February, title time arrive
(Ed. Note: For the complete Deering-Windham and Portland-Deering boys' and Waynflete-Wells girls' basketball game stories, with additional photos and box scores, please visit theforecaster.net)
The end game of the winter sports season is near.
While the regular season continues in basketball and hockey, championship time is right around the corner in track, swimming, skiing and wrestling.
Here's a look at what happened last week and a glimpse at what's to come:
Defending Class A champion Deering and this year's favorite, Portland, squared off for the first time Thursday evening at the Portland Expo. The teams entered the showdown going in opposite directions.
The Rams had beaten visiting Windham, 69-34, Tuesday. After a sluggish and sloppy first half, which saw Deering only hold a nine-point lead, 6-foot-7 senior Labson Abwoch made sure the Rams quickly ended all doubt the in the third quarter, personally scoring 10 points, as Deering opened a 22-point lead. Abwoch led all scorers with 22 points.
"There's a lot of talk about Portland, so you automatically want to look at them," said Abwoch. "Coach (Dan LeGage) settled us down and told us one game at a time. We were playing more aggressive in the second half. They outworked us in the first half. Coach told us in the locker room to be more aggressive and it worked out for us. My teammates were looking for me and I just finished. I just went after them."
"We had a good first quarter defensively," said LeGage. "The second quarter was not good basketball. We try to tell these guys we pride ourselves on defense. In the second half, defensively, I thought we did a fantastic job. We fought through screens, we communicated, we boxed out, we did all the things we needed to go to take away their free looks. We wanted to pick up the tempo. We set small goals for the second half and they did a great job. (The kids) told us, let's get one more charge. Let's hold them to single digit quarters. It's human nature (to look ahead). It was a trap game. (Windham's) record wasn't indicative of how good they were. They'll beat a good team. They have the players to do it."
Across town, Portland let a late lead slip away for the second straight game and was shocked by visiting Westbrook, 46-45. Matt Talbot had 11 points in the defeat.
Thursday, however, the Bulldogs bounced back and this time, didn't squander a lead down the stretch.
Portland was once again in jeopardy of letting a victory slip away when an 11-point advantage with just over a minute to go was cut to five in the waning seconds, but Deering wasn't able to take advantage of an opportunity that could have made it a one possession contest and after a steal, Talbot capped his stellar evening with a layup that brought the curtain down on a 44-37 victory. Talbot had a team-high 11 points, Portland forced 21 turnovers, led virtually the whole way and got back on the right track.
"(Letting a win slip away) almost happened again, but we closed better," said Talbot. "It's going to be easier to sleep tonight. Our intensity helped tonight. It means a little more when it's a crosstown rival. We don't really talk about it, but this was one we really wanted."
"A win's a win," said Portland coach Joe Russo. "When you lose two in a row, you need a win. It doesn't matter who it's against, however, it's a lot to ask of a team that's sliding to beat the best team in the league. We went from the frying pan to the fire. We responded. It's a great way to hopefully come out of the slide, to do it against a quality team. This hopefully gives the guys some confidence.
"The kids played great defense. Our man-to-man defense is what we tried to be best at. We tried multiple defenses the past few games and wanted to go back to basics. We've still got to figure out how to finish stronger. The difference tonight was we managed a few points. If we didn't score, we'd have been in trouble. We got a few layups and some free throws."
The Bulldogs improved to 11-2 and returned to the top of the fluid Western Class A Heal Points standings. Portland was at Noble Tuesday, hosts Cheverus in a makeup game Wednesday (the game will be played at Portland High School at 7 p.m.), welcomes Massabesic Friday and closes the regular season next week with games at South Portland and Deering.
"We can't take anybody lightly," Russo added. "Cheverus is desperate. Noble beat Westbrook. We have three games next week. We need to focus on defense and how to finish a game."
Deering got a game-high 13 points from Abwoch in the loss to Portland, but couldn't overcome their 21 turnovers.
"We turned the ball over more than we have," LeGage said. "Some of them were uncharacteristic. (Portland will) turn you over because they're up on you and they're physical, but we had some unforced errors too. We really didn't get into a good flow until very late. We put them on the foul line 20 times and we only went eight. We have to do a better job of running our offense. Tonight wasn't a good job of that. With four minutes to go, we started playing with some passion and energy and started making some shots. Hopefully we can build on that. Instead of four minutes of that, we need 32 minutes. (Portland) played hard. They're the preseason favorites for a reason. In this environment, you have to execute. It's Portland-Deering. It doesn't matter what the situation is or what the records are. It's always emotionally charged. It's been that way for the past decade."
The Rams fell to 12-2 (and second in Western A) with the loss. After hosting South Portland Tuesday, Deering welcomes Gorham Friday and closes next week with games at Cheverus and at home versus Portland.
"For us, it's a good learning experience," said LeGage. "(Portland) exposed things we need to work on. Us coaches need to see what we need to work on and help the kids get better. I've always said it's about putting good segments of play together. Tonight, we didn't do that. We'll look at the film and see what caused that. We happen to be in a pod where three of the top four teams are. It's a real grind."
Cheverus' skid hit seven games Friday with a 67-44 loss at South Portland. The final score with misleading as Cheverus was within five midway through the third period and only trailed by eight with just over seven minutes to go before the Red Riots pulled away. Drew Ferrick had 11 points in the loss. Saturday, the Stags got in the win column for the first time since Dec. 21 with a 66-43 home win over Massabesic (Noah Stebbins had 11 points, Zordan Holman 10 and Spencer Noel and Emmanuel Ismail each added nine). Cheverus (4-9 and 13th in Western A, where only 11 teams make the playoffs) was home with Kennebunk Tuesday, goes to Portland Wednesday and visits Thornton Academy Friday before closing next week at home versus Deering and South Portland.
In Western C, Waynflete continues to dazzle. Last week, the Flyers downed visiting Western D power Hyde (70-52) and visiting Western B contender Wells (67-60) to improve to 13-1 and first in the Heals. Jack Cutler had 18 points and Serge Nyirikamba 17 versus the Phoenix. Nyirikamba added 21 versus the Warriors, while Max Belleau had 15. Waynflete is at North Yarmouth Academy Friday and closes Feb. 7 at Sacopee.
On the girls' side, McAuley extended its win streak to 40 with wins last week over over visiting Gorham (72-38) and at Sanford (61-35). Sisters Allie (17 points) and Sarah (15) Clement engaged in another sibling scoring duel in the win over the Rams. Against the Spartans, Sarah had 16 points and Allie 15, while Olivia Smith and Jackie Welch both added 10. The Lions (14-0 and first in the Western A Heals) were at South Portland Tuesday, go to Westbrook Friday and close next week with home games versus Portland South Portland.
Deering is second in the Heals with a stellar 14-1 record following victories last week at Windham (38-24) and at home over Portland (55-37). Chelsea Saucier had 14 points and Keneisha DiRamio 10 versus the Eagles. In the win over the Bulldogs, Marissa MacMillan had 20 points and Alexis Stephenson added 14. The Rams return to action Friday at Gorham. They host South Portland Monday and close at home versus Cheverus Wednesday of next week.
The Stags began the week third with a 12-2 mark. Cheverus won at South Portland (43-33) and Massabesic (83-48) last weekend. Against the Red Riots, Mikayla Mayberry had 13 points, while Brooke Flaherty added 11. Jess Willerson led the way with 21 points versus the Mustangs. The Stags were at Kennebunk Tuesday, play host to Thornton Academy Friday and close next week at Deering and at home versus South Portland.
Portland would be in the tournament if it began today, as the Bulldogs were 4-10 and 11th in the Heals at press time. Last week, Portland edged host Westbrook, 41-40, and fell at Deering (55-37). In the victory, Elizabeth Donato and Merritt Ryan both had 12 points. Against the Rams, Brianna Holdren had 14 points. The Bulldogs were home with Noble Tuesday and close with games at Massabesic Friday and McAuley and Cheverus next week.
In Western C, Waynflete had a week off, then went to Wells Saturday night. The Warriors were desperate for a win in their playoff quest and shot to a 35-15 lead over the sluggish Flyers at halftime. Then, Waynflete came to life and behind the 3-point shooting of Martha Veroneau got as close as a single point in the fourth quarter, but Wells hit its free throws down the stretch and held on for a 57-49 triumph. Veroneau had 26 points and Julianna Harwood added 15 in the defeat.
"We started off really slow," said Veroneau. "We weren't the team we usually are. Sometimes we just don't realize we have to come in with all our energy or we won't be able to stick with tough teams. We weren't playing as hard as we should. Then, we came out and came back from 20 to one. We can look to a lot of good things in the second half. If we work hard, we can come back from pretty much anything."
"It was a great comeback, but it took too much out of us," Flyers coach Brandon Salway said. "I think we learned something from it. I hope we learned a lot and we know we can come back. I just hope we're not down that much anymore."
Waynflete fell to 10-3 and fifth in the standings with the loss. The Flyers likely won't be tested again, as they go to Hebron Wednesday and NYA Friday and visit Kents Hill and host Greater Portland Christian School and Sacopee to close next week. If the Flyers move up to third, they'll avoid a preliminary round playoff game, but regardless of what happens, this group knows the hour is growing late and that it's time to display the consistency of the championship team they hope to become.
"We're going to go into practice Monday and work harder," said Veroneau. "We have seven practices and five games left. Everything leading up to February break will be crucial. We have to hone in and focus on our goal. Obviously, we have to work harder, but we have a great group and a great coach. It's a once in a lifetime team. We're not giving up. This was obviously a tough loss and we've had some tough patches during the season, but we've had some great games as well and we know we can be where we want to be in February. We just have to work for it."
"We had a long talk after the game about what we want to do and that it's going to end abruptly if we don't fix the beginning," Salway said. "We've talked about the time this group has left. It's not much. They need to enjoy it and take advantage of the opportunity. It's a great group to coach. Either way, I and they are going to be bummed when it ends. Hopefully this was our last loss."
Cheverus' boys' hockey team didn't play last week. The Stags are 8-2 and third behind Scarborough and Falmouth in the Western A Heals. Cheverus is back in action Thursday at home against St. Dom's. The Stags visit Scarborough Scarborough Saturday and play host to Kennebunk Monday.
The Portland/Deering co-op team began the week 6-4, but was in the 10th spot in the Heals (only nine teams make the playoffs). The Bulldogs dominated visiting South Portland, 9-2, last Monday as Luigi Grimaldi had three goals and Chris Eye added two. Portland is at Kennebunk Saturday.
On the girls' side, Cheverus has moved into the fifth and final playoff spot in the West Region with a 5-10-1 mark following Friday's wild 12-9 win at Gorham (which featured a mind-boggling eight goals from Katie Roy). The Stags host York Thursday and wrap up the regular season Saturday at home versus Scarborough.
Portland/Deering is eighth at 3-11-2 following a 1-1 tie at Winslow and a 7-5 home win over Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete last week. Drew Barry had the goal and Leanna Reichert made 23 saves in the tie. Against the Capers, Barry scored four times and Mia Thurston added a pair of goals. The Bulldogs play host to Gorham Wednesday and finish the season Saturday at home versus Biddeford.
The Southwestern Maine Activities Association indoor track championship meet is Saturday at USM in Gorham.
The Class A state championship meet is Feb. 18 at USM. The Class B meet will be contested the same day at Bates College in Lewiston.
In the pool, Cheverus' boys edged Deering Friday, 91-78 and Portland lost to Yarmouth, 91-73. Waynflete competed with Gorham and Hyde. No team scores were available.
On the girls' side, Deering defeated Cheverus, 93-75, McAuley was a 100-73 winner over South Portland, Portland lost to Yarmouth, 87-80, and Waynflete competed with Gorham and Hyde. No team scores were available.
Deering is home with Cape Elizabeth Friday. Waynflete competes in the southern division Southwesterns Friday and Saturday in Cape Elizabeth. The northern division Southwesterns are the following weekend in Westbrook. The state championships are Feb. 18 (Class A boys at Bowdoin and Class B boys in Orono) and Feb. 19 (Class A girls at Bowdoin and Class B girls in Orono).
Cheverus' girls were sixth in a six-team Alpine giant slalom meet at Shawnee Peak Friday. Hanna Sonneson came in seventh individually (a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 22.35 seconds). The Stags boys didn't score as a team. Joshua Boynton came in 36th (1:39.41).
On the Nordic side, local skiers took part in the Sassi Memorial classical race at Black Mountain Saturday. Team scores weren't available, but Portland's Abby Popenoe had the third-best time on the girls' side (17 minutes, 41.9 seconds). Teammate Laura Frank was 15th (19:01.1). In the boys' race, Waynflete's Josh Espy came in fifth (14:46.8) and Deering's Kuba Chandler was sixth (14:47.6).
The wrestling regular season wrapped up last week.
Deering was a 39-22 winner over Scarborough, a 39-30 victor over Biddeford and lost, 66-12, to Windham and 47-15 to Bonny Eagle.
Portland last week beat Kennebunk (24-19) and Biddeford (39-36) and lost to Windham (45-27) and Noble (60-21).
The regional championships are Saturday at Marshwood High School. The Class A state finals are Feb. 9 at the Augusta Civic Center.