Coulombe's dominance helps McAuley neutralize Gribbin, beat Windham in semis
PORTLAND—While Windham senior Meghan Gribbin was recently named the Southern Maine Activities Association's Player of the Year, McAuley senior Alexa Coulombe left little doubt Wednesday night that she's the premier girls' basketball player in the state of Maine.
The defending state champion Lions, ranked first in Western Class A, got a good test from the fifth-ranked Eagles in a semifinal round contest at the Cumberland County Civic Center, but rose up to meet every challenge.
Coulombe, who was named a Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist earlier on Wednesday, spearheaded an early 10-2 run and while Windham hung tough throughout, it could never get its offense fully unleashed as Gribbin (eight points) was held in check by Coulombe, senior Sadie DiPierro and sophomore Allie Clement.
Late in the third period, with McAuley up by only six points, Coulombe provided breathing room with a basket and a rare 3-pointer and the Lions were never seriously tested again as they pulled away for a 49-33 victory.
Coulombe, who only managed three points in a quarterfinal round victory over No. 8 Westbrook Monday, scored 20 points against the Eagles to help McAuley improve to 20-0 with its 24th win in a row. The Lions ended Windham's season at 15-5 and set up a Western A Final showdown with No. 2 Scarborough (19-1) Saturday at 7:05 p.m., at the Civic Center.
"Monday's game was not good," Coulombe said. "I thought I owed it to everyone on the team to pull my weight and that's what I tried to do."
Best game yet
After capturing its third Gold Ball last winter, McAuley has met every test in 2011-12 and its 18-0 record gave it the top seed in Western Class A. After Monday night's 41-23 quarterfinal round victory over Westbrook (sparked by Clement's 17 points), the Lions prepared for Windham, which was 14-4 this winter and after earning the No. 5 seed in the region, upset No. 4 Deering Monday, 45-33, behind Gribbin's 26 points.
McAuley beat the Eagles in the regular season, 41-32, in a game it led comfortably most of the way.
Wednesday marked the first ever playoff matchup between the schools and it was Windham's first Western A semifinal in 14 seasons.
McAuley got off to a hot start, but the Eagles didn't fold.
Forty-five seconds in, Coulombe fed Smith for a leaner. The next time down the floor, Smith passed to Coulombe for a jumper a 4-0 lead.
"A quick start is always good for us," Coulombe said. "When we have quick starts, we have good games and that's what happened tonight."
Windham got on the board on a Gribbin floater, but the Lions seemingly took control as Smith passed to Coulombe for a long jumper, Coulombe fed Smith for a spinner and with 4:13 to go in the first quarter, Clement drove for a layup and a 10-2 advantage.
Before the period ended, however, sophomore Sam Frost set up sophomore Haley Batchelder for a layup and as time expired, Gribbin found Batchelder for another layup.
Despite dominating most of the quarter, McAuley's lead was only 10-6.
The Lions would open it up again in the second before the Eagles rallied once more.
Smith opened the quarter with two free throws, but Gribbin set up senior Diandra Berthiaume for a layup. Clement was fouled after a steal and made one free throw, but a 3-ball from senior Mackenzie Cummings pulled Windham within two, 13-11.
McAuley then got a short jumper from Smith, a turnaround jumper from Coulombe that rattled home, an old-fashioned three-point play (leaner, foul and free throw) from Smith and a leaner from Coulombe (set up by Clement) for a 22-11 lead.
A floater by Gribbin and a 3 by senior Bebe Butts (from Gribbin) pulled the Eagles back within six, but with 5.2 seconds to go before halftime, Smith passed to DiPierro, who calmly buried a 3 and the Lions had a 25-16 advantage at the break.
McAuley allowed Windham to hang around for most of the third quarter as well before finally putting the win away.
Mack put on a rebounding show in the third period. In the first 74 seconds, she had five rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. On the last one, she laid it home.
Windham then heated up from 3-point land as Frost and Butts both connected to cut the deficit to 27-22. Coulombe put home her own miss and Mack also scored on a putback, but with 3:45 to go in the period, Frost drained another 3 from the corner and the Eagles were only down 31-25.
McAuley then ended the drama.
A pretty finger roll by Coulombe made it an eight-point game and with 2:03 left, Coulombe took a pass from Smith and buried a 3 to make it 36-25.
Coulombe has largely made her impact in the paint, but has demonstrated the range which helped earn her an opportunity to play at Boston College next year.
"I work on my shot," Coulombe said. "If it's there, it's there. We moved the ball, which is important. In warmups, I was hitting them. It can be me this game, Allie the next game, Sadie the next game. Being diversified really helps us. Other teams have to guard different people."
"Alexa is what she's been all year," first-year McAuley coach Billy Goodman said. "She just scored more points. We needed her and she produced."
In the final stanza, the Lions squeezed the life out of the Eagles.
First, Coulombe (from DiPierro) scored on a leaner. Sophomore Jackie Welch added a free throw to make it 39-25. After Berthiaume made a layup, Coulombe and Clement each drained single foul shots.
Then, with 3:41 to play, Coulombe set up Smith for a layup and a 43-27 lead.
Gribbin (who hadn't scored since the 2:42 mark of the second period), managed to bank home a runner, but Clement pushed the advantage back to 16 with two foul shots.
With 2:36 remaining, Gribbin scored the final basket of her high school career, another bank shot.
Coulombe answered with her 19th and 20th points after blowing past a defender and making a layup with her left hand.
Clement added a driving layup and Batchelder made two free throws to account for the 49-33 final score.
McAuley had met another challenge.
"We kept up the defense and I think that's what won us the game," DiPierro said. "The offense came from that. We pushed it up when we needed to. It was really important to get off to a good start. It helps that Allie, Alexa and I have been here before."
"It was really good team basketball," said Smith. "We focused on the next play. Getting up at the beginning was good. Our main goal was to hold Gribbin to under 10 (points) and that's what we did. It helped us pull through. Everybody will give us their best shot and we expect that. We just try to play as hard as we can. "
"The other night left a bad taste in our mouths," Goodman added. "I knew we were better than that. I was searching for things to say to the team. I had nothing, but the captains took charge. Give Windham all the credit. Meg is an extension of (coach) Jessie (Cummings), who did a great job with that team. Frost stepped up. They were short-handed. For them to beat Deering and play us, you have to give them credit. I respect them all. Meg's a great player."
Coulombe was the story and even though her stats were impressive, even they didn't really do her impact on the game justice. Her 20 points were a season-high (exceeding the 17 she scored against Biddeford, Kennebunk and Portland). Coulombe also had 10 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots (all of which came in the first period) and a steal.
"Alexa's a great leader," DiPierro said. "She leads us in offense in defense. Everyone looks up to her. She did everything we needed her to do tonight."
"Alexa did an awesome job," Smith said. "She really led us like a good captain."
Smith quietly had a strong game with 14 points, four assists, four rebounds and a block.
"Early in the year, (Olivia) was new to this type of environment," Goodman said. "She's come a long ways. She keeps practicing. She has so much ability. She played with confidence tonight. We've been looking for that."
Clement had seven points and led everyone with five steals. Mack added four points (and equaled Coulombe with a game-high 10 boards).
"The other night, I felt (Molly) and Alexa struggled," Goodman said. "I told them to play normal. (Rebounding is) what Molly does all year for us. She could start. She just shows up and helps the team."
DiPierro finished with three points and Welch had one.
McAuley had a 32-21 rebounding edge and grabbed six steals. The Lions committed 15 turnovers and shot a solid 9-of-13 from the foul stripe.
For Windham, Frost had eight points, five rebounds and two blocks. Gribbin bowed out with eight points, four boards and three assists. McAuley's defensive game plan was simple. The Lions weren't about to let Gribbin breathe and between Clement, Coulombe and DiPierro (who did most of the work), they didn't.
"Basically, the plan was to shut Gribbin down and stay up on the shooters," DiPierro said. "We did a good job with that. It was hard, but we wanted it. Coach had mentioned giving them different looks. It was important and it helped. We tired them out."
"Meg's a great player and we definitely prepped for her," Coulombe said. "She did everything she could tonight. I think she played well. Sadie did a good job face guarding her and frustrating her. Playing defense (on the other team's best player) is an honor. "
"We have three girls who are very good defensive players," Goodman added. "I knew Sadie could do it. I wanted to give her a break a little bit. Alexa did it. Allie's a great player. We went back to Sadie. She's an amazing defender. What she does is all about team."
Butts added six points, Batchelder and Berthiaume (four rebounds) four each and Cummings three.
The Eagles took good care of the ball, only giving it away 10 times. They only got to the foul stripe for four attempts, sinking two.
Another regional final
McAuley will defend its regional title Saturday at 7:05 p.m., at the Civic Center against No. 2 Scarborough (19-1), which has somehow rallied from second half double digit deficits to beat both No. 7 Cheverus and No. 3 Marshwood.
The Lions made a statement with a 49-37 victory at the Red Storm Jan. 20.
McAuley and Scarborough have no postseason history.
They're about the make some.
The Lions are confident, but know it'll take their best effort to date to return to the state final.
"It's going to be a tough game," Smith said. "We'll try to shut them down early and get a lot of points on the board, hopefully. We'll try our hardest. They will too. It'll be a good game."
"It'll be a good matchup," said DiPierro. "Defense will win the game like always. If we do what we did last time, we'll be fine. We need to focus on playing one possession at a time."
"We can taste it," Coulombe said. "We're hungry to get (to states). We have to do what we did last time (we played Scarborough). If we stick to our game plan we'll be fine."
"Scarborough's a great team," Goodman added. "They've been down 10 points two games in a row. They're going to bring it for 32 minutes and we'll have to play our best game. We'll have to handle pressure. That's number one. They're good at it. We need to be ready for it. We have to try to win the first quarter on Saturday and go from there."
The Class A state game is Saturday, March 3, also at the Civic Center.