Stags surge late to topple Marshwood
PORTLAND—Talk about saving your best for last.
Saturday afternoon at Keegan Gymnasium, the Cheverus girls' basketball team, eight days removed from a rough showing in a home loss to South Portland and still trying to find its stride after a long week of final exams, found itself trailing hot-shooting Marshwood, 41-32, with just under six minutes to play.
To say things looked bleak would be an understatement, but the Stags were about to close on a breathtaking run.
Cheverus scored the game's final 16 points and didn't surrender a single Hawks' point along the way.
A clutch 3-pointer from senior Georgia Ford, her first points of the game, with 4:12 remaining tied the score. Senior Cassidy Grover then gave the Stags then lead for good with a putback and clutch free throws from sophomore Jess Willerson, who excelled from start to finish, Ford and junior Jillian Libby slammed the door as Cheverus went on to a much-needed 48-41 triumph.
The Stags were paced by 24 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots from Willerson, but it was a true team effort as they improved to 9-4, dropping Marshwood to 6-7 in the process.
"It's a win that could catapult us," said Cheverus coach Richie Ashley. "We hadn't played in a week, the last time we played we didn't play that well and (the girls) had finals. Obviously, I'm biased, but finals at Cheverus are a lot different than they are at most places. (The girls) hung there and they won. They deserve all the credit."
Flashes of brilliance
When Cheverus, a first-time regional finalist last winter, has been on this year, it has been very, very good, but there have also been times that the Stags have struggled.
Cheverus opened by downing visiting Windham (46-33) and host Bonny Eagle (68-29) before stumbling at Thornton Academy (47-42). After a 75-29 home romp over Massabesic, the Stags won at Deering (65-42), then couldn't hold a halftime lead and lost at Portland (62-60) and fell just short despite a valiant effort at McAuley, 47-39. Cheverus then bounced back with a vengeance, winning at Gorham (42-40), at home over Noble (75-38) and Sanford (51-39) and at Westbrook (39-19) before losing last Friday, 72-56, to visiting South Portland.
Marshwood lost its first four games, to Gorham, Windham, Portland and Bonny Eagle, but entered Saturday's contest having won six of eight. The Hawks got things going with a narrow win over Biddeford, then, after a loss at Deering, defeated Sanford, Massabesic, Scarborough, Noble and Westbrook. Marshwood's five-game win streak was snapped Monday by visiting South Portland, 52-37.
Last year, Cheverus downed visiting Marshwood, 57-33. The Hawks won the year before, 59-49, at home.
Saturday, the Stags had a lot to overcome, but managed to do so.
It took over three minutes for either team to score before Marshwood, in a sign of things to come, finally broke through when senior Macy Morrison sank a 3-pointer.
Cheverus's first points came with 4:28 to go in the first quarter when Willerson made a free throw. Willerson then tied the score with a bank shot. After the Hawks got a 3 from junior Lydia St. Pierre, Stags senior Sadie Lyons made a layup, was fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play to tie the score. With 33.6 seconds to go, junior Casey Simpson scored on a putback to give Cheverus its first lead, 8-6.
Early in the second period, the Hawks went back on top behind a 3 from Morrison, but Willerson made two foul shots. After Morrison hit another 3, Willerson tied the score with two free throws, junior Laura Holman made a layup and Grover scored on a putback for a 16-12 Stags' advantage.
After Marshwood got a putback from sophomore Emily Robida with 1:42 to go before halftime, the Hawks' first two-point field goal of the game, Willerson scored on a driving layup.
The final minute of the half was frenetic, as St. Pierre made a layup, Willerson hit a jumper and Robida countered with a 3. As time expired, a layup by Marshwood junior Joelle Casey was waved off due to a charging foul and Cheverus clung to a 20-19 advantage at the break.
In the first 16 minutes, Willerson led the way with 11 points, but the Stags were stymied by 11 turnovers. Fifteen of the Hawks' 19 points came from behind the 3-point arc. Marshwood gave the ball away 13 times.
There wasn't much separation in the third period either.
After Willerson opened the second half with a jump shot, sophomore Kat Locke scored on a putback for the Hawks. After Grover made two free throws, the visitors pulled even on a 3 from Morrison. Two Willerson foul shots put the Stags back on top, but senior Johnna Kashmer tied the game with a baseline jumper, then gave Marshwood a 28-26 lead with a pair of free throws. Willerson tied the game with a jump shot, but Morrison sank another 3, which rattled in, making it 31-28 Hawks. A free throw from Libby and a Grover layup, set up by Libby, tied the game, before Marshwood took a 33-31 lead to the final stanza behind a late jumper from Locke.
The Hawks got another three-point play to start the fourth, this one the old-fashioned variety, as Locke made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to make it 36-31.
Cheverus got a point back on a Lyons free throw, but Morrison hit a baseline jumper, junior Megan McLean made a layup after a steal and with 5:46 to go, Kashmer sank a free throw and Marshwood was seemingly in command, up, 41-32.
Instead, the Hawks had reached their highwater mark and it would be the Stags who were about to seize control of the game.
A pair of Willerson free throws started the comeback. Willerson added a putback, then made two foul shots and just like that, a nine-point deficit was just three, with 4:42 still to play.
"At practice, we do free throws all the time," Willerson said. "I wasn't nervous at all."
The Stags were just getting warmed up.
Thirty seconds later, sophomore Lodia Ismail got an offensive rebound and fed Ford, who didn't hesitate to fire a 3 and was rewarded, making it 41-41.
"We were passing well as a team," Ford said. "Lodia's the one who passed the ball to me. She got an awesome rebound and I was open and I got it."
"I thought Lodia Ismail was awesome as a sophomore showing a lot of composure in that situation," Ashley said.
With 3:28 to go, Grover scored on a putback and Cheverus had the lead.
After Willerson made a free throw for a 44-41 advantage, the Hawks had three good looks at a 3, but their shooting acumen deserted them at the worst possible time and all three were off the mark.
After Grover missed two free throws, Marshwood again looked to tie, but Morrison missed a 3, Ismail rebounded and after milking the clock, the Stags sent Ford to the foul stripe with 48.3 seconds showing.
Ford stepped up and sank both, making it a two-possession game.
After Ismail stole the ball back for Cheverus, Libby made two free throws with 31 seconds to go and that finished off the Hawks, as the Stags went on to a 48-41 victory.
"We just had a ton of heart and we just played off each other," Ford said. "We're a team that does not quit. We ended up coming out with it."
"Size was an advantage and our team played amazing together," Willerson said. "We shared the ball well and got it into the post. We realized we had to play together more and we did and we got a good win. Our defense locked it down. We didn't let anything get through. We thought they'd die down a little bit (on 3s), but when they didn't, we made sure we locked down and put a hand up."
"We dug a pretty good hole and were able to dig ourselves out," Ashley added. "We did a good job showing composure at the end. It was the seniors. Coming in (to the season), we only had Georgia who had significant minutes last year, but these guys are maturing. Cassidy played well, rebounding the ball. She had that huge putback. Georgia hit a 3 and knocked down a couple free throws. Jillian's long. She knocked down some free throws and played good D."
Willerson, the leading scorer in the Southwestern Maine Activities Association, continued her stellar season with 24 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
She certainly made her impression felt.
"Jess is phenomenal," said Ford. "She plays well every single game. She's dominating every game. We all play off of her. I don't see her playing a bad game this season."
"Jess is definitely one of the best players in the league," said Ashley. "She's every team's focal point. She did a good job keeping her composure. She knocked down some big shots."
Grover added eight points, Ford had five, Lyons four, Libby three and Holman and Simpson two apiece.
Cheverus almost doubled up Marshwood on the glass, holding a 47-27 rebounding advantage. In addition to Willerson's game-high 13, Ford had eight, while Grover and Simpson each grabbed six.
The Stags turned the ball over 18 times, forced 18 turnovers and made 21 of 31 free throws.
The Hawks were led by Morrison, who had 17 points (15 of which came on 3-pointers). Locke had seven points and five rebounds, Kashmer, Robida and St. Pierre (five rebounds, three blocks, three assists) each had five points, while McLean finished with two (to go with five assists).
Marshwood made 4 of 7 free throws.
Both teams would make the playoffs if they began today (in fact, they'd meet in a preliminary round contest), but both are hoping to move up the standings a bit over the next two weeks.
Marshwood (now 10th in the Western A Heal Points standings) hosts Massabesic Tuesday and Thornton Academy Thursday before going to McAuley Friday. The Hawks then close with a game at Sanford and a home tilt versus Noble.
Cheverus (seventh) would love to wind up in the top four and avoid a preliminary round contest, but it might need to win out to have a chance of doing so. The Stags go to Scarborough Tuesday, host Biddeford Wednesday and Deering Friday, then close with a game at South Portland and a home showdown with McAuley. A lot of Heal Points are still at stake.
"We're just taking it each game at a time," Ford said. "We only have five games left in the real season. We feel like we can make some noise."
"(This win is) definitely going to help our confidence and our Heal Points," Willerson said. "It will be a good spark to the next few games which will be tough. It's a good time to get some wins. We've been close in every big game, so I think we have a good chance. We just need consistency mostly."
"When we come focused, we can play as well as anybody," Ashley added. "It's a maturation process. Scarborough's a good team. We can't worry about anyone but Scarborough and the rest of the games will take care of themselves. We want to get better every day and find the right combinations and be playing our best at the end."