McAuley rolls at Cheverus for 37th straight win
PORTLAND—The two-time defending Class A state champion McAuley girls' basketball team continues to raise the bar.
Higher and higher.
Tuesday evening, the Lions made the short trip to Keegan Gymnasium to battle rival Cheverus in the latest installment of what's widely referred to as the "Holy War."
McAuley made sure the rivalry stayed one-sided as it defeated the Stags for the 18th straight time without a loss and was never seriously tested in doing so.
The Lions took the lead for good on two free throws from sophomore Victoria Lux in the final minute of the first quarter, part of an 8-0 run to gain some breathing room. McAuley then dominated the second period, pushing its lead to as many as 16 points, thanks in large part to a superb effort from sophomore Olivia Dalphonse, then put it away in the third period, holding Cheverus scoreless for nearly six minutes, before going on to a 51-30 triumph.
McAuley was paced by 18 points from junior standout and league-leading scorer Allie Clement, grabbed 33 rebounds, forced 21 turnovers and improved to 11-0 with its 37th successive victory, which dropped the Stags to 9-2.
"We've talked about this game for awhile," Clement said. "It's a big rivalry game and we wanted it. Coming here gave us more motivation. We wanted to win. We've never lost to them. It was very fun. Walking out with a win is very exciting. Especially in their house with all their fans here. It's a really big win for us."
McAuley ran roughshod on the opposition early, putting games away by halftime (in many cases the first quarter), winning its first seven by an average of a whopping 49 points. The victims included 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 the Lions almost pitched a shutout in the first half) and visiting Windham (72-32). Then, in a 20-plus hour Odyssey, McAuley was tested by visiting rival Deering and passed, 43-35. The Lions then returned to their blowout ways, romping at Massabesic (86-44) and Thornton Academy (64-38).
Cheverus had barely been tested in its first eight outings, handling host Biddeford (54-19), visiting Gorham (57-34), visiting Portland (42-17), visiting Westbrook (57-31), host Noble (68-15), visiting Marshwood (57-33), host Bonny Eagle (76-48) and visiting Sanford (57-47). The Stags' ninth game was one for the ages, a triple overtime 58-57 win at Scarborough. Friday, Cheverus fell from the unbeaten ranks (barely) with a 60-56 home loss to Deering.
Entering Tuesday, the "rivalry" had been completely one-sided in favor of McAuley, which had taken all 17 previous meetings, by an average of 24 points (please see sidebar).
The teams started playing in the 2002-03 season, when Cheverus became a varsity program. The Stags' timing couldn't have been worse as the Lions were on the verge of winning a second consecutive Class A state championship.
McAuley beat Cheverus that first year, 88-30, and never looked back, although games have been much tighter since Richie Ashley took over the Stags' program in 2007. In 2007-08, the teams played just once and the Lions only prevailed by six, 47-41. The following winter, the Stags went to McAuley for a preliminary round playoff game, which was a thriller, but the Lions pulled it out, 33-27. Three years ago, McAuley beat Cheverus by seven and eight points, respectively. Two seasons ago brought the closest call as the Stags couldn't hold an early 12-point lead and lost at home by three, 45-42. McAuley then had no trouble at home against the Stags in the rematch, 58-39. Last fall, the host Lions rolled, 57-40.
Tuesday, it was McAuley's night again.
Clement's free throw a minute in broke the ice, but Cheverus' star senior Brooke Flaherty scored on a driving bank shot and senior Mikayla Mayberry made a layup after a steal for a quick 4-1 lead.
It didn't last.
With 5:15 to play in the opening stanza, Clement took a pass from fellow captain, senior Molly Mack, and knocked down a 3 to tie the score.
Clement then passed to junior Olivia Smith for a layup off an inbounds play to allow the Lions to retake the lead, 6-4, but the Stags tied the score when sophomore Jill Libby scored on a putback. Clement made a free throw after collecting an offensive board, but senior Kylie Libby made a layup with 3:24 to go and Cheverus had its last lead, 8-7.
A spinning jump shot from Lux put the Lions back on top, but junior Alisha Starbird tied the score with a foul shot with 1:32 remaining.
That would prove to be the Stags' highwater mark as McAuley closed the first with a pair of Lux free throws and a putback by Clement for a 13-9 lead.
In the first eight minutes, Cheverus was hindered by eight fouls to just three for the Lions.
The mountain got steeper for the Stags in the second quarter.
Two free throws from Smith and a Smith contested layup gave McAuley a 17-9 advantage.
"What worked for us was movement inside," Smith said. "When we just sit there, it doesn't work. Ball movement was a big part. Once we got it, we automatically looked opposite and wait for a turn."
After Flaherty hit a jumper to end the 8-0 run, Lions freshman Sarah Clement took a pass from junior Jackie Welch and drained a 3 and Dalphonse followed by converting an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) to stretch the lead to 23-11.
A foul shot by Flaherty and two from freshman Jess Willerson pulled Cheverus back to 23-14, but Allie Clement, while falling away from the basket, drained a 3, Dalphonse made a free throw and with 2:17 to go before halftime, Sarah Clement somehow managed to tiptoe along the baseline before kicking out to Dalphonse, who knocked down a 3 to put the Lions completely in control, 30-14.
"I had some good looks," said Dalphonse, who played for Bonny Eagle as a freshman before transferring to McAuley. "The team got it to me. We try to pass the ball. We don't care who scores. It's team basketball. I started at Bonny Eagle and they really depended on me. Here, I'm not as much a scorer. They need me for passing and defense. It's really fun. I love my team."
The Stags got back within 12 at the break thanks to a Willerson jumper and a left-handed runner from Kylie Libby.
"Their scorers scored in the second quarter and ours didn't," Ashley said. "The girls who have been scoring didn't knock it down tonight."
The Lions' defensive effort proved to be a huge difference in the first half.
"Our focus was mainly being help side, but going at the shooters when it got kicked out," Smith said. "We didn't focus on one person. We did a good job tonight. One of our main goals this year is keeping teams under 30."
"We were worried with their shooters," Welch said. "I don't think they got any wide open 3-pointers. I thought our big girls did a good job collapsing. We did a good job frustrating them. We were excited."
"At the beginning, we just needed to calm down a little bit," Clement said. "We got it under control. We've worked on defense and back cutting and getting in the shooter's face."
Cheverus hoped to make things interesting in the third period, but went almost six minutes without a point and McAuley took advantage, scoring the first eight points of the second half.
First, Stags junior Sadie Lyons had to leave the game with an apparent knee injury.
"It was tough to lose Sadie," Ashley said. "She's been a sparkplug emotionally for us."
Allie Clement got things started with a long jumper. Smith then fed Lux for a layup, Smith hit a driving bank shot and Welch made two foul shots after a steal to make it 38-18.
Finally, with 2:12 to play in the third, Willerson hit a jumper to end the 5 minute, 49 second drought, but Allie Clement buried a 3. Stags junior Georgia Ford made two foul shots and Willerson made a jumper to make it a 41-24 game after three.
Any remaining doubt was dashed when the Lions opened the fourth period on a 10-0 run.
After grabbing an offensive rebound, Sarah Clement made a jump shot. Smith then sank a free throw, Welch and Allie Clement each sank one, Dalphonse made a layup and Allie Clement's jumper pushed the lead to 27, 51-24, with 2:47 to go.
The Stags closed the game on a 6-0 run as Willerson made three free throws and senior Casey Honan knocked down a 3 at the horn to account for the 51-30 final score.
McAuley was a little more exuberant over this win than most of its others.
"(Cheverus is) our biggest rival," Smith said. "We have a special competition."
"We like the big games," Dalphonse said. "They're a lot more fun for us. We like competition."
"We knew (Cheverus is) a good team and that we'd have a battle," McAuley coach Billy Goodman added. "We ramped up the intensity in practice yesterday. The girls we wanted to have step up stepped up tonight. Olivia and Vic have played well, but not consistent. Tonight, they brought it. The first half, we came out sloppy and didn't get much going. Then we started scoring and our defense took over.
"The one thing we worry about is defense. If the points are there, it's a bonus. Cheverus can shoot the 3 nicely and Flaherty can score down low. We had to play team defense. I'm proud of the girls. They got it. They played good D in a tough road environment. They got fired up for this game. I give them all the credit. They showed up ready to play and excited."
Allie Clement made three 3-pointers, three field goals and three free throws for her 18 points. Clement battled foul trouble for much of the night, but overcame.
"A lot of us got in foul trouble today," Clement said. "I took some stupid chances. I need to work on that. I have a bad habit and I have to get out of it. I have to realize if I have five fouls I won't be playing."
Smith added 10 points, Dalphonse had nine, Lux six, Sarah Clement five and Welch three.
"Jackie had a couple turnovers, but I didn't care because she got me steals and rebounds," said Goodman. "She does a lot of things that don't show up on the stat sheet that help a team win. She came on strong in the playoffs last year and has continued. She's a state champion and plays like it. If her shot's not there, she does other things to help the team."
The Lions had a 33-24 advantage on the glass. Lux had a game-high seven rebounds, while Smith had six and Welch and Sarah Clement each collected five.
"Sarah's the smallest person and she just goes and gets it," said Allie Clement. "She knows where to be. She's been so awesome this year. I'm so proud of her. She makes a 3 and I jump out my seat and I'm like, 'That's my sister!' I get so excited for her."
McAuley turned the ball over 21 turnovers and made 14-of-21 free throws.
For Cheverus, Willerson had a breakout performance with 11 points and three rebounds.
"Jess played well for a freshman," Ashley said. "I was very pleased with her points in the first half. She hit a couple shots and played good defense. It's a big step up for her. She was in eighth grade last year. Now she's playing against Division I caliber players."
Flaherty was held to five points, Kylie Libby had four, Honan three, Ford, Jill Libby and Mayberry two apiece and Starbird one.
The Stags committed 21 turnovers, shot 9-of-16 from the free throw line and were ultimately done in by missing a ton of open shots.
"We had a lot of good looks," Ashley said. "We had a lot of layups and jump shots that just didn't go in. There's not much you can say. Of course, they played pretty good D. Some of the misses were because of their D, but we just missed shots. It was good to get a read on them. We didn't get out-toughed. That's for sure. We didn't get pushed around. I thought for the most part, we played tough. The girls responded to the physicality and the speed. I thought we did a fair job containing them, but it's hard to play defense if you're not scoring. We couldn't get a run going. For the most part, we scrapped and that's what we wanted. We played with more emotion tonight."
See you again?
Cheverus (fourth in the Western A Heal Points standings) is back in action Friday when it hosts Windham. The Stags also have home games remaining versus Thornton Academy and South Portland and go to South Portland, Massabesic, Kennebunk and Deering.
"The rest of the teams we play are all good," Ashley said. "Windham's a tough team. We have final (exams) mixed in too. It won't be a walk in the park. We'll show up. We want to get better every day. We won't change who we are. We just have to get better on execution."
McAuley (now second to Deering in the Heals) has another ostensible test Friday when it hosts Scarborough in a rematch of last year's regional final.
"(Scarborough has) a lot of great guards and a deep bench," Welch said. "Defensively, we're looking for the same thing as tonight."
"I think it's going to be pretty similar (to tonight)," said Smith. "(Scarborough's) mostly guard oriented. We have to buckle down on defense. We have to do the fundamental stuff."
"We can't celebrate this win," Clement said. "We have to focus on Friday. Scarborough's been a huge game for us. They're a good team. They're scrappy and fast. They'll look to push the pace. That's something a lot of teams haven't done to us. We have to work on playing pressure."
"Scarborough's a very good team," Goodman added. "They're well coached. They don't give the Ron Cote Coaching Award in honor of (Red Storm coach) Ron Cote for no reason. They'll bring it Friday night. We'll get rest and get ready for them."
After a week off, the Lions host Gorham, then go to Sanford on back-to-back nights. Games at South Portland and Westbrook and home tilts versus Portland and South Portland round out the schedule.
With exactly a month to go before the tournament commences, the Lions know their work isn't done.
"We really need to work on our pressbreaker and getting open and moving the ball," said Dalphonse.
"We need to get better at everything, I think," Smith said.