GORHAM—Just 48 hours after an exhilarating, come-from-behind overtime win at Deering, the McAuley girls’ basketball team met its match.
Playing at unheralded, but quite dangerous Gorham, the Lions took a 20-11 lead late in the first half, but managed just seven points the rest of the way, committed 20 turnovers and went down to their first defeat of the 2010-11 season, 37-27,.
McAuley had ample chances down the stretch, but simply couldn’t bury an open look. As a result, it fell to 14-1 on the season, as the Rams improved to 13-3.
“Give credit to Gorham,” said first-year Lions coach Amy Vachon. “They played a great game. They played three games in three nights. To win all three is a credit to them.”
McAuley has lived up to its billing as the favorite this winter, winning 14 in a row, capped by Thursday’s stirring 47-43 overtime victory at Deering.
Gorham, has quietly excelled, winning 12 of its first 15, losing only to Deering, South Portland and Sanford.
Since the Rams joined the Southern Maine Activities Association in 2005-06, they’ve failed to beat the Lions, as McAuley captured the seven previous meetings (including a semifinal victory in the 2006 playoffs and a 33-22 triumph in last year’s quarterfinals) by an average of 16 points.
That drought would end Saturday, as Gorham flustered the Lions almost throughout.
The Rams broke the ice when sophomore Kristin Ross banked home a shot 43 seconds in. McAuley answered with a putback by junior Alexa Coulombe, but senior Natalie Egbert hit a jumper for the hosts. Coulombe took a pass from sophomore Molly Mack and made a layup to tie the score and senior Rebecca Knight added a free throw to put the Lions on top, 5-4, but senior Alyssa Clark hit a layup for the hosts to make it 6-5.
After sophomore Hannah Cooke fed Knight for a layup, Knight scored on a layup after a steal to give McAuley a 9-6 lead after one quarter.
In the second, the Lions appeared to take a healthy lead, but it was only momentary.
After Clark made a free throw for the Rams, freshman Allie Clement, hero of the Deering win, made a 3-pointer. Sophomore Alexis Merrifield answered with a bank shot, but Knight made a layup for a 14-9 advantage. Gorham senior standout Mia Rapolla finally got on the board with 3:46 to play in the half by virtue of two foul shots, but a leaner from Clement, a pullup jumper from Clement and a hook shot from Coulombe appeared to give McAuley a healthy 20-11 lead.
By halftime, however, Gorham had regained momentum as with 24.5 seconds to go, Rapolla scored on a putback, then, as time expired in the half, Rapolla’s one-handed prayer from midcourt rattled home off the glass to pull the Rams within four, 20-16.
McAuley still held the lead, however, and after forcing 11 first half turnovers, the Lions had to like their chances.
Virtually nothing went their way in the final 16 minutes, however.
Early in the third period, Rapolla converted an old-fashioned three-point play (making a leaner, drawing the foul, then making the free throw), but Knight took a pass from Coulombe and made a layup for a 22-19 lead, ending an 8-0 run. With 5:41 left in the quarter, Ross made a layup and seconds later, Vachon took timeout and wondered out loud, “I don’t know who this team is. I haven’t seen it all year.”
The Lions weren’t able to respond and with 3:15 showing in the period, a leaner from Clark put Gorham ahead to stay. Egbert followed with a 3-ball and Vachon called timeout again. She tried to instill the necessity of playing with intensity in her charges, but the Rams pushed their lead to six when Rapolla made two foul shots. In the final minute of the stanza, Coulombe made a jumper to make it 28-24 heading for the fourth.
There, McAuley would be left scratching its head.
The Lions did start with a flourish when Clement sank a 3 18 seconds in, but little did the visitors know that they wouldn’t score a single point the rest of the way.
Time after time, McAuley would either give the ball away or get open looks, but everything went Gorham’s way.
With 5:45 to go, Rapolla banked home a runner to make it 30-27. With 3:50 showing, two Rapolla free throws pushed the lead to 32-27.
Neither team would then score for over three minutes.
Egbert twice missed the front end of one-and-ones and freshman Jessica Rexrode missed two foul shots for the hosts, but turnovers and a pair of missed 3s by Clement kept it a five-point game.
“We had four or five opportunities and had open looks,” Vachon said. “I’ll take those shots any day. They just weren’t falling. We had to find a way and we didn’t.”
With 40 seconds to go, Rapolla gave Gorham a little breathing room with a free throw. After junior Sadie Dipierro missed a 3 and Cooke failed on back-to-back tries, Egbert hit two foul shots with 15 seconds to go to essentially ice it. After yet another missed 3, two Rexrode foul shots with seven seconds remaining accounted for the 37-27 final score and the Lions were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed we lost, but I’m more disappointed in the intensity we came out with,” Vachon said. “We were flat and you can’t expect to win when you’re flat, especially against a good team like Gorham. We struggled executing the last couple games against zones. I blame myself as coach preparing our kids. We need to look at it and figure out what we’re going to do since teams will do that. That said, Gorham just played tough.
“We played pretty good defense. We did a pretty good job on Rapolla. Most of her points were on free throws. We did a pretty good job on her. It was more about us not executing. Credit to them. They took us out of our game. We didn’t execute. I knew Gorham was a tough team. For them to have three wins in three days, they did a great job.”
Clement led McAuley with 10 points. Knight added nine points, but she was held to just two in the second half. She also had 11 rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot. Coulombe had eight points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks and a steal. The Lions were doomed by poor shooting, 20 turnovers and by making just 1-of-5 free throw attempts.
For Gorham, Rapolla led the way with 17 points, seven steals and six boards. Egbert had seven points (and eight rebounds), Clark five (three boards and a block), Ross four (four rebounds and a steal) and Merrifield (four boards) and Rexrode (two steals) two points each. The Rams turned the ball over 15 times (just four in the second half) and shot 13-of-21 from the charity stripe.
The Rams are now third behind McAuley and Deering in the Western Class A Heal Points standings. They close with games next week at home versus Windham and at Westbrook.
The Lions still have a great shot to finish first, but they need to take care of business next week. After hosting Massabesic Monday, McAuley welcomes Cheverus Tuesday, then closes at home versus Deering Thursday.
“We have three left,” Vachon said. “We have a huge week ahead. People say losses are good, but I think you can get a lot of lessons off wins. Massabesic won’t be a rollover. We have to refocus and figure out what’s going on. It’s one game and we’ll see what can do.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com