McAuley High, the three-time defending Class A girls’ basketball champion, again will take the top seed into the Western regional.

The Lions finished the regular season Friday with an emphatic defensive effort, beating rival Cheverus, 56-35.

McAuley (17-1) will be off until a quarterfinal Feb. 17 at the Portland Expo. A loss would have opened the door for No. 2 Thornton Academy, the one team that has beaten McAuley, to claim the top seed.

McAuley created six steals in a 15-3 first quarter and forced 25 turnovers overall, making sure there would not be another upset despite the game-long effort and some tough interior defense from the Stags.

“We’ve been playing that way for the last month. We try to do that every game,” McAuley Coach Bill Goodman said. “We’re a lot healthier now than we were at the beginning of the season or last season, so we’re able to play a style I like to play. We just had to wait for everyone to feel better, so for the last month we’ve been playing more of a defensive, in-your-face style.”

Cheverus entered the night in sixth in the Heal standings. The Stags will be home for a preliminary-round game Wednesday.

“We need to control the tempo a little better. I think they dictated tempo,” Cheverus Coach Richie Ashley said.

Allie Clement scored 17 points and was supported by Victoria Lux, who had 10 of her 15 points in the second half. McAuley’s 6-foot-3 center, Olivia Smith, had nine points but helped control the backboards and was all over the court, diving for loose balls, tipping passes and generally infusing energy into the defense.

Jess Willerson scored 12 points, and no other Cheverus player had more than the five scored by senior Alisha Starbird, who was playing in her first game of the year.

Starbird recently was cleared to play after a fall-season concussion.

McAuley led at the half 26-15 after dominating with its defense in the first quarter. The Lions’ three perimeter defenders – Clement, Jackie Welch (9 points) and Olivia Dalphonse – combined for six steals in the first period.

In the second, McAuley was forced to go to a five-guard lineup with Lux and Smith both in foul trouble.

That allowed Willerson to get untracked for six points and Cheverus twice cut the lead to single digits.

“That was the chance,” Ashley said.

McAuley used a spread offense and pushed back, with Clement twice elevating in the lane for jumpers before the half was done.

McAuley used a 9-2 run to open the fourth quarter and gain a 50-29 lead that put the game out of reach, the run capped when Clement forcefully ripped the ball out of Sadie Lyons’ hands to avoid a turnover, then stepped into a mid-range jumper.

“It’s always going to be a very physical, aggressive game with Cheverus because of the history we have with them,” said Clement.

“She’s the best player in the league. She’s very good,” Ashley said of Clement.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:

scraig@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveCCraig