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McAuley takes care of business, off to semifinals

Sports

McAuley takes care of business, off to semifinals

PORTLAND—The defending Class A state champion McAuley girls' basketball team needed a spark in its quarterfinal round playoff game versus No. 8 Westbrook Monday evening at the Portland Exposition building.

After coming out flat after 10 days off and scoring only eight points in the first quarter, the Lions finally got their offense in gear in the second, thanks to the sharpshooting of sophomore Allie Clement.

Clement found the range that quarter, knocking down a pair of two-point shots and also burying two 3s to help the Lions take a 21-6 at halftime.

After a sluggish start to the second half, Clement's 3 and another basket helped make it a 20-point contest after three periods and McAuley went on to a 41-23 victory.

The Lions were paced by 17 points from Clement, got an excellent defense effort from senior Sadie DiPierro, a solid showing from underclassmen Victoria Lux and Olivia Smith and improved to 19-0 on the year, extending their win streak to 23 games, ending Westbrook's season at 9-11 and setting up a semifinal round showdown with Windham Wednesday night.

"Once we realized we had to play solid defense we knew the offense would come.," Clement said. "It's definitely frustrating because we're more used to an up-tempo game. I think other teams know that's how we like to play so they try to take us out of our game and slow it down, but there's no excuse for coming out and playing the way we did. We were flat. We should have been more excited to get on the court."

One down, three to go

McAuley, as the defending Class A champion, entered this season wearing the bulls-eye as heavy favorites and while the Lions didn't always win as resoundingly as some felt they should, they passed all 18 regular season tests.

McAuley had little trouble in defeating Noble (62-31), Kennebunk (61-18), Portland (60-19), Marshwood (58-34), Bonny Eagle (61-26), Biddeford (60-19) and Windham (41-32). Next came a big time scare, but the Lions survived host Deering in overtime, 30-25. Home victories over Massabesic (51-26) and Thornton Academy (41-36) were followed by a the most impressive statement, a 49-37 triumph at then-undefeated Scarborough, which wasn't as close as the final score indicated. McAuley rolled from there, downing visiting Sanford (45-23), host Gorham (51-26), visiting South Portland (55-24), visiting Westbrook (64-34), visiting Cheverus (57-40), host Portland (58-30) and host South Portland (51-32).

Westbrook, another school with a lengthy pedigree, only won six times in 2010-11 and fell short of the postseason, but this year returned to form.

The Blue Blazes took their opener, 44-32, at Kennebunk, then suffered a three-game losing streak, falling to Scarborough (57-39), South Portland (29-28) and Cheverus (43-32). Westbrook then came to life, defeating Biddeford (44-32) and Noble (40-27), upsetting host Marshwood (50-46) and downing Bonny Eagle, 57-40. After a home loss to Sanford (46-29), the Blue Blazes defeated Gorham (36-31). A 41-29 loss to Deering was followed by a win over Portland (48-40). After losing to Massabesic (48-46) and Windham (41-27), Westbrook defeated Thornton Academy, 35-34, but would drop its final three games, to McAuley (64-34), Bonny Eagle (47-42) and Gorham (42-24).

Despite its 8-10 mark, the Blue Blazes managed to finish eighth in the Heal Points standings and hosted and beat No. 9 Sanford, 48-42, in Wednesday's preliminary round.

The teams split the prior two playoff meetings, with Westbrook taking a 74-53 decision in the 1980 quarterfinals and McAuley triumphing, 48-30, in the 2007 quarters.

Monday, the Lions opened up an early lead and pulled away.

It took McAuley over two minutes to get on the board, but a layup after a steal from DiPierro did the trick with 5:43 to play in the first quarter.

"(Westbrook) came out really, really strong and we were kind of lazy," DiPierro said. "We hadn't played in 10 days, but there's no excuse for it."

"We knew (the Blue Blazes would) try to delay the game a little, stall a little," said Lions first-year coach Billy Goodman. "I thought we did a good job with that. I felt our offense was not executed well at all and we turned the ball over too much. We played badly at the beginning. We didn't do what we worked on. I give Westbrook credit. They've won games this year with their defense. They're a tough team. (Coach) Chris Aube does a great job with them. They caused some of our headaches."

Smith added two free throws, Lux made a layup (after a pass from senior Alexa Coulombe) and Coulombe, set up by Clement, drained a fadeaway jumper to make it 8-0.

Westbrook didn't get on the scoreboard until time expired as freshman Marissa Martel knocked down a jumper.

The Lions opened up a 12-2 lead early in the second on a pullup jumper for Clement and another Clement jumper. The Blue Blazes battled back to 12-6 on a jumper from senior Jessica Harris and another from Martel, but Smith (from Coulombe) made a layup, Coulombe hit a free throw, Clement buried a 3 and then as time wound down, she took a pass from junior Molly Mack and knocked down another and it was 21-6 at halftime.

"I definitely like shooting here," Clement said. "Coach and I have been working on my shot extra time. Shots before practice. Shots after practice. We've really focused on what I need to change in my shot since it's been a little off. Little things like getting my elbow in and finishing really high. I think the extra work paid off and I guess it showed today. My shot felt a lot more natural. They were going in today. Sometimes when you hit that one you kind of feel it."

"Allie's been working on her shot and she said a light bulb came on two days ago," Goodman said. "She shot great tonight. Allie was being Allie. She's a great player. She's struggled at times this year, but she forgets all that stuff. She has a great attitude for the game. She doesn't get too high or too low."

Turnovers were more commonplace than points early in the third period.

After two-plus scoreless minutes, Westbrook got a 3 from senior Kayla Winton. With 4:22 to go in the third, Harris blew past the defense for an easy layup to make it a 10-point game and Goodman called timeout.

McAuley then came to life.

DiPierro set up Lux for a layup with 4:03 to go. DiPierro then passed to Smith for a short jumper to push the lead back to 14.

"Coach said we needed to pass and we needed to get it inside and that's what we did," DiPierro said. "It obviously worked."

"We wanted to reverse the ball and get it inside," said Goodman. "Sadie stepped up, made a nice pass. She was apologizing at the beginning of the game, but she showed she's a senior champion in the third quarter."

After Winton knocked down another 3, Clement (from Smith) answered and on an identical play, Lux set up DiPierro for a 3 and a 31-14 lead.

"I like shooting here and I like shooting in general," said DiPierro. "Coach says when I'm open I should shoot it."

"Sadie does whatever she needs to do for our team to win, whether it's shooting, hustle plays, assists," Clement said. "She knows what she needs to do. That's really important."

After Harris made a free throw, Clement hit a jumper and with time winding down, Smith set up Lux for a layup and a 35-15 lead heading for the fourth.

There, the Lions finished it off.

Clement made a layup after a steal. After a free throw from Westbrook senior Megan Niehoff, DiPierro set up Lux for a layup and McAuley's biggest lead, 39-16. Niehoff answered with an old-fashioned three-point play. Mack made a driving layup before Winton hit two foul shots.

With bench players prevalent, Westbrook got a putback from Niehoff and that was all she wrote as the Lions went on to the 41-23 win.

Clement, as she so often has already and as she so often will in the years to come, stole the headlines with 17 points (including three 3-pointers), four steals and four rebounds.

"Allie definitely was very beneficial for us," DiPierro said. "She led the team in offense. It was really important that she took the lead tonight. The good thing about our team is if someone's having an off day, someone else steps up."

Lux had eight points and four boards. Smith added six points (and four rebounds), while DiPierro had five (and three steals) and also helped key the defensive effort.

"Defense is really important to me and our team because that's how we win games," DiPierro said.

Coulombe finished with three points (along with four boards) and Mack had two. Freshman Laura Holman made the most of her limited time with three rebounds as McAuley finished with a 22-10 edge on the glass.

The Lions only got to the line for six free throws and only made three. They also turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 24 times.

For Westbrook, Winton led the way with eight points. Niehoff had six, Harris five (along with a game-high six steals) and Martel four. The Blue Blazes committed 21 turnovers and shot 5-of-12 from the charity stripe.

Next challenge

Windham, a squad the Lions have never faced in the postseason, will pose a serious threat Wednesday, due largely to league Player of the Year, senior Meghan Gribbin, who had 26 points in the Eagles' 45-33 win over Deering in their quarterfinal. Windham will be taking part in its first ever Western A semifinal.

McAuley beat the Eagles in the regular season, in a game it led comfortably most of the way, but the Lions know doing it again won't come easily.

"Windham's going to be a tough opponent," said DiPierro. "They're all strong. They all play hard. It'll be a tough match for us."

"We definitely need to play help defense," Clement said. "Defense on Meg Gribbin is the number one thing we need to do to win. We need to have help. Sadie will probably guard her and not let her get anything easy. We need to work and make sure it's not an easy game for them. We have to come out strong."

"(The Eagles) have Gribbin and a very good frontcourt," Goodman added. "We'll have to bring it. They have a very good team. They had some close losses or they would have had a better record. They're the real deal. They're going to be a tough opponent."

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

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Despite a defender's hand in her face, McAuley freshman Victoria Lux goes up for a shot.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

McAuley senior Alexa Coulombe lofts a pass over a defender.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

McAuley sophomore Olivia Smith battles through two defenders.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Few players display as much defensive intensity as McAuley senior Sadie DiPierro, who helped the Lions hold the Blue Blazes in check all game.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

McAuley junior Molly Mack shows some dexterity as she goes up with the left hand.