Waynflete girls leave no doubt, capture first Western C crown
The Waynflete girls' basketball team didn't just knock down the door at long last.
The Flyers kicked it in.
Saturday evening at the Augusta Civic Center, Waynflete finally got past its regional final hurdle and as a result, will play in the biggest game of all.
The fourth-ranked Flyers culminated running roughshod over the Western Class C field by controlling play against No. 2 Madison most of the way.
Waynflete struggled early, but its defense proved to be the difference, forcing 13 turnovers in a first period which ended with the Flyers on top, 8-6.
Then, in the second quarter, Waynflete's offense got going and the Flyers opened up a 31-18 advantage at the break. The Bulldogs did go on a run and got within 38-34 midway through the third period, but Waynflete scored the final 11 points of the stanza and never looked back, pulling away to a 63-41 victory and setting off a celebration many years in the making.
Senior standout Martha Veroneau led the way with 26 points and was named the Robin Colcord Award winner as the regional tournament's outstanding player/sportsman, but she had plenty of help as the Flyers improved to 19-3, ended Madison's season at 17-4 and advanced to meet undefeated Calais in the Class C state final Saturday at 7 p.m., at the storied Bangor Auditorium.
"We're ecstatic," said Veroneau. "It's so exciting. Madison gave us a run for our money."
After losing in the Western C Final in 2009, 2010 and again last year, the Flyers weren't going to settle for anything shy of a trip to Bangor for the state game this time around.
Waynflete excelled in the regular season, winning 15 of 18 games, losing to only Western B champion Lake Region and playoff teams Cape Elizabeth and Wells. As the No. 4 seed, the Flyers rolled past No. 13 Carrabec, 73-36, in the preliminary round, had no trouble with fifth-ranked Dirigo in the quarterfinals, 69-39, then led from start to finish in an upset-by-seed-only 73-52 victory over No. 1 Boothbay Thursday.
Madison also finished 15-3 in the regular season and earned the No. 2 seed. The Bulldogs ousted No. 7 Mt. Abram (50-42) in the quarterfinals and squeaked out a 46-40 overtime win over third-ranked Old Orchard Beach Thursday in the semis.
The Flyers don't face the Bulldogs in the regular season. Waynflete lost two of the prior three playoff meetings, falling to Madison in the 2006 preliminary round (71-32) and the 2010 regional final (37-23) and beating the Bulldogs in last year's quarterfinals, 56-39.
Saturday, the Flyers' ability to completely flummox the opposition with their defense and their balanced offensive attack, proved to be too much for Madison to counter.
It took almost two minutes for someone to score as Bulldogs junior Emily McKenney broke the ice with a layup. Waynflete's first points were almost five minutes in the making before sophomore Julianna Harwood scored on a putback.
A layup from sophomore Bronte Elias made it 4-2 Bulldogs, but they wouldn't lead again.
Veroneau started heating up with 1:53 left in the frame, when she took a pass from senior Rhiannan Jackson and sank a 3 to put her team ahead to stay. Sophomore Helen Gray-Bauer then made her presence felt off the bench with a 3 before senior Courtney Taylor scored on a leaner in the waning seconds to make it 8-6 Flyers after one.
Waynflete wasn't able to generate much offense, but the Flyers forced 13 Madison turnovers.
"We were a little tight at first," said Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. "Our defense helped us get through it."
The offense picked up in the second.
Harwood took a pass from junior Leigh Fernandez, who had four steals in the game's first four minutes, and made a layup, Gray-Bauer fed Jackson for a layup and after a Veroneau steal, Fernandez made a layup for a 14-6 lead.
With 6:15 to go before halftime, Madison senior Samantha Bruce knocked down a 3 while being fouled by Veroneau and added a free throw for a rarely-seen four-point play, which cut the deficit in half.
Twenty-seven seconds later, Waynflete was shaken when Harwood, collecting a loose ball after a steal, landed awkwardly and hurt her knee. She had to leave the game, but her teammates picked her up.
Veroneau scored on a driving layup, Veroneau hit a pullup jumper after a steal, Fernandez knocked down a deep 3, Veroneau rattled home a 3 and with 4:23 to play before the half, Fernandez made a 3 and it was 27-10.
"Leigh came up big for us," Veroneau said. "She hit deep 3s and her defensive effort was there all game."
"Leigh was pretty focused," added Salway.
A pair of Bruce foul shots ended the 13-0 run, but after another steal, Veroneau made another layup. Junior Cristie Vicneire answered with two free throws, a spinner and two more foul shots to cut the deficit to 11, but a layup by Veroneau after a baseline drive made it 31-18 Flyers at the break.
Waynflete's smothering defense had made life miserable for the Bulldogs, forcing 27 turnovers in the half.
To Madison's credit, it didn't quit in the third quarter and rallied to make things very interesting for awhile.
First, Veroneau set up Jackson for a layup. Vicneire answered with a 3 and McKenney added an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw). After Jackson made a free throw, Vicneire made a 3, while Harwood, who returned for the start of the half, reinjured her knee and this time left for good.
Flyers senior Catherine Veroneau then stepped into the void.
Veroneau, who missed large chunks of her sophomore and junior years with knee injuries, made two free throws. After a layup from Ellis, Martha Veroneau hit a pullup jumper, but McKenney made a layup and Bruce converted a three-point play with 4 minutes left in the quarter and just like that, Waynflete's seemingly safe lead was down to just four, 38-34.
But the Flyers had come too far and had worked too hard to let this one slip away.
In the play that turned the tide, Martha Veroneau raced in for a layup, missed, but Catherine Veroneau was there to clean the glass and lay the ball home.
"I've worked a lot on getting into position to rebound and to get putbacks," Veroneau said. "I just followed in behind (Martha)."
"Catherine had the game of her life," Martha Veroneau said. "She came out so strong. When she saw Julianna go down, it reminded her of the last two years. She took control of that moment. She was unstoppable. The clutch player for the game."
"Catherine really stepped up," Salway added. "She really played big. I was a little concerned. We had a couple calls go against us, Rhiannan was in foul trouble and Julianna had gone down again."
That started a Waynflete run that included a Martha Veroneau layup after a Fernandez steal, a Catherine Veroneau layup, a Martha Veroneau 3 and a short jumper from Gray-Bauer to make it 49-34 heading for the final period.
Madison ended the 11-0 run when Vicneire made a 3, but Jackson scored on a runner, Fernandez fed Martha Veroneau for a transition layup (Veroneau was fouled on the play and made the free throw), Gray-Bauer knocked down a 3, Martha Veroneau made a driving layup and Jackson made a layup with 4:52 to go, pushing the lead to an insurmountable 61-37.
After the Bulldogs committed their 40th turnover with just over four minutes to play, Jackson scored on a driving layup. That would prove to be Waynflete's final basket of the game.
A jumper from senior Allie McClintock and a putback by freshman Emily Oliver made it official.
Waynflete 63 Madison 41.
"When we were at our lowest point, we made a run," Martha Veroneau said. "There's no next year for us. We're so close and we love playing together. We had a slow start. Some nerves. Our offense wasn't really there to start, but our defense really saved us. It was scary in the third quarter. We feel like we're losing when we lead by less than 10. We're used to a comfortable lead. We worked through it."
"It's amazing," Catherine Veroneau said. "We're so excited. It's been a long couple years. We've all been through some hardships. We rallied when Julianna went down the second time. That reminded us how much we love to play with each other."
"It was pretty cool to watch (the girls) go up that ladder (to cut down the nets in celebration)," Salway added. "It validated a lot of hard work and time we put into this. We talked in the locker room last year after losing to Hall-Dale about doing a little bit more. That paid off."
Waynflete, which became the first Western Maine Conference team since Wells, way back in 1979, to win a Western C crown, rolled through the region with surprising ease.
"When you don't play (Mountain Valley Conference) teams, you just don't know how good they are," Salway said. "We played our best offensive game against Boothbay. I knew if we played as well as we were capable, no one would beat us, but you never know on (the Civic Center) floor. The seniors stepped up and played huge roles in all three games."
Veroneau, who went over 1,400 points for her nonpareil Waynflete career, had 26 (including three of her team's seven 3-pointers) to lead all scorers.
"Martha was hyped up, but once she relaxed, in the second, third and fourth quarters, she was the best player out there," Salway said. "It's impressive for her to win that award for the second year in a row."
Veroneau was aided by 11 from Jackson, eight apiece from Fernandez and Gray-Bauer, six from Catherine Veroneau and four from Harwood, in her limited stint.
Martha Veroneau also had six rebounds, while Catherine Veroneau collected five. The Flyers finished with a whopping 23 steals, led by Fernandez's nine. Martha Veroneau had five.
Waynflete only turned the ball over nine times, while forcing a staggering 43. The Flyers converted on 4-of-8 free throws.
Madison was paced by 15 points and nine boards from Vicneire. Bruce had nine points, McKenney seven, Elias four (to go with nine rebounds) and McClintock, Oliver and Taylor two apiece.
The Bulldogs did win the rebounding battle, 31-19, but were doomed by poor ballhandling. Madison did make 9-of-11 foul shots.
A fond farewell
The ancient and storied Bangor Auditorium will close its doors after the high school state championship games next weekend, meaning Waynflete will be one of the final teams to take its hallowed floor.
The Flyers did play there once before, a decade ago, when they beat Woodland, 39-36, to win the program's only other championship, when they competed in Class D.
Saturday, Waynflete has the daunting task of meeting 21-0 Calais, which defeated No. 8 Narraguagus (55-54), fifth-ranked Mattanawcook (46-45) and No. 3 Orono (63-54) in its perilous tournament journey.
The Flyers and Blue Devils have no playoff history. They did square off in the regular season two years ago, a 56-48 Waynflete win.
Waynflete has long wanted to get to the state game. Now that the Flyers have, don't think for a second they'll be satisfied.
"We're so excited," Catherine Veroneau said. "We'll have a good week of practice and hope we can come out it with a win. We absolutely want the Gold Ball. We're not stopping."
"They have quick guards who can cause problems for us, but we'll go up there thinking it's our time and we'll fight for it," Martha Veroneau said.
"Calais has good guards, they pass well, shoot the 3 and have good post players," Salway added. "It's a winnable game, but we'll have to withstand a loud crowd. This is the team I want to take in there. We're happy to extend the season. I think we'll enjoy it."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Waynflete-Madison playoff meetings
2012 Western Class C quarterfinals
Waynflete 56 Madison 39
2010 Western Class C Final
Madison 37 Waynflete 23
2006 Western C preliminary round
Madison 71 Waynflete 32