McAuley sophomore Eva Mazur and Cheverus sophomore sophomore Emme Poulin fight for a contested ball during the Lions’ 56-44 win Saturday night. The Stags led by six entering the fourth quarter before McAuley awakened to stay undefeated on the season and unbeaten all-time against Cheverus.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
M- 5 15 12 24- 56
C- 8 10 20 6- 44
M- Willerson 4-8-16, Howard 5-2-13, Mazur 2-9-13, Clement 2-1-7, Weisser 3-0-7
C- Poulin 6-0-16, McElman 3-0-9, Dawson 3-0-8, Sanborn 3-0-6, Malmquist 1-1-3, Cavallaro 1-0-2
M (4) Clement 2, Howard, Weisser 1
C (9) Poulin 4, McElman 3, Dawson 2
PORTLAND—One more makes 24.
But it sure wasn’t easy.
Everyone affiliated with the powerhouse McAuley girls’ basketball program is well aware that the Lions have never lost to rival Cheverus and you can rest assured that this year’s group didn’t want to be the first, but entering the fourth quarter of the teams’ showdown Saturday night at Keegan Gymnasium, the Stags had McAuley on the ropes and were eight minutes from making history.
After a slow start both ways, Cheverus had an 8-5 lead after one quarter, but the Lions came back to hold a 20-18 advantage at halftime.
Then, in the third period, Stags sophomore Emme Poulin heated up from behind the 3-point arc and when Poulin hit a 3 as time expired in the frame, Cheverus had an unexpected 38-32 lead.
But this McAuley team is nothing if not prideful and determined to work 32 minutes or more to prevail and the Lions turned the final stanza into their personal playground.
McAuley scored the first nine points of the fourth, going ahead to stay when senior Brooke Howard scored six straight points, and capped a 16-2 run when senior Jess Willerson made a three-point play with just over two minutes left.
The Lions then came up big at the free throw line down the stretch and pulled away to win by the misleading final score of 56-44.
McAuley made it 24 straight wins over the Stags, improved to 7-0, extended its regular season win streak to 24 and dropped valiant Cheverus to 4-4 in the process.
“To produce under pressure, on the road, down six, I’m very proud,” said Lions coach Billy Goodman. “There was pressure on my team. If we want to be there at the end, we have to play under pressure. We didn’t handle it for three quarters, then we figured out how to do it. I was impressed.”
Cheverus and McAuley first met back in the Stags’ debut varsity season of 2002-03 with the eventual Class A champion Lions going on to a 58-point victory. Every meeting since (see sidebar, below), McAuley has solved Cheverus. Most of the games have been lopsided, but there have been a few close calls and the Lions have even twice eliminated the Stags from the tournament (in the 2009 preliminary round and again in the 2014 Western A Final).
This season, there was plenty of buzz around Cheverus, while McAuley started amid uncertainty, but when the calendar flipped, the Lions were up to their usual tricks, while the Stags were seeking consistency.
Cheverus opened by crushing visiting Noble (70-19) and winning at Portland (56-46) and at home over Bangor (49-37), then came back to Earth, losing at home to South Portland (58-34) and at Edward Little (57-41), before getting back on track, 67-49, over visiting Oxford Hills. Wednesday, the Stags lost at Deering, 59-42.
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.
Saturday, in front of a boisterous crowd, the Lions got pushed for 32 minutes, but with the game on the line, they dug deep and found a way to prevail.
McAuley broke the ice just 18 seconds in when senior Sarah Clement knocked down a 3, but Cheverus junior Brooke McElman answered with a 3-ball, then made another for a 6-3 advantage.
“It helped when Brooke stepped out early on and hit that shot,” said Stags coach Steve Huntington. “That changed the landscape of how we can attack the paint.”
The Lions answered when sophomore Emily Weisser made a jumper, then neither team scored for four minutes before Cheverus sophomore Deirdre Sanborn finished a feed from Abby Cavallaro and made a layup to give the hosts an 8-5 lead after one quarter.
In the first eight minutes, McAuley was hindered by an uncharacteristic eight turnovers.
Willerson started the second quarter with a putback, but junior Brooke Dawson countered with a 3 and the Stags had an 11-7 lead.
The Lions then erupted for nine straight points to go on top.
Howard got things going with a 3, then Howard scored on a putback and took a feed from sophomore Eva Mazur and made a layup, giving her seven points in 81 seconds.
Mazur, who didn’t start, continued to help spark her team when she took a pass from Howard and drained a jumper to push the lead to 16-11.
“I made sure I was into the game when I was on the bench, cheering on my teammates and being enthusiastic,” Mazur said.
Cheverus responded, as Cavallaro set up Sanborn for a layup and after stealing the ball at one end, Sanborn made another layup to cut the deficit to one. Willerson countered with two free throws before Poulin’s first 3 tied the score. With 24.5 seconds to go in the half, Willerson scored on a putback and McAuley took a 20-18 lead to the break.
The Lions overcame 14 turnovers in the first half, as Howard had seven points. McAuley also enjoyed a 20-10 advantage on the glass.
The game remained taut in the third quarter as the Stags gained confidence and opened up a lead.
A 3 from Dawson gave Cheverus the first points of the second half, but Willerson countered with a jumper. After a Cavallaro runner put the Stags on top, Clement knocked down a 3. Stags junior Kaylin Malmquist tied the score with a bank shot in the lane and after McElman twice grabbed offensive rebounds, Poulin drained a 3 to put Cheverus up, 28-25.
Mazur countered with two foul shots, but Malmquist set up Dawson for a layup. After Willerson made two more free throws, Poulin made a layup.
With 1:16 left in the third, Weisser tied the score with a 3, but Poulin countered with a 3, then, as time wound down in the quarter, Poulin launched a 3 from the corner that found nothing but net and with eight minutes to go, the Stags enjoyed a 38-32 advantage.
While Cheverus appeared to have all the momentum and had the crowd on its side, McAuley would save its best for last.
Willerson started the rally with a free throw and Weisser added a runner to cut the deficit to three.
Howard then rose to the forefront.
Howard first made a layup after a steal.
Then, with 5:21 to play, Howard banked home a shot to put the Lions ahead to stay, 39-38.
Twenty-two seconds later, Howard was fouled and sank both free throws.
“We had to execute better on offense and in the fourth quarter, we did that,” Howard said. “We got momentum back. We all feed off each other’s energy. Once someone gets it going, we all get in it.”
“I just wanted us to run our offense and be patient and get good shots,” Goodman said. “We didn’t do that the first three quarters.”
With 4:49 to go, Dawson set up Poulin for a layup and-one to snap McAuley’s 9-0 run, but Poulin missed the free throw which could have tied the score.
The Lions then got two free throws from Willerson, a jumper from Mazur and with 2:05 to play, an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) from Willerson to make it 48-40, cap a 16-2 surge and put Cheverus on the ropes.
“I could hear all the Cheverus people, but it wasn’t that bad,” said Willerson, who played for the Stags her freshman and sophomore seasons. “I’m used to it.”
With 1:29 left, a 3 from McElman gave the Stags a pulse, but Mazur made two foul shots and after Malmquist got a point back at the line, Mazur and Clement each hit one of two free throws, Mazur sank a pair and two more Mazur foul shots brought the curtain down on McAuley’s 56-44 triumph.
“I love pressure, I think we all do,” said Mazur. “We play more composed when there’s more on the line. We give it all we have. We switched up some matchups. When it came do help defense, we needed different people to do that. It all worked out.”
“It was pretty nervewracking, but we’d been over it in practice a million times,” Howard said. “We played team basketball and left it all on the court. We forget about the other stuff and just go out there and play basketball.”
“There’s a sense of pride,” Willerson said. “We don’t want them to win. Never have, never will. We came through at the end. We needed more heart in the fourth quarter. We got the baskets we needed.”
The Lions were paced by Willerson, who had 16 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals.
“Jess really helped us out,” Howard said. “She works hard every game. We wanted to do it for her.”
“Jess struggled early, but she knows we need her and she doesn’t give up,” Goodman said. “I asked her to let the game come to her. Her defense at the end really helped.”
Howard continued to emerge into a star, scoring 13 points, while adding five rebounds, four steals and three assists.
“I won’t sub Brooke because she’s in shape,” Goodman said. “She’s one of the toughest athletes I’ve coached. Everything she’s gotten, she’s earned and I’m very proud of her.”
Mazur, despite her limited minutes, broke out offensively with 13 points to complement her always stellar defense. She also had 10 rebounds and four steals.
“Eva is an amazing player,” said Howard. “She does all the little things we need. She’s unselfish, she takes care of the ball, she’s a playmaker. I don’t know what we’d do without her.”
“I’ve rotated some starters and it was Eva’s turn to sit,” Goodman added. “We need her on the floor. She gives all she’s got. She works hard. I’m lucky to coach her.”
Clement (six rebounds) and Weisser (four boards) added seven points apiece.
McAuley wound up with 22 turnovers, but overcame, thanks to 20 of 27 foul shooting and a 41-27 rebounding advantage.
Cheverus was led by 16 points from Poulin. McElman stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, five rebounds, four blocks and two steals.
“(Brooke’s) very valuable,” Huntington said. “She can guard the post. She can block shots. She certainly makes a difference.”
Dawson finished with eight points, Sanborn had six, Malmquist (five rebounds) three and Cavallaro (six boards, three assists and a pair of steals) two.
The Stags were hindered by making just 1 of 5 free throws and committing 20 turnovers.
“We know we can play with anybody,” Huntington said. “We have the talent. We’re very close. We’re winning more and more possessions. There was just a three or four-minute span where they handled it better than we did. They’re a great team. They’re well coached. We may have taken a bad shot or two, or had a bad pass, but we’re right there. I don’t feel like we were intimidated.
“It was just another game for us, but it meant a lot. There was great crowd support. We came out and played tough. Instead of looking at a game as a whole, we try to get better and compete on every possession.”
The teams meet again Feb. 4 at McAuley, but both have some heavy lifting to contend with in the meantime.
Cheverus hopes to bounce back Tuesday, but it won’t come easily as the Stags have to go to South Portland. Friday, Cheverus hosts Bonny Eagle.
“There are still things we can do better,” Huntington said. “We’re getting closer.”
The Lions are back in action Tuesday at Marshwood, then come home Friday to face Windham. McAuley then visits South Portland and has a showdown (and possible regional final preview) at home against Gorham.
“Every day in practice we bring it and keep getting better,” Howard said. “I’m proud of the team and everything we’ve done.”
“It’s a tough stretch,” said Willerson. “We need to focus and get a lot of rest. If we do that, we’ll have a good few weeks.”
“With storms and everything, we’ve had a lot of days off,” Goodman added. “We play a tough schedule. I want us to be fresh. Hopefully that pays off at the end.”
Cheverus sophomore Deirdre Sanborn goes up for a shot as McAuley freshman Catherine Reid (22) and senior Sarah Clement defend.
Cheverus junior Brooke McElman tries to block McAuley senior Chelsea Rairdon’s shot.
McAuley freshman Catherine Reid brings the ball up the floor as Cheverus junior Alayna Briggs defends.
Cheverus junior Brooke Dawson and McAuley senior Chelsea Rairdon fight for a rebound.
McAuley senior Sarah Clement launches a shot over Cheverus sophomore Abby Cavallaro.
Cheverus junior Kaylin Malmquist leans in for a shot as McAuley sophomore Eva Mazur defends.
McAuley senior Jess Willerson and Cheverus sophomore Deirdre Sanborn fight for the ball.
McAuley 57 @ Cheverus 46
@ McAuley 55 Cheverus 42
@ McAuley 57 Cheverus 40
McAuley 45 @ Cheverus 42
@ McAuley 58 Cheverus 39
@ McAuley 46 Cheverus 39
McAuley 50 @ Cheverus 42
@ McAuley 48 Cheverus 33
Western A preliminary
@ McAuley 33 Cheverus 27
McAuley 47 @ Cheverus 41
McAuley 59 @ Cheverus 41
@ McAuley 57 Cheverus 32
@ McAuley 77 Cheverus 33
McAuley 67 @ Cheverus 51
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McAuley 73 @ Cheverus 50
McAuley 70 @ Cheverus 24
@ McAuley 85 Cheverus 31
@ McAuley 88 Cheverus 30