Do you believe in miracles? Scarborough saves season again
"The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again."
Red Smith, New York Herald Tribune sportswriter, after Bobby Thomson's home run gave the New York Giants the 1951 National League pennant.
PORTLAND—Who needs fiction when you have the Scarborough girls' basketball team?
A little more than 48 hours after rallying for an unlikely Western Class A quarterfinal round victory over Cheverus, the Red Storm found itself in similarly dire straights against Marshwood in the semifinals Wednesday evening at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Scarborough, ranked second, having defied the odds all winter, finally appeared to have met its match in the third-ranked Hawks, who were ahead most of the way, going up by as many as 10 points midway through the third quarter and leading by eight with seven minutes to go.
But these Red Storm simply never give up and Marshwood was soon overcome by Scarborough's sensational pressure defense, which forced 15 Hawks' turnovers in the second half.
As it did versus Cheverus, the Red Storm broke its opponent's will to the point you could feel the momentum change.
Still, Marshwood held a 41-38 advantage with under three minutes to play before Scarborough junior Taylor LeBorgne managed to do something no player on either team had done all night, make a 3-pointer, and with 2:27 left in regulation, the game was tied.
After yet another Hawks' turnover and after milking the clock. LeBorgne drove the lane and just as she did Monday, bounced a pass to senior Carly Rogers, who made a layup to put the Red Storm on top.
This time, the opponent answered, as Marshwood got a jumper from junior Jillian Gori with 46.1 seconds to play, but that only delayed the inevitable.
With 28.4 seconds remaining, an unlikely hero, based on how she started the tournament, freshman Ashley Briggs, drove to the basket collided with a defender as she made a layup. After an anxious moment, the official called a block, counted the basket and Scarborough was ahead to stay. Briggs added the free throw and the Hawks' never got off a potential game tying 3-point attempt as the Red Storm held on for a 46-43 triumph.
Once again, Scarborough's win was a true team effort as six players scored and everyone who saw the floor took part in the stifling defensive effort as the Red Storm improved to 19-1, ended Marshwood's best season this century at 16-4 and advanced to set up a 1 versus 2 showdown with defending state champion McAuley (20-0) in the Western Class A Final Saturday at 7:05 p.m., at the Civic Center.
"They're just super kids," said first-year Scarborough coach Tom Maines, after his 374th career victory. "There's no quit in them. I said it the other day and I'll say it again. I've never coached a more tough, resilient group of student-athletes than these kids."
Scarborough won the 2010 Class A title in undefeated fashion, but graduation and injuries spelled a 6-12 record a year ago. This winter, everything changed after Maines got to town as the new coach.
The Red Storm won its first 11 games, which included impressive wins at Cheverus and Deering. After a 49-37 home loss to McAuley, Scarborough closed on a 7-0 run to wind up 17-1, good for the No. 2 seed in Western A.
The magic carpet ride appeared to be coming to an end Monday afternoon in the quarterfinals, when the Red Storm trailed No. 7 Cheverus by 11 points late in the third period and by 10 entering the fourth, but Scarborough closed on a thrilling 20-6 run and stole one, 39-35.
As for Marshwood, which went 8-10 and didn't make the playoffs in 2010-11, it entered the year with high hopes. After a 2-2 start, the Hawks won 13 of their final 14 to wind up 15-3, good for third in the region.
Like Scarborough, Marshwood appeared doomed in its quarterfinal, against No. 6 Thornton Academy. After trailing most of the way, the Hawks rallied and led late, only to see the Golden Trojans tie the game, then have two potential game-winning free throws go awry, giving Marshwood a reprieve and sending the game to overtime. There, the Hawks prevailed, 51-49.
The regular season meeting came way back on Dec. 16 in South Berwick. Marshwood had a 13-2 lead after one quarter, but behind junior Mary Redmond's 12 points, Scarborough came back to win, 54-48.
The teams hadn't met in the tournament since Marshwood beat Scarborough in the 1993 Western B quarterfinals, 56-53. The Hawks held a 3-0 all-time lead over Scarborough in the postseason, with all the meetings coming in Class B.
Wednesday, Marshwood appeared primed to move on, but in truth, the Red Storm was only setting the stage for yet another dramatic chapter.
Redmond hit the game's first shot, a jumper 17 seconds in. Junior Maria Philbrick added a jumper of her own before Hawks senior standout Aubrey Folger got going with a driving layup and a one-handed runner to tie the score.
Redmond answered with a jumper, but on an inbounds pass, senior Kayla Rackley passed to senior Tatum Schladenhauffen for a layup. Scarborough went back on top when Briggs set up junior Courtney Alofs for a layup, but Folger converted an old-fashioned three-point play (putback, foul and free throw). With 25.1 seconds left in first quarter, Alofs (from Rogers) made a layup and the Red Storm had the lead, 10-9.
Marshwood then pushed ahead.
After nearly two-and-a-half scoreless minutes of the second quarter, Hawks senior Alexandria Bartlett knocked down a jumper. Rogers answered with a layup after a pretty spin move. Folger then raced in for a layup, putting Marshwood back ahead, 13-12.
The Hawks wouldn't trail again until late in the game.
After grabbing an offensive rebound, senior Jorden Mitchell extended the lead with a long jumper. A driving layup by LeBorgne got Scarborough within a point, but Marshwood closed the half on a 6-1 run.
Folger hit two free throws and after Philbrick countered with one, Mitchell made a driving layup and Schladenhauffen passed to Folger for a fast break layup and a 21-15 advantage at the break.
Each team had 13 turnovers in the first half. The difference was Folger, who compiled 13 points and three rebounds to give the Hawks a leg up.
After seeing its deficit balloon to 10 in the third, the Red Storm made its move.
After LeBorgne made two free throws, Schladenhauffen answered with one, but Briggs took a pass from Rogers and made a jumper, her first points of the tournament, making it a 22-19 contest.
"Coach got on my case in the locker room," said Briggs. "I haven't been playing well. I needed that 'oomph' to play well again. That's what helped. I got my confidence back. In the Cheverus game, I didn't make anything. That was really frustrating. Same in the first half this game. I knew I had to come back because we're a team. We play for each other. Everyone picked me up and helped me. That was comforting."
It's a good thing she got her shot going when she did.
"It was the first time she hasn't started the second half," Maines said. "I told her I didn't like the way she was playing and that I've give her one minute."
Philbrick added a foul shot and that cut the deficit to 22-20, but Marshwood went on an 8-0 run as Folger (from senior Nicole Lachance) made a layup, then hit two free throws and Schladenhauffen made back-to-back baskets, the first a layup from Folger and the second a layup from junior Alli Schoff, to make it 30-20 with 4:02 to go in the third.
Then the tide began to turn.
Single free throws from Redmond, Briggs and Philbrick were followed by a jumper after a steal by Redmond, a LeBorgne free throw and a jumper by Briggs, making it 30-28.
Scarborough had turned the tide with its press.
"We run a bunch of different presses, especially against teams we feel can't dribble or pass well," said Briggs. "Coach calls us whippets and greyhounds, because we're small and quick. If we're in the passing lanes, no one can get the ball in. If we bump up, no one can pass the ball."
Mitchell ended the run with a layup, but with 9.4 seconds to go, Philbrick, while stuck under the basket and about to fall out of bounds, somehow passed to Rogers, who made a layup to make it a two-point game again, 32-30, heading for the fourth.
There, the Red Storm once more capped a dramatic rally.
First, Folger fed Lachance for a layup, Folger made two free throws, then made two more to make it 38-30 with 7:03 remaining, but after a steal, Folger missed a layup and Scarborough pounced.
Philbrick made two free throws and Redmond managed to drain a contested baseline jumper to cut the deficit to four. After Schoff fed Mitchell for a layup off an inbounds play with 5:13 remaining, Briggs hit a pullup jumper and Redmond scored on a putback to make it a two-possession game, 40-38.
A free throw from Gori only delayed the inevitable.
With 2:27 remaining, LeBorgne took a pass from Briggs and calmly buried an open 3 and just like that, Scarborough was even, 41-41.
"It was great," LeBorgne said. "It was the only one of the game. I knew we needed something big. I was wide open and it just fell and it was awesome. It's almost better to come off the bench. I can prepare myself to go in. I know they'll need me."
After a Hawks' turnover, LeBorgne drove and passed to Rogers, who drove the baseline before making a layup to give the Red Storm a 43-41 advantage with 1:11 to go.
The play was very similar to the winning basket versus Cheverus.
"Taylor drove again, but it was off to the other side this time," said Rogers. "I saw the lane. I've done that move 100 times. It worked. Thank God."
Marshwood drew even when Folger passed to Gori for a jumper with 46.1 seconds to go, but that just set the stage for Briggs, who took a pass, drove the lane and got a layup to drop while being fouled by Lachance with 28.4 seconds to go.
"Coach called a spread," Briggs said. "That's where you dribble and attack. I dribbled and attacked and hoped and I made it. I was afraid it was a charge at first."
"We knew we needed a basket quick and we weren't going to take a timeout," said LeBorgne. "It was a great drive by Ashley. She made it."
"We practice situations every day and if it's tied, we just go," said Rogers. "We want to play it out and see what happens first. (Ashley's) first half was rough, but she stepped up. I know it's hard to be a freshman under the lights. I'm sure she was scared, but she did a great job."
Briggs added the foul shot, which loomed large.
"There was still pressure on the free throw," Briggs said. "If I missed and they scored a 3, we would have lost."
The Hawks could only hope to tie and force overtime.
With under 10 seconds to go, Mitchell drove the lane, hoping for a quick basket and a timeout, but her shot was off. Folger's follow up was no good. Folger got the rebound again and passed to Schoff beyond the 3-point stripe, but before she could attempt a potential game-tying shot, the final horn sounded and the Red Storm had pulled yet another rabbit out of its hat.
Scarborough 46 Marshwood 43.
"We like to keep everyone on their toes," said LeBorgne, with a chuckle, after the game. "We knew we were down, but we weren't going to give up. We came back and played hard as we could and did it again. Just like Cheverus. (On the last possession), we knew we had to get in the passing lanes and not let them get anything easy. We didn't want Folger to do anything. It felt good when the horn sounded."
"I can't explain it," Rogers said. "We definitely knew we were down the exact same amount (as Monday) and knew we could pull it out, but it was scary getting there. At first, we were all nerves, but I think we settled in."
"We weren't playing as a team in the first half,' Briggs said. "We were being selfish, playing individually. We played together in the second half. We played defense, we passed the ball. We knew we'd come back before. In the first game, we were down 13-2 and came back and won."
Scarborough's balanced scoring attack was paced by Redmond, with 11 points. She also had two of her team's 12 steals.
Briggs, after six scoreless quarters in the tournament, came alive in the second half and finished with 10 points. She also had a team-high three steals.
"I just told her, 'You should be congratulated because you just played your best half of offensive and defensive basketball,'" Maines said. "It was just a super effort on her part to turn around and have a great second half in all aspects, shooting, handling the ball and playing defense. That's just one of many examples on this team."
LeBorgne had eight points (and a pair of steals), Philbrick seven, Rogers six (along with a team-high six rebounds and two steals) and Alofs four.
The Red Storm committed 20 turnovers and made just 11-of-24 free throws.
"The other night we hit them when we had to," Maines said. "Tonight, it wasn't there."
Forcing 28 Hawks' turnovers was enough to make up for those shortcomings.
For Marshwood, Folger dazzled in her swan song with 21 points (including 9-of-9 free throw shooting), eight rebounds and two steals.
"You watch (Folger) play and it's amazing how she runs up the court and when you find her, she's already gone," Rogers said. "We did the best we could."
Mitchell added eight points (as well as three boards and two blocked shots), Schladenhauffen seven (with four rebounds), Gori three (to go with four steals), Bartlett and Lachance (five rebounds) two apiece.
The Hawks had a 25-21 rebounding edge and shot very well from the foul line (11-of-14), but their inability to handle Scarborough's press in the second half spelled doom.
There was one aspect of the victory that was bittersweet for Maines.
"(Marshwood coach) Lee Petrie is a wonderful young man," Maines said. "He was in my program when I was coaching at Mexico. He was a sixth grader. I brought Lee into some of our 'Clinics in the Woods' the past few years. It's tough to beat one of my old kids."
One step away
Scarborough's difficult road to a second championship in three seasons now faces the ultimate obstacle in McAuley, which has decisively beaten eighth-ranked Westbrook (41-23) and No. 5 Windham (49-33) in its two playoff games.
Back on Dec. 20, in a battle of unbeatens, the Lions made a statement with a 49-37 victory at the Red Storm. Scarborough had difficulty with McAuley's size, couldn't force turnovers with its press and committed an inordinate number of turnovers.
In the schools' first ever playoff meeting, the Red Storm will enter playing with house money and expects to give the mighty Lions a battle to the finish.
As if there could be another way.
"We have something special going on," said Briggs. "Coach hasn't told us our game plan yet, but we'll be ready."
"We're excited to play them again," LeBorgne said. "It should be a really good game. There's no pressure."
"We've gotten a lot better," Rogers added. "We have to make better passes. We had a lot of turnovers that first game. We have to not psyche ourselves out. We have to keep it together. Two years ago, we had a lot of seniors, a lot of leadership. This year, it's more fun that people don't believe in us. (We believe). It's great."
As for Maines, he's thrilled to have more time with a group of girls who's accomplishments have surpassed his wildest dreams.
"I just told the girls they're one win from playing in a state championship game," said Maines, who's won three Gold Balls in his career. "McAuley was our only loss. I wasn't disappointed we lost that one. I'm changing the matchups. I didn't do a good job coaching the first time. We have two days of practice. We extended the season two more days. I'm happy with that."
The winner advances to the Class A state game (against either Cony or Edward Little), Saturday, March 3, also at the Civic Center.