AUBURN—The North Yarmouth Academy Panthers girls’ basketball team enjoyed a stirring late season run to qualify for the postseason, but Tuesday evening, they were no match for St. Dom’s in a Western Class C preliminary round playoff game.
NYA, ranked 10th, hung tough for a half, but after holding Saints senior standout Allaina Murphy to just two points in 16 minutes, saw Murphy erupt for 22 in the second half as No. 7 St. Dom’s pulled away to end the Panthers’ season at 10-9 with a 54-32 decision.
The 13-6 Saints advanced to meet second-ranked Waynflete (15-3) in the quarterfinals next Tuesday in Augusta.
“I thought St. Dom’s hit more than I expected in the first quarter and we missed everything,” said NYA coach Liz Smith. “Nerves were a factor in the beginning.”
The Panthers started 1-3 this year, but went 6-2 down the strethc, which allowed them to make the playoffs for just the second time in seven seasons with a 10-8 mark, the program’s best since 2003-04.
“The girls knew what they had to do at the end of the season to get in the playoffs,” Smith said. “We won six of the last eight, which was great. We were riding that momentum at the end of the season. I don’t think we’ve had a winning season since we moved to Class C. It’s a huge feeling for the girls to win and expect to win.”
NYA doesn’t play former Western Maine Conference rival St. Dom’s in the regular season anymore. The last meeting came on Jan. 24, 2009 (a 57-29 win for the Saints). The teams had no playoff history.
Tuesday, the Panthers were able to hold their own in the first quarter, got St. Dom’s 6-foot-2-inch junior Allison Conley into foul trouble and held Murphy in check, but couldn’t take advantage.
The hosts got the game’s first four points as Conley made a layup and senior Carolyn Joseph hit a baseline jumper. NYA roared back as senior Eliza Gendron scored on a leaner and senior Blair Haggett made a driving layup to tie the score, 4-4.
After junior Mary Caron hit a baseline jumper for the Saints, Gendron made a foul shot as Conley picked up her second foul just three minutes into the game and had to come out. Junior McKenzie Roy made a jumper for the hosts, but a jumper from sophomore Mallory Ianno and a layup by Gendron gave the Panthers their lone lead, 9-8. A jumper as time wound down by Caron put St. Dom’s back on top after one quarter, 10-9.
Caron started the second with a layup, but freshman Chloe Leishman answered with a jumper for NYA. St. Dom’s then went up five behind a jumper from Caron and a Caron steal and layup. Conley came back into the contest and managed to avoid a third foul. After the Panthers pulled within three on a jumper from Gendron, Caron made a transition layup and with 10.2 seconds to go, Murphy finally got on the board with a leaner to give the Saints a 20-13 lead at the break.
NYA was still very much in the game at the start of the third period, but Murphy quickly extinguished the Panthers’ hopes.
Murphy first made a spinning layup to make it 22-13. After Haggett heated up with a 3-pointer, Conly made a turnaround jumper. Another Haggett 3 pulled NYA within 24-19, but Murphy made a layup, hit a foul shot and scored on a putback to push the lead to 10, 29-19.
After Haggett made a free throw, Murphy scored on a putback and with 2:52 to go in the stanza, converted an old-fashioned three-point play (a layup after a steal and a foul shot) for a commanding 34-20 lead.
“Once they got the lead, the stalling was going to kill us, so we went to man (defense),” said Smith. “We don’t have anyone who can go one-on-one with (Murphy). We weren’t as good at boxing out in the second half. She got second shots that killed us.”
A putback by Gendron and a layup from freshman Charlotte Esancy made it 34-24 after three, but the Panthers were on the ropes.
In the fourth, St. Dom’s went up 16 behind a jumper from Joseph, a Murphy leaner and a layup by Caron. After NYA junior Morgan Scully got on the board with a long jumper, Murphy made a bank shot, Caron made a layup after a steal and Murphy made a layup with 4:35 to left to essentially end it, pushing the Saints’ lead to 20, 46-26.
Down the stretch, the Panthers got no closer than 17 and St. Dom’s went on to advance with the 54-32 win.
“We expected them to play 1-3-1 (zone),” Smith said. “They didn’t do anything that surprised us. Their height advantage was more than we realized. They had three inches on a lot of our girls. We had trouble off rebounds with turnovers. We’re not really a fullcourt press team. We did a little at the end, but it’s not the way we play.”
Murphy led all scorers with 24 points (22 coming in the second half). She also had three rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot. Caron went off for 16 points (and grabbed five steals). Conley and Joseph (five rebounds) each had four points and Roy, junior Olivia Cluff and freshman Callie Greco all had two. Senior Sarah Gosselin didn’t score, but had 10 rebounds and two blocks.
For NYA, Gendron led with 10 points and nine rebounds in her swan song. Haggett bowed out with nine points and nine boards. Scully had five points, Ianno four and Esancy and Leishman two each.
The Panthers graduate Gendron and Haggett, but return a lot of firepower in 2011-12. Look for NYA to continue its upward surge.
“We hope to build on this,” Smith said. “We have Morgan back and Charlotte underneath. Mallory Ianno on the wing. We have girls back who haven’t been playing. We had injuries this year.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @foresports