PORTLAND—The team of the present taught the team of the future a thing or two Saturday afternoon.
The undefeated and top-ranked Scarborough girls’ basketball squad displayed its depth, balance and defensive tenacity in an impressive 56-40 win over once-beaten Cheverus at Keegan Gymnasium, completing a perfect run through a gamut of top contenders.
Scarborough trailed just once, then used its experience to force turnover after turnover which led to several easy baskets and an 11-point lead after one period. The Red Storm cruised from there and improved to 10-0, dropping the plucky and promising Stags to 9-2.
“(Cheverus) is an up and coming program who will be very good in the future, but we have a lot of experience and experience will take care of youth a lot of times,” said Scarborough coach Jim Seavey. “I knew they’d be a little rattled. We have targets on our backs and I knew they wanted to come at us, but our senior leadership was poised and played under control.”
The Red Storm were viewed as a top contender entering the season and inherited the favorite mantle after a stunning 52-50 come-from-behind home win over two-time defending Class A state champion Deering Dec. 11. Scarborough beat its other eight foes by an average of 22 points, with just one victory (a 44-39 triumph at Biddeford Dec. 28) coming by less than 18.
The Stags, meanwhile, reached the preliminary round each of the past two years and expected to be strong this winter, but have really impressed, winning nine of their first 10 (with the only blemish being a seven-point loss at McAuley). Recent road wins at Biddeford (56-55, in overtime) and Thornton Academy (58-55) served as big-time confidence boosters.
Cheverus hoped to keep the good times rolling Saturday, but promptly learned that the Red Storm are simply at another level.
The Stags’ high-water mark came 15 seconds in when senior Theresa Hendrix buried a rainbow jump shot for a 2-0 lead. Over the next three minutes, Cheverus dissolved in a flurry of fouls and seven turnovers as Scarborough seized control.
A layup by senior Sarah Moody tied the score and a free throw from senior Christy Manning with 6:20 to go in the first put the Red Storm on top to stay. Twenty-three second later, Moody canned a 3 from the corner and with 4:59 left in the first, she did it again to make it 9-2 Scarborough.
With 3:32 left in the first, senior Brittany Ross scored on a driving layup and drew Hendrix’s second foul before sinking the free throw. With 2:58 to go, Ross buried a jump shot and it was 14-2.
A layup by Hendrix with 2:01 remaining in the opening stanza ended the 14-0 Red Storm and a 5 minute, 44 second drought, but Manning answered with a jump shot. With 25.7 seconds left, sophomore Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy made a free throw to pull Cheverus within 16-5 after one.
In the first eight minutes, the Stags had 13 turnovers.
“We wanted to come out strong,” said Moody. “We knew they’d be energetic. It was important for us to come out strong since they were playing on their home court.”
Scarborough was sloppy in the second period, turning the ball over seven times, but Cheverus couldn’t take advantage.
Ross started the second with a free throw to push the lead back to 12, but Hendrix answered with a pretty reverse layup. With 6:28 left in the half, Red Storm senior Ellie Morin was fouled and Stags coach Richie Ashley was called for a technical foul. Morin made one of her two free throws and senior Jenn Colpitts drained both technical shots for a 20-7 advantage.
After Palazzi-Leahy made a driving layup for the hosts, Colpitts made two more free throws. Palazzi-Leahy countered with a 3-ball, but Colpitts made two more freebies for a 24-12 lead with 4:10 left in the half.
After Cheverus freshman Mikayla Mayberry and Scarborough sophomore Carly Rogers traded free throws, Palazzi-Leahy pulled her team within nine with a 3-pointer, but with 25 seconds to go before halftime, Rogers scored on a leaner to give the Red Storm a 27-16 edge at the break.
“We got a little careless in the second quarter, but the kids settled in,” Seavey said. “We had an 11-point lead after one, maintained it in the second quarter and extended it in the second half.”
Any Stags comeback hopes were dashed early in the third period.
A steal and layup by Colpitts just four seconds into the second half made it 29-16. Manning then scored on a putback for a 15-point advantage. After a long jumper from Mayberry provided Cheverus’ first second half points, Moody made a 3-pointer and senior Heather Carrier followed with another for a 37-18 bulge.
After Palazzi-Leahy ended the 6-0 run with a layup after a steal, Morin got hot, sandwiching scoop shots (one with each hand) around a Palazzi-Leahy layup for a 41-22 advantage. The Stags then closed the quarter with two free throws from freshman Brooke Flaherty and a layup from Hendrix to make it 41-26 with eight minutes to go.
The hosts made one mini-run early in the fourth to get within 11. After Manning started the period with a free throw, freshman Victoria Nappi made a 3-point shot. Moody answered with a long jumper, but Nappi made two foul shots and Hendrix hit a jumper in the lane to make it 44-33 with 6:15 left.
Undaunted, the veteran Red Storm answered as Moody canned one final 3 and Morin made a layup for a 49-33 advantage with 4:56 to go.
After Palazzi-Leahy made a free throw for the hosts, Morin sank two foul shots and then converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 2:49 left to give Scarborough its biggest lead, 54-34.
Down the stretch, the Stags got a short bank shot from Nappi, a short jumper from Palazzi-Leahy and a putback from junior Paige Lucas, but one final putback from Morin accounted for the 56-40 final score.
“No titles were handed out today, but we’ll take it,” Seavey said. “We had five tests: McAuley, Biddeford, South Portland, Thornton and Cheverus and we passed all five with flying colors.”
Moody led Scarborough with 16 points and Morin (who returned to the team this winter after not playing a year ago) added 14 (13 of which came in the second half).
“I’m usually the sixth man off the bench,” Morin said. “I watch the game carefully and if things are going wrong, I know I’m going in. Christy got in foul trouble and I was ready. I had a rough first half, but things worked out in the second half. We ran our plays and executed. I’m so glad I came back this year. I love all the players. It’s fun.”
Colpitts added eight points, Manning and Ross both had six and Carrier and Rogers each finished with three. The Red Storm had an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers and made just 15 of 27 foul shots, but had more than enough to win.
“(Cheverus) neutralized Christy better than anyone has, but we still put 56 points on the board,” Seavey said. “We talk about being a well-rounded team.”
For Cheverus, Palazzi-Leahy led the way with 16 points, Hendrix added 10, Nappi had seven, Mayberry three and Flaherty and Lucas two apiece. The Stags ended with a whopping 24 turnovers and made just 7 of 14 free throws.
“They’re the best team for a reason,” Ashley said, of the Red Storm. “I thought we scrapped. Hopefully, we’ll get to see them again.
“We tried to take away Manning, but the other players hit and hurt us. I thought we were in it, but we missed a lot of easy shots. We had shots and that’s something to be positive about and keep working on.”
Cheverus’ road gets no easier. The Stags (fourth in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) visit Deering Tuesday night and still have games remaining at South Portland and Sanford and at home against McAuley and South Portland.
“We learned today how we have to play to beat a top team and how we have to coach to beat a top team,” Ashley said. “It’s a good measuring stick. We get Scarborough and Deering back-to-back. We’ll see where we are. We’ll go back to the drawing board a bit. We have a lot of young kids. It’s good to have a bit of a wakeup call.”
The Red Storm (first in the Heals) are in the opposite boat, having played the toughest games on their schedule. Scarborough is idle until Friday night when it hosts a Sanford squad which upset Deering earlier in the year. A visit to Windham Jan. 18 and a home test with Thornton Academy Feb. 2 are potential landmines, but don’t expect the Red Storm to stumble anytime soon.
“Everything’s started to click,” Moody said. “Things are flowing better for us. We just have to play our game and play to our level and not down to the level of competition.”
“We’re confident,” Morin said. “We’re trying not to get overconfident. Coach reminds us of that in practice.”
“One thing about this group is that they’re very focused and determined,” added Seavey. “We have one goal and everyone knows what that is. They’ll keep working and getting better. We don’t play for a week. We’ll fine-tune some things. The bottom line is we want to play our best basketball in February.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com