things work out.”
“This was big for our confidence,” Mazur said. “Hopefully we’ll keep it up.”
“I think we’re playing good team basketball,” Willerson said. “We want to finish strong.”
“Now we need consistency,” Goodman added. “If we can put a bunch of good defensive games together, then we’ll have confidence going into the playoffs.”
McAuley senior Brooke Howard tries to poke the ball away from Deering freshman Mandy Mastropasqua.
Deering junior Abi Ramirez goes up for a shot as McAuley freshman Catherine Reid defends.
Deering freshman Mandy Mastropasqua looks to pass as McAuley sophomore Emily Weisser defends.
Deering junior Tasia Titherington drives to the basket as McAuley senior Brooke Howard defends.
Deering junior Amanda Brett is blanketed by McAuley senior Jess Willerson.
McAuley senior Sarah Clement launches a 3 over Deering junior Abi Ramirez.
McAuley senior Jess Willerson has a shot blocked by Deering freshman Victoria Garand.
McAuley 49 @ Deering 48
@ McAuley 49 Deering 40
@ McAuley 46 Deering 33
McAuley 62 @ Deering 39
Western A quarterfinals
McAuley 52 Deering 30
@ McAuley 43 Deering 35
McAuley 30 @ Deering 25 (OT)
McAuley 47 Deering 43 (OT)
Deering 38 @ McAuley 35
Western A Final
McAuley 41 Deering 40 (OT)
@ Deering 42 McAuley 33
Deering 44 @ McAuley 41 (OT)
Western A semifinals
Deering 45 McAuley 35
Deering 47 @ McAuley 23
Western A quarterfinals
Deering 42 McAuley 27
@ Deering 45 McAuley 32
@ McAuley 50 Deering 48
McAuley 39 @ Deering 38
Western A semifinals
McAuley 46 Deering 35
McAuley 50 @ Deering 42
@ McAuley 44 Deering 37
McAuley 56 @ Deering 36
@ McAuley 56 Deering 48
@ McAuley 60 Deering 55
@ Deering 71 McAuley 62 (2 OT)
Western A Final
Deering 56 McAuley 46