Good things come in 3s as Deering girls beat Cheverus
PORTLAND—A season that began inauspiciously had turned into one of promise for the Deering girls' basketball team.
The Rams, who won the Class A state championship in 2008 and 2009 and reached the regional final each of the past two years, have improved mightily as the season progressed and Thursday evening, in a microcosm of their season, they made it 14 wins in 16 games with a come-from-behind triumph at Keegan Gymnasium.
Facing the host Cheverus Stags, who were eager for a signature victory, Deering trailed by eight points after a lackluster first period and found itself behind by five at the half, but things changed quickly in the third quarter.
Back-to-back 3-pointers in the first minute from seniors Ella Ramonas and Emily Cole got things going, a Cole 3 put the Rams ahead to stay and a desperation 3 at the horn off the glass from Ramonas capped a 22-6 run and gave the visitors an 11-point advantage.
While Cheverus would make things interesting down the stretch, drawing as close as four, Deering held on to win, 48-42.
Ramonas led all scorers with 21 points, Cole had 11 and junior Marissa MacMillan controlled the paint from start to finish as the Rams ended the regular year 14-4, dropping the Stags to 10-7 in the process.
"Coach (Mike Murphy) calmed us down at halftime and put confidence back into us," said Ramonas. "We knew we could beat them. We passed the ball around, played great team offense and got good shots."
Deering only lost twice in 21 decisions a year ago, but the second loss was an agonizing overtime setback to McAuley.
After graduating 2011 Miss Maine Basketball Kayla Burchill (who is now playing at the University of Vermont), the Rams took awhile to hit their stride this winter, opening with losses to visiting Thornton Academy (54-52, on a buzzer-beater) and at Marshwood (70-60). Deering bounced back to beat host Massabesic (55-31), visiting Noble (63-28), host Sanford (38-32), visiting South Portland (46-32), visiting Bonny Eagle (50-35) and host Kennebunk (66-14) before visiting McAuley administered another painful defeat, 30-25. The Rams then put it together, winning seven of eight. After downing host Biddeford (55-28) and beating visiting Cheverus (53-37), Deering dropped a tough 53-47 decision to visiting Scarborough before defeating host Westbrook (41-29), visiting Windham (41-32), host Portland (45-27), visiting Gorham (46-33) and host South Portland (49-35).
Cheverus improved its record each of coach Richie Ashley's four seasons. Last season, the Stags went 14-5, dropping a gutwrenching decision to Sanford in the Western A quarterfinals.
Cheverus got off to a hot start this winter, winning its first five, over Biddeford (68-28), Gorham (51-43), Portland (56-40), Westbrook (43-32) and Noble (52-18). After losing at Marshwood, 59-49, Cheverus bounced right back and held off visiting Bonny Eagle, 46-40 and avenged last year's playoff loss with a 31-19 victory at Sanford. Then, the schedule got tougher and the Stags struggled, beginning with a 48-36 home defeat to Scarborough. Losses at Deering (53-37) and Windham (61-58, in double overtime) followed before the Stags got back in the win column versus Massabesic, 64-50. They rallied past visiting South Portland (58-42) and downed visiting Kennebunk (67-44), but last weekend, Cheverus was handed a 47-40 loss at Thornton Academy and despite a valiant effort lost to at McAuley, 57-40.
Along with McAuley, Deering is the only team that Cheverus has never beaten. The Rams won the first meeting, 90-35, back in the 2002-03 season, and had taken 11 more since, including the contest last month, where Ramonas had 20 points, MacMillan 18 and Deering pulled away in the second half for the victory.
This time around, the Rams did it again, although they had to overcome a rough start.
Just 21 seconds in, the Stags got the jump when junior Brooke Flaherty banked home a shot. After MacMillan made one of two foul shots, then did the same the next time down to tie the score, Deering took its only lead of the first half when junior Chelsea Saucier made a jumper.
Cheverus would close the first period on a 10-0 run, forcing six Rams' turnovers. After junior Mikayla Mayberry tied the score with a pair of free throws, sophomore Georgia Ford was fouled by Ramonas, who had to take a seat with her second. Ford made the second of two attempts and the Stags were back on top.
Senior Allison Thomas then got into the act, scoring on a bank shot, then, after being fouled after an offensive rebound, hit a free throw to make it 8-4. Mayberry made a 3 and after a steal, sophomore Abby Maker was fouled and hit one of two attempts to give Cheverus a 12-4 lead after one.
Deering expected a strong effort from the Stags.
"(Cheverus) definitely came out a lot harder than they did last time," Saucier said. "They knew some of our plays. Pressing-wise, they worked on it. They moved the ball quick. They swung the ball quicker and got good shots off."
"We knew they'd come out strong because they're a really good team," Cole said. "We knew they'd pressure us all the way through."
Murphy wasn't pleased with his team's performance, but put things in perspective.
"We stunk in the first quarter," he said. "We were horrible. We were all over the joint when (Ella) picked up her second foul, but I said, 'Guys, look at the score. It's only 12-4. It's not 20-4 or 24-4.'"
The Rams settled down in the second period, but couldn't catch up before the break.
A pair of MacMillan foul shots made it 12-6. After Stags junior Kylie Libby was fouled after an offensive rebound, she banked home two free throws to push the lead back to eight.
Ramonas, back on the floor, then hit a baseline jumper.
"I told (Ella) in the second quarter we needed her on the floor and that she needed to play defense with her feet and that she couldn't reach," Murphy said. "We were discombobulated in the first quarter. It's not the points (we were lacking with Ella on the bench). It's the leadership. It takes one kid out of position and everyone has to play a different spot."
After Cole was fouled while shooting a 3, she made two foul shots. Flaherty answered with a jumper, but Cole fed Ramonas for a 3-ball and Ramonas set up MacMillan for a leaner and the deficit was just 16-15.
Cheverus restored order when junior Victoria Nappi hit a 3 and Libby banked home a foul shot with seven seconds remaining to make it 20-15 Stags at halftime.
But things turned quickly in the third period.
Just 16 seconds in, Saucier set up Ramonas for a 3. Twenty-seven seconds later, the next time down, Saucier spotted an open Cole (the league's leading 3-point shooter) and Cole buried a shot from behind the 3-point arc and Deering had a 21-20 advantage.
With 5:56 to play in the quarter, Libby set up Mayberry for a 3 to put the Stags back on top, 23-21, but MacMillan answered with two free throws and with 5:15 remaining, Saucier, in transition, set up Cole for another 3 and the Rams were ahead to stay.
"When I get it to Ella, I know she's a confident shooter," Saucier said. "When I get it to Emily and she's on, I keep getting it to her. My role is to get it to the open people. Coach said at halftime that I was playing weak and that I needed to come out and play my hardest and don't let them put pressure on me. We handled the pressure very well."
With just over four minutes to go, Saucier fed Ramonas for a 3-ball.
A minute later, Ramonas passed to MacMillan for a layup and a 31-23 advantage.
Nappi stemmed the tide momentarily with a jumper, but Cole (this time from sophomore LeeAnn Downs) hit her third 3 of the quarter.
"We had a talk in the locker room and coach told us to stay calm," Cole said. "We got open shots in the second half and we knocked them down. It was a good way to get a lead and we kept it and kept our composure."
After Ford made a foul shot with four seconds left, it appeared the Rams' lead would be eight heading for the final stanza, but Ramonas took the inbounds pass, raced across halfcourt and just before the buzzer sounded, let loose a desperation heave while on the run from just behind the 3-point arc that kissed the glass and dropped in for a commanding 37-26 advantage.
"I felt out of sync in the first half, but in the second half, I made a couple shots and I felt good," Ramonas said.
Ramonas made three 3-pointers in the 22-6 run, as did Cole, who did the same thing in the first meeting between the teams this season).
The Stags had dug a deep hole.
"We outscored them every quarter but the third," said Cheverus coach Richie Ashley. "It seems with us that almost every game, we have that one quarter. If somebody could give me the reason why, I'd be a happy man. I don't know what it is. We had a lot of intensity and great pressure in the first half. They broke it and capitalized in the second half. A lot of credit obviously has to go to Deering. They're one of the better teams for a reason. They made shots when they were coming back and we didn't. Ramonas and Cole came out and hit 3s and they were up one. Cole had a big third quarter. Those were bombs. Ella showed why she's probably a first-team all-state player. She showed leadership and toughness."
After Cole set up Ramonas for a layup to start the fourth period, Stags senior Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy, the league's fourth leading scorer, finally got on the board with two free throws. Off the inbounds pass, Saucier threw a touchdown pass to Ramonas for a layup and Deering's lead was 13, 41-28, but to their credit, the hosts weren't quite finished.
After Palazzi-Leahy made a driving layup, sophomore Sadie Lyons made a layup after a steal. With just under four minutes to play, Flaherty made a dazzling save on the sidelines, then got an offensive rebound and drew a foul. She made the second free throw to cut the deficit to 41-33.
With 2:56 to go, the Rams turned the ball over and compounding matters, Downs was whistled for a technical foul. Flaherty made both free throw attempts and with 2:45 left, Ford passed to Flaherty for a jumper and suddenly Cheverus only trailed by four, 41-37.
Undaunted, Deering answered as Ramonas blew by a defender for a layup with 2:24 showing. After Flaherty passed to Ford for a long jumper (she was just inside the 3-point stripe), the Stags again were down just four, 43-39.
Again, the Rams responded as Ramonas pushed the ball upcourt and passed to MacMillan for a layup.
"We just had to settle down," Ramonas said. "We knew (Cheverus) can hit the 3. We knew we had to get out on the shooters, but we know they have two great post players in Kylie and Flaherty."
After the teams traded turnovers, Nappi's 3-point bid to make it a one-possession game was off the mark and Saucier rebounded.
With 53 seconds to play, MacMillan went to the line for a one-and-one and made the first attempt, but missed the second, making it a 46-39 game.
With 36 seconds to go, Palazzi-Leahy's 3-point attempt hit the rim, the glass and fell in and Cheverus still had hope, down 46-42.
Five seconds later, Cole was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one and Libby grabbed the rebound. Ford looked to cut the deficit to two, but her shot was blocked by Saucier. Ford got the ball back and passed to Palazzi-Leahy, but her 3 was off target and Ramonas got the rebound and was fouled with 13 seconds to play.
Ramonas would make the first free throw to push the lead to five, but missed the second. A Stags' turnover gave the ball back to the Rams and with three seconds to go, Saucier made a foul shot and that was that as Deering went on to the 48-42 triumph.
"(Cheverus) definitely gave us a much better game and came out with more desire than the first time we played," Ramonas said. "At first, we backed down from the challenge, but the rest of the game, we played team basketball and did a really good job."
"The kids picked away," Murphy said. "They really played relaxed in the second half. Saucier was terrific. She didn't play aggressive in the first half. She played aggressively and took care of the ball in the second half and it opened up the floor for the scorers. We hung on for dear life. We had the technical foul. All the momentum was on their side. We had to look at the rim. Ella made a nice basket. MacMillan was open many times. We had to be stronger with the ball.
"We love a tough last game because that's what you'll get in the tournament. The last couple years we matched up with McAuley in the last game where you'll fight tooth and nail. This was the same type of atmosphere and game. It benefits us playing good teams down the stretch."
Ramonas overcame early foul trouble to lead all scorers with 21 points, including a game-high four 3-pointers. Ramonas also five rebounds and two steals.
MacMillan had 13 points and 10 boards. She also blocked two shots.
"MacMillan has stepped up and played major minutes," Murphy said. "She was a monster on the boards tonight."
Cole added 11 points.
"It was nice to see Cole come through," Murphy said.
Saucier had three points (along with five assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks).
Junior Keneisha DiRamio, who missed the first 16 games with an ACL injury, didn't score, but had three rebounds, two steals and brought some much needed energy to the floor.
"(Keneisha's return is) like a Christmas gift late in the season," Murphy said. "She's really worked hard and finally got cleared this week. She has some serious quickness and basketball knowledge. She just has to get her feet wet and play."
Deering had 28 rebounds, eight steals, turned the ball over 19 times and sank 11-of-21 foul shots.
The Rams have come light years from mid-December.
"I told the kids I'm very proud of them," Murphy said. "We could be 17-1 with a break here and there. Ella was sick the first two weeks of the season. All four games that we lost were tight. We had kids playing different roles this year. It's terrific. I'm happy for the kids. They like the challenge and they usually stand up to it and fight. They have pride. They compete. Ramonas is the pure definition of competing. It's contagious with the other kids."
For Cheverus, Flaherty led the way with nine points. She also grabbed 10 rebounds. Mayberry, who played much of the second half with four fouls, had eight points and two steals.
"Mikayla played well in the first half," Ashley said. "She had those four fouls."
Palazzi-Leahy finished with seven points, Nappi had five, Ford four, Libby three (in addition to six rebounds and three blocks), Thomas three (with four boards), Lyons two and Maker one.
The Stags had 28 rebounds and 10 steals. They committed 14 turnovers and made 14-of-21 free throws.
"We scrapped," Ashley said. "We did come back. We don't quit. The girls have a lot of pride. We pride ourselves as a coaching staff and as a team that we'll play hard. I'm proud after a clunker of a quarter like that, that we didn't fold the tents. We made some steals and just came up short."
Cheverus (seventh in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) closes the regular season Friday night at home versus Portland.
"We'll try not to make one loss become two," Ashley said. "We'll honor (the seniors) tomorrow night. It goes within saying how much Alexandra means to this program. We hope to go into the playoffs with a win."
The Stags will host a preliminary round playoff game Wednesday, seeking their first ever postseason triumph.
"I have no idea where we'll be," said Ashley. "I don't think we can fall below eight. We'll find out Saturday (when the final standings are official)."
Deering has completed its regular season and appears to be locked into the No. 4 spot. The Rams will be idle until Monday, Feb. 20, when they compete in the Western A quarterfinals at the Portland Expo, likely against Windham.
"Starting off 0-2 was rough," Saucier said. "We shouldn't have been 0-2. It was jitters, but we've been progressing. We came together as a team. This was a good note to end on. We're confident going in."
"(Windham has) the best player in the league (senior Meghan Gribbin)," said Murphy. "She controls the ball and the tempo. We'll have our hands full."
Deering has flown under the radar much of the season, but likes its chances, knowing it's matched up with McAuley as well as anyone in recent games.
"It's definitely a good way to end the season, but we still have the tournament," Cole said. "After the McAuley game, we figured stuff out. I think we've been on a good run since. They're a top team. We know we'll see them again and we want to see them again. There's going to be a lot of pressure on McAuley. I'm confident in our team and how we ended the season."
"I think at the beginning of the year with everyone doubting us, we let that get into our minds, but once we started winning, we realized how good we are and that we can beat anyone," Ramonas said. "We just need to keep playing how we played in the last three quarters today. If we keep playing like this, I think we can beat anyone."
"It's a one-game shot," Murphy added. "Anything can happen. You can't take anything for granted. Quarterfinal games are tough. If you're lucky to get through that, anything can happen. McAuley's the favorite. They have the most talent. They have an all-star team from the Western Maine Conference and an all-star team from the SMAA combined."