McAuley gets its three-peat; Lions down Bangor to cap perfect run
AUGUSTA—A Lion never buckles under pressure.
And always roars last and loudest.
For the third year in a row, the mighty McAuley Lions are the finest girls' basketball team in Class A, but Saturday afternoon at the Augusta Civic Center, the juggernaut was certainly put to the test by the plucky Bangor Rams.
Just 19 seconds into the game, McAuley, which hadn't trailed in a tournament game in over two years, found itself behind, but an infusion of bench talent helped settle things down and freshman Sarah Clement hit a big 3-pointer.
The Lions non-pareil inside tandem of junior Olivia Smith and sophomore Victoria Lux then took over, but early in the second quarter, Bangor went back on top by a point.
After saying enough to that whole overrated playing from behind thing, McAuley went ahead to stay when Lux made two free throws 49 seconds into the second quarter. Junior standout Allie Clement added five quick points, the Lions then turned up the intensity and took a 34-23 lead into the half thanks to a Smith jumper in the lane as time wound down.
McAuley, despite going up by 18 points on a pair of Sarah Clement free throws, still wasn't able to shake the Rams, however, who drew within nine points after three periods, but with the season, a Gold Ball and their legacy on the line, the Lions saved their best for last, essentially ending it with an 8-0 run to start the fourth period.
From there, McAuley closed the vise on Bangor and the end result was never in doubt as the Lions went on to a 60-45 victory to three-peat as the Class A state champion.
Smith led all scorers with 20 points and Lux added 11, as the dynamic duo combined for 29 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Allie Clement, despite playing in pain from an injured foot, won her third Gold Ball in as many years and played a key role with her 13 points, while Sarah Clement made the most of her first big stage appearance with nine points.
McAuley had a 44-31 advantage on the glass, forced 22 turnovers and finished the season 22-0 as it extended its three-year win streak to 48 games, ending Bangor's season at 17-5 in the process.
"It means everything," said Lions coach Billy Goodman, who is now a spotless 44-0 with the program. "Last year, Alexa (Coulombe) and Sadie (DiPierro) were the ultimate leaders and captains. This year, we had a young team who grew up a lot. You can't buy this feeling. It's the best feeling and it just gets better. The girls had to earn it. People know your weaknesses and you still have to produce under pressure."
One streak ends, another continues
McAuley has been the gold standard in Class A the past three seasons, winning the 2011 title over Hampden Academy and last year over Cony. The Lions entered the 2012-13 campaign seeking to become the first Class A school in nearly two decades (Cindy Blodgett-led Lawrence from 1991-94) and just the third ever (Lisa Blais-led Westbrook 1978-81 was the other) to win three consecutive state titles.
McAuley began with a series of easy victories, as the Lions defeated 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 they led 37-2 at halftime, and visiting Windham (72-32).
As expected, rival visiting Deering gave McAuley a test, but it prevailed in a matchup best remembered for poor floor conditions causing an overnight suspension, 43-35. The Lions then defeated host Massabesic (86-44), host Thornton Academy (64-38), host Cheverus (51-30), visiting Scarborough, 65-42, visiting Gorham (72-38), host Sanford (61-35), host South Portland (75-48), host Westbrook (67-37), visiting Portland (68-33) and visiting South Portland (53-11) to finish the year 18-0 and earn the top seed for the second straight winter.
The postseason brought much closer games, but McAuley (which boasted not only the top-ranked offense in the league in the regular season, 68.8 points per game, but also the stingiest defense, 31.0) handled No. 8 Gorham (46-31), No. 4 Scarborough (47-38) and third-ranked Cheverus (47-36).
Bangor's girls' team hasn't enjoyed the success of the school's boys' team over the years, but this winter, the Rams had no peer in Eastern A. Bangor won its first four games, dropped two in a row, won twice, lost another, then rattled off a six-game streak before losing to Edward Little. The Rams closed with a couple wins and their 14-4 mark gave them the No. 2 seed in Eastern A.
After beating No. 7 Skowhegan, 61-48, in the quarterfinals, Bangor got a huge break when top-ranked Edward Little was upset by No. 9 Cony, leaving the Rams as the highest remaining seed. Bangor then got past No. 3 Mt. Ararat, 56-44, in the semifinals and eliminated Cony, 57-43, to win the region for the first time since taking the program's only championship, 56-44 over South Portland, back in 1982. The Rams lost to the Red Riots, 56-35, in the 1977 state game, in their only other championship appearance.
McAuley and Bangor came to Augusta Saturday having never met in the postseason.
While the Rams gave the Lions their all, in the end, this group wasn't about to fall a step shy of its ultimate goal.
McAuley did fall behind in a tournament game for the first time in over two years, when, just 19 seconds in, Bangor senior Denae Johnson hit a jump shot. The Lions' mind-boggling streak of 257 minutes, 30 seconds without trailing came to a close as they faced a playoff deficit for the first time since 1:11 remained in the 2011 Western A Final versus Deering (Coulombe's three-point play put McAuley ahead to stay in that epic and the Lions didn't trail for a second against Hampden Academy in the subsequent state final, any of last year's four games or at all against the regional field this winter).
When Rams freshman Sarah Bragg added a free throw with 6:50 to go in the first quarter, McAuley was down 3-0 and it took another minute, 57 seconds for the Lions to finally break the ice, on a layup from Lux, who hinted at a monster game to come.
With 4:14 to go in the quarter, Bangor retook a three-point lead on a jumper from sophomore Mary Butler, but Sarah Clement (who, along with sophomore Olivia Dalphonse, had entered the game earlier than normal), took a pass from Allie Clement and buried her first-ever 3-point attempt in a state game to tie the score, 5-5, settling down her more seasoned teammates in the process.
"I just thought that the mood and tone of the game was a little hectic, so I just wanted to slow it down, but at the same time, pep them up," said Sarah Clement, who was fourth this season in made 3-pointers with 27, three fewer than her sister, who was third. "(Hitting that shot) was exciting. It gave me confidence."
"(Sarah and Olivia) bring a lot of energy off the bench," Allie Clement said. "They know their role and they get it done. It's good to have their extra boost. We counted on them and they played well. I told (Sarah), you just need to focus."
"When you have Sarah and Olivia off the bench, it's great," said junior Jackie Welch. "They pick up the tempo. Olivia played great defense tonight. She's probably the best on-ball defender we have on the team. Sarah can get quick points."
"I knew we haven't had great first quarters, but we had to settle down," Goodman added. "When Sarah made that shot, we got more confidence. The last couple games, our starting five started out great, so I went with them. When I don't like what I see, I bring in (Sarah and Olivia) for energy."
With 3:12 left in the first period, McAuley went on top for the first time when Smith drove to the hoop and laid the ball in with her left hand.
Six seconds later, however, the Lions suffered a setback when Allie Clement was whistled for her second foul and had to momentarily leave the game.
The Rams tied the score, 7-7, on a Butler jumper, but Lux made a free throw, Lux set up Smith for a layup and Allie Clement, upon her return, threw up a wild 3-point attempt which somehow hit the backboard, rolled around the rim and dropped. That break got Clement, the league's leading scorer (18.9 points per game), untracked.
McAuley wasn't able to take the momentum into the quarter break, however, as with time expiring, Johnson drained a long 3 to pull Bangor back to within three, 13-10.
When the Rams opened the second period with successive layups from sophomore Cordelia Stewart (both assisted by Butler), they had the lead again, 14-13, but this time the Lions immediately answered and stayed ahead for good.
With 7:11 left in the half, Lux was fouled after one of her many offensive rebounds and sank both foul shots to give McAuley (which trailed for 4 minutes, 2 seconds in the game) a 15-14 advantage it wouldn't relinquish.
Lux then set up Allie Clement for a 3 and after a steal, Clement was fouled and made both free throws to push the lead to 20-14.
"It was weird (being behind)," Clement said. "We knew they'd come out strong. They're a tough team, but I think we finally adjusted to what they were doing, we got it under control. We got our mojo back and played like we usually do."
"We lost our heads at the beginning, but we knew we couldn't lose this game," said senior captain Molly Mack. "We've worked too hard."
"I think we felt a little bit of pressure just being down, but once we knew what we were doing and got our minds straight, we focused on getting the lead back and controlling the game," Smith said. "We were pretty confident because we knew what we needed to do. It was good pressure. It made us play better."
A layup from Smith (set up by Sarah Clement) capped a 9-0 run, but with 4:46 left before halftime, Rams senior Jordan Seekins knocked down a 3.
On an inbounds play, Allie Clement set up Smith for a layup, but a second Seekins 3 with 4:07 showing pulled Bangor within four, 24-20.
McAuley then turned up the offense again as Lux got two offensive rebounds before scoring on a putback and Smith spotted Dalphonse for a long corner jumper.
"It was fun," said Dalphonse, who played at Bonny Eagle her freshman season. "I like coming off the bench and bringing energy. That's what we always talk about. I get after it on D. It was exciting."
A Smith turnaround jumper with 2:46 to go in the half extended the lead to 10, 30-20, but Stewart made a leaner and later added a foul shot to make it a 30-23 game.
The Lions closed strong as Dalphonse set up Lux for a layup and with just 1.5 seconds to go, Smith made a short jumper in the lane to make it 34-23 McAuley at the break.
Despite their slow start, the Lions had a 23-15 edge on the boards and forced 10 turnovers, while Smith had 12 points and Lux stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of nine points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots, two assists and one steal.
In a mere 16 minutes.
"Vic was incredible," Mack said. "She stepped up a lot. I told her to block everything out and play like she had in practice."
McAuley appeared bound for an easy win after starting the second half quickly, but Bangor wouldn't go quietly.
Just 11 seconds in to the third period, Allie Clement fed Smith for a short jumper. Smith then assisted Clement on a 3 and with 6:24 to go in the quarter, two free throws from Sarah Clement (the league's third-best foul shooter this year at 85 percent) pushed the lead to a seemingly safe 41-23.
"We have confidence in each other and we play together," Dalphonse said. "We knew if we kept pushing, we'd win. We always talk about coming out really strong in the third quarter. We moved the ball and got it to the right person."
But the Rams weren't ready to fold.
A Bragg putback of her own miss snapped the Lions' 11-0 run and a 4 minute, 1 second drought. Stewart then scored on a putback. After a Smith leaner, Stewart scored on a putback and Stewart took a pass from Butler and finished with a layup to cut the deficit to 43-31 with 3:30 showing, forcing Goodman to call timeout.
McAuley got a point back when Welch made a free throw, but Stewart made another layup. After a Smith leaner, Butler was fouled after an offensive rebound and hit both free throws and a stepback jumper in the lane from Butler pulled Bangor within just nine, 46-37, after three quarters.
The seasoned Lions knew full well how important a fast start would be in the fourth period and sure enough, the champions came out and delivered the knockout blow.
Smith pushed the lead back to double digits with a layup after a nice spin move. Lux then scored on a driving left-handed layup, Clement made a layup after a steal and with 4:33 remaining, Mack was fouled made both ends of a one-and-one to push the lead to an insurmountable 54-37.
"We got in the huddle and talked to each other to stay focused," Lux said. "We stayed together."
A Butler jumper ended the 8-0 run and a 4:19 drought, but Welch knocked down a jumper. After Stewart scored on a leaner, Sarah Clement delivered the dagger with 2:29 showing, scoring on a fastbreak layup while being fouled and adding the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.
Johnson got two points back at the line before a Sarah Clement free throw capped McAuley's scoring. As time expired, Rams junior Anna Morris knocked down a short jumper and that made it official.
As the clock showed 5:28 p.m., the Lions danced on the Augusta Civic Center floor and celebrated their 60-45 triumph, their 48th straight victory and their three-peat (or three-Pete, in honor of stat man extraordinaire Peter Littman).
"It was amazing, so much fun," said Sarah Clement. "I love my team. It means a lot. Ever since Allie came and started winning here, I wanted to come here. It's so worth it.. I think it shows that we play as a team, not as individuals, and it shows our chemistry together."
"We're just so blessed to be here and to have this opportunity," Smith said. "I think we all love where we are."
"We needed to focus on getting the ball into the post," Welch said. "(Bangor) dictated the tempo the first couple minutes, then we slowed it down and played like we always play. Coach's main thing was that we had the lead and to calm down and keep our heads."
"(The girls) were focused on what we were doing," Goodman added. "They don't get caught up in streaks or records. They just try to get better and do what the coaches are asking. It's hard work."
A glance at the stats demonstrates what made this McAuley team so great.
Its balance and ability to everything well.
Smith was the game's high scorer with 20 points. She also had 10 rebounds, blocked four shots, dished out three assists and had a steal. She played strong defense as well.
"All my teammates helped me along," said Smith, like always, eager to deflect praise. "I wouldn't be here without them. They provided me with every good thing I had. I felt good early on. I knew we had to control the pace of the game. That was our mindset and that's what we did."
"Olivia was great," said Lux. "Her passes, her shooting, her spin move, they were awesome."
Lux, first in the league in field goal percentage and fourth in rebounding during the regular season, had a transcendent performance, scoring 11 points, grabbing a whopping 19 rebounds, blocking four shots and adding three assists and a steal.
"Last year, I was nervous," Lux said. "This year, I was way better. I went out there and the number one thing was to get rebounds and box them out, because that's where they get most of their points. I love to rebound. I had to make great passes, block some shots, put the ball in the hoop."
"Vic's good at fighting hard and getting rebounds," Smith said. "She was a big part of our win."
"Vic and Olivia played really well tonight," said Welch. "Not only did they score, but they rebounded and held their post players to minimum points. They were a huge part of our win."
"(Vic and Olivia) were awesome," Goodman added. "It started with defense. They've focused on moving their feet. Olivia and Vic have been picked on a lot by the coaches. They responded and did great on the big stage. Olivia averaged 10 points a game this year being double and triple teamed, which is pretty good. We've been on her. This week, I just told her to play. It helped that she had one-on-one play and not two or three girls on her."
Allie Clement, the regional tournament MVP, was clearly not 100 percent, but still managed to make three 3-pointers and have 13 points, to go with four assists, four steals and three rebounds.
"It's been hard (playing with the injury), but I just see how happy my teammates get when we're all together and I just keep playing," said Clement. "(This one) means a lot. I'm blessed to be with these girls. We've worked hard and pulled through."
Clement's teammates and coaches certainly appreciated and admired her tenacity.
"Playing through injury is courageous," Smith said. "I know how much pain it is and how much you want to contribute to a team. She's always there for us."
"Allie has sucked it up for the team," Goodman said. "She does whatever it takes to get on the floor and play. She came up short on a couple jump shots today,. You could tell in her lift that she was hurting. She won't tell me. I've learned to read her shot, game and body language.
"She's a winner. She's a champion. there's a reason we have three in a row and she's a big part of it."
Sarah Clement's first state game appearance followed her season-long script of playing well and with no fear. Other than forgetting her sneakers for the Scarborough game in the semifinals, you'd never know she was a freshman. Clement had nine points, two boards and two assists in her crucial role off the bench.
"Sarah is a freshman, but doesn't play like one," Goodman said. "It means a lot to see the younger girls step up and produce."
Welch, one of the stars of the regional run, had just three points, but was once again a huge force on defense.
"In a game like this, the individual things dissolve completely," Welch said. "I was trying to make sure Johnson didn't penetrate. I was happy to do whatever I could tonight. The last time I was here, I played 22.5 seconds. This (title) means by far the most to me."
Dalphonse, who projects to be a big star going forward, had two points, three assists, three rebounds and a steal.
"Olivia has worked on her shot and then she drained one from the corner," Goodman said. "I'm so happy for her. She did her job playing defense."
Mack, a singular talent and individual, underappreciated by those who watch the sport, but beloved by her coaches and teammates for her leadership, tenacity and one-of-a-kind personality, bowed out with two points, four rebounds and a steal.
"It's bittersweet because I hate to see my career end," Mack said. "I've had so much fun. I love my school. I love my team. I couldn't have asked for a better four years. It's a great feeling. Not many people get one, so to get three is a phenomenal feeling. We blocked everything out. We're one team."
"Molly is the heart and soul of McAuley," Goodman said. "She wrote a letter to make everyone understand what it means. She plays for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. She's the best rebounder I've ever seen. She's a foul shooter. It's fitting she made some in the fourth. She's grown up so much and is truly the captain of the team."
The Lions, not surprisingly, controlled the glass to the tune of a 44-31 rebounding advantage. They had 12 steals, eight blocked shots and overcame 16 turnovers by forcing 22 by Bangor. McAuley wound up 12-of-17 from the charity stripe.
Bangor had nothing to hang its head about and got strong performances from several players, most notably Stewart, who had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Butler, who finished with 10 points, eight boards, five steals and three blocks.
Johnson added seven points (along with three rebounds and two steals), Seekins had six, Bragg three (along with seven boards) and Morris two.
The Rams finished 6-of-12 from the line.
Is a fourth roar in store?
Mack's departure will certainly be felt (reserve Emily Chandler also graduates).
"I'm going to miss Molly next year," said Welch. "She has great rebounds and does little things that are unheralded. She's going to be so hard to replace next year. She's irreplaceable."
"Next year, we lose a big piece in Molly," Goodman said. "I asked the team, 'Who's going to step up?' Next year's team will be different than this year's team."
But don't kid yourself, the 2013-14 Lions might be even better than this group, which is quite a statement.
Clement and Welch will be seniors seeking a fourth title, while Smith will also be in her final season looking for a third. The junior class will feature Dalphonse, Lux, Laura Holman (who had two steals and a rebound Saturday) and Ayla Tartre, who figures to see more playing time. Sarah Clement will be a sophomore.
That's a pretty daunting foundation.
McAuley has every intention of keeping the good times rolling next winter.
"We'll work hard over the summer to improve as a team," Smith said.
"We have to work hard and keep focusing, playing defense and improving," Allie Clement said.
"We want to do it again next year," Lux said. "We have talent coming back and with this coach, we definitely can."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous McAuley stories
Previous McAuley state games
Cony 46 McAuley 41
McAuley 50 Nokomis 39
McAuley 67 Cony 61
Nokomis 53 McAuley 43
Mt. Blue 54 McAuley 41