SACO – There’s just something about Thornton Academy and Deering High when it comes to girls’ basketball openers.

A year ago the Trojans edged the host Rams on a buzzer-beater. Friday night a contest that started as a blowout turned into another thriller. And the visiting team won again.

Chelsea Saucier hit two foul shots with 25.5 seconds remaining to secure Deering’s 38-35 victory over host Thornton Academy in the opening game of the SMAA season at Linnell Gymnasium.

Deering had a 17-point fourth-quarter lead trimmed to one before Saucier secured the victory.

“We won,” said Deering Coach Mike Murphy, “and that’s what counts. That’s what I told the girls. You got tested and you tested them. This is better than winning by 40 because you can learn something from this.”

Saucier, who had 12 points, is one of the three starters back from last year but none had late-game experience. It didn’t bother her at the end.

“Chelsea’s a great player and she made plays at the end when she had to,” said Thornton Coach Eric Marston. “That’s why she’s a senior leader.”

Both teams entered the opener with much promise, but questions as well. Deering came out hard and appeared in control.

The Rams led 9-0 after one period as Thornton committed 10 turnovers, missed all three of its shots and played tentatively in a zone defense. The Trojans didn’t score until 13 seconds into the second quarter and didn’t get their first field goal — a layup by Emily Richard — until midway through the second. It was 19-6 at the half, 34-19 after three.

The Trojans couldn’t get anything going and committed 23 turnovers through three quarters.

Deering took its first possession of the fourth quarter and scored in seconds. Alexis Stephenson (12 points as well) took a backdoor pass from Marissa MacMillan for an easy layup and a 36-19 lead.

The Rams didn’t score again until Saucier’s free throws. In the fourth quarter, they were clearly rattled by Thornton’s man-to-man defense, committing nine turnovers and taking bad shots.

The Trojans, meanwhile, slowly crept back. Freshman Ashley Howe hit two foul shots to make it 36-29 with 2:55 left. Deering turned the ball over on its next four possessions, and Howe finally hit a short jumper with 1:14 left to make it 36-31.

After a Deering timeout, Howe stole the inbounds pass and put in a layup to cut the deficit to three.

A Deering missed free throw led to another Thornton possession. This time Olivia Shaw (11 points, all in the second half) was fouled and hit both free throws with 39 seconds left to cut it to 36-35.

Up stepped Saucier, who was fouled with 25.5 seconds left.

“Just relax, bend my legs, don’t rush,” she said. “Those were crucial points. I know I had to hit them.”

She did, and the Trojans’ final 3-pointer missed, allowing Deering to escape.

“They’re a great team and we’re going to learn from this,” said Saucier. “This was very important to us, whether we won by 40 or by one. This is a huge win for us. We can all start from here.”

For Thornton, the loss was disappointing but not discouraging.

“Obviously we didn’t play in the first half,” said Marston. “But I told the kids at the start of the second half that we had to play with our head, with our heart and with discipline. And we did.

“The clock just ran out on us.”

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

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH