PORTLAND—McAuley’s girls’ basketball team has demonstrated a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde personality in the early stage of the 2014-15 season.
Friday evening, the Lions showed off both aspects in their home opener when dangerous Gorham paid a visit, but in the end, the good Lions won out.
For nearly five minutes, McAuley couldn’t generate any offense and allowed the Rams good looks at the basket, all of which added up to a 10-3 deficit.
Then, the Lions began to come to life and while this team is still light years from the four champions who have preceded it, they did hint at what could be.
By the end of the first quarter, thanks to the heart and skill of seniors Olivia Dalphonse and Ayla Tartre, McAuley pulled within 13-11.
When Tartre sank a 3 just 35 seconds into the second period, the Lions had the lead. When junior Margaret Hatch made a jumper midway through the stanza, the hosts were on top to stay.
In fact, McAuley would dominate the second stanza and the third, outscoring Gorham, 31-10, over that span to open up a commanding 42-23 advantage. While the Rams did make a run down the stretch, the Lions wouldn’t be denied and went on to a 54-43 victory.
McAuley got 14 points from Tartre, 10 from Dalphonse and 10 points, 11 rebounds from junior Jess Willerson as it improved to 2-1 on the young season, dropping Gorham to 2-1 in the process.
“We just had to settle down,” said Lions coach Billy Goodman, who still hasn’t lost a home game or consecutive games in his four seasons at the helm. “We have a brand new team. The girls have to figure it out. The girls have their roles. I felt they all settled into their roles. It was a team effort. We played great D. Gorham’s a great team. They’ll win a lot of games. They came out hard, but our defense settled down.”
Coming of age
For four seasons, McAuley has had no peer, winning 85 of 88 games and a state record-tying four consecutive championships.
This winter, however, nothing will come easily. The Lions haven’t only been hit hard by graduation and transfers, but a lot of talented players haven’t seen enough court time to make a difference at this stage.
McAuley let an eight-point halftime lead slip away in a season-opening 37-34 loss at Thornton Academy, but got its first victory Thursday in a makeup 66-20 win at Massabesic.
Gorham, meanwhile, eked out a 43-40 home win over Marshwood in its opener, then prevailed, 59-24, at Biddeford.
Entering Friday, the Lions had beaten the Rams five straight times, but last winter, they had to fight for 32 full minutes to escape in Gorham, 65-59.
The Rams hoped to beat McAuley for the first time since springing a 37-27 home upset on Feb. 5, 2011 and for the first time ever in Portland, but the Lions continued their evolution as a team to take very seriously.
Both squads struggled to hit their offensive stride early, but Gorham struck first when sophomore standout Emily Esposito hit a jumper. Senior Abby Hamilton scored on a putback with 4:31 to go in the first quarter the Rams had a 4-0 lead, but Tartre got her team going 13 seconds later, taking a pass from junior Chelsea Rairdon before draining a 3.
Gorham then got a 3 from senior Caitlyn Hawxwell and another from Hamilton to take its biggest lead of the game, 10-3.
Just when it appeared as if the Lions were overmatched, they roared right back.
Another 3 from Tartre started the rally.
“It was about making good passes,” said Tartre. “Coach tells me if I’m open to shoot. If not, he wants me to pass. I go into every game with that mentality. I just go with the flow of the game.”
After Esposito hit a leaner in the lane, sophomore Ally Tillotson fed Dalphonse for a 3 off an inbounds play.
Much has been made leading into the season about Dalphonse’s ability to score and of the need for her to more of it.
“I hear it a lot and I do definitely take it to heart,” Dalphonse said. “I know I need to score more, but we have scorers in Jess, Sarah, Ayla. We want to get the ball around to everyone.”
“I couldn’t be happier for her,” Tartre said. “She’s one of my best friends. To see her hit those shots was just phenomenal.”
Esposito made a free throw, but Dalphonse set up freshman Eva Mazur for a jumper and after eight shaky minutes, McAuley was only down, 13-11.
The Lions controlled the second period throughout.
Tartre got things started with a 3 and McAuley had the lead. Willerson then scored her first points as a jumper hit the rim and the backboard, then dropped in. After senior Mary Furlong kept possession alive with an offensive rebound, the ball came to Willerson, who was fouled and she made one of two free throws for a 17-13 lead.
A jumper from Rams senior Ashley Woodbury ended the Lions’ 8-0 run and a 5 minute, 9 second drought and senior Aliza Jordan followed with a driving layup to tie the score, but the rest of the half belonged to the hosts.
With 4:22 to play, Hatch hit a jumper and McAuley was on top for good. Dalphonse added a layup after a steal and Rairdon made a layup after taking a feed from Tartre for a six-point lead.
Gorham got a point back on a Woodbury foul shot, but junior Sarah Clement, who struggled with her outside shot, scored on a putback while being fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and Willerson converted a third-effort putback for a 28-18 halftime lead.
The Lions closed the half on a 25-8 run, as Tartre had nine points and seven rebounds, while Willerson scored five points and had seven boards in the first 16 minutes.
McAuley didn’t have a good third quarter in its loss, so it was well aware of the importance of coming out of halftime strong in this one.
Sure enough, Tartre broke the ice by making a 3 off a Willerson pass. Sophomore Kristen Curley got the points back with a 3 at the other end, but Willerson scored on a putback, Dalphonse took a pass from Tartre and made a layup off a press break, Tartre was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound and hit both attempts and with 1:37 to go in the frame, junior Brooke Howard made a jumper for a 39-21 advantage.
A third effort putback from Esposito ended the run, but in the final minute, Lions senior Mikayla Moran buried a 3 and the score was 42-23 with eight minutes to play.
“We really focused on the third quarter after struggling at Thornton,” Goodman said. “I think we won the third quarter tonight and I think that helped.”
Down the stretch, Gorham would make the final score respectable, but never seriously threatened.
After Hawxwell set up junior Molly Merrifield for a layup to start the period, Clement converted a three-point play. Hawxwell buried a 3, but Clement drove for a layup and a 47-28 lead.
Hamilton knocked down a 3, but sophomore Kaylea Lundin and Merrifield both missed opportunities to bring their team closer when they missed three successive free throws.
Dalphonse made the Rams pay, as she took an inbounds pass from Tartre and sank a 3. Esposito answered with a jumper in the lane, but Clement set up Willerson for a layup and a 52-33 advantage with 3:43 to go.
Gorham kept coming, as Hawxwell made a 3, but Willerson sank a free throw. After Woodbury hit a 3, sophomore Ally Tillotson made a foul shot for the Lions to give them a 54-39 lead with 1:14 to go.
In the final minute, Esposito scored back-to-back layups off steals, forcing Goodman to put his starters back in the game, but McAuley was able to run out the clock on its 54-43 triumph.
“It was an overall team effort,” Tartre said. “Everyone kicked it up a little more. There was more energy and team chemistry going on. I feel like the team chemistry has built up. It’s a new team this year. The building blocks are just starting, but I feel like it’s going to be awesome.”
“We had a really good preseason and I didn’t think our first game was bad,” Dalphonse said. “(Thornton) was a really tough team. That set the tone for the rest of the season. Tonight, we hit some shots and it got our momentum going and we rallied together.”
Tartre continued to emerge into one of the league’s elite players by leading all scorers with 14 points (highlighted by four 3-pointers). She also had nine rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“Ayla’s acting like a senior, like an experienced state champion,” Goodman said. “Her defense has been amazing. We know her offense can be like that any given night. She’s turned into a really good basketball player.”
Dalphonse tallied 10 points, three steals and three rebounds and played her usual brand of lockdown defense.
“Esposito and Hamilton were our primary focuses, but we know they have a lot of good shooters,” Dalphonse said.
“Dalphonse has worked on her shot,” Goodman said. “She wants to contribute. She attacked and shot well. She didn’t have any turnovers. We’ve struggled with that. For her to have no turnovers against that pressure was pretty cool.”
Willerson finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“We wanted to try to get all the rebounds we could because rebounds win games,” Willerson said. “The girls have been great helping me transition. They’ve been helping me a lot with the offense and the defense. I still have to know the defenses better. I have to know the plays better.””
“I think Jess is awesome,” Tartre said. “She has a great attitude. She tries hard. We all try to support her. It’s great having her on the team.”
“I love coaching (Jess),” Goodman added. “She’s trying hard. She’s only been with us a month. She improves every day.”
Clement had eight points, four rebounds four assists, Moran finished with three points, Hatch, Howard (seven rebounds, two steals), Mazur (four boards) and Rairdon had two apiece and Tillotson (four assists, four rebounds) added one.
The Lions committed 21 turnovers, most in garbage time, and made 7 of 14 free throws. They also enjoyed a commanding 48-30 rebounding advantage.
For Gorham, Esposito led the way with 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. She also had three steals, but nothing came easily for her.
Hawxwell sank three 3s for nine points, Hamilton finished with eight, Woodbury six, Curley three and Jordan and Merrifield two apiece. Lundin didn’t score, but had seven rebounds and four assists.
The Rams only turned the ball over 10 times, but shot themselves in the foot by only making 2 of 13 foul shots.
Gorham is back in action Tuesday when it hosts undefeated Portland.
McAuley, meanwhile, pays a visit to Stevens Avenue rival Deering. After going to Noble Friday, the Lions finish the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule at Cheverus Dec. 23, in the first “Holy War” encounter of the season.
McAuley has a lot of work to do, but the outlook is much brighter than it was a week ago at this time.
“I know what the expectations are,” Willerson said. “We want to get the Gold Ball.”
“We can only get better from here,” Tartre said. “We’ll step it up every game. Every year I’ve grown to have a bigger role on the team, so I feel the pressure personally, but as a team, it’s a little less pressure this year. We know we can do well this season.”
“Deering and Cheverus will be big games, big rivals,” Dalphonse said. “I think it’s different this year. We know there’s a McAuley legacy and there’s a lot to live up to, but the pressure is off a little bit and we’re taking advantage of that.”
“We’ve improved a lot, but there’s a long way to go,” Goodman added. “Every day we get a little better. I felt we got a little better every day this week. We play a very tough Deering team, we have Cheverus coming up and they’ve played well. Six of our first eight games are on the road. I’m hoping my team really grows up during this period.”
McAuley sophomore Ally Tillotson defends dangerous Gorham sophomore Emily Esposito.
McAuley junior Sarah Clement fires a long range shot. Clement finished with eight points.
McAuley freshman Eva Mazur throws a pass over Gorham senior Abby Hamilton.
McAuley junior Chelsea Rairdon defends as Gorham senior Ashley Woodbury goes up for a shot.
McAuley junior Jess Willerson prepares to swat away a shot attempt by Gorham senior Aliza Jordan.
McAuley senior captain Olivia Dalphonse drives to the basket. The defensive standout had 10 points on the night.
McAuley senior Ayla Tartre goes up for two of her game-high 14 points during the Lions’ 54-43 victory over Gorham in Friday’s home opener.
More photos below.
McAuley 54 Gorham 43
G- 13 5 5 20- 43
M- 11 17 14 12- 54
G- Esposito 6-1-13, Hawxwell 3-0-9, Hamilton 3-0-8, Woodbury 2-1-6, Curley 1-0-3, Jordan 1-0-2, Merrifield 1-0-2
M- Tartre 4-2-14, Dalphonse 4-0-10, Willerson 4-2-10, Clement 3-2-8, Moran 1-0-3, Hatch 1-0-2, Howard 1-0-2, Mazur 1-0-2, Rairdon 1-0-2, Tillotson 0-1-1
G (7) Hawxwell 3, Hamilton 2, Curley, Woodbury 1
M (7) Tartre 4, Dalphonse 2, Moran 1