It wasn't easy, but McAuley handles Scarborough for 38th straight victory
PORTLAND—McAuley's girls' basketball team has now faced the three teams best equipped to give it a scare.
After holding off rival Deering a couple weeks ago and handling "Holy War" rival Cheverus Tuesday, the Lions welcomed Scarborough for a rematch of last year's regional final Friday evening.
While the Red Storm played valiantly and gave McAuley some anxious moments, the two-time defending Class A champions, behind a superb team effort, had all the answers.
The Lions raced to a 22-14 lead after one quarter, thanks in large part to forcing 11 turnovers, and were up, 33-20, at halftime, but Scarborough got McAuley in foul trouble and battled back within eight, 41-33, late in quarter number three.
With their two most potent inside threats, junior Olivia Smith and sophomore Victoria Lux, on the bench in foul trouble, the Lions appeared vulnerable, but two veterans, senior captain Molly Mack and junior Jackie Welch, rose to the occasion.
Welch scored nine points in the third period and Mack did a little of everything as McAuley fended off the Red Storm's charge and closed the third on a 13-2 run. The Lions never looked back from there and went on to a 65-42 triumph, one which was closer than the final score indicated.
McAuley was paced by 16 points from junior standout Allie Clement, got 12 from Smith, 10 from Lux and nine from Welch as it improved to 12-0 and extended its three-year win streak to 38 games, dropping Scarborough to 9-3 in the process.
"We became a team tonight," said second-year Lions coach Billy Goodman, who is now 34-0 with the program. "We got in foul trouble and other girls stepped up. I love it when other girls step up. I felt tonight was our best team win. We got a lot of good looks. We moved the ball nicely. (Scarborough's) a well coached team. I knew they'd be disciplined. I knew we'd be in a battle tonight."
Scarborough became McAuley's biggest rival a year ago as Tom Maines led the Red Storm to a surprising 17-1 regular season record. The lone loss was a 49-37 home setback to the Lions. The teams met again in the Western A Final, which was all McAuley, 61-43.
This winter, Maines didn't return and Scarborough has been led by another storied coach, Ron Cote, who won his first eight games, over host Gorham (56-23), visiting Westbrook (60-24), visiting Marshwood in a playoff rematch (44-31), host Windham (64-45), host Portland (57-44), visiting Biddeford (54-12), host South Portland (42-30, game story) and visiting Thornton Academy (52-26). After a palpitating 58-57 triple-overtime home loss to Cheverus, the Red Storm bounced back with a 58-30 victory at Noble, then fell in a close home decision to Deering, 48-41.
McAuley, meanwhile, really hasn't been seriously tested all winter, defeating 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), visiting Windham (72-32), visiting Deering (43-35), host Massabesic (86-44), host Thornton Academy (64-38) and host Cheverus (51-30).
Scarborough has actually done better against the Lions over the past decade than most Southwestern Maine Activities Association teams, winning three previous meetings, but last year's sweep gave McAuley a 7-3 all-time edge.
Friday, the Lions roared again even though early on, the Red Storm hung tough.
A putback from senior Maria Philbrick allowed Scarborough to strike first. Smith answered with two free throws and Clement, the league's leading scorer, scored on a putback for a 4-2 McAuley lead.
Red Storm sophomore Ashley Briggs countered with a jumper and with 5:16 left in the opening stanza, senior Mary Redmond, the league's third-leading scorer behind Clement and South Portland's Danica Gleason, buried a 3 to put Scarborough up, 7-4, but the lead was fleeting as Clement came to life and sparked a 12-0 run.
First, Clement passed to Lux for a layup. Then, with 4:36 remaining in the first, Clement stole the ball at one end, raced down the floor as only she can and banked home a layup to put the Lions ahead to stay, 8-7.
After sophomore Olivia Dalphonse finished a driving layup with her left hand and freshman Sarah Clement made two foul shots, Allie Clement made another layup after a steal and Smith stole the ball and fed Dalphonse for a layup to quickly push the advantage to nine, 16-7.
With 3 minutes to go in the first, a bank shot from sophomore Bailey Adams allowed the Red Storm to end the 12-0 McAuley run, but Smith hit a bank shot and Clement made consecutive jump shots to give the Lions a 22-9 advantage.
"We need Allie," Mack said. "She's our go-to player."
"When Allie makes shots, it helps us," Lux said. "She's amazing on offense. Her fast breaks, her layups, her passes."
In a sign of things to come, however, Scarborough didn't buckle and closed the quarter on a 5-0 run as sophomore Sam Sparda scored on a runner which she banked home and senior Marisa O'Toole buried a 3-ball to keep the Red Storm within hailing distance, 22-14.
Scarborough was hindered by 11 first quarter turnovers and had no answer for Clement's 10 points.
"We know where to be and we have a 6-2 girl," Welch said. "We have quick guards. We try to trap as much as possible. We try to exploit the traps and get turnovers."
"You can't turn the ball over against a team like that," Cote lamented. "They took the score from two to 10 or whatever, just like that."
The scoring slowed a bit in the second period as McAuley extended its lead.
After Smith delivered a pretty pass to Lux for a layup and Smith made a free throw, Briggs knocked down a jumper, but Dalphonse set up Smith for a layup and with 4:44 to go in the half, Lux scored on a putback to make it 29-16.
The Red Storm drew back within 10 on a jumper from senior Taylor LeBorgne and a Redmond free throw, but Mack banked home a shot and Clement set up sophomore Laura Holman layup to push the lead to 14. An O'Toole free throw with three seconds remaining drew Scarborough back to 33-20 at the break.
Nine fewer turnovers, terrific passing and the brilliance of the unstoppable Lux on the glass (seven offensive rebounds) helped give McAuley a comfortable lead.
Or so the Lions thought.
The Red Storm came out confident in the third period and made things very interesting and uncomfortable for the hosts and their fans.
LeBorgne got things started with a putback and Briggs added a 3 to pull Scarborough within eight, 33-25. Clement set up Lux for a layup, but Redmond answered with two foul shots. After Lux made a difficult catch of a Clement pass before making a layup with 5:56 to go, Lux got her fourth foul 28 seconds later and LeBorgne set up senior Courtney Alofs for a layup to make it 37-29.
McAuley again threatened to pull away as Welch scored her first points, on a 3-pointer, and Welch made a free throw after being fouled on an offensive rebound, but Alofs scored on a leaner and seconds after Smith had to go to the bench with her third foul, Redmond hit two foul shots to make it 41-33.
Compounding matters for the Lions, Sarah Clement received her third foul with 3:30 left and suddenly the hosts were reeling, but Mack and Welch were about to make their presence felt.
With 2:51 to go, Mack grabbed an offensive rebound and scored. Forty-seven seconds later, Welch was true on another 3 and just like that, McAuley had a 46-33 advantage and a little breathing room.
"I was glad I hit some shots," Welch said. "I've been anxious to play well and have a good game."
"Jackie Welch, forget about offense, defensively she played one great game," Goodman said. "She plays great defense every game. She stepped up offensively too. Credit to her."
After Sparda sank two free throws, Holman made a short jumper, Allie Clement made a layup after a steal, Welch drained a pair of foul shots and Clement made another layup after a steal to (in the blink of an eye) extend the lead all the way to 19, 54-35, with just eight minutes to play.
"The third quarter, we definitely struggled a little bit, but we picked our heads up," Mack said. "We have leaders on this team. This is a team. We have other players who can step up when people are in foul trouble. We know how to keep our heads. Coach always says he doesn't know who will step up and that he doesn't have a solid five. It's a new five every game."
"(At halftime) I told them I thought we played with a lot of energy in the first half and we needed to come out the same way in the second half and not give an inch and we did," said Cote. "But some of their other players I didn't expect knocked down shots. You can't do much about that."
The surge was the result of a team effort.
"My teammates stepped up," Lux said. "We became an actual team tonight. It's hard to sit and watch. I was stressing out. We all communicated. We were flowing together."
"The people that came in for Olivia and Vic knew they had to step up," said Clement. "They had to step up and play the defense we've been practicing. We learned from it, got more players in the game and everybody got better."
Scarborough had one final run to start the fourth as Redmond made a foul shot, Alofs hit another and Redmond knocked down a pullup jumper, but Clement answered with a jump shot to push the lead back to 56-39 with 5:32 to play.
After Briggs made a jumper for the Red Storm, McAuley put forth a mind-boggling display of teamwork to end all doubt.
First, Mack passed to Smith for a short bank shot. The next time down the floor, Smith returned the favor with a pass to Mack for a layup.
"Molly's a leader on this team," Goodman said. "She plays great defense. She made some layups tonight. She produced. She's a consistent, very good player."
Next, it was Smith's turn to score, as she took a nice pass from Sarah Clement and finished with a layup. Sarah Clement then reminded us that it's just as good to receive as to give as she took a pass from Mack and made a layup. A Smith foul shot with 1:46 to go accounted for the final Lions' point.
Adams made a free throw in the final minute and that was that as McAuley went on to the 65-42 victory.
"I think we kept our composure," Welch said. "I was glad I limited turnovers tonight, especially against their pressure. They're so scrappy and quick. The score didn't do this game justice."
"The whole game seemed like it was going back and forth," Clement said. "Scarborough's a fast-paced, aggressive team. They never give up. They came out in the third quarter. They battled. Give them credit. They're a great team. They're scrappy. They made us work for everything we got."
"(The girls) know what to do," Goodman added. "We do it in practice. We try to anticipate stuff. We finished strong. We start with defense. We fouled too much tonight, but overall we spend a lot of time on defense. I'm seeing girls grow up and learning how to make better decisions. They've learned to become a team and what needs to happen in close games."
Allie Clement finished shy of her scoring average, but still had a game-high 16 points. Smith (12) and Lux (10) were also in double figures, while Welch (9) just missed. Mack added six points and Sarah Clement, Dalphonse and Holman all had four.
Junior Lauren Coulombe and sophomore Ayla Tarte didn't score, but provided some key minutes off the bench.
"All the people off the bench played great," Clement said. "We needed them tonight. They came ready."
"Laura played hard," Welch said. "She played good defense and got rebounds. Ayla's a quick guard. Sarah and Olivia are great substitutes for our guards."
"The girls on the bench came in and I loved it," Goodman added.
The Lions had a commanding 36-20 rebounding advantage. Lux led the way with a game-high 10, which included a breathtaking nine on the offensive glass.
"I just try to get as many rebounds as I can," Lux said.
"Vic has been working really hard in practice," Mack said. "She's gotten so much better at rebounding. She boxes out really well."
"Vic's been a rebounding machine for us," Goodman added. "She keeps working hard. I feel she gets a little beat up in there. She handles it well and keeps working hard."
Allie Clement added six boards, while Sarah Clement and Mack each grabbed five.
Allie Clement had six of McAuley's 16 steals. Smith finished with four.
The Lions only had 12 turnovers and made 9-of-14 free throws.
For Scarborough, Redmond led the way with 11 points. Briggs added nine, Alofs five (along with six boards), LeBorgne, O'Toole and Sparda four each, Adams three and Philbrick two.
The Red Storm hit 11-of-18 foul shots, but was doomed by 27 turnovers.
Despite the result, Cote had much to be pleased with.
"I just told the kids the score wasn't indicative of the effort and the energy and how we competed," Cote said. "I couldn't ask anything more of the kids. They gave me everything they had. I'm very pleased with that. We played defense. We were fairly disciplined on offense. We competed. That's the best I can say. I learned we can play with anybody in the league. We lost in triple overtime to Cheverus, pretty much had a four-point game with Deering and we played a superb team in talent and height as tough as we could tonight."
Both teams are playoff-bound and each will spend the remaining three weeks trying to lock up optimal seeding.
The Red Storm (now third in Western A) returns to action Monday at Kennebunk, then hosts dangerous Sanford Friday. Home games versus Massabesic and Kennebunk are sandwiched around trips to Bonny Eagle and Thornton Academy to close the regular season.
Scarborough has the potential to wind up with 14 or 15 wins and a top four seed. The Red Storm will be very dangerous come playoff time, especially if it continues to improve.
"We have to run the table and hope we can sneak into third," Cote said.
The Lions (who moved into the top spot in the Heals for the first time this season) are idle until next weekend, when they host Gorham Friday and go to Sanford Saturday. McAuley still has two games remaining with potential threat South Portland and also goes to Westbrook and hosts Portland.
The Lions have run the gamut of top contenders, but can't rest on their laurels. Regular season victories and win streaks mean little to this group. McAuley is about winning the Gold Ball in March and knows it still has work to do to be a championship team.
"We're ready for everyone," Welch said. "I think we're doing well. We're glad we had some closer games."
"I feel like we need to get better," Lux said. "Yes, we're good at some things, but we struggle at other things."
"We still need to get better," said Mack. "There are always tough games. We have to play like we're playing Cheverus every game."
"We have a lot to improve on," Goodman said. "Shooting, decision making, ball movement. After tonight, we have to work on playing defense without fouling."
"It's going by so fast," Clement added. "We've learned a lot. We've learned how to close out big games. We've learned we don't want to foul. Every game, someone gets in foul trouble. It's mostly me. There are things we need to work on still. We need to overcome adversity and stick together as a team. We need to keep working hard. We need to keep being hungry. We're never content."