MGA turns to defense to hold off TA

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Thornton Academy senior Alex Hart knocks the ball away from Maine Girls’ Academy sophomore Hope Olson during the teams’ contest Monday night. Hart had 18 points, but the Lions prevailed, 44-34.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Maine Girls’ Academy 44 Thornton Academy 34

TA- 8 9 9 8- 34
MGA- 11 17 8 8- 44

TA- Hart 7-4-18, Sanders 3-0-6, Hebert 2-0-4, Bogardus 1-0-2, Mears 1-0-2, Pettaway 1-0-2

MGA- Reid 5-5-15, Joyce 4-4-12, Fitzpatrick 1-6-8, Mower 2-1-6, Legassey 1-0-3

3-pointers:
MGA (2) Legassey, Mower 1

Turnovers:
TA- 16
MGA- 15

Free throws
TA: 4-6
MGA: 16-25

PORTLAND—Maine Girls’ Academy’s basketball team prides itself on its defense and Monday evening, the Lions needed their defensive prowess in a big way when their offense dried up in the second half of their home tilt against Thornton Academy.

MGA fell behind 4-0, but eight points from junior Catherine Reid opened up an 11-8 lead after one quarter.

In the second period, sophomore Katie Fitzpatrick scored seven points and the Lions stretched their advantage to a seemingly comfortable 11 points, 28-17.

The Golden Trojans, behind senior standout Alex Hart, refused to go quietly, and despite trailing, 36-26, heading to the fourth quarter, they kept fighting and when sophomore Amanda Bogardus scored with 2:10 to go, the deficit was only four.

MGA wouldn’t let it slip away, however, as junior Jill Joyce scored five points down the stretch and the Lions allowed just two more Thornton Academy points and hit enough free throws to prevail, 44-34.

MGA got 15 points from Reid, a dozen from Joyce and improved to 11-2, dropping the Golden Trojans to 5-9 in the process.

“We’ve had these slumps all year,” said Lions coach Billy Goodman. “We play well, then when it goes bad, it goes bad. We’ve worked on halfcourt defense and our defense stepped up. I’m proud of them.”

Finding a way

Entering the season, South Portland was the favorite in Class AA South, while two-time defending champion Gorham figured to remain near the top, but other teams have emerged, including the Lions and Golden Trojans.

MGA opened with a 52-44 win at Noble, then downed visiting Sanford (48-41), Westbrook (54-37), Bonny Eagle (59-40) and Biddeford (57-34). The Lions then won at Windham (68-62), Massabesic (39-37), Gorham (50-41) and Kennebunk (64-35) before finally falling from the unbeaten ranks with a 42-39 setback at Portland and a 62-40 home loss to South Portland. Friday, MGA got back on track with a 40-31 win at Sanford.

Thornton Academy started with a 39-30 home loss to Portland and began the season 1-4 before winning three of four. After losing to Gorham and South Portland, the Golden Trojans beat Noble, then lost at home Saturday to Edward Little, 52-24.

Last year, Thornton Academy beat the host Lions, 53-29.

Monday, MGA returned the favor, but nothing came easily.

The Lions struggled early and the Golden Trojans got the game’s first four points, as junior Tori Labbe set up junior Elise Hebert for a layup and Hart hit two free throws.

MGA got its first points with 4:31 to go in the opening stanza, when Joyce made a free throw. 

Reid made a layup after a steal, but senior Alana Pettaway banked home a runner to make it 6-3 Thornton Academy.

The rest of the frame belonged to the Lions, who got eight of the final 10 points.

A putback from Joyce got things started and with 2:11 on the clock, a jumper in transition from Reid gave MGA the lead for good. Reid added a runner, then Reid stole the ball and went in for a layup.

“Coach tells me to ignore the basket and be strong,” Reid said.

A Hart layup with 5.8 seconds on the clock ended the run and pulled the Golden Trojans within 11-8 after one quarter.

Reid led the way with eight points in the first eight minutes.

The Lions added to their advantage in the second quarter.

A 3-pointer from sophomore Serena Mower started the frame before Thornton Academy got a jump shot from freshman Grace Mears and Hart weaved through the defense for a bank shot.

Reid countered with a leaner, but Hart continued to keep her team in the game by cutting through the defense and making a layup to cut the deficit to 16-14.

MGA then got a 3 from senior Madison Legassey, two free throws from Fitzpatrick and with 3:42 remaining in the half, Fitzpatrick made two more.

Hart drove for another layup, but Fitzpatrick remained a force, getting an offensive rebound, finishing while being fouled, then adding a free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play. 

Hart got a point back at the line, but a layup from Joyce gave the Lions a 28-17 advantage at halftime.

In the first half, Reid led the way for the hosts with 10 points, while Fitzpatrick contributed seven. A near double-double from Hart (11 points, eight rebounds) kept Thornton Academy within hailing distance.

MGA started slowly in the second half, but the Golden Trojans couldn’t take advantage.

Hart drove and banked in a shot 54 seconds in, but despite the Lions not scoring for over three minutes, the visitors couldn’t draw any closer.

Two Reid free throws with 4:56 to go in the quarter snapped a 5 minute, 28 second drought for MGA. Two minutes later, Reid made one more, but with 2:06 remaining, Hart converted a three-point play to cut the deficit to nine, 31-22.

Joyce set up Mower for a layup, but sophomore Alexis Sanders countered with a putback. After Joyce scored on a putback, Hart set up Hebert for a layup, but with 23 seconds remaining, Fitzpatrick was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound and hit one free throw for a 36-26 lead.

Thornton Academy then made things very interesting down the stretch.

Neither team scored in the fourth quarter until Hart set up Sanders for a layup with 4:14 to play.

After a steal from Mears, Mears set up Sanders for a layup and with 2:10 remaining, sophomore Amanda Bogardus hit a leaner while being fouled to suddenly make it a four-point game, 36-32.

Bogardus missed the and-one, however, and the game turned back in the Lions’ favor when Joyce got the rebound and was fouled. She went to the line for a one-and-one and calmly sank both attempts to end a 6 minute, 15 second drought.

“I just tried to put it in,” Joyce said. “I wasn’t nervous.”

With 1:52 to play, on the fastbreak, Reid threaded a pass a millimeter over a defender’s outstretched hand to Joyce for a layup to make it 40-32.

After a Thornton Academy miss, Reid was fouled and hit one free throw and while Hart scored on a runner with 1:12 on the clock, Joyce, Mower and Reid all added one free throw and MGA closed out its 44-34 victory.

“We’ve working on playing for 32 minutes,” Reid said. “We usually have one bad quarter and we’re trying to avoid that. We kept our composure pretty well and knocked down foul shots for the most part. We know when our shots aren’t falling, we can always rely on our defense. We pack it in and get aggressive. That helps us.”

“It was nervewracking, but we always find a way to get it done,” Joyce said. “Defense is a mindset. If we work hard on defense, the offense will come. Thornton’s a great team that’s very athletic. We did our best to try and slow down their offense.”

“My girls are trying their hardest,” Goodman added. “We’re a young team. There will be good, bad and ugly. We go through tough stretches, then we wake up.”

Reid led the Lions with 15 points and also had nine rebounds and four steals.

“Catherine has been our rock all season,” Goodman said. “She’s extremely coachable. She’s our ‘Steady Eddie’ out there.”

Joyce nearly had a double-double, scoring 12 points and adding nine rebounds.

“Jill was clutch,” said Goodman. “She held on to rebounds. She’s gotten stronger and smarter.”

Fitzpatrick added eight points (as well as nine rebounds), Mower had six (as well as four steals and three boards) and Legassey three. 

Sophomore Hope Olson didn’t score, but had three assists.

Senior Emily Weisser missed the game with the flu.

MGA had a 35-30 rebounding advantage, overcame 15 turnovers and hit 16 of 25 free throws.

For Thornton Academy, Hart turned heads on both benches with 18 points, nine rebounds and three steals.

“We didn’t have a lot of shots dropping from other people and Alex put us on her back and made some tough shots,” Golden Trojans coach Eric Marston said. “She has a knack for getting to the rim and cutting through people.”

“Alex is a terrific player,” Joyce said. “She’s phenomenal.”

“It was frustrating considering we worked on (stopping her) and it didn’t show,” Goodman said. “She’s a special player, a top player in the state.”

Sanders added six points (and five rebounds), Hebert (three blocks) had four and Bogardus (five rebounds), Mears and Pettaway each had two.

The Golden Trojans committed 16 turnovers and made 4 of 6 foul shots.

“Every time we’d do positive things, we’d do some negative things too,” Marston lamented. “We turned the ball over and it felt like they beat us to every 50-50 ball and it seemed like they outrebounded us by a lot. We had a couple chances, but we didn’t capitalize. We had zero 3s. I give Coach Goodman and his girls a lot of credit. They’re a tough defense to play against. They do a great job closing out and make it tough on shooters.”

Ten days left

The regular season comes to a close a week from Thursday and both teams face tough games between now and then.

Thornton Academy (currently ranked sixth in the Class AA South Heal Points standings) welcomes Deering Tuesday, goes to Windham Friday, then closes with home games versus Scarborough and Gorham.

“Nothing is assured at this point,” Marston said. “We took a step backwards against Edward Little, but we played hard in this game and we have a lot to build on.”

MGA (fourth in Class AA South) welcomes Massabesic Tuesday, hosts Cheverus Friday, visits Deering Saturday, then finishes with games at Marshwood and Scarborough.

“We have a big week this week, so hopefully we’ll get some more wins,” Reid said. “We’re working on not turning the ball over and making good passes and good decisions.”

“We have more things to work on, but I think we’ll get it done,” Joyce said. “We want to keep it going and we’ll hope for the best.”

“We need every (Heal Point) we can get,” Goodman added. “We have four games in six days. We’re trying our hardest to get a home playoff game. We have to fight for that. We never have a lack of effort. They always try hard and I’m proud to coach them.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

MGA junior Catherine Reid drives on Thornton Academy sophomore Amanda Bogardus. Reid had a team-high 15 points.

MGA freshman Madison StoreySmith defends Thornton Academy sophomore Amanda Bogardus.

MGA sophomore Serena Mower elevates for a shot.

MGA senior Madison Legassey lines up a 3-pointer as Thornton Academy senior Adeline Paradis defends.

MGA sophomore Katie Fitzpatrick fights Thornton Academy sophomore Alexis Sanders for the ball.

MGA junior Jill Joyce tries to shoot over Thornton Academy freshman Grace Mears.

MGA sophomore Katie Fitzpatrick goes up for a shot as Thornton Academy senior Alex Hart defends.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.