PORTLAND—When Waynflete sophomore standout Martha Veroneau goes off for 27 points, life can be pretty miserable for the opposition.
If Veroneau gets the kind of support she received from her teammates Friday evening, the Flyers can legitimately entertain hopes of another deep playoff run.
Hosting rival North Yarmouth Academy, Waynflete erupted for 21 points in the first quarter and 39 in the first half as it made shots from everywhere and converted turnovers into easy hoops. Behind Veroneau’s output, combined with 22 points from senior Lydia Stegemann, a breakout game from sophomore Rhiannan Jackson and contributions from everyone who saw the floor, the Flyers improved to 12-3 with a 69-49 victory.
“We played really hard today,” said Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “We made some mistakes and missed some shots we should have made, but playing hard makes up for a lot.”
Waynflete, which has advanced to the Western C Final in each of the past two seasons, wans’t viewed as a top contender this winter after graduating Morgan Woodhouse, who excelled at both ends of the floor as one of the state’s premier post players a year ago. Salway did have the foundation of Veroneau and her twin sister, Catherne, and he hoped that the supporting cast would come along.
It has, but there have been a few speed bumps.
The Flyers went 4-1 in the 2010 portion of their schedule, opening with a 65-49 victory at NYA and losing only by a point at home to Falmouth (42-41). A 34-33 upset loss at Old Orchard Beach got 2011 off to an inauspicious beginning, but Waynflete rattled off five straight. The second of that string was a 55-47 victory at Traip, but it came at a mighty cost as Catherine Veroneau suffered a season-ending knee injury.
After a 45-35 home loss to Traip Jan. 22, the Flyers welcomed Greater Portland Christian School Tuesday. Waynflete came out flat and was down 8-2 midway through the first quarter when an exasperated Salway pulled his starting five. They came back two minutes later and got the message that they had to play hard throughout, helping the Flyers come back to win, 52-39. The next day, Waynflete rolled at Hyde, 61-26.
“We had a short, but concise team talk at Hyde about the fact that there’s a very thin line between us being pretty good and us being not very good,” Salway said. “If we don’t play really hard then we’re really not very good. We’ve put together eight good quarters in a row now.”
NYA, meanwhile, started 3-5, then won three out of four, capped by a 46-39 victory at Western B contender Freeport, to even its mark at 6-6.
Waynflete entered Friday’s contest having beaten the Panthers in 11 straight meetings. NYA’s last victory came Jan. 17, 2006 (a 60-52 triumph in Yarmouth). In the teams’ first meeting this winter, Dec. 10, the Flyers led by 20 at halftime and went on to victory behind 26 points from Martha Veroneau and 19 from Stegemann.
That tandem, with help, would prove to be the difference again in the rematch.
NYA got the scoring going 54 seconds in on a jumper from junior Morgan Scully, but Veroneau answered with a 3. A 3-ball from Scully gave the Panthers their last lead, 5-3, before Jackson tied the score with a putback, Veroneau fed senior Liz Lewis for a layup, then Veroneau made a layup after a steal for a 9-5 lead.
NYA senior Blair Haggett ended the 6-0 surge with two free throws, but Veroneau answered with a putback. After freshman Charlotte Esancy made a short jumper for the Panthers, Veroneau buried a 3, then hit a layup for a 16-9 advantage. Haggett made a layup for the visitors, but Stegemann got on the board with a 3 and after a layup from Panthers senior Eliza Gendron, Veroneau made a layup off an inbounds pass to give Waynflete a 21-13 lead after one.
The Flyers continued to sizzle in the second period and opened things up.
Waynflete got the quarter’s first eight points as Stegemann made a layup, freshman Leigh Fernandez sank a 3 and Stegemann converted an old-fashioned three point play (a basket and a foul shot) for a 29-13 advantage.
After Gendron made two free throws for NYA, Veroneau hit a leaner and Stegemann canned two foul shots. The Panthers then got their first consecutive hoops of the quarter as Esancy made a layup and Gendron scored on a putback, but Jackson and Veroneau both made 3-pointers to push the lead to 20. A late 3 by Haggett got NYA within 39-22 at the break.
“It was important to have a good start,” Stegemann said. “We’ve had games where we didn’t. We were pumped up and had a good warmup. It was important that we came out hard. It’s all about the mindset. Being in the zone and taking it seriously.”
The Flyers weren’t able to run away and hide in the third period, largely because several good looks either rimmed off or went in-and-out.
After Stegemann made a layup to start the second half, Gendron came to life and made back-to-back hoops to make it 41-26. Veroneau answered with a 3, but at the other end, Gendron banked home a 3 to make it a 44-29 contest. Midway through the quarter, Haggett made a layup and Scully added a jumper to pull NYA within 11, 44-33, forcing Salway to call timeout.
It worked as Stegemann scored on a putback, Jackson had a steal and a layup, Lewis made a layup and Stegemann scored on another putback for a 52-33 advantage. A Scully leaner and Haggett jump shot cut the deficit to 15. After Stegemann made a free throw, Scully hit a layup to keep the Panthers’ faint hopes alive, 53-39, heading for the fourth.
There, Waynflete put it away.
After Stegemann scored on a putback, she knocked down a 3 to push the lead to 58-39. Sophomore Mallory Ianno made a jumper for NYA, but senior Sam Oakland made a free throw, Veroneau hit a 3, Oakland banked home a 3-ball, Veroneau made a layup after a steal and Lewis hit a short bank shot. Salway cleared his bench and the Flyers went on to the impressive 69-49 win.
“I think we moved the ball really well and we took shots,” Jackson said. “Even if they didn’t go in, we worked hard to get rebounds. We’ve got to stay in it and not let up.”
“We really hustled today,” Stegemann said. “We made good passes on offense. At first, we were a little shaken (by Catherine’s injury), but we’ve moved on and try to do our best. Everyone contributes.”
“We’re getting better with our press,” Salway added. “We gave up a lot of layups at the beginning of the year. We’ve learned you can’t play passively with the press.”
Veroneau led all scorers with 27 points. If that wasn’t enough, she added a dozen rebounds and had five steals.
Stegemann made her presence felt as well on the stat sheet, scoring 22 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and adding a steal.
Jackson, who has seen more playing time since Catherine Veroneau’s injury, finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and a whopping seven steals.
“We work a lot on playing good defense,” Jackson said. “If we don’t, teams will get more points. It’s been fun (playing more). I like it a lot. We use Catherine as a motivator. We want to play for her.”
Lewis added six points, Oakland four and Fernandez three.
Freshman Ella Millard didn’t score, but had three rebounds in her limited time.
“The seniors see the end of the line,” Salway said. “The kids are improving and understanding. They know how hard you really have to play if you want to beat everybody because everybody wants to beat us. We’re worth a lot of points and we’re a big win for teams that beat us. I see kids improving constantly. Good attitudes. They’re having fun. They don’t like to lose. They get the connection between hard work and winning.”
Despite a solid effort, NYA had no answer for Waynflete’s firepower.
“We knew they could shoot 3s,” said Panthers coach Liz Smith. “The first time we played them, they made six in the first quarter. We tried to contest everything and not let Martha get the ball, but it’s not easy. We got it within 11, but missed a few opportunities. We had a little trouble against their press. We lost two varsity players to injury Tuesday. We’re down to seven. We had to adjust to that.”
The Panthers were paced by 17 points and 13 rebounds from Gendron.
“Eliza had a great game against them last time,” Smith said. “We knew she could post them up.”
Scully finished with 13 points (six rebounds and two steals), Haggett added 11 points (to go with seven rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot), Esancy had six points (four rebounds, two blocks and a steal) and Ianno had two points (four rebounds and a steal).
NYA bounced back Saturday afternoon with a 41-30 win at Hebron to even its mark at 7-7. The Panthers are 12th in the latest Western Class C Heal Points standings. Ten teams qualify for the playoffs from the region. NYA has its destiny in its hands as it closes the regular season with four home games, versus Old Orchard Beach (Tuesday), Sacopee, Traip and Poland.
“It’s going well,” Smith said. We’re at .500. We finish at home. If we win all those games, we could get in.”
Waynflete is up to third in the Heals behind Livermore Falls and Dirigo and could wind up anywhere from first to sixth in the final accounting. The Flyers host Hyde Wednesday, then close with two Western B foes. They host Cape Elizabeth Feb. 7 and go to Wells the following day.
“We have to come out every game playing our hardest,” said Stegemann. “We can’t take anything for granted.”
“I’m pleased, but we need to keep getting better,” Salway said. “We’ve got three games left. We want to put ourselves in the best possible spot.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com