Scarborough's improbable rally stuns Cheverus
PORTLAND—Through 18 games, 17 of them victories, the Scarborough girls' basketball team has flown under the radar and frankly hasn't gotten the credit it deserves.
Monday afternoon in a Western Class A quarterfinal round game with No. 7 Cheverus at the Portland Exposition Building, the second-ranked Red Storm's feel-good run appeared to be coming to a close as it trailed by 11 points late in the third period and by 10 entering the fourth.
There, Scarborough demonstrated what's made it so special and made even the harshest cynic sit up and take notice.
The Red Storm dug deep and made life miserable for the Stags down the stretch, forcing turnover after turnover, cutting into the deficit at the foul line and finally drawing even with 1:27 remaining on two free throws from senior Carly Rogers.
With 34.5 seconds left, Rogers struck again, this time taking a pass from junior Taylor LeBorgne and making just Scarborough's ninth field goal of the game, a layup, that put it ahead to stay.
Junior Mary Redmond added two foul shots with 9.7 seconds to go and the Red Storm went on to an improbable 39-35 triumph.
Rogers led all scorers with 19 points and sophomore Maria Philbrick had a fourth quarter to remember, scoring eight points, as the Red Storm improved to 18-1, ended the Stags' season at 12-8 and advanced to meet No. 3 Marshwood in the semifinals Wednesday.
"It's an unexpected win," said Scarborough coach Tom Maines. "I thought Cheverus had a marvelous game plan. They played a great first half. I've coached a long time and I've never been more proud of kids than these. They're great to coach. I think they have something innate in them that they want to excel. Everything they do, academically and athletically, and I'm lucky enough to coach them."
Throw out the seeds
Both teams expected to be competitive in 2011-12 and both accomplished that goal.
Scarborough won the 2010 Class A title in undefeated fashion, but graduation and injuries spelled a 6-12 record a year ago. This winter, under Maines, the Red Storm returned to form and shocked the local basketball world by winning its first 11 contests.
Victories came over Gorham (58-51), Westbrook (57-39), Marshwood (54-48), Windham (46-44), Portland (50-38), Biddeford (57-29), South Portland (58-37), Thornton Academy (48-32), Cheverus (48-36), Noble (73-25) and Deering (53-47). A 49-37 home loss to defending Class A champion McAuley followed, but Scarborough returned to form and won its final six contests over Kennebunk (69-19), Sanford (36-34), Massabesic (64-53), Bonny Eagle (61-31), Thornton Academy (52-41) and Kennebunk again (69-27).
Cheverus, which lost a heartbreaker in last year's quarterfinals, to Sanford, won their first five games this winter, downing Biddeford (68-28), Gorham (51-43), Portland (56-40), Westbrook (43-32) and Noble (52-18). After losing at Marshwood, 59-49, the Stags held off visiting Bonny Eagle, 46-40 and avenged last year's playoff loss with a 31-19 victory at Sanford. Then, Cheverus ran into difficulty, 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), before losing at Thornton Academy (47-40), at McAuley (57-40) and at home to Deering (48-42). Cheverus closed the regular year with a 62-41 home win over Portland and earned the No. 7 seed in the region.
Wednesday, the Stags earned the first playoff victory in program annals, 50-44, over No. 10 Gorham.
Scarborough had won seven of the nine all-time meetings between the schools, including its win at Cheverus in January. The first ever postseason encounter between the schools produced a memorable contest.
The Red Storm got off to a hot start, taking a 5-0 lead on a 3 from Redmond and a layup after a steal from Rogers, but the Stags began to heat up and took the lead.
A layup from senior Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy (assisted by junior Mikayla Mayberry) got the offense going. Sophomore Georgia Ford tied the game with a 3 (set up by Palazzi-Leahy). After Scarborough went back on top when junior Courtney Alofs took a pass from Redmond and made a layup.
Cheverus closed the first on a 10-0 run as Flaherty made a free throw, then hit two more, Ford made a foul shot, then hit a 3 (again set-up by Palazzi-Leahy) and Palazzi-Leahy capped the run with a 3 (set up by Libby) to make it 15-7 after one.
The Red Storm settled down in the second quarter.
Rogers ended a 4 minute, 59 second drought with a jumper. After Libby made a layup (from Ford, after a turnover), Rogers was fouled after an offensive rebound and hit one free throw. Redmond missed a 3 on the next possession, but got her own rebound and was fouled. She hit a free throw to make it 17-11.
A long jumper from Mayberry pushed the lead to eight, but Rogers hit a leaner, Redmond made two free throws and Alofs hit one to cut the deficit to three.
With 1:47 left in the half, after a Scarborough turnover, Palazzi-Leahy inbounded the ball to Flaherty, who hit her favorite shot, an elbow jumper. Both teams had chances as the half wound down, but couldn't score and the Stags took a 21-16 advantage to the locker room.
When Rogers made a layup 38 seconds into the third period, it looked like the Red Storm might make a run, but it then went cold.
Mayberry scored on a putback, Flaherty hit a foul shot after an offensive rebound and Mayberry sank two free throws. With 2:13 remaining in the third, Flaherty made a free throw. At the 1:05 mark, Flaherty fed Libby for a layup.
Scarborough finally got off the schneid when Rogers made a free throw with 41.3 seconds to go, ending a 6 minute, 41 second drought, but that only got the Red Storm within 10, 29-19, heading for the fourth.
There, Scarborough finally made a run.
One that will live in program lore.
Twenty seconds in, LeBorgne made a foul shot. Rogers followed with a pair, Philbrick scored on a driving layup (she was fouled, but missed the free throw) and Philbrick, after a steal, was fouled and hit two free throws to make it a 29-26 contest with 7:06 still to go.
A pair of Palazzi-Leahy free throws at the 6:30 mark stemmed the tide momentarily, but Rogers managed to get a leaner over Flaherty to roll home. After Flaherty made two foul shots, Philbrick hit a pair with 4:11 remaining and it was 33-30.
After a Cheverus turnover, the Red Storm had a chance to draw even closer, but Philbrick couldn't finish a layup and Stags sophomore Abby Maker rebounded.
With 3;36 to go, Palazzi-Leahy went to the line, made the first free throw, but missed the second and it was 34-30. After the Stags forced a turnover, Flaherty missed a shot, but got her own rebound and was fouled. Flaherty made her first attempt, but missed the second, yet Cheverus was up five with 3:05 to go.
The Stags wouldn't score another point.
After Flaherty's miss, Rogers got the rebound and was fouled. She made one free throw, but missed the second. Palazzi-Leahy got the rebound, but Scarborough forced a held ball and the possession arrow favored the Red Storm. LeBorgne missed a 3 and Mayberry got the rebound.
Again, the Scarborough defense set up the offense as Philbrick stole the ball and was fouled. She hit both attempts and it was a 35-33 game with 2:37 still to play.
"I knew I had to take it to the rim and get fouled," Philbrick said. "They were in foul trouble. I had a lot of excitement and I knew we could do it."
Compounding matters for Cheverus, it was out of timeouts.
"Obviously, not having a timeout hurt," said Stags coach Richie Ashley. "We had to call those timeouts to try to stop the bleeding."
Libby managed to draw a foul with 1:56 left in the game, but missed two free throws. Rogers rebounded and the Red Storm came down looking for the tie or lead. Redmond lined up a 3, but it was off the mark. Palazzi-Leahy rebounded, but again Scarborough stole the ball, this time Rogers doing the honors, and she was fouled with 1:27 remaining. Rogers calmly drained two foul shots and for the first time since 5-5, the game was deadlocked.
"For once, I wasn't nervous shooting free throws," said Rogers. "I felt great at the line. I was confident."
Rogers stole the ball again on the next Stags' possession and after running 45 seconds off the clock, LeBorgne drove, drew the defense and passed to Rogers who went up for a layup and a 37-35 lead, the Red Storm's first since 7-6.
"Taylor got me the ball," said Rogers. "We tried to (run that play) all game and it finally opened up."
"I told LeBorgne to penetrate and Carly finished," Maines said.
This time, Cheverus managed to get the ball up the floor and had two good looks at a tie.
First, Mayberry's leaner went in and out, but the rebound was tied up and the arrow favored the Stags. The ball then came to Flaherty, who missed a contested leaner and the rebound came to Redmond.
Redmond was fouled with 9.7 seconds remaining. If she made both free throws, the game was essentially over.
Redmond buried the first attempt. She hit the second and that was all she wrote.
Scarborough had come all the way back to win, 39-35.
"I knew we could do it," Philbrick said. "I think it was our defense that really did it for us. We just needed to step it up and once we did, no one could stop us."
"It's a different team (from two years ago), but this was reminiscent of (come-from-behind tournament wins over Biddeford and Deering in 2010)," said Rogers. "It was fun. About halfway through the fourth quarter, we just started to turn it on. Our defense turned the tide. We got tips in the passing lanes. Maria was great. They had some good looks. I had my fingers crossed. I think we play great defense, even when our shots aren't falling."
Maines, who's now won 372 games and multiple state championships in his long coaching career, was emotional after the win, paying homage to a group of girls he didn't even know less than three months ago.
"I just told them that not many teams would come back from 10 down not shooting well," Maines said. "It was great heart, great defensive presence. We're small, but we're aggressive. We were getting in the passing lanes and making them do things they didn't want to do. Especially in the fourth quarter."
Rogers had a superb day, leading all scorers with 19 points. She also had five rebounds, five steals and two blocked shots.
"(Carly's) last layup and the foul shots were huge for us," said Philbrick. "She's a captain and it really shows on the court."
"The last three weeks, Carly has had massive improvement with her footwork and her hands in the passing lanes," Maines said. "I think she got four or five tips today. Her hands were never level with the ball before and now they are. She has great length."
Philbrick scored eight points, all in the fourth quarter. Philbrick also had six steals and conveyed calm throughout.
"If you saw (Maria's) temperament from game one to now, it never gets too high or too low," said Maines. "She has wonderful composure on the court. I think she's the best point guard in the conference because of her ability to stay under control. She also plays great defense."
Redmond also had eight points, Alofs added three (along with five boards) and LeBorgne had one.
Even though it was outrebounded 37-21, turned the ball over 21 times and didn't get a single point from freshman Ashley Briggs, the Red Storm (which shot 20-of-32 from the foul stripe) had survived.
"We made adjustments in the second half, put Briggs up top and tried to get some inside isolations," Maines said. "We had good looks and open shots that didn't go. I screwed around with the zone pressure in the middle two periods and we went back to running and jumping on the ball. We wanted (to cut the deficit in half) at four minutes, cut another half at the two minute mark and I wanted it zero at two minutes and to win at the buzzer."
For Cheverus, Flaherty had a team-high 10 points, along with seven rebounds and two steals. Palazzi-Leahy, in her swan song, had eight points, four boards, three steals and a pair of blocks. Ford had seven points, Mayberry six (along with seven rebounds) and Libby four. Libby was phenomenal on the glass, grabbing a game-high 14 boards. She also had three blocks and two steals.
"Kylie played well inside," Ashley said. "She's scrappy."
"(Libby's) always great rebounding," said Rogers. "We tried to do our best boxing her out. She got a ton of rebounds, but it paid off for us."
Ultimately, the Stags were doomed by their 37 turnovers and 14-of-27 foul shooting and left the court in shocked disbelief.
"We just couldn't execute," Ashley lamented. "The pressure affected us a little bit. We just didn't make enough plays when we needed to. The girls don't have anything to hang their heads about. They played as hard as they could. We were up almost the whole game. We just turned it over, missed a lot of foul shots and couldn't score when we needed to. We didn't get enough rebounds. There was a big discrepancy in fouls. We put them in the double bonus so a lot of their points came from the foul line and we didn't make ours. I thought we had a great game plan and I thought the girls executed it well. We just came up a couple plays short. They made the plays and we didn't."
The good news for Cheverus is that only graduates three players, Armani Alonzo, Allison Thomas and Palazzi-Leahy, but the latter's departure will be a big hole to fill.
"Alexandra means a lot to me," Ashley said. "She's like my little sister. It's hard to see her go. She turned this program around."
The rest of this solid core returns and should be even stronger in 2012-13. One of these years, the Stags will get over the hump and the rest of the league will pay a steep price.
The road gets no easier for Scarborough, which next faces Marshwood (16-3 after rallying to beat No. 6 Thornton Academy in overtime Monday) in the semifinals Wednesday, when action shifts across town to the Cumberland County Civic Center. The game tips at 6 p.m.
The Red Storm beat the host Hawks (54-48) back on Dec. 16. It was way down early before rallying to take control. The teams haven't met in the tournament since Marshwood beat Scarborough in the 1993 Western B quarterfinals, 56-53. The Hawks hold a 3-0 all-time lead over Scarborough in the postseason, with all the meetings coming in Class B.
The Red Storm train marches on and it wouldn't be wise for anyone to bet against this team.
"It's been a long year, but it's been a lot of fun," Philbrick said. "I never thought we'd be this good. We've had a lot of challenges on the way and I think it just made us stronger. I'm pretty excited to go back to the Civic Center. We won there my freshman year. It's more incentive to show what we're made of."
"I'm excited," Rogers said. "It was a good game at the beginning of the season. We're a different team now. We have to box out. They have some big bodies in there. We have to play offense the way we know we can and play defense the way we are."
"We get to practice one more day," said Maines. "If we handle their press, we'll be alright. It's a different matchup. I feel comfortable. Lots of times in the tournament, you'll have a bad game, a good game and a great game. Hopefully this was our bad game. It's not a bad game because we won, but shooting the ball, we didn't do very well."