Cheverus caps stellar regular season with win over Portland
PORTLAND—Less than 24 hours after perhaps the program's signature victory to date, a first-ever triumph over rival and pedigreed power Deering, the Cheverus girls' basketball team wasn't about to suffer a letdown in its home finale.
Especially the six seniors who have been so critical to the team's success, who were taking the Keegan Gymnasium floor for the final time.
In a Senior Night matinee versus Portland Thursday, the Stags were sluggish to start, but senior Brooke Flaherty got them going and a 16-1 first quarter run was all they needed to take control. The lead was still 15 points entering the second half, but Cheverus ended all doubt by controlling the third period, 17-2, to up its lead to 47-17. The Stags never looked back from there and prevailed, 61-28.
Flaherty had a game-high 13 points, eight other Cheverus players wound up in the scoring column, the Stags had nearly a 2-to-1 edge on the boards and Cheverus capped the best regular season in its 11-year history at 16-2, ending the Bulldogs' year at 6-12 and denying Portland its first playoff berth since 2009 in the process.
"I thought we played well," said Stags coach Richie Ashley. "I'm very pleased. Very happy. I'm proud of (the girls). It was tough to bounce back. There was a lot of emotion on Senior Night. We had a good first quarter and didn't get complacent. It was a good all-around game."
No rest for the weary
Due to this weekend's highly touted snowstorm, the Portland-Cheverus game was moved up from its regular scheduled date Friday to Thursday afternoon. Tip time was less than 21 hours after the Stags danced on the Deering court to celebrate that triumph.
Truth is, Cheverus has done plenty of celebrating this winter, winning every game but two, home losses to two-time defending Class A champion McAuley (51-30) and Deering (60-56). The Stags won their first nine games, capped by an epic 58-57 triple overtime win at Scarborough, which avenged a painful playoff loss from last season. Cheverus entered Thursday on a six-game win streak.
Portland has missed the playoffs in six of the last seven games, but the Bulldogs made a spirited run this winter. Portland started this season 0-4 and 3-9, but won three of four to enter the final week of the regular season in possession of the 11th and final playoff spot in Western Class A. Unfortunately, for the Bulldogs, however, their final two games were at McAuley (a 68-33 loss) and Cheverus.
The Stags won the first meeting of the season between the schools, 42-17, back on Dec. 15, carried a 9-4 all-time record versus the Bulldogs and a five-game win streak over Portland into the game (the last Bulldogs' win was 47-46 at Cheverus, Jan. 30 , 2009).
Thursday, Flaherty, Casey Honan, Danielle Kane, Kylie Libby, Mikayla Mayberry and Victoria Nappi were honored with their families in a Senior Night pregame ceremony.
The Stags then went out and put a punctuation mark on their regular season.
It took over three minutes to score, as Cheverus felt the aftereffects of the Deering win, but Flaherty then stepped up and the Stags never looked back.
With 4:48 to go in the first quarter, Flaherty drained a 3 and Cheverus was ahead for good. Flaherty added a putback, fed Mayberry for a layup, then made a jump shot for seven points in 96 seconds and a 9-0 lead.
"It was tough (early)," Flaherty said. "We were feeling it in our legs. It was tiring, but we came out and worked hard."
Junior Georgia Ford, the hero of the Deering game, drained a long 3 and Ford fed Nappi for a transition jumper to make it 14-0.
Portland finally broke the ice on a free throw from junior Brianna Holdren, but a layup after a steal by Kane gave the Stags a commanding 16-1 advantage after one period.
In the first eight minutes alone, Flaherty had seven points, five rebounds and an assist.
"I feel like every night someone new steps up," Flaherty said. "Georgia was amazing against Deering. So was Kylie. I was just trying to get us going."
Holdren almost single-handedly kept the Bulldogs in the game in the second quarter.
After Flaherty took a pass from Libby and made a layup, Holdren hit a 3 with 7:40 left in the first half for Portland's first field goal. Libby countered with a driving layup, but Holdren scored on a putback, then sank a 3. Freshman Cierra Burnham's putback with 5:53 remaining before halftime pulled the Bulldogs within nine, 20-11.
Libby got Cheverus back on track with a free throw and Ford scored on a putback. After Holdren converted a runner, Stags junior Alisha Starbird made a foul shot and Nappi made a layup after a steal. Two foul shots from sophomore Elizabeth Donato pulled Portland back to 26-15, but a baseline jumper from Libby and a pair of Libby foul shots with one second to go, gave Cheverus a 30-15 advantage at the break.
Flaherty's nine points, eight boards and two assists and seven points, five rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot from Libby, along with 11 forced turnovers, had the Stags firmly in control.
Cheverus then delivered the knockout blow in the third quarter.
The hosts opened on an 8-0 run as sophomore Jill Libby scored on a putback and Mayberry (from Ford) and Jill Libby (from Mayberry) both drained 3s. A runner from senior Sydney Levesque gave the Bulldogs their lone points of the stanza before Starbird hit a 3, Mayberry made a jumper and promising freshman Jess Willerson and Flaherty each made layups to make it 47-17 with eight minutes to go.
To Portland's credit, it fought hard down the stretch and got some great play from Levesque, its 5-foot-2 sparkplug.
After Flaherty took a pass from Kylie Libby and made a layup for her final points 37 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs got a putback from junior Pam Lobor and a layup after a steal, two free throws and a bank shot all from Levesque in just over a minute to pull within 49-25.
They would draw no closer.
Willerson made a foul shot, Starbird took a pass from Jill Libby and made a layup, Starbird hit a jump shot and Nappi drained a 3 to push the lead back to 32, 57-25.
Levesque made a 3 for Portland's final points of the season before Cheverus closed with a Willerson free throw, a Willerson layup and a Starbird foul shot to bring the curtain down on its 61-28 victory.
"We wanted to have the back-to-back games since it kind of simulates how the playoffs feel," said Flaherty. "Now we know what we need to do to get ready."
Flaherty finished with 13 points, but she had plenty of help.
Starbird had one of her best games in a Cheverus uniform, scoring nine points to go with two steals. Kylie Libby, Mayberry and Nappi all had seven points, Willerson added six, Ford and Jill Libby five apiece and Kane two.
"I do feel like our depth is a big strength," Flaherty said. "We're so deep. Everyone plays and steps up. I'm really proud of the underclassmen how they've come along this year. I'm really going to miss them next year."
The Stags dominated the boards to the tune of a 46-24 differential. Flaherty led the way with 10, while Kylie Libby grabbed nine, Willerson seven and Ford and Maybery five each. Cheverus also had 18 steals (Jill Libby had four, Ford three). Kylie Libby had three of her team's seven blocked shots.
The Stags made 7-of-12 free throws and did turn the ball over 27 times (most of those coming long after the game was decided), but it was hard to find much fault with their win or their best-to-date regular season.
"There were a lot of ups and downs in the regular season, a lot of injuries and setbacks, but I'm really happy with how we played," Flaherty said. "Going 16-2 is amazing, however you look at it."
Ashley had plenty of praise for his six seniors.
"The seniors are the base of the program," he said. "They've never had a losing season. They took what they learned from Theresa Hendrix, Hanna Lyons, Anna Snook and Alexandra Pallazzi-Leahy."
For Portland, Holdren and Levesque led the way with 11 points each. Burnham, Donato and Lobor all had two points. Holdren led the way on the glass with five rebounds. Donato collected four. Donato had a game-high six steals. The Bulldogs committed 24 turnovers and made just 5-of-17 free throws.
Bonny Eagle leapfrogged Portland for the final playoff spot as the Bulldogs finished 12th.
Not done yet
Cheverus will be the No. 3 seed for the upcoming tournament and will face either No. 6 Sanford (12-6) or No. 11 Bonny Eagle (6-12) in the Western A quarterfinals Monday, Feb. 18 at 2 p.m., at the Portland Exposition Building. The Stags beat the host Scots, 76-48, on Jan. 2, and handled the visiting Spartans, 57-47, Jan. 4. Cheverus has no playoff history with Bonny Eagle. The Stags were eliminated by Sanford two years ago in the quarterfinals, 45-42.
Cheverus is by no means satisfied and still has two mighty big "firsts" on its to-do list, beat McAuley and go on a deep playoff run (which likely go hand in hand).
"It's the best season we've ever had and I'm very happy for the program, for the school and for the community, but now everybody's 0-0," Ashley said. "This is wonderful, but now it's a new season and we have to be ready for the new season."
"I think we're really coming together," Flaherty said. "We're not ready to be done yet. We want it bad this year. We have the goal of a Gold Ball. We'll do anything we can to get there."