PORTLAND—Searching for an identity for much of this season’s early goings, the Deering girls’ basketball team found out it has been right there in front of them all along.

Determination, hustle, and oh yes, defensive intensity, all elements they can control, powered the Rams to a convincing 47-31 victory over the Biddeford Tigers on Friday night in a rematch of last year’s Western A Final.

Deering knocked Biddeford out of the tournament last season with a 56-33 win in the regional championship on its way to an undefeated state title, the program’s second net-cutting ceremony in as many years.

Senior center Claire Ramonas proved a defensive wizard Friday, anticipating passes and stepping in for eight steals that often led to easy hoops on the break for Deering. As usual, Ramonas dominated the glass for the Rams, particularly on the defensive end, while dropping a game-high 16 points to help erase the memory of back-to-back losses with two-straight wins, this one coming with relative ease over the previously unbeaten Tigers (4-1).

“Our defense was terrific,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “We really did a nice job on that end. We’ve got a lot of length on the floor. It was nice a nice win against a good team, a good coach and a good program.”

The Rams never trailed, with junior forward Kayla Burchill drilling a pair of 3-pointers to pace an 8-0 run to start the game on her way to a 10-point opening quarter and a 16-11 edge to begin the second for the two-time defending champs. Burchill finished with three 3-pointers and 14 points to help the Rams improve to 3-2 with one game left before the holiday break.

“We’ve had some tough losses early,” Burchill said. “Tonight we played the best defense we have all season. The intensity was there and we proved that we’re a much better team than we’ve shown so far. We don’t have as many scorers as we had last year so we need to make sure we get set up and run the offense all the way through. Claire and I need to work the ball inside and out and look to score.”

Burchill went down with tendinitis and missed the entire preseason for the Rams. Just now beginning to find her rhythm, the versatile, 6-foot-1 hybrid is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams with her ability to handle the ball, stick from 3 and score with her back to the basket in the halfcourt. There’s no question a healthy and conditioned Burchill makes the Rams a different team.

Deering won 37-straight games over three seasons and consecutive Class A state titles, but dropped two-straight after winning its opener to post a 1-2 record. The Rams lost 38-33 on the road in Sanford, then lost a heartbreaker to the highly-touted Scarborough Red Storm, 52-50. The Rams came back and blew away Gorham 63-43 at home, and three days later got the best of the Tigers.

“We’ve had to battle through some injuries to start out,” Murphy said. “Burchill missed the preseason and two weeks before that. So that’s been one factor. We lost seven seniors last year, including two that handled the ball for us 99 percent of the time. There’s something to be said for that.”

The drubbing of Biddeford helped shore up the here and now for the Rams, while formally introducing a strong foundation for the future. Sophomore forward Ella Ramonas, Deering’s next Ramonas, stepped out on the stage with a shot blocking rampage, visibly frustrating Keila Grigware, Biddeford’s top scoring junior forward who entered the game averaging 26 points. The younger Ramonas would have none of that, locking down Grigware the entire game, holding her to a season-low eight points.

“(Grigware) had some really high-scoring games this year,” said Ella Ramonas. “It was important for us to shut her down if we were going to get the win. We played with a lot of intensity and they seemed frustrated with our defense. We know what it feels like to lose and we didn’t want that to happen again.”

The second piece of the Tigers’ powerful 1-2 punch, senior guard Lauren Rousseau, fared slightly better, swishing a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and one more in the fourth to finish with 13 points.

Burchill had 10 points in the first quarter and Claire Ramonas added six on a pair of buckets and two foul shots to help the Rams build a 16-11 lead after one.

The Tigers were able to rally from a 10-2 deficit halfway though the quarter on the strength of a pair of Rousseau 3-pointers and another one from senior Jaclyn McCurry (five points) to stay close.

The Rams took the second quarter 9-8 to extend the lead to six points at the half with a 25-19 advantage after both teams went cold from the field in the quarter.

Junior forward Aarika Viola scored for the Rams rolling down the lane on a nice pass from Claire Ramonas, then hit a short jumper on the baseline from Burchill to open the second with four-straight points. Claire Ramonas added her own basket to finish with eight points at the half. Ella Ramonas scored her first hoop and Burchill hit one free throw for the Rams in the second.

Grigware and Rousseau each had a bucket for the Tigers, with two others scoring on a night when the visitors shot poorly throughout.

The third quarter proved far less inspiring than the second, with Deering managing just seven points to Biddeford’s four. Ella Ramonas dropped a pair of bounce passes to her sister on designed out of bounds plays under the basket on consecutive possessions as Deering opened up a 10-point lead, 29-19, with five minutes left in the third.

But Grigware answered with a hoop-and-harm, scoring underneath while being fouled in the process by Ella Ramonas. After a Deering miss, Grigware was fouled again by Ramonas, but converted just one of her two free throw attempts for the Tigers fourth and final point of the quarter to pull back within six points at 29-23.

Burchill countered with her third 3-pointer, a bomb from the deep corner, helping the Rams to a 32-23 lead after three quarters.

Deering’s lead would swell to 15 points midway through the fourth when Ramonas scored down low on a nice pass from senior guard Maria Salamone (five assists) to make it 41-26. Salamone started the quarter with a 3-pointer, junior guard Britni Mikulanecz added a bucket to help open the biggest lead of the game for the Rams.

Rousseau refused to go quietly, hitting another 3 and adding a slashing layup to finish the fourth quarter with five points after not scoring in the third. But Ella Ramonas (six points) offset Rousseau’s outburst with a pair of hoops, and Viola (six points) scored from Salamone on the break in the closing seconds as the Rams came away with a much needed, 47-31 win over a talented Tigers’ team.

Deering closed the 2009 portion of its schedule Tuesday against the Thornton Academy Trojans, hoping to improve to 4-0 before the Christmas break.