PORTLAND—The Scarborough girls’ basketball team is for real.
Any remain doubts were dispelled Tuesday evening at Keegan Gymnasium when the Red Storm overcame a slow start, then put all of its assets on display in the second quarter as junior Taylor Leborgne scored 10 points and the defense forced seven Cheverus turnovers as it took the lead for good.
The Stags got as close as five points in the second half, but the Red Storm never buckled and went on to a 48-36 victory, its ninth in succession this winter, dropping Cheverus to 7-2 in the process.
Leborgne led all scorers with 15 points, while classmate Courtney Alofs added seven points, 13 rebounds and five steals.
“We knew Cheverus would be a tough team to play, but we knew we had the defense to play them and we proved that on the court tonight,” Alofs said. “We all trust each other so well. We’ve been down before. We knew if we stuck together, we could fight back and win the game and that’s what happened.”
Scarborough, the 2010 Class A state champion, missed the playoffs last winter with a 6-12 mark. Tom Maines replaced Jim Seavey as coach and has produced immediate results.
Prior to Tuesday, the Red Storm had enjoyed wins over Gorham (58-51), Westbrook (57-39), Marshwood (54-48), Windham (46-44), Portland (50-38), Biddeford (57-29), South Portland (58-37) and Thornton Academy (48-32).
Cheverus was a quarterfinalist last winter and has been very impressive in 2011-12.
The Stags won their first five games, downing Biddeford (68-28), Gorham (51-43), Portland (56-40), Westbrook (43-32) and Noble (52-18). After losing at Marshwood, 59-49, Cheverus bounced right back and held off visiting Bonny Eagle, 46-40 and avenged last year’s playoff loss with a 31-19 victory at Sanford.
Since Scarborough joined the Southern Maine Activities Association for the 2003-04 season, when the Cheverus program was still in its infancy, the Red Storm won six of eight meetings with the Stags, but Cheverus prevailed last winter, 49-35, in Scarborough.
Tuesday, the Stags got off to a fast start, but couldn’t sustain it as the Red Storm rose to the occasion time and again.
After winning the opening tip, Cheverus broke the ice when senior Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy fed junior Brooke Flaherty for a layup. After a turnover, just 25 seconds into the game, Maines called timeout.
“We made three errors, starting with the jump ball, then the matchups, then the rotation,” Maines said. “I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. Timeouts are wasted if you have some left and you’ve lost the game.”
The Stags doubled their lead when Palazzi-Leahy hit a short jumper. The visitors got on the board with 4:26 to go in the stanza, when Alofs made a free throw. After sophomore Georgia Ford made a foul shot and a Ford steal led to another baseline jumper from Palazzi-Leahy, Cheverus had a 7-1 lead.
Things would never be as good for the Stags again.
In a little over a minute, Scarborough erupted to take the lead.
First, promising freshman Ashley Briggs hit a jumper. After junior Mary Redmond drained a 3, senior Carly Rogers made a layup and with 1:06 to go in the first, the Red Storm was up, 8-7.
Cheverus managed to retake the lead when junior Kylie Libby made a layup, then hit a free throw to make it 10-8 after one, but Scarborough was about to seize control for good.
With 6:49 to play before halftime, Leborgne made her presence felt with a 3-pointer that put the Red Storm ahead to stay.
Thirteen seconds later, Alofs made a layup after a steal. Leborgne then took a pass from Briggs and made a layup, Leborgne hit a jumper, then made a layup on the break, was fouled and hit the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play which extended Scarborough’s advantage to 20-10 with 4:20 to go before the half.
“My shot was falling and the team did well,” Leborgne said. “It started with the defense. I know that I go in and give the team a spark. I help out wherever it’s needed. I play any of the three guard positions, wherever (the team) needs me. It was a fun atmosphere.”
“I’ve commented on the fact that (Taylor) could be a starter, but she’s so valuable coming off the bench,” Maines said. “She played three positions tonight. She has a great mindset to be a sixth man. She did a wonderful job tonight.”
With 2:29 remaining, the Stags finally snapped the 12-0 run and a 5 minute, 41 second drought when Libby made a free throw. Flaherty scored on a putback and with 1:42 to go, Ford was fouled while shooting a 3. She drained all three free throws to cut the deficit to four, but at the other end, junior Maria Philbrick hit a clutch 3 to give the Red Storm a 23-16 lead at halftime.
“That was a big play to put it back up to seven,” said Stags coach Richie Ashley. “They trap a lot after misses. Not a ton of teams do that. They do that very well. I thought we were prepared for the most part against that. Especially at the beginning. Then we lost composure and turned it over.”
“They were handling our zone pressure,” Maines said. “I went away from that to a straight run and jump matchup. They couldn’t handle it and that’s when we came back and took a big lead. Defensively, we’re making people work. We’re getting better and better. I feel kids, male and female, cannot pass and catch. If you force a player to catch on the move or force a player to pass to another player on the move, the likelihood of a turnover increases. I hate allowing players to catch standing still. For 30 years, my rule has been not to let a player catch standing still. If they move and they execute, then hats off to them.
In the first 16 minutes, Cheverus turned the ball over 13 times, but was still within hailing distance.
Scarborough, however, would soon extend its lead.
After the Stags made it 23-18 on a spinning left-handed bank shot from Libby early in the second half, the Red Storm scored the next eight points for some breathing room.
First, Briggs sank a jumper. Leborgne then made consecutive layups and with 5:31 left in the third, Alofs made a layup for a 31-18 advantage.
A baseline jumper from Palazzi-Leahy stopped the run, but Alofs made a layup and Briggs buried a 3 to push the lead to 16, 36-20.
After Cheverus sophomore Sadie Lyons scored on a putback, Rogers answered with a baseline jumper. Libby made a free throw with 22.7 seconds remaining, but the Stags were still down 38-23 with eight minutes to go.
Scarborough gave the ball away 11 times in the fourth quarter, but Cheverus couldn’t take advantage.
A left-handed layup from Ford started the scoring in the final stanza and Ford made it a 38-28 game when she stole a pass, made a layup, was fouled and made the free throw with 6:19 to play.
With 5:02 left, Briggs made a free throw, but 23 seconds later, Ford hit a 3 and suddenly, the Stags were within eight, 39-31.
They would draw no closer.
First, Redmond was fouled and made both free throws. Briggs then fed Rogers for a layup and single foul shots from Rogers and Leborgne pushed the lead to 45-31 with 2:06 to go.
Palazzi-Leahy made a left-handed layup, but Redmond made two free throws. After Stags junior Victoria Nappi and Briggs traded foul shots, Ford set up Honan for a layup off an inbounds pass, but that was as close as the hosts could draw and Scarborough celebrated its 48-36 triumph.
“It was fun,” Leborgne said. “I think it all starts in practice. We work hard every day. It comes from our defense. We’re always in the passing lane, working hard every game.”
“Sometimes you go into an environment where you’re not sure you can win, then a couple good things happen and all of a sudden, the confidence comes back,” Maines said. “I’m proud of the kids. I think this validates us. I think a lot of people thought we’d lose this game.”
Cheverus could only tip its cap to the Red Storm.
“They knocked down shots and we didn’t,” Ashley said. “They played hard and played well and came in waves. They deserve the credit. It’s not like we weren’t prepared or didn’t know what was going on. Taylor had a huge second quarter. That was a big run for her. I thought Rogers played well. Alofs did a good job. She’s a tough kid.
“We just didn’t make enough shots. We shot 24 percent. I could count 12 point blank layups we missed. They forced some turnovers, but I think we forced some turnovers. We’re kind of similar in terms of our build. We’re like mirror teams. We were down 16 and cut it to eight. We showed character and toughness. I was proud of the effort. If we made shots, it could have been different.”
Leborgne led all scorers with 15 points off the bench.
Alofs’ stat line dazzled. Despite being far from the tallest girl on the court, she scored seven points, collected 13 rebounds, six on the offensive end, and had five steals and a block.
“One of my coaches told me it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog and that’s my mantra,” Alofs said. “I go after it no matter what. It doesn’t matter how tall they are.”
“Courtney is 5-8 maybe, max,” Maines said. “She has a heart of gold. She has a great nose for the ball and plays big. She’s incredible against much bigger people. She’s done that all year.”
Briggs had nine points (and four rebounds), Redmond and Rogers seven apiece and Philbrick finished with three.
Scarborough turned the ball over 27 times and made just 10 of 19 foul shots, but found a way to prevail.
“We got in foul trouble a little bit, but the kids handled it,” Maines said.
For Cheverus, Ford turned heads with 12 points, four rebounds, five steals and a pair of blocked shots.
“I’m proud of Georgia,” Ashley said. “I’m happy with how she played.”
Palazzi-Leahy had eight points (and three steals), Libby seven (along with 13 rebounds), Flaherty four (and 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass), Honan and Lyons two apiece and Nappi one.
Maker didn’t score, but finished with seven boards and five steals.
“Abby’s one of the toughest kids you’ll ever meet,” Ashley said. “She’ll never back down.”
The Stags had a 43-28 edge in rebounds and stole the ball 17 times, but were done in by 30 turnovers and 9 of 18 foul shooting.
Cheverus’ slate only gets more challenging as it goes to Deering (a team it’s never beaten) Friday, then visits Windham Jan. 20.
“We’ll get better,” Ashley said. “Sometimes it might be hard to get up for Deering the next game, after a tough loss, but we have to get up for our rival. We’ll have good practices, clear our heads and realize it’s not life and death. It’s a basketball game.”
Scarborough is back in action Friday when it hosts Noble. Monday brings a challenging trip to Deering. Next Friday, the Red Storm hosts McAuley.
Scarborough’s days of sneaking up on the opposition are over, but it still has work to do.
“We need to not get too overconfident, keep working and know we have to work really hard to win,” Leborgne said.
“Coach just came in and showed us he had confidence in us right from the start,” Alofs said. “We had to be there at 5:30 in the morning and that set the tone and he knew we were going to be there all the way and that we want to be the last team playing on March 3. That’s our mindset. We can always improve. Each game we improve and each practice we improve. Each game we’re going to try to get better every time.”
“Personally, I took this job wondering if the kids could execute my style of play,” Maines added. “I’m proud of them. They’re great kids to coach. I didn’t know them. I had no idea who started last year. Everything’s new. It’s up to the kids. I didn’t know the league. I don’t know the coaches. Frankly, we play our game and I don’t worry about the opponents or scout, which may be contradictory to many people. We can’t make a big deal of an opponent, saying they do this or that. We play our game. We need to get better on defense. We’re not shooting the ball that well. If we shoot like I think we’re capable of, it will be very tough to beat us.”
S- 8 15 15 10- 48
C- 10 6 7 13- 36
S: Leborgne 6-2-15, Briggs 3-2-9, Alofs 3-1-7, Redmond 1-4-7, Rogers 3-1-7, Philbrick 1-0-3
C: Ford 3-5-12, Palazzi-Leahy 4-0-8, Libby 2-3-7, Flaherty 2-0-4, Honan 1-0-2, Lyons 1-0-2, Nappi 0-1-1
S (4) Briggs, Leborgne, Philbrick, Redmond
C (1) Ford
S (28) Alofs 13, Rogers 5, Briggs 4, Leborgne, Philbrick 2, Redmond, Sparda 1
C (43) Flaherty, Libby 13, Maker 7, Ford 4, Lyons 3, Thomas 2, Mayberry 1
S (13) Alofs 5, Briggs 2, Leborgne, Philbrick, Redmond, Rogers, Sparda, Wahrer 1
C (17) Ford, Maker 5, Palazzi-Leahy 3, Libby 2, Flaherty, Nappi 1
C (3) Ford 2, Libby 1
S (3) Rogers 2, Alofs 1