PORTLAND — After winning every close game they’d been in this year, there seemed little chance that Thornton Academy girls basketball team was going to let a nine-point fourth quarter lead slip away against Windham on Monday afternoon.

Very little chance, at least until there were four seconds left, when the seventh-seeded Eagles capped the most unlikely of comebacks as Haley Batchelder banked a running shot off the glass to shock the second-seeded Golden Trojans 34-32 in a Western Class A quarterfinal at the Portland Expo.

Windham (13-7) advances to face sixth-seeded Cheverus, who pulled the day’s first surprise with a 61-42 victory over No. 3 South Portland ”“ in a Friday-night semifinal at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Thornton remains without a quarterfinal-round win since 1985, and ends one of its best seasons since at 16-3.

“I almost don’t even feel like it’s real yet because we’ve won every close game we’ve been in. I just thought we’d find a way somehow,” said Thornton Eric Marston, whose team was 4-0 in games decided by five points or less during the regular season.

“I’m just so sorry for the seniors. I just feel like I didn’t do the right things to put us in a position to win.”

After the Trojans’ Katie McCrum missed a runner in the lane with 25.5 seconds left, Windham called a timeout and went to its bread and butter play, a double screen for standout forward Sadie Nelson.

But after Thornton covered that, the Eagles went to their second option, a pick and roll with Batchelder and point guard Sam Frost. The Trojans looked to have defended that as well, but Frost passed out of a double team to Batchelder, who beat Thornton’s rotation over and hit the biggest basket of her life.

 “I just shot the ball and it went it in. I don’t know how it went in, said Batchelder, who scored 14 points, more than eight above her season average. “I wasn’t really thinking that I would end up shooting the game-winner.”

The screen and roll had been hurting Thornton the entire second half as Windham’s post players came to the elbow to set a pick before rolling to the hoop, just as Batchelder did on the winning shot. Marston said his team planned for the play in the last timeout, but couldn’t execute the defense to stop it.

“We tried to double team it and we did but we didn’t have a great rotation, and it cost us,” Marston said. “It was either going to be one of those we get the steal and go the other way, or have that happen. Unfortunately for us they happened to get a good look.”

The rally was all the more surprising considering Windham had scored only 17 points through three-quarters against Thornton’s league-best defense.

Down 6-3 after a slow-paced first quarter, Thornton had come back to lead 15-9 at the half behind nine second-quarter free throws. An 8-0 run behind baskets from McCrum, Shaw and Strickland late in the third quarter then looked to have moved the Trojans into the safety zone.

“We all felt like we had control of the game at that point, and even a couple minutes into the fourth quarter,” Marston said. “But we just made a ton of unforced errors down the stretch.”

But down 26-17 after three, the Eagles went on a 10-2 run in the fourth to get within one with 2:58 to play as T.A. turned the ball over five times in a five-minute span.

“We just got fired up and we didn’t want it to be our last game,” said Batchelder, who scored eight points in the fourth. “Things started going our way and we realized that we could win it.”

The Eagles looked to have missed a golden chance to then take the lead when Nelson (14 points) missed on a wide-open 3-pointer from straight on. But the sophomore followed her shot to get the rebound and went on to convert a three-point play as she was fouled shooting a lay up, giving Windham a 30-28 lead.

“She’s a smart a player and she knew where the rebound was going to be and she knew she had to go get it,” Windham coach Brody Artes said. “And she did a good job of finishing, that was a great finish and that was really kind of the momentum shift for us.”

Thornton responded to tie the game twice, on an Olivia Shaw (eight points) putback and then on two Abigail Strickland (11 points) free throws with 1:15 left, but the Eagles and Batchelder refused to be denied the upset in the end.

“One of our biggest focuses was to just compete for 32 minutes,” Artes said. “I just wanted to make sure that we competed for 32 minutes; and that was the difference today.”

— Staff Writer Cameron Dunbar can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected]

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