McAuley too much for Deering in quarterfinals
PORTLAND—Is a fourth championship roar in store?
Based on the way the three-time defending state champion McAuley girls' basketball team opened the Western Class A tournament Monday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, the answer could very well be a resounding yes.
Facing upset-minded rival No. 8 seed Deering, the top-ranked Lions took some punches early, but never got flustered and ultimately pulled away for their 13th straight tournament victory.
Deering, behind hot shooting from freshmen standouts Amanda Brett and Tasia Titherington, was only down three points, 15-12, after one quarter and with McAuley junior defensive standout Olivia Dalphonse sidelined due to two fouls, the Rams kept the pressure on early in the second period, going ahead, 17-15, on a 3-pointer from senior LeeAnn Downs, but the Lions flipped a switch and closed the first half in style.
McAuley's dazzling passing proved impossible to stop and senior Olivia Smith set up junior Victoria Lux for the tying basket and in transition, freshman Ally Tillotson, who played well in Dalphonse's stead, found senior standout Allie Clement for a 3-pointer which put the Lions ahead to stay.
McAuley closed the half on a 15-2 run and when Lux made a fastbreak layup (from Dalphonse) with just seconds to go, the Lions took a 30-19 lead to the break.
McAuley ended any Deering comeback hopes with a third period run and gradually pulled away from there to prevail, 52-30.
The Lions got 15 points from Lux, 14 from Clement and 13 from Smith as they improved to 18-1, ended the Rams' season at 9-11 and set up a semifinal showdown against No. 4 Portland (14-5) Friday at 6 p.m,, at the new and improved Cumberland County Civic Center.
"A first playoff game isn't easy," said McAuley coach Billy Goodman. "Deering's a very disciplined ball club. It was a good test for us. It took us awhile to get going. We've been working on team offense and I felt we started out not doing that. Then, we settled down, the passing got better and we were more successful."
Stevens Avenue sensations
Since the turn of the millennium, there's been Deering and McAuley, then there's been everyone else in Class A.
Since the start of the 1999-2000 season, the Lions have won nine regional and five Class A state titles, while the Rams have three state crowns of their own, as the two have accounted for more than half of the Gold Balls awarded in that span. In six of those seasons, they squared off in the tournament, with each winning three. The most recent was the most memorable, a 41-40 overtime triumph for the Lions in an epic Western A Final in 2011.
This season, McAuley wasn't just battling the rest of the league, but was also going toe-to-toe with history, a battle the Lions finally lost Jan. 7, when their three-year, 56-game win streak ended with a loss at Thornton Academy. That would prove to be this group's lone stumble, however, and McAuley finished very strong, earning the top seed for the third year in a row.
This season, not much was expected from the Rams, who returned only one player with varsity experience and while they had their share of ups and downs, they managed to win eight games, earn a home playoff game, then beat visiting No. 9 Scarborough, 49-36, in the preliminary round Wednesday to make it to the quarterfinals for the 12th straight year.
The Lions won both regular season meetings: 46-33 at home and 62-39 at Deering.
Monday, as expected, McAuley passed its first tournament test, but not before the Rams made things interesting for awhile.
Clement opened the scoring with a pullup jumper 46 seconds in. After Downs tied the score with a jumper, Lions senior Jackie Welch was fouled on a drive and made one of two free throws.
Smith's first points, on a hook shot, extended the lead, but Brett made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play to tie the score.
After Lux twice got an offensive rebound and was fouled the second time, she made one of two free throws, then scored left-handed after a baseline drive and Smith set up Clement for a layup with a pretty pass and McAuley had a 10-5 lead.
Deering answered as Titherington banked home a shot for her first points and Brett made a leaner, but Welch set up Clement for a 3 and Welch set up Smith for a bank shot.
With 12.4 seconds to go in the first, Dalphonse received her second foul and Tillotson entered the game.
As time wound down in the stanza, Titherington knocked home a 3 and the Rams were only down three after one period, 15-12.
Deering continued to play well to start the second quarter, as Titherington made a layup after a steal and Downs canned a 3 with 6:01 left in the half for a 17-15 advantage.
That would prove to be the Rams' highwater mark.
Seventeen seconds later, Smith set up Lux for a tying layup.
With 4:58 to go before halftime, Tillotson found Clement in transition, who banked home a 3 and the Lions were ahead for good.
Clement added a layup after a steal and then, in transition, Clement passed to Lux, who set up Smith for a layup, capping a 9-0 run to give McAuley a 24-17 advantage.
"At the beginning of the game, we didn't move the ball as well as we wanted to," said Clement. "We focused on that. A huge theme of this year has been moving the ball. When we move the ball, we get open in the post and shots fall easier. That was a big key."
Titherington ended the run with a driving layup, but Welch passed to Smith, who set up Lux for another layup.
"We came out and had a little bit of a slow start," Smith said. "I guess it was pre-game jitters, but we picked it up. We were joking that we wish we could get an assist for the pass before the assist (like in hockey). We practiced all week on getting the ball in and out and reversed to get the open shot. We can still do it better."
Clement then set up Smith for a bank shot and with 15.1 seconds to go, Dalphonse passed to Lux for a fastbreak layup and the Lions had a healthy 30-19 lead at the half.
Clement had 12 points, Lux nine and Smith eight in the first 16 minutes, which more than countered Titherington's nine for Deering.
McAuley wasn't about to give the Rams life in the third period.
After Smith made a free throw, Deering got a jumper from Brett, but Smith made a layup and Lux scored a fastbreak layup to make it 35-21.
After Titherington made a foul shot, Smith set up Lux for a left-handed layup and Dalphonse added two free throws. A runner from junior Mary Tadsse pulled the Rams within 15, 39-24, heading for the fourth quarter.
There, the Lions finished it off.
After Downs made a bank shot, Dalphonse set up Smith for a layup, Clement made a layup after a steal and Lux took a pass from junior Ayla Tartre and made a layup to push the lead to 45-26.
After Tadsse made two free throws, Tartre answered with a jumper just inside the 3-point line. Tadsse made two more foul shots, then Tillotson made a layup and with 44.3 seconds to go, Tillotson made another layup while being fouled and completed the three-point play to bring the curtain down on McAuley's 52-30 victory.
The Lions closed the game by outscoring the Rams 37-13.
"Deering's a good team," Clement said. "They battled. We've always had a good rivalry. They're an aggressive team. They have good shooters and they shot well tonight. They crashed the boards. They came ready to play. We played a lot better in the second half. We've played here before. It's a great venue. I think the big court is to our advantage. We like to run and be fast paced."
"I think we were surprised it was close (in the first half), but we picked it up," Tillotson said. "We started trusting each other and moved the ball around and got the open shots we needed."
McAuley placed three players in double figures.
Lux led the way with 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Clement had 14 points. four steals and two assists.
Smith, who didn't even return to the lineup until late December due to an offseason knee injury, continued to hit her stride, by scoring 13 points and adding seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
"I do what I can," said Smith. "I always try to have my best game, but I'm mainly concerned about the team winning and getting to the next game. "
"Olivia's come a long way," said Goodman. "She's one of the most improved players having only played a month. I'm very proud of her."
Tillotson added five points and more importantly played strong defense with Dalphonse in foul trouble. She certainly didn't play like a freshman.
"I knew I just had to keep doing what (Dalphonse) was doing," Tillotson said. "She was all over Tasia, doing a great job, so I thought I had to carry it on. Tasia's a very good player. She's fast. You have to give her space and play her straight up.
"It felt good to score tonight. Playing in the tournament is a lot different. I'm super comfortable. It was like, 'Wow' going in, since I was coming in to a team that had won the last three state titles, but I've had all season to get used to playing with everyone."
Tillotson has certainly made an impression.
"Ally did an awesome job," said Clement. "She went in and played good defense and had five points and didn't miss a shot. She didn't hesitate."
"Ally might have had some jitters, but she really stepped up," Smith said. "She gave it her all."
"I told Ally the other day, 'You're not a freshman anymore, you're a sophomore,'" Goodman added. "She plays outstanding defense. She takes care of the ball. She's a smart player. Very coachable. I sensed when she went on the floor the first time that she handled herself nicely, so I trusted her. She did a great job."
Dalphonse had two points (to go with three steals and two assists), as did Tartre (four boards) and Welch (four rebounds, two assists) added one.
McAuley had a 26-22 rebounding advantage, made 6 of 10 free throws and committed 16 turnovers.
Deering was paced by 10 points (and seven boards) from Titherington.
"Tasia's going to be a great player," said Goodman. "Deering has a good future ahead of them."
Brett had seven points and six rebounds.
Downs bowed out with seven points.
"LeeAnn got short-changed in our league (awards), because she's not a scorer," said Rams coach Mike Murphy. "She led us in rebounds, taking care of the ball, defensive assignments. Kids said, 'Thank God" when she got the ball. (Senior Christiana Viney) had a nice season for us. (Senior) Molly Kilbride had very good minutes. They're good kids."
Tadsse added six points.
The Rams committed 20 turnovers and made 6 of 9 attempts from the charity stripe.
"I thought the girls did a great job," said Murphy. "They played hard. Most teams have to back off against (McAuley), but we couldn't back off. I told them to go nose-to-nose and see what happens. (McAuley has) five who can do it every trip. They have talent at every position. If they come up with empty trips, they're OK if they don't score. Our margin of error is so slim. They're a good team. There's no denying that.
"I'm ecstatic with what I've seen the past month. I'm thrilled my girls got experience on this floor. Hopefully they got a taste of it and want to go to the next level next year.. Hopefully they'll work at it. We have to get stronger and put the ball in the hoop."
To the Civic Center
McAuley's next foe won't make life easy either.
The Lions rolled over host Portland Jan. 24, 79-47. The teams have met in the playoffs six previous times, with McAuley holding a 4-2 edge. Portland took the first two encounters: 63-44 in the 1985 quarterfinals and 66-46 in the 1988 quarterfinals. The Lions prevailed in the 2000 quarterfinals (54-37), the 2002 divisional round (62-41), the 2003 semifinals (70-50) and most recently, the 2005 quarterfinals (49-42).
The Bulldogs have absolutely nothing to lose, are on the program's best run in a decade and will force McAuley to be on its toes Friday evening on the big stage.
"Portland's a really good team," Clement said. "They're fast, they're aggressive, they want to win. We'll practice on getting back on our game. We can still pass the ball better. Reverse it mostly. Defensively, we need to cause more turnovers. We need to stay out of foul trouble. We'll keep working hard and want to win."
"We'll have to focus on getting open looks, being wicked unselfish in passing and shutting them down," Smith said.
"It will only get tougher," Goodman added. "Hopefully, our better basketball is ahead of us. Portland's a good team. They have a lot of good players. They've had a good year. They played well against a good Gorham team. We have to get focused. We still have to get better on offense. That's the big part. Decision making. If we can get better at decision making, we have a chance to compete in every game."