A grand and banner night at McAuley
PORTLAND—As if she didn't already, McAuley senior standout Allie Clement now belongs to the ages.
She burst onto the scene as a freshman, hitting key shots and helping McAuley to its first championship in eight seasons. She played a bigger role on a title winning team as a sophomore, then, despite battling a nagging foot injury, was the star of another title winner as a junior.
Now, en route to perhaps a history-making fourth straight crown and a likely Miss Maine Basketball honor, Clement enjoyed another special moment Monday evening when red-hot Windham paid a visit.
Late in the first quarter, Clement got a shot to drop which not only put the Lions ahead, 22-8, but of far greater importance, gave her 1,000 points for her transcendent high school career.
That shot capped a first quarter which saw McAuley stagger the Eagles and the Lions wouldn't let up from there.
By halftime, the score was 38-13. After three, McAuley led, 57-25, and on a night in which they raised their 2012-13 championship banner and two other school teams were recognized for their sportsmanship, the Lions went on to a 74-29 triumph, their 54th in a row.
Fittingly, Clement led the way with 20 points, junior Victoria Lux was nearly unstoppable down low with 15, steady senior Jackie Welch added a dozen and in the best news of all, senior Olivia Smith played her first minutes of the season and added six points as McAuley improved to 6-0 on the year, dropping Windham to 5-2 in the process.
"It was a pretty exciting, fun night," Clement said. "There was a lot going on. It's definitely a special group. We realized it won't come easily this year. People think we go out and just win, but it's much more than that. We want to be the best team we can be."
Stealing the show
Clement and her teammates have passed every test for three-plus seasons and while the Lions entered 2013-14 short-handed (in addition to not having Smith for most of December, they're playing without sophomore Sarah Clement for the rest of the season), they have risen to the occasion every time.
The campaign began with a scare at home against Thornton Academy. McAuley led by only two points at halftime, but the Lions gradually pulled away in the second half to win, 51-36. McAuley then dispatched visiting Massabesic (68-22) and rallied late to edge host Gorham, 65-59. A 46-33 victory at Deering and a 72-18 romp at Noble followed. Last Monday, the Lions were scheduled to host rival Cheverus in the game in which Clement would fittingly get her 1,000th, but poor traveling conditions postponed that contest until Saturday at 5 p.m.
Windham has been very strong this winter. After losing at Cheverus in the opener, 46-33, the Eagles beat host Marshwood (52-40), visiting Scarborough (48-43), Sanford (34-31), then Gorham (40-39, in an overtime thriller), before rolling at Biddeford (52-23).
Entering Monday, over the past decade, the teams had met 11 times, with McAuley prevailing on nine occasions (please see sidebar), including the past four. Last winter, the Lions handled the visiting Eagles, 72-32.
Windham's last win over McAuley came Dec. 11, 2009, when it beat the visiting Lions, 35-26.
Monday, McAuley roared again with its biggest star earning the most attention.
With a large and vocal crowd on hand, in addition to a full complement of local media, Clement didn't force things early, instead being happy to help her team build a quick lead.
Just 29 seconds in, Lux hinted at a big night to come with a jumper. Clement then set up junior Olivia Dalphonse for a 3 and a 5-0 advantage.
The Lions then went on the fastbreak and eschewing a shot, Clement passed to Lux, who made a layup.
"I knew (the 1,000th point) was going to come and I was doing other things," Clement said. "Victoria was wide open in the post."
After Clement missed a jumper, junior Ayla Tartre made a free throw and Welch sank a baseline jumper to make it 10-0 just 2:37 in.
The visitors got on the board with 5:02 left in the opening stanza when senior Lonnie Staten hit a jumper.
Then, with 4:34 to go in the first quarter, Smith came off the bench and entered the game to a rousing ovation.
"(The ovation) was really nice," Smith said. "I've waited so long for this. It was awesome."
As happy as Smith was to be back, her teammates and coach were even happier to see number 11 on the floor.
"It was nice to have Olivia back, especially that standing ovation everyone gave her," Clement said. "That's a typical example of McAuley."
"It's good to have Liv back," said Lux. "The flow of the game was easier. She came back strong. She's watched everybody and has progressed."
"I didn't start her," added McAuley coach Billy Goodman. "I wanted her to get the reception she got, so I was happy for her. It worked out well. She's worked so hard. Even during the summer, she was here every day, doing something to get better."
Seconds later, Welch hit a 3 to stretch the lead to 11, but Eagles sophomore Sadie Nelson made a layup, was fouled and sank the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play.
With 3:43 to go in the first, Clement made one of her patented pullup jumpers to push the lead to 15-5 and pull within a single point of 1,000.
The last point would prove to be the hardest and would take another agonizing three-and-a-half minutes to arrive.
After Nelson made a free throw, Clement missed a pullup jumper, but Lux sank a pair of free throws.
After Clement was short on a long jumper, Lux made a layup and Smith made a free throw for her first point of the season, pushing the lead to 20-6.
Windham junior Luisa Sbardella then made two foul shots before Clement was way short on a 3-point attempt.
Finally, with 15 seconds left in the first period, as the clock read 7:17 p.m., Clement ended all suspense on arguably one of the uglier baskets she's scored.
Clement took a pass at the top of the key and fired a shot that appeared long, but it hit the back of the rim, kissed the backboard, then somehow went plop into the net.
For a solitary moment, everything stopped before Clement realized the shot was good.
Then, bedlam ensued.
"I actually didn't think it would go in, then it did," Clement said. "Next thing I knew, I was on Victoria Lux's shoulders and I thought I'd fall and smash my head open. Sarah hugged me for literally two minutes and I couldn't get her off me, but I was so happy. It was a relief. Honestly, I just wanted to get it over with. It was exciting and a cool thing to do, but I'm more about team accomplishments."
While McAuley doesn't have an official list of 1,000 point scorers, Clement is believed to be the program's fourth player to reach that stratosphere, joining Erin Brown, Sarah Marshall and Ashley Cimino.
"It's always been one of my goals," Clement said. "I thought it was a cool individual accomplishment, but it's a way to give back and recognize my team too. The people in front me didn't do it, so that motivated me. Alexa (Coulombe) and Becca (Knight0 were awesome players who won championships, but they didn't do it."
The game was stopped to officially recognize Clement's accomplishment. Windham graciously gave her flowers, which she promptly handed off to her mother, Carolyn.
In truth, it was a communal celebration.
"I've played with Allie since sixth grade and it's amazing to be with her today," Smith said. "To get to 1,000 is a great milestone."
"We'll all proud of her," Lux said. "She's deserved it. She's worked hard since freshman year."
"When you try to score, it just doesn't seem to happen," Goodman added. "We thought she'd have 1,000 assists tonight. She was ramped up and played great. She's all about the team. Before the game, she didn't want (the wait to get 1,000) to be long. It's a great individual accomplishment."
Oh yes, back to the game.
As well as McAuley played in the first period, it was even stronger in the second, as several players helped extend the lead.
Lux opened the frame with an old-fashioned three-point play. Lux then took a pass from Tartre and made a layup.
Then, Clement, exemplifying the Red Fox she'll become next year when she matriculates at Marist College, stole the ball, raced in as only she can and converted a layup and the lead was 29-8.
After a Nelson layup for Windham, Clement made another layup after a steal, Welch drained a 3 and after Lux blocked a shot at one end, she sent a long lead pass ahead to Welch, who made a layup for a commanding 36-10 advantage.
Nelson answered with a long jumper, but junior Mikayla Moran, one of many Lions' bench players who contributed, banked home a shot. Nelson then made a free throw, but that only pulled the Eagles within 25, 38-13, at halftime.
In the first half, McAuley outrebounded Windham, 24-17 and rode huge efforts from Lux (13 points, six rebounds, two blocked shots, two assists), Welch (10 points, four rebounds) and Clement (eight points, four assists, three boards, two steals, two blocks) to its decisive lead.
At halftime, the Lions (joined by last year's spiritual and emotional leader, Molly Mack, now playing at St. Joseph's College) raised the 2012-13 championship banner.
If that wasn't enough, the lacrosse and field hockey teams then raised sportsmanship banners.
Little changed on the floor in the second half.
Just 21 seconds in, Clement set up Smith for a short jumper, Smith's first field goal of the season. After Nelson made a layup, Clement sank a 3 for a 43-15 lead.
Nelson tried her best to keep Windham in the game, banking home a shot, but Smith fed Lux for a layup and Welch found Clement on the fastbreak for another layup, making it 47-17.
Nelson answered with a bank shot and senior Lonnie Staten hit a jumper, but Smith drove and banked home a tough angle shot and Clement hit a pullup jumper, stretching the lead back to 30, 51-21, and compelling Goodman to replace his starters.
McAuley's reserves then turned heads as promising freshman Ally Tillotson made a pullup jumper after a steal and after being fouled on an offensive rebound, junior Mary Furlong made a free throw. Nelson answered with a pretty left-handed layup and senior Haley Bachelder scored on a putback, but Tillotson made a free throw and Tartre added a pair to make it 57-25 Lions with eight minutes to go.
Goodman re-inserted his starters for the start of the fourth quarter and Welch hit two free throws. After Nelson made a layup, Clement hit two foul shots, Smith added one, Clement sank a 3, Tartre made a jumper, Tartre took a pass from Furlong and made a fastbreak layup and senior Lauren Coulombe showed off her skills, driving before kissing a shot home with her left hand to make it 71-27.
Windham's final points came on a jumper from freshman Lyndsey Arsenault. Moran then knocked home a 3 to bring the curtain down on the Lions emphatic and impressive 74-29 victory.
"This is the best team win we've had," Smith said. "Everyone contributed and played."
"We've practiced a lot and finally, our defensive effort clicked and our fastbreak clicked too," Clement said. "We ran a lot. That's definitely the best we've played defensively. Now we won't have an excuse if we don't play that well defensively in other games."
"We executed the best we have all year," Lux said. "Our passes were great. We finished tonight. We work really hard in practice to get better every day. We prepared for (Windham). We knew they'd be good and would give us their best game. Everyone on the team contributed. Defense is key. We did really well tonight."
"It's the best team basketball we've played," added Goodman, who improved to 50-0 as McAuley's coach and was treated to a cake after the contest in honor of his recent 100th career victory. "We've tried to get there and we did it tonight. Windham's very good. They just got us on a night where we played great team basketball. All 15 girls played very good defense. I'm proud of all of them. They've done the little things we've worked on. Ball movement was excellent. The girls who played the other day (a non-countable loss to Bedford, N.H., in the Red Claws Christmas Tournament), that was a learning experience. Tonight, they all looked better. They had a great practice and we applied it tonight. We've worked on depth. We've been forced to. The girls know they all have jobs to do. If they do extra, great. Tonight, they were very focused."
On her night of nights, Clement finished with 20 points, five assists, three blocks, three rebounds and three steals.
Lux stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, a game-high eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Welch added a dozen points, five rebounds, four steals and one assist.
Then there was Smith, who battled foul trouble and rust, but still managed to score six points, while grabbing six rebounds and also producing a pair of steals.
"My head was kind of scrambled a little bit, but I tried to stay focused," Smith said. "My teammates were behind me and tried to keep me focused. I feel really, really good. I'm obviously not 100 percent, because I haven't played in six months, but my teammates helped me along."
"I was so happy to have (Olivia) back out there," Clement said. "She did darn well having not played in such a long time."
Welch added 12 points (to go with five boards and a game-high four steals), Tartre seven, Moran five, Dalphonse and Tillotson three apiece, Coulombe two and Furlong one.
The Lions had a 37-30 edge on the glass, stole the ball 18 times to Windham's four and only gave the ball away nine times, while forcing 22 turnovers. McAuley made 14 of 22 free throws.
For Windham, Nelson had a superb night, even though it got lost in excitement. She finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Staten had four points (as well as six boards and three blocks), while Arsenault, Bachelder and Sbardella all finished with two points. The Eagles made 5 of 9 free throws.
While Windham (third in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) hosts Westbrook Friday, McAuley's road gets no easier.
After hosting Biddeford Friday and Cheverus in what could be a down-to-the-wire classic Saturday, the Lions are at Thornton Academy Tuesday of next week.
While McAuley (now second to Thornton Academy in the standings) took a huge step Monday, it knows it still has a long way to go to be in championship form in February and March.
"We have to keep working at it," said Lux. "There's always room for improvement."
"We're looking forward to (those games)," said Smith. "We have to stay mentally focused on what we need to do. We'll work hard in practice to prepare for those teams."
"We'll build on our confidence from tonight," Goodman added. "The good news is we know we can do it. The bad news is that we have to do it again."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
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