PORTLAND – Nervous? A little. Worried? No.

McAuley High had watched Cony whittle its nine-point lead down to two. The Rams had all the momentum. And then …

The Lions reacted like a defending champion, scoring nine consecutive points to regroup on their way to a second consecutive Class A girls’ basketball state championship.

“It got crazy a bit when they cut it to two,” said Bill Goodman, the first-year coach of the Lions. “But we just put the ball in our leaders’ hands and they did a good job.”

The leaders were seniors Alexa Coulombe and Sadie DiPierro, and sophomore Allie Clement — the three returning starters from last year’s championship team. With them directing the way, McAuley earned a 54-41 victory over Cony at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The win completed a 22-0 season for McAuley, which won its fourth state title overall. Cony, playing in its 12th state championship game, finished 21-1.

“I never imagined this,” said Goodman, who replaced Amy Vachon after she won a title in her only year at McAuley. “I’ve been on the losing end a couple of times and I know what that feels like. To be part of this is amazing. I give my players all the credit. They deserve it. They handled the pressure pretty well.”

Goodman could have been talking about the pressure to repeat, or the pressure that Cony was putting on the Lions. Either way, it was appropriate.

Cony, which needed to hit its outside shots to compete against the much taller Lions, came out cold, hitting just 1 of 14 on 3-pointers in the first half, which ended with McAuley up 25-17.

Then the Rams, whose interior defense against the taller Lions was phenomenal, pulled within 26-24 when Melanie Guzman (14 points) hit two foul shots with 5:13 left in the third.

Cony had two chances to tie the game, but a miss inside and a steal by Clement kept the Lions ahead. Clement then found Olivia Smith (game-high 15 points) inside to help regain the momentum for McAuley.

The run would reach 9-0 — two Smith foul shots, a 3 by Clement and a Smith 10-footer — and McAuley had a 35-24 lead. Cony got no closer than seven.

“They’re a great team; they’re not undefeated for no reason,” said Karen Magnusson, Cony’s coach. “We got to make a great run and then they came back with their run. That’s what you’re going to find when you play a great team: They’re going to make run after run after run.

“My girls played very hard and put everything out there on the court. We didn’t come out on top but they should be very proud of their year.”

The Lions said it was simply a matter of calming down. Cony’s pressure defense rattled McAuley early in the third quarter. Once the Lions settled down, they got into their offensive rhythm again.

“We wanted to get it to Alexa,” said Goodman. “Then get it into Allie’s hands and Sadie’s. They’re the champions from last year. We figured we’d put the ball in their hands and they’d lead the way.”

They did. While Coulombe had only seven points, she directed the Lions on the court. Clement finished with 11 points. DiPierro had two — a steal and layup off an inbounds play at the start of the fourth quarter that set the tone for the rest of the game.

“We needed to keep our head and keep playing our game,” said Coulombe, who had nine rebounds and five assists. “We just needed to keep our cool.”

McAuley would slowly push the lead in the fourth quarter, with Molly Mack (four points, 10 rebounds), Clement, Coulombe and freshman Victoria Lux (10 points) leading the way. The lead peaked at 17.

“It wasn’t our best game,” said Clement, “but it didn’t really matter. We had all the heart and battled back and knew that winning was the most important thing, no matter how it happened.”

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

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH