PORTLAND — Playing at the Cumberland County Civic Center can be intimidating. Unless, of course, you play for the Deering High girls’ basketball team.

The two-time defending Class A state champion Rams have played more big games on this court than anyone else in Western Class A. And that experience was evident Friday night.

Deering, led by the scoring of Kayla Burchill and stifling defensive pressure, went on an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter to rally past McAuley 45-35 in the regional semifinals.

Burchill finished with 19 points, eight in the final quarter. That’s when Deering forced eight turnovers and held the Lions to five points.

“We’ve been here so many times that it’s like, we know the atmosphere and everything,’’ said Burchill. “It’s easy to play here.’’

Deering (18-2) will play top-ranked and undefeated Scarborough (20-0) in the regional championship game at 7 p.m. today at the Civic Center.

The Rams have won 17 straight since losing to Scarborough 52-50 on Dec. 11.

McAuley finished 13-7, with three of the losses to Deering, by nine, three and 10 points.

The Lions appeared to have control of this game entering the fourth quarter.

Deering had opened the game with an 8-0 run, but McAuley, relying on the inside scoring of Rebecca Knight (17 points) and a defense that forced the Rams out of their rhythm, came back and took control in the second quarter.

While the Lions never had a lead larger than four, they turned back every Deering rally until the fourth quarter when, said guard Maria Salamone, “We played Deering defense.’’

Knight got her last basket on McAuley’s first possession of the final quarter, giving the Lions a 32-29 lead.

It would be McAuley’s last basket.

On its next four possessions, Salamone, Burchill and Britni Mikulanecz stole the ball, allowing Deering to regain the lead.

Salamone followed Burchill’s steal with a three-point play, driving to the basket from the right wing and then hitting the foul shot to make it 32-32. After a Mikulanecz steal, Burchill hit two foul shots to give Deering a 34-32 lead.

Burchill then scored on a spinning move with 4:04 left, and Deering settled back into a 2-3 zone for the first time, collapsing on the inside.

That led to two McAuley misses and another turnover, and two Deering baskets – by Burchill and Ella Ramonas – that made it 40-32 with 2:04 left.

“In a game like this you can’t give up,’’ said Salamone. “And we didn’t give up. We really wanted it.’’

Alexa Coulombe of McAuley was fouled on a 3-point attempt and hit all three foul shots with 1:48 left, making it 40-35, but Deering hit 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch to complete the comeback.

“Zones don’t usually bother us,’’ said McAuley Coach Wil Smith. “It’s just, the inexperience of being on this floor and being in a big game, and then we got behind, (by) four, six, and we got behind in a hurry … When you’ve got the pressure of being behind in a big game, that’s when you turn the ball over.’’

Rams Coach Mike Murphy said the zone settled his team down defensively and offensively.

“It was a great team effort,’’ he said. “The zone kind of stabilized the defensive end for us. The kids did a great job.’’

And Smith was amazed at Burchill’s effort down the stretch.

“We didn’t lose this game, she won it,’’ he said. “Every team wants a kid like that. Alexa (Coulombe) is one of the better defenders in the state and Burchill one of the best offensive players. And tonight offense won over defense in the fourth quarter.’’

Burchill had a simple reason for her effort.

“We just didn’t want to lose,’’ said Burchill.

“We want another state championship.’’


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