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McAuley seeks three-peat; Cheverus, Deering, Waynflete could be golden

Sports

McAuley seeks three-peat; Cheverus, Deering, Waynflete could be golden

While all eyes will be on undefeated powerhouse McAuley as it begins its quest for a third straight Class A state championship next week, three other teams from the city of Portland have legitimate shots at cutting down the nets.

The Lions enter the tournament on a 44-game win streak, but another Gold Ball won't come easily. Deering is once again hot on McAuley's heels, as is Cheverus, which is riding a huge wave of confidence after a landmark win. Portland barely missed out on the final playoff spot.

In Western C, Waynflete has the pieces in place to be the last team standing.

Another roar in store?

McAuley, behind steady play from veterans Allie Clement, Victoria Lux, Molly Mack, Olivia Smith and Jackie Welch and solid contributions from newcomers Sarah Clement and Olivia Dalphonse, ran the table this winter, capping a second straight 18-0 regular season last week with home wins over Portland (68-33) and South Portland (53-11). Lux had 18 points and Sarah Clement and Welch 11 apiece against the Bulldogs. Allie Clement had 14 points and Sarah Clement 11 versus the Red Riots.

"It's a different team from last year, we lost two great leaders and players (2012 Miss Maine Basketball Alexa Coulombe and defensive standout Sadie DiPierro)," said McAuley coach Billy Goodman, now 40-0 as Lions coach. "We're a younger team, but the girls have done a good job. Last year's players came back better, Sarah Clement doesn't play like a freshman and Olivia Dalphonse is a leader on defense."

McAuley's 18-0 record gave it the top seed in Western A for the second year in a row. The Lions are looking to become the first girls' team to win three straight Class A titles since Cindy Blodgett and Lawrence captured four in a row between 1991-94. McAuley is idle until Monday of next week when it will face No. 8 Gorham (11-7) or No. 9 Windham (9-9) in the quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m., at the Portland Exposition Building.

McAuley beat the visiting Eagles, 72-32, Jan. 2 and the visiting Rams, 72-38, Jan. 25. Last year in the semifinals, the Lions handled Windham, 49-33, in the lone prior postseason meeting between the schools. Two years ago, McAuley beat Gorham in the semis, 39-30. The Lions also beat the Rams in the 2006 (61-46) and 2010 (33-22) quarterfinals.

"Anything can happen," Goodman said. "You have high school kids, nerves. Gorham has one of the best players in the league in Kristin Ross. They always bring energy and good defense. I was impressed with Windham this year. They played us tough. We've worked on defense the last couple weeks. Our defense will be there. We don't want our season to rest on our offense. Allie and Molly are veterans. We'll hope our captains can lead us. There will be some interesting matchups. Anything can happen at the Expo and Civic Center."

Better than expected

Deering, which wasn't highly touted in the preseason, posted a superb 16-2 mark this winter, even if the final week was far from a thing of beauty.

Last Monday, the Rams scored just two points in the first quarter and 10 in the first half, but put it together in the second half to beat visiting South Portland, 33-21, behind 11 points from Marissa MacMillan, eight from Chelsea Saucier and seven from Keneisha DiRamio.

"We just tried to pick up the intensity and we came out a lot harder than we did in the first half," said DiRamio. "We didn't come out and play our game at all in the first half. It was ugly. We just weren't there. We can't do that."

"We'll take it, but it was gross," said Deering coach Mike Murphy. "I have no idea what happened. We were just in a fog. The game just lacked offensive skills. It was bad decision making and it just snowballed from there. We had some good looks, but it doesn't mean we had to set the game back 55 years because the ball didn't go in. We had to play through it."

Wednesday, the Rams got off to a strong start against visiting Cheverus, but went down to a 48-38 defeat despite nine points each from Saucier and Alexis Stephenson.

"It's a tough, but I liked the effort," said Murphy. "It was a heck of a lot better than Monday night. We got careless with the ball in situations (early in the game) where we could have jumped out a lot more than we did. We just played with that foggy look in the third and fourth quarters. We had a terrific regular season. I'm proud of this group. They've exceeded all my expectations."

Senior-laden Deering earned the second seed and will play either No. 7 Thornton Academy (11-7) or 10th-ranked Marshwood (9-9) in the quarterfinals Monday at 3:30 p.m. The Rams beat the host Golden Trojans in the season opener Dec. 7, 38-35, and handled visiting Marshwood, 34-21, four days later. Deering last faced Thornton Academy in the playoffs three years ago in the quarterfinals (a 44-31 Rams' win). Deering has never played the Hawks in the postseason.

"I told the kids, we're 0-0 like everyone else," Murphy said. "We now have to play each possession like it's gold. We can't have moments of just drifting and not being in the game."

At last

While Deering enters the tournament doing some soul searching, Cheverus is sizzling and is making history.

The Stags went to Deering last Wednesday having lost all 14 previous meetings with the Rams since they became a varsity program. Cheverus fell behind early, but got some momentum just before halftime when Georgia Ford hit a pair of late 3s. The Stags rode that wave into the second half and went on to a 48-38 win behind 19 points from Ford.

"It's awesome," Ford said. "Everyone is so happy. Especially for it being our last away game. We stayed positive. We knew we could do it."

"This shows we can achieve our goals," said Kylie Libby, who was a force on the glass. "It comes down to leadership. It may not necessarily be our seniors. It's a different person every night. Tonight, it was Georgia knocking down shots."

"I'm happy for the girls," Cheverus coach Richie Ashley added. "I think they played tough against an excellent team. We weathered the storm in the first half. We had a great second half. We played excellent defense in the second half and knocked down timely shots. We knocked down foul shots at the end. Obviously, it feels very good. Every year, we make a step and do something we hadn't done the previous year. Deering and McAuley have been the premier programs in the state for several years. This gives the girls confidence that if we play our style and play well, we can play with these great teams. We want to continue to be better every day. That's our mantra."

The Stags capped the regular season less than 24 hours later with a 61-28 home win over Portland. Cheverus was up 16-1 after one period and never looked back as Brooke Flaherty had a game-high 13 points.

"We wanted to have the back-to-back games since it kind of simulates how the playoffs feel," said Flaherty. "Now we know what we need to do to get ready."

The Stags' 16-2 record is easily the best in program history

"There were a lot of ups and downs in the regular season, a lot of injuries and setbacks, but I'm really happy with how we played," Flaherty said. "Going 16-2 is amazing, however you look at it."

"It's the best season we've ever had and I'm very happy for the program, for the school and for the community, but now everybody's 0-0," Ashley said.

Cheverus is the deepest team in the region and might be the most talented. In addition to Flaherty, Ford and Libby, Jill Libby, Mikayla Mayberry, Victoria Nappi, Alisha Starbird and freshman Jess Willerson will all be tough to defend.

The Stags finished third in the region and will face either No. 6 Sanford (12-6) or 11th-ranked Bonny Eagle (6-12) in the quarterfinals Monday at 2 p.m., at the Expo. In the regular season, Cheverus handled host Bonny Eagle, 76-48, Jan. 2, and defeated visiting Sanford, 57-47, two days later. The Stags have never met the Scots in the playoffs. Two years ago, Cheverus suffered an agonizing 45-42 loss to Sanford in the quarterfinals.

The Stags have never won a quarterfinal round game and have never played at the Civic Center. Their time appears to have come.

"I think we're really coming together," Flaherty said. "We're not ready to be done yet. We want it bad this year. We have the goal of a Gold Ball. We'll do anything we can to get there."

"(The regular season was) wonderful, but now it's a new season and we have to be ready," Ashley said.

The other Western A quarterfinal features No. 4 Scarborough (15-3) facing No. 5 South Portland (12-6) Monday at 7 p.m. The semifinal round is Friday, Feb. 22, at the Civic Center. The Western A Final is Saturday, Feb. 23 at the Civic Center. The Class A state final is Saturday, March 2, at the Augusta Civic Center.

Portland just missed the playoffs. The Bulldogs entered the final week in possession of the 11th and final playoff spot, but were ultimately leapfrogged by Gorham after losing at McAuley (68-33) and Cheverus (61-28). Brianna Holdren capped a great season with 12 points versus the Lions and 11 against the Stags (Sydney Levesque also had 11 in that one). Portland wound up 6-12 and fell short of the postseason for the seventh time in eight years.

Beware the Flyers

A year after just missing a first trip to the Class C Final, the senior-laden Waynflete Flyers appear to have the pieces in place to finish the job.

Waynflete suffered three losses to Western B playoff teams (Lake Region, Cape Elizabeth and Wells), but won its other 15 games, capped by triumphs over host Kents Hill (69-40) and visiting Greater Portland Christian School (64-23) and Sacopee (63-20) last week. Standout Martha Veroneau had 29 points against Kents Hill, passing her older sister Margaret to become the program's all-time leading scorer.

"I texted Margaret right after," Veroneau said. "I said,' Hey Margaret, guess who's the all-time leading scorer?!' The 1,000 mark was really my goal going into the season. As the season progressed, I realized I could go for the record as well. Obviously, the team's success comes first, but it's a nice accolade."

Veroneau eclipsed the 1,300 mark for her career in the win over the Lions, in which she had 18 points.

"We didn't shoot the ball the way we'd like to, but we came around and did what we needed to do," said Flyers coach Brandon Salway.

In the finale against the Hawks, Veroneau had 24 points to finish the regular season with 1,328 for her career. She averaged 19.8 points, 4.8 steals, 3.7 made 3-pointers and 3.1 assists per game this winter.

"I think overall, we're happy with the regular season," Veroneau said. "I feel like we've had the fever to get to the playoffs. We have to keep coming out hard. The team is getting so much better."

"We'd like to have a couple of those (losses) back, but we've learned from them," Salway added. "Luckily, we've also had a lot of non-countable games that have helped us out. We've played a tough out-of-regular season schedule."

Veroneau has a lot of company on this year's team. For starters, there are her finally healthy twin sister Catherine and freshman sister Anne. Rhiannan Jackson averaged 7 rebounds and 4 steals a game. Julianna Harwood (6.6 rebounds per game) and Leigh Fernandez (3 assists and 1.2 's per contest) are other key contributors. Helen Gray-Bauer, Arianna Giguere and Louise Lyall provide depth off the bench.

Waynflete finished fourth in Western C and had to host No. 13 Carrabec (5-13) in a preliminary round game Tuesday. The teams didn't play this year and have no playoff history. If, as expected, the Flyers advanced, they'll meet either No. 5 Dirigo (14-4) or No. 12 Sacopee (8-10) in the quarterfinals Tuesday of next week. Game time is 4 p.m., at the Augusta Civic Center. Waynflete didn't play the Cougars this year. The Flyers swept the Hawks (also winning 48-17 at Sacopee Dec. 15). Waynflete has never played the Hawks in the postseason. The Flyers handled Dirigo, 71-36, in the 2008 preliminary round.

Waynflete is ready for a run at the pinnacle.

"I've been looking forward to (the tournament) since last year's playoffs," Lyall said. "It's such a good time. We have high expectations. It will be nice to see what we can do."

"We don't really mind a prelim," Veroneau said. "It's an extra game and it gets us ready for the playoffs. We have the drive to go far this year. It's scary going in knowing it's one-and-done, but at the same time, we've worked for this for four years. We're going to leave it all on the court. We'll give it all we have. I think this group has the potential to do something great."

"It's fine with us to have a prelim," Salway added. "Carrabec has good size and could present us with some difficulties in the post, rebounding and defending especially. We have some experience defending good post players with (non-countable) games versus Gorham, Fryeburg and Lake Region, so hopefully that experience will help our post defenders a little.

"There were years when I cared about our draw, but this year, it's not about winning a game or about our draw. We have bigger aspirations. It's going to come down to execution in tight games. We'll go (to Augusta) with the right attitude and play really aggressive. Our attitude the past couple years has been not to worry about winning or losing, just playing with no fear. That's the key. I think we shoot better there. If we get there, we'll have confidence. A lot of teams don't have that. We're very motivated. We've been looking forward to the tournament since last February."

Other Western C quarterfinals include top-ranked Boothbay Region (16-2) meeting No. 8 St. Dom's (10-8) or No. 9 Hall-Dale (9-9), second-ranked Madison (15-3) facing No. 7 Mt. Abram (9-9) or No. 10 Traip (6-12) and third-ranked Old Orchard Beach (13-5) playing either No. 6 Monmouth (13-5) or No. 11 Kents Hill (5-9).

The Western C semis are Thursday, Feb. 21 and the Western C Final is Saturday, Feb. 23, with both rounds being contested in Augusta. The Class C state final is Saturday, March 2, at the Bangor Auditorium.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.