Going into Tuesday’s Western Class C quarterfinals, the Madison Bulldogs were ranked second. Waynflete entered as the number seven seed, banged up, having lost four of their starters for the year due to injury.
Junior Catherine Veroneau had been battling a knee injury and tried to give it a go, but re-aggravated the injury and was lost for the game.
The Flyers were the walking wounded and had every excuse in the book to use if they had folded against a tough Madison squad, but a funny thing happened in the 56-39 upset win: Waynflete never fell behind.
“We got off to a great start, which is so important when you’re playing here,” said Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “It allows the kids to relax.”
Junior standout Martha Veroneau got the scoring started, tallying six of Waynflete’s first nine points with two 3-pointers, sandwiching classmate Rhiannan Jackson’s bank shot top of the key 3 to get the Flyers off to a 9-3 lead. Those were Veroneau’s only two field goals of the day, but her teammates were not just willing to help, they were able.
“We knew Madison was going to attack us on the perimeter,” said Veroneau, who finished the game with 20 points, 14 of which came from the free throw line. “We were able to counter, get to the free throw line, and Rhiannan played huge for us. It’s always good to get out to a lead against a higher seed, because sometimes it can hurt their confidence. It was just a great, all-around team game.”
Jackson was superb, with a game-high 22 points for the Flyers, including a trio of 3s. She also finished with 12 rebounds, quite an astonishing feat for a 5-foot-6-inch guard who was constantly leaping against the likes of 5-11 Madison center Courtney Taylor.
“I just think that (coach) did a great job of coaching on us checking out,” said Jackson. “We worked on checking out all week and we did a really good job with it.”
“(Rhiannan) was really confident and relaxed, “said Salway. “She talked about her last big game and what she needed to do to exceed that. We needed her to come up big for us and she did that with her offense and her work on the glass. She played with a lot of confidence. We needed someone to help take the pressure off of Martha and she came up huge.”
Veroneau played most of the game with foul trouble, picking up two fouls in the first quarter. The Flyers led 13-8 after one, and Salway gambled that Veroneau could avoid a third foul in the first half. He was right, and Waynflete went into halftime with a 27-14 lead.
“I’ve really learned to trust her,” said Salway. “She’s very intelligent. I had to call a timeout late in the game after she got her fourth to make sure she didn’t get frustrated and pick-up a cheap one, but she knew the situation.”
While Jackson and Veroneau did the heavy lifting, scoring 42 of Waynflete’s 56 points, other Flyers contributed in a variety of ways.
Sophomore Leigh Fernandez had two key 3-pointers, each halting possible Madison runs, and kept her hands active all night, disrupting Bulldogs passes and forcing turnovers that Waynflete desperately needed to pull off the upset.
“(Leigh) played with a ton of confidence,” said Salway. “She stepped into a 3 to stop one of Madison’s runs and didn’t even think about it. Her game really blossomed earlier this season, because she had to run the point (due to injuries). You saw her growth out there today.”
Waynflete also had two freshmen in the rotation that came up with big minutes, guard Helen Gray-Bauer, who finished with two points, and forward Julianna Harwood, who added four. Although the scoring wasn’t high, they avoided turning the ball over, played solid defense and came up with some key rebounds and loose balls.
“I thought Julianna played great help defense,” said Salway. “She played some pretty heady defense and played in control. Both of our freshmen came up big for us, which is good because we have no chance without them.
“We’ve got four kids in our top eight who are out for the year. So we’ve been going at it with five, six, seven kids. We knew Madison would make a run. They have a great team and (coach) Al (Veneziano) does a great job with them. Beating Madison is a great win for our program and getting to the semis is a great accomplishment, but we’re playing with a ton of confidence and house money now. We’ll see what happens.”
Madison (which had won the prior two playoff meetings between the schools, the most recent in the regional final two years ago) was led by Samantha Bruce, who finished with 19 points before fouling out late. Senior Lyndsay Weese scored four points in her final game before fouling out with under a minute to go.
Veneziano was not surprised by how well Waynflete played.
“You can’t be surprised with a player like Veroneau,” said Veneziano, whose team finished the season with a record of 15-4. “I thought we did a good job on her, as she really opens it up for them. We didn’t get to the rest of them like we had to. Waynflete did a great job at the line, and that’s what it takes to win championships. Jackson deserves a lot of credit for what she did out there tonight.”
Waynflete (13-7, riding an eight-game win streak) has now reached the semifinal round in five straight seasons. Next up are the No. 3 Boothbay Seahawks, who come into the 2:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon matchup with a 13-6 record, winners of four straight games, including a 58-42 quarterfinal round triumph over No. 6 Mt. Abram earlier on Tuesday.
“Boothbay’s got some size, but with a player like Veroneau, Waynflete’s got as good a chance as anyone,” said Veneziano, whose team beat the Seahawks 54-28 on Dec. 14 at home, but lost to them, 62-49, at Boothbay Jan. 28. “Especially if they played like they did tonight.”
The Flyers like their chances and at this stage, you can’t bet against them.
“(Boothbay’s) huge, athletic and they don’t have a lot of deficiencies,” said Salway. “We might have to turn it in to more of an up-tempo game, but they can run, too. We’ll show up anyways, though.”
If Waynflete can spring another upset, it would face either No. 1 Hall-Dale or fourth-ranked Traip in Saturday’s regional final, 7:05 p.m., in Augusta.
The Class C state game is Saturday, March 3, also in Augusta.
Waynflete freshman Julianna Harwood jostles for rebounding position.
Waynflete junior Rhiannan Jackson eyes a shot during Tuesday’s upset win.
Another promising Waynflete freshman, Helen Gray-Bauer, dribbles past a Madison defender.
Waynflete sophomore Leigh Fernandez sends the ball to a teammate.
Waynflete junior Martha Veroneau, who had 20 points, races upcourt as the Flyers pressed the issue all afternoon and earned a semifinal round matchup with Boothbay Thursday.
Waynflete junior Martha Veroneau holds the ball high as she goes up for a shot over a Madison defender during the Flyers’ 56-39 win in Tuesday’s Western Class C quarterfinal.
More photos below.