By Michael Hoffer
AUGUSTA — A special season of triumph came down to a potential shot for the ages Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center.
The Waynflete Flyers girls’ basketball team, the top seed in Western Class C and winners of 17 games, trailed No. 2 Jay 40-38 with time winding down when it almost got the ultimate dose of stardust.
Junior standout Morgan Woodhouse, who had produced yet another epic performance, stole an ill-advised pass at midcourt, dribbled and launched a 35-foot prayer that appeared to be dead-on.
But as the horn sounded, Woodhouse’s bid fell just shy of the rim and Waynflete’s best Class C season to date, and one of the finest in school history, came to a painful close at 17-4.
In the end, the Flyers were done in by 25 turnovers and missed opportunities with the game on the line.
“We turned the ball over too much,” said Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “That limited our offensive chances. We missed layups and foul shots.”
The Flyers also went 17-4 a year ago, but lost to Monmouth in the regional semifinals. After graduating 1,000-point scorer Margaret Veroneau, most expected Waynflete to come back to the pack. But bolstered by the addition of senior Annie Cutler, who played as a sophomore, but spent her junior year in Spain, the Flyers didn’t miss a beat, defeating four Western B contenders en route to a 15-3 mark, which gave them the top seed for the tournament.
Augusta has long been a graveyard for Western Maine Conference teams come February, but Waynflete sparkled.
First, the Flyers avenged a regular season loss with a 52-34 quarterfinal round win over No. 8 St. Dom’s last Tuesday, as Woodhouse went off for 23 points and Cutler added 17.
Thursday, in the semifinals, Waynflete was pushed by No. 4 Mt. Abram, but ousted the Roadrunners for the second year in a row, this time 49-42. A 3-point barrage in the second period allowed the Flyers to gain the upper hand as Cutler led the way to victory with 17 points. Woodhouse finished with 15.
The Flyers took the court Saturday night against a Jay team they had never faced. The Tigers defeated No. 11 Gould in a preliminary round game, No. 7 Hall-Dale in the quarterfinals and No. 6 Winthrop in the semifinals.
The regional final ended as a classic, but its start was far from memorable. Waynflete led just 5-4 after one quarter. The Flyers could have led by more, but turned the ball over eight times.
Waynflete stretched its advantage 42 seconds into the second period when senior Mariam Qazi made two foul shots.
She was just getting warmed up.
After a free throw from junior Mallory Bonnevie got the Tigers back within a basket, Cutler took a pass from Woodhouse for a layup and Qazi converted a three-point play for a 12-5 advantage.
After two Jay foul shots, Qazi hit a floater. Tigers’ sophomore Bethany Moore answered with a layup, but Qazi nailed a 3 to make it 17-9.
Jay senior Liz Leblanc responded with a bank shot and two 3’s in a 55 second span to tie the game. But with time winding down, Qazi did her one better, making a contested jumper to put the Flyers on top 19-17 at the break.
Neither team led by more than four in the second half. In the third period, the lead changed five times. There were five ties, including a 28-28 deadlock at quarter’s end.
Ultimately, the game was decided by the slimmest of margins.
Qazi got the fourth off to a good start with two foul shots. Tigers’ freshman Alexis Blodgett answered with one. A pair of free throws from senior Betsy Gemelli put Jay on top by one, but Woodhouse answered with a short bank shot, then, after Cutler missed two foul shots, Woodhouse scored on a putback for a 34-31 lead.
The Tigers rallied as Deane hit two free throws and Blodgett scored on a putback, but a free throw from senior Nina Russem tied the game at 35-35 with 4:49 to play.
Jay went back on top, 37-35, when Leblanc made a short baseline jumper with 3:38 remaining. After nearly two scoreless minutes, Qazi was fouled and went to the line with 1:48 left. She made one to pull Waynflete within a point. Then, after a Jay turnover, Cutler missed a 3 and Woodhouse was off on the follow.
With 39.2 seconds to go, Bonnevie missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Woodhouse got the rebound and the Flyers had another chance to go ahead. This time Russem got the look, firing an open 3, her first field goal attempt of the night.
The shot was no good and Bonnevie got the rebound. She dished to Deane, who was fouled.
With 18 seconds to go and Jay leading 37-36, Deane hit her first free throw and missed the second, but the Tigers pulled down the offensive board and got the ball to Leblanc, who was fouled with 13.5 seconds to go. She made both free throws and suddenly Jay was up, 40-36.
Waynflete stayed alive when Woodhouse scored on a putback with 2.4 seconds to go, setting the stage for the dramatic ending.
Woodhouse, the tallest, most athletic, and arguably best player on the floor all night, had all eyes upon her when she stole the ball at midcourt. If it were Hollywood, the shot would have dropped through the net and the Flyers would have celebrated until the wee hours.
Reality, however, is cruel.
Despite the promising arc of the shot, it ultimately fell just short of the rim and Jay had survived, 40-38, to win the regional championship.
“There were probably 10 plays we could have looked back at,” Salway lamented. “Not getting the rebound on that missed free throw was a killer. We also made some unbelievable plays to get us there.
“We decided not to guard the inbounds on the final play. Morgan played centerfield in case they tried to throw over the top. It went according to plan. I hoped we had luck on our side. It didn’t miss by much. That’s for sure. We had some great looks prior to that. Annie’s 3 was exactly what we wanted. She was money the whole tournament. Nina had a good look too.”
Woodhouse led all scorers with 16 points and added 13 rebounds. Qazi had 15 points in her final game. Cutler bowed out with six points. Russem added one.
“Nina improved a great deal from last year,” Salway said. “Annie came back and fit right in. She did way more than I ever expected. Mariam had a great season. (Senior) Zoe (Sobel) was consistent and very important to our defense and rebounding. She understood her role.”
In sum, Waynflete had one of the finest seasons in its history.
“I wouldn’t have expected this,” Salway said. “I didn’t think we’d be on the doorstep of a state championship. We won quite a few games and learned how popular basketball is in Maine. I think the kids handled themselves well.
“We had a great regular season. The week we had in Augusta was a great run. I’m disappointed we’re not still playing. I’ve never had a bunch of kids represent themselves and their school better than they did.”
Woodhouse and sophomore Samantha Oakland lead the list of top returners. Don’t expect the Flyers to drop much next winter.
“I told the underclassmen that they have tough shoes to fill, not just in the basketball aspect,” Salway said. “You never know. We have good kids coming back and we had a good eighth grade class. It may take a couple years, but who knows? Morgan will still be a handful next year.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Waynflete junior Morgan Woodhouse went up for two first half points during the Western Class C Final Saturday night in Augusta. Despite the efforts of Woodhouse and her teammates, the Flyers lost 40-38 to Jay. (Brian Beard photo).