Worth the wait...McAuley solves Deering, extends win streak to 34
PORTLAND—For 18 hours, McAuley junior Allie Clement and her teammates could do nothing but wait.
After Friday night's highly anticipated girls' basketball Stevens Avenue showdown against rival Deering was suspended five minutes in due to condensation on the floor, the Lions faced a deficit, be it ever so modest (one point), but through a long evening and morning, there was nothing they could do about it.
That all changed Saturday afternoon when the game resumed and it took Clement all of 28 seconds to take matters into her own hands, as she sank a 3-pointer and put McAuley ahead to stay.
While the Rams, like they always do, gave the Lions fits, McAuley rode stellar defense, the sharpshooting of Clement, strong inside play from sophomore Victoria Lux and a tremendous all-around effort from freshman Sarah Clement, in her coming out party, to seize control.
The Lions were up, 10-8, after one quarter and after forcing 21 Deering turnovers in the first three periods, led by as many as 14, 39-25, with less than five minutes to play, before the Rams came roaring back.
Deering closed the game on a 10-4 run and even drew within seven, 42-35, with under a minute to go, but McAuley got a key defensive stop and an Allie Clement free throw to close it out and win, 43-35.
The Lions improved to 8-0, extended their homecourt win streak to 14 games and their three-year overall win streak to 34 as they handed the Rams their first loss in nine outings this winter.
"I was just excited the whole time," said Allie Clement. "I was afraid I'd psyche myself out, so I tried to keep myself calm. I've never had a game suspended. Especially a big game like that that was hyped up so much. We had to keep our composure and keep calm. We just needed to come back out like it was the beginning of a 0-0 game. Being down by a point didn't really matter."
Clash of styles
McAuley has excelled the past two championship seasons, but this year's group might be even better, a stunning possibility considering the Lions graduated 2012 Miss Maine basketball Alexa Coulombe and defensive wizard Sadie DiPierro.
McAuley has completely run roughshod on the opposition to date, putting games away by halftime (in many cases the first quarter), winning its first seven by an average of a whopping 49 points. The victims included visiting Noble (77-12), visiting Kennebunk (84-30), host Portland (74-25), visiting Marshwood (75-24), host Bonny Eagle (71-41), host Biddeford (60-19, in a game the Lions almost pitched a shutout in the first half) and visiting Windham (72-32).
Deering graduated standout Ella Ramonas and sharpshooter Emily Cole, but has also passed every test to date, thanks to smothering defense and timely scoring. The Rams haven't been beating teams with the prolific ease of McAuley, but managed to defeat host Thornton Academy (38-35), visiting Marshwood (34-21), visiting Massabesic (54-35), host Noble (66-31), visiting Sanford (32-19), host Bonny Eagle (68-39), host South Portland (45-37) and visiting Kennebunk (50-21).
Deering-McAuley has arguably been the state's best girls' basketball rivalry this century. Since 2000, the Lions have won eight regional and four state titles, while the Rams have three Class A crowns to their credit. Only two other schools (Sanford in 2006 and Scarborough in 2010) have won regional titles in that span.
The Stevens Avenue neighbors have produced countless epic showdowns over the years. Entering the game, since the start of the 2003-04 season, McAuley held an 11-9 edge, but the average margin of victory in those 20 games has been a mere eight points and five have gone into overtime, including four of the past six meetings.
In that span, the teams have also played in the postseason five times, with Deering capturing three of them. The most recent was one of the great games in state tournament history, as McAuley survived, 41-40, in overtime, in the 2011 Western A Final.
Last year was typical of the rivalry as the defending champion Lions came in heavily favored, but only managed 12 first half points at Deering and needed a Clement 3 (for the second year in a row) to force overtime. There, McAuley prevailed, 30-25.
The last time the teams met at McAuley, Feb. 11, 2011, the Rams rallied to win, 37-34.
This meeting will long be remembered.
When the game began Friday evening, the Rams came out sizzling and grabbed a quick 4-0 lead on a runner from senior Alexis Stephenson and a layup from junior LeeAnn Downs after a steal from senior Chelsea Saucier.
After the game was delayed for the first time by an unplayable floor, the Lions answered, as Allie Clement hit a 3 and Sarah Clement made a layup after a steal. Stephenson countered with a layup for a 6-5 Deering lead.
Then, with 3:01 to go in the first quarter, the game was suspended.
To say that no one particularly enjoyed the delay would be an understatement.
"To me, it was torture," Lux said. "Coach hated it. We were ready to go."
"It was so weird," Allie Clement said. "My Dad told me not to pick up another foul, which is so weird, because he never usually talks to me during the middle of a quarter of a game."
The teams and fans returned to McAuley Saturday afternoon. There were no pregame announcements, introductions or a national anthem (all of which happened Friday) and the Rams took possession with a one-point lead.
After 18-plus hour pause, at 2:01 p.m., play resumed.
After Deering failed to score, the Lions got the ball and junior Jackie Welch fed Allie Clement, who knocked down a 3 to put McAuley on top for good and set the tone for the afternoon.
Late in the quarter, Lions junior Olivia Smith made a layup after a steal, but seconds later, Clement was whistled for her second foul and had to leave the game.
With 42 seconds to go, Stephenson capped her strong first quarter with a baseline jumper and the Rams were within two, 10-8.
After nearly two minutes without a point in the second quarter, Clement returned to the floor and on cue, took a pass from Smith and nailed another 3.
"We have to have Allie on the floor and she knows it," said McAuley coach Billy Goodman. "She stresses me out sometimes, but in the end, she can bear down and play disciplined when she needs to."
After Stephenson (driving layup) and sophomore Olivia Delphonse (two free throws) exchanged two points, Saucier hit a jumper, but two free throws from Smith and two more from Sarah Clement made it 19-12 Lions.
After Stephenson scored on a putback, Lux got in on the act with a nice left-handed layup after a pretty individual move. A free throw from senior Marissa MacMillan pulled the Rams within six with 2:13 to play before halftime, but the hosts closed on a 5-0 run to take a healthy lead.
First, Lux scored on a putback. After being fouled on an offensive rebound with 38 seconds to go, Lux made a free throw.
"My teammates pumped me up," said Lux. "The crowd pumped me up more. I stayed strong. I tried to do what I do best."
Then, with 2 seconds to go, Sarah Clement broke free and rattled home a runner to make it 26-15 McAuley at halftime.
Deering was hindered by 11 first half turnovers and things would get even worse for the visitors in the third period.
Allie Clement got the second half started with two free throws. Sarah Clement added a driving layup and just like that, the Lions were up 15, 30-15.
A floater from senior Keneisha DiRamio (who was hindered by two quick fouls she'd picked up Friday night) and a pair of Stephenson foul shots cut the deficit to 11, but Sarah Clement made a free throw and seconds after MacMillan received her fourth foul and a call didn't go their way, the Rams' bench was whistled for a technical foul and Sarah Clement calmly made both free throws for a 33-19 lead.
Saucier countered with a layup, but Allie Clement made two free throws, then, with 2:33 to go in the third, Clement managed to bank home a tough angle shot to give the Lions their biggest lead, 37-21 (at that point, the Clement sisters had outscored Deering, 26-21).
Saucier got two points back with a floater, but with eight minutes to play, Deering (which committed 10 more turnovers in the third quarter) was in a deep hole, down, 37-23.
To their credit, the Rams would make things very interesting down the stretch.
A jump shot by DiRamio made it a 12-point game early in the fourth and with 5:43 to go, Deering got a break when Smith fouled out.
McAuley senior Molly Mack managed to make a layup while falling out of bounds at the 4:44 mark, but Saucier hit two foul shots and Saucier fed MacMillan for a layup to cut the deficit to 39-29 with 4:16 still to play.
Mack set up Lux for a layup at the 3:55 mark, but MacMillan answered with two free throws and with 2:22 to go, DiRamio made a layup while being fouled. DiRamio would wind up with three chances to cut the deficit to seven, but after missing the first two, only to have the misses negated by lane violations on the Lions, DiRamio missed the third as well and the score remained 41-33.
Stephenson allowed Deering to keep possession with an offensive rebound, but MacMillan missed a leaner and Mack got the rebound and was fouled.
Mack missed the front end of a one-and-one, but at the other end, MacMillan missed a shot and Downs had a look at a 3, which could have made it a five-point game, go in and out.
Mack again got the board and with 1:14 remaining, Delphonse was fouled.
Delphonse made the front end of the one-and-one, but missed the second, making it 42-33.
The Rams quickly countered as MacMillan got a hook shot to drop with 52 seconds to go, but Deering wouldn't score again.
Saucier had a chance to make it a five-point game when she stole the ball, but after being cut off by two defenders, her shot was off target and Sarah Clement got the rebound.
With 29 seconds left, Allie Clement salted away the win with a free throw and McAuley could finally exhale and celebrate its 43-35 triumph.
"It was really exciting," said Sarah Clement. "There were so many people here to cheer for us. The tempo was really fast, but we tried to keep it calm. We tried to go hard at the beginning."
"We haven't had anything like that in awhile," said Allie Clement. "I think it showed everyone we're a good team. We'll get pushed by teams. They came back. We needed that. It's important to remember we can't go out and assume we'll win by 50 points. This is more fun."
"We love good competition," Lux said. "It's more fun. We always do better with competition. We came here today more intense, more pumped up. We gave it all we had and we did our best. We came out and played. We were down by one (coming in), but that gave us enthusiasm to do our best. We all help each other. That's all we need."
"I felt we started the game really badly yesterday," Goodman added. "We didn't play disciplined. Today, we came out with fire and the girls adjusted and made better decisions. We have a young team and Deering's well coached. They're disciplined. They're tough kids. They've been together a long time. They're a veteran team and it showed. They know their roles and they do it."
Allie Clement had a game high 17 points, which included the only three 3-pointers of the contest, four rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot. Sarah Clement added 10 points, along with five boards and a steal.
Clement said that it took awhile to feel comfortable, but that she's now enjoying her role.
"It was tough at the beginning, because varsity basketball is so intense, but I've gotten used to it," Clement said. "It's really fun playing with Allie. It's really special. I love it."
Clement's teammates and coach were certainly impressed.
"I was supposed to guard (Chelsea) yesterday, but when we came back in here and I had a foul, it made more sense for Sarah to guard her and she stepped up to the challenge," said Allie Clement. "Chelsea's a great player. She's patient, one of the best guards in the league. Sarah shut her down tonight. It really proved Sarah's a great defender as well as a great offensive player."
"Sarah had good points today, but she played great, disciplined defense," Goodman said. "For a freshman to do that in this environment, is really special.
"All four guards played great defense. Jackie Welch did a great job. Olivia Delphonse did a great job taking care of the ball and Allie plays great D. I just rotated them in and they did a great job."
Lux added seven points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
"What I was really happy with Vic today was her defense," said Goodman. "Last game, she got in foul trouble. She adjusted and played much better this game. It was satisfying to see her play defense like that."
Smith had four points (and two boards), Delphonse three and Mack two (to go with four rebounds and two blocks).
McAuley had a slim 28-26 edge on the glass. The Lions made 16-of-23 free throws, but did commit 19 turnovers (14 in the second half).
"We didn't have a good fourth quarter and that's on me," Goodman said.
For Deering, Stephenson led the way with 12 points, Saucier had eight, MacMillan seven, DiRamio six and Downs two.
MacMillan and Stephenson led the way on the glass with six rebounds apiece. Saucier had five and DiRamio four.
DiRamio had four of the Rams' 15 steals. Downs and Stephenson had three apiece.
The Rams went 7-of-11 from the free throw line, but were doomed by 22 turnovers (although they only gave the ball way once in the fourth period).
"The kids played hard," said Rams coach Mike Murphy. "I'm very proud of them. Honestly, they're kids. We expected they'd play hard. We have tough kids.
"Turnovers will kill you. You don't get shots at the hoop. We gave up easy points in the first half. We were tentative. That didn't happen in the second half. I'd say the last six minutes of the second quarter, we had too many turnovers. We just took it at them in the second half.
"They have player after player after player and we only have so many players. We got tired. It's a depth situation. Maybe they can get a kid from Sanford to move in next year for a kid who's leaving this year. I just want a fair, level playing field. Everyone else in our league wants the same thing. It sounds like sour grapes, but it's (unfair) when you have kids running out of gas and they have an all-star from Falmouth. It's short-changing the public schools."
Both teams will need to move ahead quickly as the challenges continue.
Deering (now second to Scarborough in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) is home against Biddeford Tuesday, then has consecutive road tests against Cheverus and Scarborough (both of which were unbeaten at press time). The Rams still have to go to Gorham and have home challenges with South Portland and Cheverus remaining.
Look for Deering to remain a thorn in the Lions' side and a top contender in the region.
"I'm happy as hell with this club," Murphy said. "We've proved we can play some serious basketball."
As for McAuley (third in Western A), after going to Massabesic Tuesday, they visit Thornton Academy and Cheverus, then host Scarborough and Gorham before continuing their difficult stretch with games at always-tenacious Sanford and South Portland. The Lions close the season at home with the Red Riots, suggesting the road to another undefeated record won't come easily.
"This prepares us for our other games," said Lux. "We have other big games coming up soon. We'll give it all we have."
The scary thing for the rest of the league is that McAuley can still get better.
"We need to not foul or turn the ball over," said Allie Clement. "We need to play help defense and block out. We need to keep focusing on the little things."
"I think defense is really key," said Sarah Clement. "Stopping everyone and making sure we keep the tempo slow and relax."
"To be in a game in the fourth quarter and get girls experience, I can't buy that," Goodman added. "We'll work in practice and getter better. We need to work on decision making. It still needs to be better."