McAuley handles Scarborough in Western A Final
PORTLAND—Why talk, when a roar will suffice?
The McAuley girls' basketball team, the defending Class A state champion and heavily favored to be crowned again, has faced its share of detractors this winter, but ultimately, the Lions' play on the floor has said it all.
The latest example came Saturday evening at the Cumberland County Civic Center in the Western Class A Final against the second-ranked and second-best team in the region, the Scarborough Red Storm, which won the 2010 state title.
While Scarborough entered riding a magic carpet after stealing victory from the jaws of defeat in its first two tournament games, McAuley looked to snuff out the Red Storm's hopes early and did exactly that.
The Lions never trailed, took the lead for good on sophomore Allie Clement's jumper with 2:44 to go in the opening stanza and opened up a commanding 32-16 lead at the half, thanks to a Clement 3 at the horn.
In the second half, Scarborough fought hard and attempted to rally, but never got closer than 14 points as McAuley pulled away to win its eighth regional championship and second in a row, 61-43.
Clement led all scorers with 19 points, junior Olivia Smith added 15 and senior Alexa Coulombe dished out seven assists to go with her eight points as the Lions improved to 21-0 with their 25th successive victory, ended the Red Storm's spectacular season at 19-2 and set up a compelling Class A Final versus 21-0 Cony Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
"It comes down to mental toughness and that's what these kids have," said McAuley first-year coach Billy Goodman. "We handled the pressure. Everything we worked on, the girls did it. I have to give them all the credit. Their mental toughness and execution was amazing."
After capturing its third Gold Ball last winter, McAuley met every test in 2011-12 and its 18-0 record gave it the top seed in Western Class A. After Monday night's 41-23 quarterfinal round victory over Westbrook (sparked by Clement's 17 points), the Lions neutralized SMAA Player of the Year Meghan Gribbin and Windham in the semifinals, 49-33.
Scarborough was the 2010 Class A champion, but after losing its core to graduation, slipped to 6-12 in an injury-plaqued season a year ago. This winter, everything changed after Tom Maines got to town as the new coach.
The Red Storm won its first 11 games, which included impressive wins at Cheverus and Deering. After a home loss to McAuley, Scarborough closed on a 6-0 run to wind up 17-1, good for the No. 2 seed in Western A.
The Red Storm then pulled off a pair of improbable, dramatic rallies to get to the regional final, erasing an 11-point third deficit against seventh-ranked Cheverus in the quarterfinals before winning, 39-35, then coming back from eight points down with seven minutes to go to beat No. 3 Marshwood in Wednesday's semifinals, 46-43.
In the teams' lone regular season encounter, the Lions made a statement with a 49-37 victory at the Red Storm Jan. 20.
McAuley and Scarborough had no postseason history.
They have some now.
The Lions came out fired up, so much so that they were turning the ball over and missing shots early, but they eventually settled down and took control.
After nearly two scoreless minutes, Coulombe broke the ice, taking a pass from Clement and hitting a baseline jumper. Senior Sadie DiPierro was fouled after an offensive rebound and made her second attempt for a 3-0 lead before the Red Storm got on the board with 4:01 to play in the quarter on a 3 from junior Taylor LeBorgne.
LeBorgne and four other reserves came into the game seconds prior when Maines pulled his starters in a five-in, five-out switch.
That shot would be Scarborough's highwater mark.
McAuley finally clicked on offense late in the quarter as Clement's pullup jumper gave it the lead for good, Clement (set up by junior Molly Mack) knocked down a 3 and Smith made two free throws for a 10-3 advantage.
LeBorgne answered with a free throw and junior Mary Redmond added a pair, but Clement set up freshman Victoria Lux for a layup and a 12-6 lead after one quarter.
When Smith made four free throws in four tries to open the second period, the Lions had a 10-point bulge, but Redmond answered with a 3.
Coulombe then scored on a putback, Clement set up sophomore Jackie Welch for a long jumper and after being fouled after an offensive rebound, Lux hit two free throws for a 22-9 lead with 5:50 still to go before halftime.
"The fast start was crucial so they didn't get confidence," said Welch. "Especially since they can come back. We were wary. We got people involved and did a good job breaking the press."
One Redmond free throw was answered by two from Clement. Scarborough sophomore Maria Philbrick then stole the ball and made a jump shot and senior Carly Rogers made a layup after a steal to cut the deficit to 24-14, forcing Goodman to call timeout.
It worked as McAuley closed the half on an 8-2 run.
First, a Redmond leaner got the Red Storm's deficit down to single digits, but Coulombe blew by a defender en route to a layup, Clement took a pass from Coulombe after a steal and made a layup, DiPierro sank a free throw and as time expired, Lux got the ball to a surprisingly wide open Clement, who went bombs away from behind the 3-point stripe to give Scarborough a 32-16 lead at halftime.
"Momentum shifted when (Scarborough) got their turnovers on their press, but that showed how much we grew as a team," said Coulombe. "Earlier in the year, we would have struggled."
McAuley had set the tone on the defensive end of the floor.
"I think we were most worried about them taking it inside, but we had Alexa helping," said DiPierro. "We buckled down."
"We were concerned with their shooters," Welch said. "Redmond, of course. They can all shoot. We were looking to shut down Rogers in the post. We relied on our shell defense, which got us here."
Maines said that having to play shorthanded limited his team in the first half.
"We were in severe foul trouble," he said. "(Freshman Ashley) Briggs was on the bench with fouls. Our freshmen had to play major minutes in the first half. We were in trouble."
Knowing the Red Storm's penchant for comebacks, the Lions kept their feet on the throttle in the third period and essentially snuffed out all hope for their opponent.
After a layup from junior Courtney Alofs (set up by Rogers) opened the second half scoring for Scarborough, Coulombe answered with a layup after a steal. Redmond made a free throw, but Smith converted an old-fashioned three-point play (a leaner, foul and free throw) and two Smith free throws with 5:50 to go in the quarter gave McAuley a 20-point lead, 39-19.
"We treated it like it was back to 0-0," said Goodman. "We wanted to start the third quarter the way we ended the second period."
The Red Storm made a mini 6-0 run behind Rogers, who was superb in this tournament. Rogers hit a leaner, a jumper and a jump shot just inside the 3-point line in a two minute span to cut the deficit to 39-25.
Scarborough would draw no closer.
Coulombe passed to Smith for a layup to end the run and Clement hit a pullup jumper and just like that, it was 43-25.
Rogers answered with a free throw and Philbrick hit a pair, but Clement passed to Welch for a layup. The Red Storm appeared primed to take a little momentum into the fourth when Redmond made two free throws with 25 seconds left in the third quarter, but as time expired, Clement again buried a dagger of a 3, this time set up by Welch, and with eight minutes to play, McAuley was in full command, 48-30.
"When (Allie) hit those (3s), the momentum shifted," Coulombe said. "She's done that a lot this year, shifting the momentum."
"(Allie made) big shots," said Goodman. "She's got ice in her veins. What I like is that she was struggling with her shot at midseason and she's worked and worked. Her hard work paid off."
Welch continued her strong play when she started the fourth period scoring by taking a pass from Clement and making a layup.
After Rogers hit a leaner, Clement set up Smith for a layup. Another Rogers leaner was answered by a pullup jumper from Clement. After Rogers sank a free throw, Welch made another layup (this one assisted by Coulombe) and DiPierro sank a 3-ball for a 59-35 lead with three minutes to go.
After LeBorgne hit a free throw, Clement set up Lux for a layup and the Lions' final points.
LeBorgne answered with a 3, Philbrick made a foul shot, sophomore Mackenzie O'Brien sank two and with 16.3 seconds remaining, freshman Bailey Adams made a free throw to make the final score 61-43 in favor of McAuley.
"It's better this time, I think," said DiPierro. "It's so exciting. I feel like this team's a lot closer. We've earned it. Being undefeated is a great feeling. There's been pressure, but we've dealt with the pressure and we've focused on what we need to do, not what everyone else is saying."
"It's just as good (as last year), said Coulombe. "You work so hard to get to this point to cut down the nets. This year, there was a lot of pressure on us to go undefeated. I think our team learned from the (Windham game) that we have to come out hard every game and keep it going."
"We've had this goal this whole year," Clement said. "It's what we've worked toward. We've had battles, but I think we deserved what we got. It's such an amazing feeling. It's something you can't relive until you do it again, that's why we wanted to do it again. We stuck together as a team. That's the most important thing.
"Our strengths were definitely defense, getting the ball in the post on offense and fastbreaking, because we knew they couldn't stay with us. That's what we worked on in practice, especially stopping certain players. We did a good job with that, but Scarborough also did a good job tonight. We didn't take them lightly. We wanted to prove we were meant to be there. Scarborough's a great team. They had a great season."
For Goodman, who twice lost in regional finals to York while coaching at Greely, the win was extra sweet.
"It started with our defense," he said. "I feel every game we have a chance to win because of the defense. Ball movement's been getting better. These girls are a family. They're always together. They're always dancing together. I'm very lucky to be a part of it. I told the girls I never thought I'd be back here or be on the winning side. I thanked them. They did it all. I just appreciate being a part of it."
Clement led all scorers with 19 points, sinking three 3-pointers. She also had seven assists, two rebounds and a steal.
Smith proved tough to stop. She had 15 points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.
"It was a good game," said Smith. "We had good teamwork. We focused on scoring a lot early and converting defense to offense. It helped getting up in the beginning. We had high energy the rest of the game. (Alexa and I) try to work on the perimeter as well as the post. We try to mix it up and take advantage of the height advantage inside as well. It's been difficult, we've had to work hard, but it's worked out in the end. It's been fun. The best season I've ever had."
Then there was Coulombe, who was given the Edward "Red" McMann Award as the regional tournament's outstanding player-sportsman for the second year in a row. The award is in honor of one of the most respected officials in Western Maine and a longtime proponent of the development of youth sports in the coastal region.
Coulombe had eight points, grabbed seven rebounds, had seven of her team's 11 steals, blocked an early shot to set the defensive tone and most impressively had seven assists.
"They put me in the center because I can see over people," Coulombe said. "Whoever's going to score will score. It's different every game."
Coulombe was thrilled to be a repeat McMann Award winner.
"It means a lot," she said. "It's just an honor. It's not about necessarily how good you are, but a lot of other things. It's nice."
"Alexa does it all," said Goodman. "She rebounds, she passes, she broke the press. She was the MVP because she does it all. She doesn't care about scoring. The team and winning are all she cares about."
Welch had her best game of the season at the most optimal time, scoring eight points.
"I'm glad I could contribute like I did," said Welch.
"Defensively, (Jackie) did a great job all year," said Goodman. "She's a very good shooter, but for some reason, nothing's gone in this year. She doesn't quit. She keeps practicing. Tonight, on the biggest stage, she was at ease. She played as well as she could play."
Lux added six points and a game-high nine rebounds. DiPierro, the defensive specialist, finished with five points, four boards and a steal.
The Lions gave the ball away an uncommonly high number of times (24), but were very good from the foul line (15-of-20) and had a 29-20 rebounding advantage.
What a ride
For Scarborough, Rogers led the way in her swan song with 14 points and seven rebounds.
"I'm very proud of Carly," Maines said. "She had a great second half of the year."
Redmond added 11 points, LeBorgne eight, Philbrick five (along with four steals), Alofs and O'Brien two apiece and Adams one. Freshman Sam Sparda didn't score, but was impressive on the glass with four rebounds. Briggs didn't score either.
The Red Storm had 21 turnovers and made 16-of-26 free throws.
"(McAuley) shot well and we didn't," Maines said. "They played well, we didn't. They coached well, we didn't."
Even though Scarborough would have liked to advance, you can't call its season anything short of a wonderful success and there figures to more good things in the store going forward as only Rogers will graduate.
Next winter, expect the Red Storm to be more highly touted.
"We had a great year," said Maines. "I'm very proud of them. We'll work hard. Have individual meetings. Work in the offseason. See how we do. We have good girls coming back. I like (having the bar set high)."
Going for the gold
Now, the Lions have just one obstacle standing in their way, 21-0 Cony, as they seek their fourth Gold Ball.
McAuley is 3-4 all-time in state finals and has played Cony in three of those contests.
The Lions beat the Rams in the 2002 state final (67-61) and lost to Cony in the 2005 (58-40) and 2007 (46-41) state games.
Cony, like McAuley with Coulombe, has a Miss Maine semifinalist on its roster in senior Mia Diplock. The Rams can shoot, are athletic and will be a tough foe for the Lions, who feel they're up for the task.
"We're really excited, pumped up and we're ready to play Cony Saturday," said Smith.
"We're anxious to play Cony," Welch said. "They have good shooters. Diplock's obviously a very good player. We'll practice hard this week."
"Cony's a very good team," said Clement. "No team is easy in a state championship game. It'll be a good game."
"As long as we come out and play our game, we'll be good," Coulombe said.
"We're focused and we're ready," DiPierro said.
Goodman is thrilled to get another week with his team and will have them ready to go Saturday night.
"I haven't done anything yet with (Cony) because we were focused on Westborook, Windham and Scarborough," Goodman said. "Now, we'll focus on Cony. We know they're a good team. They're undefeated. They look like they refused to lose the other night. We'll get ready starting now."