At last! Cheverus vanquishes Deering
PORTLAND—It took 15 tries and over a decade, but the Cheverus girls' basketball team has finally slain the Deering dragon.
Wednesday evening, in a tournament tuneup between two of the top three teams in Western Class A, the Stags overcame a slow start and put it all together when it mattered.
Cheverus was hindered by turnovers and fouls in the first half and trailed by as many as eight, but junior Georgia Ford hit a pair of late 3s to pull the Stags within a single basket, 25-23, at halftime.
Cheverus then turned up its defense in the second off, controlled the glass at both ends and when senior Brooke Flaherty made a free throw in the waning seconds of the third period, had the lead for the first time.
The Stags then put it away in the fourth, continuing to frustrate the Deering offense while making 8-of-10 foul shots and they went on to a 48-38 triumph, ending once and all discussion of how Cheverus can't handle its pedigreed city rival.
Ford made four 3-pointers in all, led all scorers with 19 points and got plenty of help from her teammates as the Stags improved to 15-2 and ended the Rams' regular season at 16-2.
"It's awesome," Ford said. "Everyone is so happy. Especially for it being our last away game. Deering played so well today. They're tough, but none of us got our heads down. We stayed positive. We knew we could do it."
Both teams have been among the Western A elite this winter and both have (futilely) chased McAuley for the top spot.
The Stags opened the year by handling host Biddeford (54-19), visiting Gorham (57-34), visiting Portland (42-17), visiting Westbrook (57-31), host Noble (68-15), visiting Marshwood (57-33), host Bonny Eagle (76-48) and visiting Sanford (57-47). The Stags' ninth game was one for the ages, a triple overtime 58-57 win at Scarborough. Cheverus fell from the unbeaten ranks with a 60-56 home loss to Deering, then dropped a 51-30 home decision to McAuley. The Stags returned to form with wins over visiting Windham (60-37), at South Portland (43-33), at Massabesic (83-48), at Kennebunk (67-28) and at home over Thornton Academy (61-44).
Deering, meanwhile, defeated 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), before suffering its lone loss, 43-35, at McAuley The Rams then started another streak with a 47-14 home win over Biddeford and continued it at Cheverus (60-56), at Scarborough (48-41), at home over Westbrook (55-35), at Windham (38-24), at home over Portland (55-37), at Gorham (53-37) and at home over South Portland Monday, 33-21.
The teams had met 14 previous times, with Deering taking them all, including a narrow victory at Cheverus back on Jan. 11. In that one, the Rams put four players in double figures (led by Alexis Stephenson, with 16), while the Stags got 18 points from Ford and 17 from Brooke Flaherty, but fell just short.
Wednesday, Cheverus said enough is enough and checked beating Deering off its to-do list.
The Rams, who started so poorly in Monday's win over South Portland, were the complete opposite in this one, dazzling in the first period on their Senior Night.
Just 29 seconds in, Deering had a 4-0 lead thanks to a layup from senior Marissa MacMillan and another layup from senior Chelsea Saucier.
The Stags got on the board on a putback from Flaherty, but Rams senior Sami Mack, earning a rare start, knocked down a 3-ball.
After Cheverus got back to 7-4 on a jumper from promising freshman Jess Willerson, senior Mikayla Mayberry was called for a foul, then was issued a technical foul. Saucier made one of two free throws and senior Keneisha DiRamio added a bank shot to make it 10-4 Deering.
The Stags got a layup from sophomore Jill Libby (assisted by her older sister, senior captain Kylie Libby), but Saucier scored on a bank shot. After Cheverus made it a two-point game, 12-10, on a layup from senior Victoria Nappi and a pullup jumper from Willerson, Stephenson knocked down a 3 and Saucier fed junior LeeAnn Downs for a layup and a 17-10 lead.
A free throw from Jill Libby pulled the Stags back within six after eight minutes of play.
Deering posted 17 first quarter points, but wouldn't reach double figures in any of the remaining three stanzas.
It took over three minutes for either team to score in the second period before Ford made a layup for her first points. MacMillan and Mayberry traded two foul shots before MacMillan scored on a leaner and Saucier hit two free throws to give the hosts their biggest lead, 23-15.
Mayberry and DiRamio traded jump shots before Ford roared to life.
With 1:47 left in the half, Ford hit her first 3. Twenty-eight seconds later, she drained another and at the break, Cheverus suddenly had momentum and belief, trailing by only two.
"Georgia has icewater in her veins," said Stags coach Richie Ashley. "She stepped up at the end of last year and helped us take the next step. She's had games where she knocks down shots."
MacMillan opened the second half scoring with a putback, but Kylie Libby made a jump shot. After Stephenson made a baseline jumper for a 29-25 Deering lead, the Stags closed the third quarter on a 5-0 run as Kylie Libby made a foul shot, Ford hit another 3 while fading away from the basket, and Flaherty hit a free throw to make it 30-29 Cheverus heading for the fourth.
The Stags had been close to the Rams in previous meetings, but hadn't been able to close it out.
This time, Cheverus met every challenge and wound up pulling away.
With 6:50 to go, Nappi banked home a 3 for a 33-29 lead. Deering coach Mike Murphy called timeout trying to light a fire in his team and it worked temporarily as Stephenson made a jumper to end the 7-0 run and a 6 minute, 31 second drought, but with 5:06 left, Flaherty (in the high post) spotted a cutting Mayberry for a layup and a 35-31 advantage.
Mayberry had completely shaken off her earlier technical.
"Coach told me not to worry about it," Mayberry said. "I couldn't worry about the little things. I had to stay focused for the rest of the game."
Flaherty, who wasn't her usual high scoring self,, yet loomed large nonetheless, made her mark on the glass with 3:49 remaining, when she snared an offensive rebound and put it home to push the lead to six.
The Rams kept hope alive when Saucier converted a runner off the glass with 3:17 showing, but Ford buried her fourth and final 3, a veritable dagger, and Cheverus had a 40-33 advantage with just 2:26 to go.
By that point, the Stags' body language made it clear they knew a landmark victory was near.
Ford was fouled 1:48 remaining and made both free throws. After Stephenson countered with a long jumper, just inside the 3-point arc, Mayberry made two free throws and with 1:09 left on the clock, Ford hit two more to push the lead to 46-35.
A last-ditch 3 from Downs with 54.7 seconds left pulled the Rams within eight, but Ford made a free throw and Nappi did the same.
Deering had no more answers and at 8:37 p.m., a decade after first taking the floor as a varsity program, Cheverus was a winner over the Rams, 48-38.
"It's a big win," Mayberry said. "Deering's not an easy team to play. They came out strong, but we pulled through. We had a lot of energy. It gives us confidence going into the playoffs."
"This shows we can achieve our goals," Kylie Libby said. "We were so pumped up that I messed up warmups off the bat. That got us loosened up. It comes down to leadership. It may not necessarily be our seniors. It's a different person every night. We got energy boosts from different girls. Tonight, it was Georgia knocking down shots. I think our best quality is that we're so unselfish. We like to keep the hot hand going. It's a different person every game."
"I'm happy for the girls," Ashley added. "I think they played tough against an excellent team. We weathered the storm in the first half. We were a little sluggish. We had a great second half. We played excellent defense in the second half and knocked down timely shots. We knocked down foul shots at the end. We've played (Deering) so many times. It just comes down to execution and making shots. Obviously, it feels very good. Every year, we make a step and do something we hadn't done the previous year."
Ford made five field goals, four of them from behind the 3-point stripe, and added five free throws for her 19 points.
"I was feeling it," Ford said. "I had a feeling we'd have an awesome game."
"Georgia had a great game," said Mayberry. "She really turned it on tonight."
Mayberry had eight points, Nappi six, Flaherty five, Willerson four and Jill and Kylie Libby three apiece.
Kylie Libby made her presence felt elsewhere on the floor and in the stat sheet, battling the taller MacMillan in the paint at both ends of the floor and collecting eight rebounds.
"My job for the game was to keep (MacMillan) off the boards and limit her touches," Libby said. "I tried really hard and it paid off. I didn't have to do it alone. I had great help-side defense."
"Kylie deserves a lot of credit," Ashley said. "She did a selfless job. She got beaten up. She went at it and put the team ahead of herself."
Cheverus had a 33-19 advantage on the glass. Flaherty also had eight boards, while Nappi collected seven. Mayberry and Nappi both had two steals and Nappi blocked two shots.
The Stags overcame 18 turnovers and hit 13-of-18 free throws.
For Deering, Saucier and Stephenson each had nine points in their final home game. MacMillan added eight points, Downs five, DiRamio four and Mack three. DiRamio had a team-high six rebounds, while MacMillan grabbed five.
The Rams turned the ball over 13 times and made 5-of-6 foul shots.
"It's a tough, but I liked the effort," said Murphy. "It was a heck of a lot better than Monday night. We got careless with the ball in situations (early in the game) where we could have jumped out a lot more than we did. We just played with that foggy look in the third and fourth quarters. I think the defense broke down in the third quarter. We had possessions where kids didn't know who they were guarding. They had a possession where they had five shots. We had kids lost defensively. Give credit to Cheverus. They wanted it more than us. They played a nice game. I thought they played a very good game defensively and were under control offensively."
Let the fun begin
Deering capped what was a better-than-expected regular season.
"We had a terrific regular season," Murphy said. "I'm proud of this group. They've exceeded all my expectations."
The Rams, who will be the No. 2 seed for the tournament, won't play another meaningful game until Feb. 18 and know they need to figure it out and turn things around. Quickly.
"I told the kids, we're 0-0 like everyone else," Murphy said. "We now have to play each possession like it's gold. We can't have moments of just drifting and not being in the game. I've seen too much of that this week. It's bizarre what's going on out there."
As long as it waited to celebrate a win over Deering, Cheverus doesn't have much time to savor it. The Stags are right back in action Thursday at 5:15 in their Senior Night/home finale, versus Portland. The game was originally scheduled for Friday, but moved up due to the impending snowstorm.
Cheverus (who has now beaten every team in the league except McAuley) will build on this huge win.
"We have to stay loose and stay positive," said Ford. "We have to keep doing what we've been doing all season. Whoever's hot in a game, get the ball to them. It's the best season any of us have had."
"Tomorrow's an emotional day," said Ashley. "Emotional in a good way. The six seniors have been with me since they were little. I've watched them grow up like a big brother.
"Deering and McAuley have been the premier programs in the state for several years. This gives the girls confidence that if we play our style and play well, we can play with these great teams. We want to continue to be better every day. That's our mantra. The girls believe in that. Hopefully, we might see (Deering) again (in the semifinals). We'll have to play as well or better the next time."