PORTLAND – This one didn’t come easily. But it was just as sweet.

McAuley High won its third consecutive Western Class A championship — and 47th consecutive game — by holding off a frantic Cheverus rally Saturday night.

After Cheverus cut a 14-point deficit to four late in the game, the top-ranked Lions hit 8 of 8 foul shots in the final 1:20 to secure the 47-36 victory at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

McAuley (20-0) will play Bangor (17-4) for the state championship at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. The Lions, appearing in their ninth state championship game, have won the last two titles.

“I had faith in my team,” said guard Allie Clement. “We’re not going to give up easily and we’re going to finish the game the way we should. Everything happens for a reason but we were not going to give up at that point in the game.”

Clement won the Edward “Red” McMann Award as the top player/sportswoman of the tourney. Her 15 points included two foul shots with 1:20 left to give McAuley a six-point lead.

Sarah Clement (48.4 seconds), Victoria Lux (27.9 seconds) and Olivia Smith (12.7 seconds) followed with two foul shots each.

“It was a team effort,” said Coach Bill Goodman. “These younger girls all year have faced the other team’s best effort. And we knew we were going to get Cheverus’, too. But they were able to handle the pressure.”

The Stags tested McAuley as no one had this year, but in the end the Lions’ championship experience lifted them.

“We know how to keep calm,” said forward Molly Mack.

“We’ve been under pressure before.”

Both teams struggled offensively in the first half, which ended with the Lions ahead 18-9 after the Stags finished on a 5-0 run.

And then things got interesting.

Both teams opened up offensively in the third quarter and McAuley held a 34-26 lead after three, thanks largely to two 3-pointers by the underrated Jaclyn Welch.

The Stags (18-3) kept closing in. Victoria Nappi hit an NBA-distance 3-pointer with 2:05 left and it was suddenly 37-33. Lux followed with a strong low-post move to make it 39-33, but Kylie Libby answered with a drive that cut it to four again.

That’s when the Lions started hitting their foul shots. Clement, playing with an injured right foot that requires her to wear a plastic boot when she isn’t on the court, swished two free throws with 1:20 left to make it 41-35.

A Cheverus miss allowed the Lions to get possession, and Sarah Clement, a freshman, was fouled. Her first shot hit the front rim and went in. The second was clean and it was 43-35.

Cheverus got a point back on a free throw by Brooke Flaherty, who played an outstanding game with 16 points (14 in the second half), with 30 seconds left. But the Stags couldn’t convert again and Smith clinched the victory with two free throws with 12.7 seconds left.

“You’ve got to give credit to them,” said Richie Ashley, the Stags’ coach. “They knocked down the shots. One or two of them bounce one way or the other, it could be a different game,. But they made their free throws.

“But I wouldn’t trade anybody on my team for anybody else. They have the heart of a champion.”

On this night, however, the Lions weren’t going to let their hold on the championship slip away.

“We have experience, we’ve been there, we know how to battle back,” said Allie Clement. “We’re going to battle the whole way and not give anything easy. We’re going to work to stay up there and show everyone who we are.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH