AUGUSTA—The Waynflete girls’ basketball team has overcome adversity all winter, but their inspirational campaign came to a sudden and disappointing end Thursday afternoon.
The second-seeded Flyers never could get their high-powered offense going against No. 3 Livermore Falls in a Western Class C semifinal round tilt at the Augusta Civic Center.
Still, Waynflete held a 24-20 lead with under four minutes to play before the Andies got some clutch shooting from junior Kathryn Ventrella and senior Marissa Welch, went on a game-ending 11-3 run and ended the Flyers’ campaign at 16-4 with a 31-27 victory.
Livermore Falls (17-3) advances to meet top-ranked Hall-Dale (19-1) in the Western C Final Saturday night.
“It wasn’t our best day on offense,” lamented Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “On defense, I thought we did a great job. We never found our rhythm offensively. We missed shots and in a close game, one or two plays makes a difference.”
Waynflete entered the game hoping to secure a spot in the regional final for a third year in a row. After a better-than-expected 15-3 regular season, which gave them the No. 2 seed in Western C, the Flyers opened tournament play with a flourish Tuesday, pulling away to down No. 7 St. Dom’s, 69-49, behind a record-setting performance from sophomore Martha Veroneau, who made seven 3-pointers and had 37 points.
Prior to Thursday, Waynflete and Livermore Falls, which also went 15-3 in the regular season before fending off No. 6 Dirigo’s upset bid in its quarterfinal, had never met.
Thursday, the Flyers hoped to advance and be one of the final Western C teams standing, but it wasn’t to be.
Waynflete got off to a slow start as Veroneau missed a pair of shots and the Flyers had a pair of turnovers.
The Andies broke the ice 1 minute, 15 seconds in when Welch scored on a leaner and junior Micaela Baron added a layup to make it 4-0.
Finally, with 4:01 to go in the eight-minute first quarter, the Flyers got on the board when Veroneau made one of two free throws. Freshman Leigh Fernandez fed sophomore Rhiannan Jackson for a layup and with 1:04 remaing, Fernandez calmly buried a 3-ball to put Waynflete on top, 6-4, which is how the first period ended.
In the initial eight minutes, Welch grabbed seven rebounds, but Livermore Falls turned the ball over five times.
Both offenses continued to struggle in the second period.
After Welch tied the score with a bank shot, the Flyers grabbed a 10-6 lead behind a long jumper from Fernandez and a putback from Stegemann with 5:57 to go in the half, but Waynflete wouldn’t score again before the break.
The Andies rallied to tie behind two free throws from Ventrella and a putback by Welch with 3:13 showing, but that would be it.
Welch stole the show in the first half with 10 rebounds, while Veroneau failed to make a single field goal.
The game remained nip-and-tuck in the third.
Senior Sam Oakland put Waynflete on top with a 3 24 seconds in. After Livermore Falls answered on a runner from Ventrella, senior Liz Lewis made two foul shots, but Ventrella drove nearly the length of the court before making a layup and Welch put the Andies on top with a putback. With 1:20 to go, Veroneau’s first field goal of the contest, a layup off a feed from freshman Ella Millard, gave the Flyers a 17-16 advantage.
In the fourth, Waynflete couldn’t hold on.
A pair of Lewis free throws were answered by a 3 from Ventrella, but with 5:59 left, Veroneau drove for a layup to make it 21-19. With 5:31 to play, Fernandez fed Lewis for a layup and a 23-19 lead. After Welch and Lewis traded free throws, the Flyers had a chance to go up six, but couldn’t do so.
Welch then made a leaner and after a Flyers’ turnover, Welch hit a short turnaround from the baseline (which danced around the rim before falling) to tie the score.
“We had two really tough plays,” Salway said. “We missed a layup that could have put it up to six, then there was an illegal screen call that affected the outcome.”
Lewis was whistled for her fourth foul at the other end and after a timeout, the Andies tried to get the ball to Welch, but instead Ventrella was left open and canned a 3 with 2:46 to go, making it 27-24 Livermore Falls.
“We were playing (Ventrella) as a shooter,” said Salway. “We didn’t mean to leave her open. We broke down defensively a few times since Welch was doing such a good job inside. We tried everything we could do, it just wasn’t our day, I guess.”
At the other end, Waynflete gave the ball away again and the Andies ran a minute off the clock before turning the ball over.
Veroneau threw up a long-range 3 under pressure that was short and Welch grabbed her 14th rebound, but Livermore Falls again turned the ball over.
As the clock ticked under a minute on their season, the Flyers attempted to rally, but Veroneau’s leaner in the lane was off and Ventrella rebounded. After Waynflete had to hurry to register a few fouls, Ventrella was fouled with 41.3 seconds left and went to the line for a one-and-one. She made the first and then the second to make it 29-24.
Things looked bleak for the Flyers, but the freshman, Fernandez, calmly buried a 3 from the wing with 33.6 seconds showing to cut the deficit to two.
Then, on the inbounds pass to Welch, Veroneau was whistled for foul number five. Welch made both ends of the one-and-one and Waynflete turned the ball over. Senior Megan Therrien missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Stegemann’s last second desperation 3 was short and that was that.
Livermore Falls 31 Waynflete 27.
“I’m disappointed because it wasn’t our best effort,” said Salway. “We played nervous, unfortunately. It was a combination of physical play and a deer in the headlights look at times. Ultimately, you have to credit Livermore Falls and their defensive effort. They made critical plays down the stretch and that made it tough on us. We wanted to make it a faster paced game, but we had foul trouble. It’s a disappointing way to go out certainly.”
Only three Andies scored, but that’s all they needed. Welch led all scorers with 15 points. She also had 14 rebounds and two steals. Ventrella had 14 points, three boards and a steal. Caron added two points. Livermore Falls had 15 turnovers and shot 7 of 9 from the foul line.
The Flyers were led by eight points from Fernandez and an impressive seven points and five rebounds from Lewis. Veroneau was held to five (she did have five steals and four boards).
“(Martha) had some good looks and played unselfish,” Salway said. “I knew the other day would be a tough act to follow. I thought she rushed a little bit, as all of us did.”
Oakland finished with three points and Jackson (nine rebounds) and Stegemann (10 boards and a block) both had two.
Waynflete made 6 of 8 free throws and turned the ball over 14 times.
Despite the sting of this loss, the Flyers’ season was an unmitigated success.
“It’s a disappointing end for a great group of kids,” Salway said. “It’s a huge accomplishment for this team, but when you’re a couple minutes from going back to the finals, I’m sure it’s going to sting. We have a young nucleus. The kids accepted their roles and bought into working hard every day. Our mantra all year was, ‘No fear.’ I think the kids had fun. It was an easy team to coach. Great kids.”
Waynflete should be very strong again in 2011-12, as it keeps knocking on the Class C championship door.
“I’m looking forward to next year,” Salway said. “I think we could be better next year. We’ll get (injured sophomore Catherine Veroneau) back and a couple other new kids. We should be right there. You can’t just get yourself here. You have to play the season and get better every day.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @foresports