McAuley bounces back, survives SP
PORTLAND—It was Bizzaro Night on Stevens Avenue Friday evening.
After getting back in the win column after its sensational 56-game streak was snapped Tuesday, you'd think the McAuley girls' basketball team would be happy and relieved.
After holding off visiting South Portland, 41-36, the Lions sounded and acted like they were on the short end of the score.
The Red Riots, meanwhile, were thrilled with their effort, believing it confirmed that they're in the upper echelon of Western Class A contenders.
Many expected McAuley would come out and take out its frustrations on the Red Riots, but instead, the LIons had to hold on for dear life.
South Portland actually led much of the way, opening up a seven-point advantage late in the first half, but McAuley roared back to take a 21-20 advantage at the break.
The game would remain nip-and-tuck in the second half, but the Lions went up by seven with 3:18 to play on a clutch 3 from senior standout Allie Clement to seemingly put it away.
Not so fast.
Back came the Red Riots, who pulled within two on a three-point play from sophomore Maddie Hasson with 1:52 remaining, but they could get no closer and McAuley did just enough down the stretch to hold on, 41-36.
Clement led all scorers with 18 points, junior Olivia Dalphonse spearheaded a smothering defensive effort and the Lions improved to 9-1, dropping South Portland to 7-3 in the process.
"No one's happy," Clement said. "I know it's a win, but no one should be happy after this game. We're really struggling right now. We found a way to win, but that's just how the game wound up."
A new roar
McAuley has once again set the tone for Western A this season, with South Portland not far behind.
The Lions passed their first eight tests with varying degrees of difficulty. McAuley pulled away in the second half to beat visiting Thornton Academy in the opener, 51-36, 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. After decisive home wins over Windham, 74-29, and Biddeford, 60-25, the Lions rallied from a second half deficit to beat visiting rival Cheverus, 47-39. Then came Tuesday, when McAuley went to Thornton Academy and let a 15-point third quarter lead slip away in a stunning 50-49 setback.
The Lions mourned the end of their streak for a night, then focused on returning to the task at hand.
"We didn't deserve to win," Clement said. "(Thornton Academy) played better than us. We didn't get the job done. We had a night to dwell on it, then we came to practice ready to work. We came together as a team. I know it didn't show tonight, but we tried to put the loss behind us and learn from it."
"We wanted to leave it behind," Dalphonse said. "We wanted to keep in the back of our mind what it felt like to lose and use that to motivate us to get better."
South Portland, under new coach Lynne Hasson, opened with victories over host Noble (66-14), visiting Sanford (54-46) and host Westbrook (39-35) before falling from the unbeaten ranks with a 53-43 home loss to Thornton Academy. A 50-46 home loss to Portland followed before the Red Riots bounced back with wins at Bonny Eagle (47-31), at home over Deering (50-48), at home over Massabesic (80-43) and at Scarborough (54-46) Tuesday, in a game against former longtime coach Mike Giordano.
While McAuley and South Portland have produced some epic games over the years, in recent seasons, the series has been one-sided in favor of the Lions (see sidebar below).
After the Red Riots took an impressive seven of nine meetings between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 seasons, McAuley entered Friday having won the past seven, including a pair with ease a year ago, 75-48 at South Portland and 53-11 at home.
The Red Riots were hoping to spring a big upset, beat the Lions for the first time since Jan. 30, 2009 (41-37, in OT) and hand McAuley's its first consecutive losses since Jan. 11 and 14, 2010 (40-37 to visiting Biddeford and 49-45 at Portland), but the Lions weren't about to suffer another setback and dug deep to ensure it would make it 86 straight games without back-to-back defeats.
Instead of being humbled by its surroundings, South Portland came into the Lions' Den and more than held its own when most on hand expected them to be quickly blown out.
McAuley did score first, as Clement set up junior Victoria Lux for a layup, but a long jumper from senior Brianne Maloney suggested the Red Riots weren't about to buckle.
After the Lions went on top, 4-2, on a leaner from Lux, a jumper from junior Holly Black tied the score again.
McAuley junior Olivia Dalphonse then made a layup after a steal, hinting at a big night to come.
"Defense is what I like to do," Dalphonse said. "I've never been much of a scorer. Defense is what I take pride in. When I get steals or tie-ups, it gets everyone else motivated, so I try to do that as much as I can."
"Dalphonse has played great all year," said Lions coach Billy Goodman. "She's stepped up consistently on both sides of the floor. I'm very proud of her."
Maloney took a pass from freshman Lydia Henderson and made a layup and Henderson scored on a breakaway layup to give the visitors their first lead.
A 3-ball from senior Jackie Welch put the Lions back on top, but a left-handed leaner from Maloney gave South Portland a 10-9 lead after one quarter.
"(South Portland) came in ready," Clement said. "We thought we were ready, but we're not starting games strong like we did at the start of the season."
The Red Riots continued to hold firm in the second period.
After Black opened the stanza with a bank shot, junior Ayla Tartre made two free throws for the Lions, but Maloney made a layup, Black sank two free throws and Maloney scored on a putback to make it 18-11 and silence the partisan crown.
Clement got her first points with a patented pullup jumper, but with 3:09 left in the half, Maddie Hasson scored on a putback for a 20-13 advantage.
That would prove to be the Red Riots' last field goal for a long, long time.
McAuley closed the half in style, getting easy looks off turnovers.
The run started with a Clement pullup jumper. Moments later, after a timely save from Tartre, Clement made a layup. Senior Olivia Smith then hit a fadeaway and with 32 seconds to go, Clement rattled home a pullup jumper to make it 21-20 Lions at the break.
In the first 16 minutes, the Lions were hindered by 10 turnovers, while the Red Riots controlled the boards (21-16). South Portland hung tough until a late rash of turnovers.
"Some of the turnovers we had at the end of the half were unforced," Lynne Hasson lamented. "We made some bad passes and weren't catching the ball. That was unfortunate, because we had a pretty good thing going."
Not much separated the teams in the third quarter.
After Dalphonse set up Lux for a layup, Maloney made two free throws and junior Paige Carter made a layup to put the visitors back on top for what proved to be the final time, 24-23.
That shot also proved to be South Portland's lone field goal in a 16 minute, 15 second span, more than half the game.
Lux then took a pass from Clement and made a left-handed layup with 2:54 left in the period to put the Lions on top for good. Clement and Henderson then traded free throws and McAuley took a 26-25 lead to the fourth.
There, Clement helped the Lions get a little breathing room.
Just 44 seconds in, Clement beat a defender with a nice crossover move, then hit a baseline jumper. Smith then stole the ball, fed Dalphonse and Dalphonse found Clement for a layup and a 30-25 lead.
With 6:28 remaining, Hasson made a free throw to cut the deficit to four, but neither team would score for over three minutes.
Finally, with 3:18 to go, Clement came up with perhaps the biggest shot of the night.
Inbounding the ball under the basket, Clement got it in to Lux, who gave it right back to Clement in the corner, where Clement buried a 3 to make it 33-26.
The Lions appeared home free, but South Portland made one last run.
Just 34 seconds after Clement's 3, Hasson hit one for the Red Riots, cutting the deficit to four.
With 2:06 left, Dalphonse made the front end of a one-and-one, but missed the second and 14 seconds later, Hasson scored on a putback while being fouled and hit the free throw for an old-fashioned three point play, suddenly cutting the deficit to a mere two points, 34-32.
Then, on its most critical possession of the game, McAuley got some production from its dynamic inside tandem, as Lux fed Smith, who got a short shot to drop and the lead was back to two possessions, 36-32, with 1:29 showing.
Maloney then had two looks, but both were off the mark. With just under a minute to play, Welch went to the line for a one-and-one and made the front end. Hasson countered with a leaner, however, and with 52 seconds still to play, South Portland was within three, 37-34.
Clement went to the line and missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Smith snared the rebound. Dalphonse then missed two free throws, keeping the door slightly open for the Red Riots, but they couldn't take advantage as Hasson missed two free throws with 34 seconds remaining.
Smith got the rebound of the second miss and got the ball to Welch, who was fouled and calmly sank both attempts with 30 seconds to play and McAuley was on the brink of prevailing.
A jumper from Maloney with 10 seconds to go kept South Portland's slim hopes alive, but two seconds later, Clement went to the line and hit both attempts to bring the curtain down on the Lions' 41-36 triumph.
"We did find a way," Dalphonse said. "We came into this game knowing everybody's eyes would be on us and we wanted to make a statement and show that we wouldn't let the loss get to us."
Following the win, Goodman was just as disconsolate as he was after Tuesday's loss.
"South Portland brought it like every team does against us and they get all the credit," he said. "They were good. We can't blow anybody out because we're not shooting well and we're not playing team basketball. I feel bad for the girls who work hard on defense because the offense is ruining everything. The only reason we were in the game was because of our defense. We're not shooting well, we're not passing well."
Clement came up big when she had to, leading all scorers with 18 points.
"If we depend on Allie, she can do it, but it's not good team basketball," Goodman said.
Lux had eight points, Welch six, Smith four, Dalphonse three and Tartre two.
Smith had a team-high nine rebounds, while Lux collected eight. Dalphonse had five of the Lions' 17 steals. Smith and Welch each had three.
"We didn't force as many shots," Clement said. "We got more people involved, but we're still struggling with that."
McAuley turned the ball over 20 times and made just 9 of 18 free throws.
For South Portland, Maloney had 14 points in a standout effort.
"I think Bri has a huge heart," Lynne Hasson said. "She's got such a post player mentality. She's a tough, physical kid. Lux is a tough matchup. I thought Bri battled her hard all night and didn't back down."
Maddie Hasson finished with 11, most of which came late.
"Maddie's had some games where she's done a great job getting to the rim," said Lynne Hasson, of her daughter. "People know she can get to the rim and try to take that away. To (McAuley's) credit, they did. She was forcing it a little bit at times. At the end, she's a competitor, she did whatever it took to win."
Black added six points, Henderson had three and Carter two.
The Red Riots outrebounded the Lions, 42-34, thanks in large part to 11 from senior MacKenzie Bowring.
"MacKenzie is a very good basketball player," Hasson said. "I don't think people necessarily notice her. She's a very good all-around player. She does a lot of good things for us. She has the ability to score. I think at some point, she'll light it up."
Carter had eight boards and Black, Hasson and Maloney seven apiece. Hasson also had two steals.
South Portland was done in by only making 7 of 16 free throws and turning the ball over on 23 occasions.
Despite the loss, Hasson was thrilled with the effort of her girls.
"We're a good team and we were ready to play," she said. "It's not news to me. Any night of the week, I think we can compete with the top teams. We battled to the wire. We have good kids. I'm proud of them. I can't remember the last time I was this proud of a group of girls. To our credit, we kept battling back."
South Portland (now seventh in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) is back in action Tuesday when it hosts Biddeford. Games at Cheverus and Marshwood follow. The Red Riots also travel to Gorham and Portland and host Windham, Cheverus and Scarborough before the season concludes.
South Portland will go into its closing stretch full of confidence.
"There's such parity," Hasson said. "We've got Cheverus coming up, Portland again. Gorham and Windham. There's all kinds of (Heal Points) out there. If we bring this type of intensity over the next eight games, we'll be looking good."
McAuley (second to Thornton Academy in the Heals) plays at Scarborough Tuesday and Sanford Friday of next week. The Lions still have road games looming against Portland, Bonny Eagle, Deering and Cheverus and home tilts versus Westbrook and Marshwood.
McAuley knows it needs to turn things around and quickly. The Lions are taking the weekend off, then will look to return to form with a vengeance.
"We're taking a little break and we'll try to figure out what we need to do to play to our potential," said Dalphonse. "Defense is what we've been doing well. We really need to focus on our offense and make foul shots. People think we don't work hard and just use talent and go out and win every night, but we don't think that. We work just as hard as anybody else. We want to prove that."
"We have to forget about everything that's happened and come back to practice (Monday) and be ready to go," Clement said. "For some reason we're struggling. We can't pinpoint one thing we're doing, but we have to figure it out. We have to stay positive and try to find a way. We know we're capable. It's not one certain thing we need to fix. We have to have a new mindset and focus. If we play like this for playoffs, we won't have a chance. We have to get it going so we can be at the Civic Center in March."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Recent McAuley-South Portland results
McAuley 75 @ South Portland 48
@ McAuley 53 South Portland 11
McAuley 43 @ South Portland 39
Western A quarterfinals
McAuley 52 South Portland 27
@ McAuley 55 South Portland 24
McAuley 51 @ South Portland 32
McAuley 51 @ South Portland 45
South Portland 41 @ McAuley 37 (OT)
South Portland 42 @ McAuley 26
@ South Portland 48 McAuley 41
@ South Portland 36 McAuley 28
@ McAuley 44 South Portland 38
Western A semifinals
South Portland 39 McAuley 29
@ South Portland 55 McAuley 47
South Portland 68 @ McAuley 56
@ McAuley 61 South Portland 46
McAuley 65 @ South Portland 28
McAuley 47 @ South Portland 37
@ McAuley 73 South Portland 42