PORTLAND – Second-seeded McAuley was cruising with a 16-point lead after three quarters Saturday night against third-ranked Gorham in the Western Class A semifinals at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Home free, right? Not quite.

Gorham opened the fourth with a 9-0 run, but Rebecca Knight’s breakaway with just over a minute left secured a 39-30 victory and a berth in the regional final Monday night against top-ranked Deering at the Civic Center.

“They gave me gray hairs,” said McAuley Coach Amy Vachon. “I looked up and we’re up by 16. A few minutes later we’re only up by seven.

“You have to give Gorham credit. They had success with their zone defense when we played them in the regular season (a 38-28 Gorham victory). We got some points against their zone and they switched to a man-to-man defense. Usually we do pretty well against the man.”

After a slow opening quarter — McAuley led 7-6 — the Lions (18-2) finally got untracked. Alexa Coulombe, a 6-foot-2 center, started dominating with blocks and passes to Knight for easy baskets.

“We have a good understanding of where each other is on the court,” said Coulombe.

McAuley outscored the Rams (15-5) 14-2 in the second quarter. The Lions opened the quarter with an 8-0 run. Lexi Merrifield scored Gorham’s only basket with 2:36 left in the quarter.

The Lions then closed with a 6-0 run to make it 21-8 at halftime.

Coulombe started the second half with two straight blocks. She fed Knight for a layup. Gorham standout Mia Rapolla, held to four points in the first half, started to assert herself in the second.

Rapolla scored six straight points after Knight’s basket and finished with all of her team’s points (eight) in the third quarter. Rapolla, the second-leading scorer in the SMAA, finished with 21 points. She had nine in the fourth quarter.

“We only allowed 30 points and she scored 21 of them,” said Vachon. “We threw everything at her.”

Rapolla scored seven of her team’s first nine points in the fourth.

“We got behind and had to take some chances,” said Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume. “I wish we had started sooner. We had hoped that by playing zone we could take away McAuley’s inside game and it would put us in position to win at the end.”

The Rams’ go-for-broke style worked for a while in the fourth, but the hill was just too big to climb.

“They upped their intensity and we maintained our same level,” said Coulombe. “That’s why we struggled.”

The Lions were scoreless in the fourth quarter until Hannah Cooke scored with 1:53 left.

Coulombe passed to Knight for several scoring combinations in the middle periods. Knight scored 10 points in that stretch and finished with 12 to lead McAuley. Coulombe added 11 points and several blocks.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

tchard@pressherald.com