PORTLAND—They did it again.

McAuley and Deering have made a habit of producing palpitating, down-to-the-wire girls’ basketball showdowns and Tuesday evening, the longtime Stevens Avenue rivals added another chapter.

One that took all 1,920 seconds to decide.

Two teams that have their flaws but show incredible promise met in an early season battle that more than lived up to billing, as each struggled at times and showed glimpses of greatness at others.

The Lions shot to a quick 7-3 lead behind the shooting of senior Ayla Tartre, but the Rams roared back as sophomore Abi Ramirez’s entrance into the game provided a spark that ultimately spelled a 14-2 run and a 17-9 advantage early in the second period.

McAuley then answered, as junior Sarah Clement, who couldn’t get her outside shot to fall, began to heat up with help from Tartre and freshman sensation Eva Mazur, whose putback late in the first half put the Lions back on top, 22-21.

Deering would take a 27-26 lead to halftime, but McAuley turned up the defensive intensity in the second half, led for much of the third period and forged a 37-37 tie entering the fourth.

There, the Rams appeared on the verge of seizing control of the game when senior Mary Tadsse hit a clutch 3 and sophomore standout Tasia Titherington drove for a layup, but the proud Lions wouldn’t buckle and went up, 44-43, when Mazur made a layup after a steal with 5:03 to play.

With 3:20 left, Deering took a 45-44 advantage on a baseline jumper from junior Delaney Donovan. Donovan added a free throw 26 seconds later, but with 2:28 showing, McAuley junior Jess Willerson put back her own miss to tie the score. The Lions then went up by one on a free throw from sophomore Ally Tillotson with 12 seconds later.

The Rams took their final lead on a runner from Tadsse with 1:27 remaining, but they couldn’t beat McAuley for the first time in four seasons.

That’s because with time winding down, after Clement missed a 3, senior Olivia Dalphonse grabbed the rebound, drove to the basket, was fouled and with 19.3 seconds left, hit both free throws to put the Lions on top to stay.

Deering had a final chance, but after driving into the lane, junior Lodia Ismail had her shot blocked by Willerson and McAuley went on to a breathtaking 49-48 victory.

The Lions got 19 points from Tartre, nine more from Clement and improved to 3-1 on the season as they dropped the Rams to 2-2 in the process.

“They’re always really intense games we look forward to,” Dalphonse said. “It’s like a playoff-style games. A lot of times we dig a hole, but we don’t give up and we keep fighting. That’s a good sign.”

Early showdown

We’re still very early in the 2014-15 season, but anytime Deering and McAuley square off there’s a bit of a postseason feel.

Especially this winter, as both squads are on the short list of title favorites.

The Lions, the four-time defending Class A champions, overcame a 37-34 loss at Thornton Academy on Opening Night with a 66-20 win at Massabesic and an impressive 54-43 win over visiting Gorham Friday.

The Rams, who lost to McAuley in last year’s quarterfinals, began with a 56-52 victory at Bonny Eagle, then were decimated by the flu, which sidelined several players, led to a 42-22 home loss to Thornton Academy and even forced coach Mike Murphy to sit out Friday’s 45-20 win at Noble.

Deering and McAuley have long been fierce rivals, especially this century. Since 2002, the Lions (6) and Rams (3) have combined for nine of the 13 Class A championships bestowed.

Entering Tuesday, since the start of the 2003-04 campaign, McAuley held a 15-9 edge, having won six meetings in a row.

Deering was seeking its first victory over the Lions since Feb. 11, 2011 (38-35 at McAuley) and its first at home since Jan. 28, 2010 (42-33), but McAuley managed to continue to frustrate the Rams, beating them for a seventh straight time, but only by the slimmest of margins.

Deering was sluggish the first several minutes and the Lions took advantage.

Dalphonse, whose four points on the night bookended the scoring, broke the ice with a layup after a steal 86 seconds in.

The hosts, who turned the ball over on their first three possessions, got on the board when sophomore Amanda Brett scored on a leaner.

McAuley went back on top when Tartre scored her first points, on a driving layup. After Rams junior Cierra Burnham made a free throw, Tartre sank a 3 and the Lions had an early 7-3 advantage.

Then, Ramirez, like Burnham, a transfer from Portland, entered the game and fortunes changed.

Deering began to produce offense from its defense and after Titherington sank a 3, Ramirez, after a steal, set up Burnham for a layup and the hosts’ first lead, 8-7.

McAuley coach Billy Goodman called timeout to stem the tide, but after another Ramirez steal, Ismail made two foul shots.

A Tartre jumper with 21.9 seconds showing ended the Rams’ 7-0 run and pulled the Lions within one point after the first period.

Deering got a 3 from Titherington, a layup from Titherington after a Burnham steal and a layup from Ramirez to go on top, 17-9, with 6:56 to play in the first half.

“Abi did everything,” Murphy said. “She gives us a spark. She has that in her. She gives us toughness on the ball. She got a hand on so many balls. She got the ball from her man and somebody else’s man, then came down and got rebounds.”

Goodman called another timeout and this time, his team responded.

Tartre began the rally with a 3. After Brett made two foul shots, Clement, who is so close to breaking out from long distance, eschewed a 3-point attempt and drove for a pretty left-handed layup. Ismail set up Brett for a layup at the other end, but Tartre converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw), Clement finally sank a 3 and with 2:50 to play in the half, a putback from Mazur put the Lions back on top, 22-21.

Murphy called timeout to settle his charges and out of the break, Titherington hit a 3. After Mazur kept possession alive at the other end with an offensive rebound, Tartre tied the score with a jumper, but a leaner from Brett put Deering back on top. A driving left-handed layup from Clement pulled the visitors even again, but a free throw from Titherington with 27.6 seconds left gave the Rams a 27-26 halftime advantage.

In the first 16 minutes, Tartre led all scorers with 15 points, but McAuley was hindered by 11 turnovers. Deering got 12 points from Titherington and eight from Brett, while Ramirez had five steals.

Early in the second half, both offenses struggled as both Mazur and Titherington were called for their third fouls.

The Lions finally got a free throw from Mazur and a turnaround jumper from unheralded senior Mary Furlong to retake the lead, 29-27.

After Dalphonse fed Tartre for a layup and a four-point advantage, a 3-ball from Tadsse ended a 4 minute, 15 second drought and a putback from Brett put the Rams back on top, 32-31.

McAuley went right back ahead when Clement scored on a highlight reel driving layup, but the pendulum swung back to Deering as Brett scored on a putback for a 34-33 lead.

After Mazur was whistled for her fourth foul, Tartre made two free throws, but Ismail answered with a 3. Clement then set up Willerson for a layup and the game was deadlocked, 37-37, heading for the fourth quarter.

Which, as expected, produced eight minutes of drama.

Tadsse sank a 3 42 seconds in to put the Rams back on top by three. After Willerson made one of two free throws, Titherington drove for a layup and Deering had a 42-38 lead, but after the Rams failed to build on that lead, when a Burnham shot went in and out, Furlong hit a clutch jumper to stem the tide.

Clement then set up Furlong for a layup to tie the score with 5:51 remaining.

“Mary’s done really well,” Dalphonse said. “She got some minutes last year and she’ll get a lot more this year. She’s really producing, which is awesome.”

“Everyone on the bench is ready to play,” Goodman said. “Mary was a big deal tonight. She does a lot of little things. She’s a veteran. She’s a very smart player. I love coaching that girl.”

A free throw from Ismail put Deering back on top by one, but Mazur’s great anticipation and terrific defense led to a steal and a layup and a 44-43 Lions’ advantage with 5:03 to play.

Thirteen seconds later, the Rams had a great chance to go ahead when Tartre was called for a technical foul, but Titherington missed both free throws and the ensuing Deering possession ended with a turnover.

Willerson missed two free throws and Dalphonse did the same as McAuley was unable to build on its lead.

Then, with 3:20 left, Donovan, who saw limited playing time until that point, calmly buried a baseline jumper for a 45-44 lead. After Clement missed a 3, Donovan was fouled (Mazur’s fifth) and sank one free throw to make the score 46-44 with 2:54 remaining.

Again, the Lions refused to wilt, as Willerson missed a shot, but stayed active on the glass, got her own rebound and put it home with 2:28 left to make the score 46-46.

“Jess struggled in the first half, but she’s a new girl on a new team,” said Goodman. “She was pressing, so I had her sit down and take a breath. She did everything we asked when she went back in. In the second half, she looked like she’d played with us for three years.”

After a steal, Tillotson was fouled and she made the first free throw, but missed the second, only to grab her own rebound.

Burnham stole the ball back for the Rams, but they turned it over.

With 1:36 to play, Clement went to the line, but missed two attempts. That opened the door for Deering, which capitalized nine seconds later when a Tadsse runner kissed off the glass and rolled around and in for a 48-47 lead.

When Clement traveled at the other end, the Rams were in good shape, but Tadsse shot too quickly and Willerson rebounded, giving the Lions a chance to go back on top.

In both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, McAuley’s Allie Clement, Sarah’s Miss Maine Basketball-winning standout older sister, now playing at Marist College, hit late 3s on Deering’s floor to send games to overtime.

Tuesday, Sarah Clement had her chance to bury a clutch late 3, but it wouldn’t drop.

The Lions got a reprieve, however, when the rebound bounced out long to Dalphonse, who took it upon herself to win the game, driving to the hoop and drawing the fifth foul on Titherington.

“I was thinking there wasn’t a lot of time left and that I had to get a shot off or get fouled,” Dalphonse said.

“You cannot stare at the ball,” said Murphy. “You have to become active and be a rebounder. The big one was when they were down one and they finally missed and the long rebound kicked out. We didn’t have someone there to check her off. You give a good team that many second shots, they’re bound to make one.”

With 19.3 seconds to go, Dalphonse, who hadn’t scored since early in the first quarter, went to the line with a chance to tie the game or put her team on top.

Dalphonse calmly sank the first free throw, then hit the second for a one-point McAuley lead.

“I felt a lot of pressure,” Dalphonse said. “We weren’t shooting free throws well, but those are the times you live for. I like the pressure situation. I think it’s awesome.”

Deering got the ball into the frontcourt, then called timeout.

The Rams would have 10 seconds to produce a winning basket and even got a good look, but Ismail’s drive into the lane was punctuated by a block by Willerson (her teammate last year at Cheverus) on the ensuing shot.

“(Lodia) just got too deep,” Murphy said. “The original play broke down. She had to realize she had to kick it and go from there.”

“We couldn’t foul,” Willerson said. “We didn’t have a time out. We needed to play good defense, box out and get the rebound. (Lodia) came down. I had to keep my hands straight up. It worked. It felt good.”

“We just had to make sure we played smart D and didn’t foul,” added Goodman. “We had to move our feet and talk on the screens and the girls executed great.”

The rebound came back to Ismail, but she was tied up by Tillotson and the possession arrow pointed the Lions’ way with 2.2 seconds showing.

McAuley managed to get the ball into Dalphonse and she ran out the clock.

Lions 49 Rams 48.

“We always focus on defense,” said Dalphonse. “We know offense is our weakness. We came out and figured out what worked.”

“Shots weren’t falling, but we made some good plays and that’s what won us the game,” Willerson said. “It was a team effort. All of us played great together. We passed the ball. Even when foul shots and shots didn’t go in, we made up for it at the defensive end. We’ve grown as a team. We’ve gotten to know each other better. It’s definitely helped.”

“It was a good team win,” Goodman added. “What you see is what we’ve got. We’ve got defense, we’ve got heart, but we struggle shooting. We just have to practice shooting more. Every girl knows they can’t play scared. They all play aggressive. If they make the right decisions, I’ll be happy.

“Deering’s a very good team. They have a lot of good scorers. They’re organized. They looked good. They’ll win a lot of games and will be there at the end.”

Tartre, who didn’t play after being called for a technical, led all scorers with 19 points. She also grabbed five rebounds. Clement had nine points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists. Furlong had six crucial points and five rebounds off the bench. Mazur had her best game to date, scoring five points, while adding eight rebounds, seven steals and a blocked shot.

“I enjoyed it,” said Mazur. “It was fun. It was rough, but we came together. The girls have made me feel very welcome. I love them. I just try to play. Playing with four fouls was hard. I worried about not fouling, but it was good because it restrained me from reaching.”

“Eva is doing really, really well,” said Dalphonse. “This was her coming out game. She showed what she can do.”

Willerson had a quiet night offensively with five points, but had eight boards and four blocks. Dalphonse added four points (to go with four steals) and Tillotson had one point.

McAuley which outrebounded Deering, 38-23, had an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers and hit just 8 of 19 foul shots (only 4 of 12 in the fourth quarter), but managed to survive.

The Rams were led by Titherington, who had 14 points, five rebounds and two assists before fouling out. Brett added 12 points, three boards and two blocks. Tadsse had eight clutch points, Ismail six, Burnham (six boards, three steals, two assists) and Donovan three apiece and Ramirez two (to go with five steals and four rebounds).

Deering turned the ball over 19 times and only made 8 of 16 free throws.

“It was a game of plays that you have to make,” Murphy lamented. “Simple little plays. Taking care of the ball and hedging out on defense. We missed shots and had turnovers. We didn’t do our job.

“I think they respect us and know we’ll come out fighting. We showed we can go head-to-head with a top team. We have to do this day-in, day-out. We have not been healthy. There’s not one quick-hitter I can put in right now because of our sickness. We’ve got a dozen of those plays, but we can’t run our basic offense right now because we’re not familiar with each other.”

No holiday break

Both teams have tests remaining before they can say goodbye to 2014, then meet again Feb. 3 at McAuley.

Deering is at dangerous Cheverus Friday, then hosts Westbrook Tuesday before welcoming red-hot South Portland Dec. 30.

“We go from Cheverus, to what I think is a tough Westbrook team, then South Portland,” Murphy said. “We let one get away here, but let’s make sure it’s a learning experience.”

McAuley plays host to Noble Friday, then faces a test at Cheverus Tuesday. A game at Windham Dec. 30 closes out the old year.

“We’re progressing,” said Dalphonse. “We still have a lot of stuff to work on, but we’re getting there.”

“We still have to get better,” Goodman said.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

McAuley junior Jess Willerson and Deering sophomore Amanda Brett soar for the jump ball to start Tuesday’s memorable contest.

McAuley junior Sarah Clement plays tight defense.

McAuley senior Olivia Dalphonse races up the floor.

McAuley senior Mary Furlong (left), Deering sophomore Tasia Titherington and McAuley freshman Eva Mazur all hit the floor to collect a loose ball.

McAuley freshman Eva Mazur fouls Deering junior Delaney Donovan late in the contest, her fifth of the game.

Deering sophomore Abi Ramirez and McAuley freshman Eva Mazur dive for a loose ball.

Deering sophomore Abi Ramirez, who provided her team with a huge spark off the bench, races up the floor.

McAuley senior Ayla Tartre, who led all scorers with 19 points, goes up for a shot.

Deering sophomore Tasia Titherington, who led her team with 14 points, drives to the basket.

McAuley junior Jess Willerson drives to the basket.

McAuley’s bench was all smiles after the Lions held on for the victory.

Recent McAuley-Deering meetings

@ McAuley 46 Deering 33
McAuley 62 @ Deering 39
Western A quarterfinals
McAuley 52 Deering 30

@ McAuley 43 Deering 35

McAuley 30 @ Deering 25 (OT)

McAuley 47 Deering 43 (OT)
Deering 38 @ McAuley 35
Western A Final
McAuley 41 Deering 40 (OT) 

@ Deering 42 McAuley 33
Deering 44 @ McAuley 41 (OT)
Western A semifinals
Deering 45 McAuley 35

Deering 47 @ McAuley 23
Western A quarterfinals
Deering 42 McAuley 27

@ Deering 45 McAuley 32

@ McAuley 50 Deering 48
McAuley 39 @ Deering 38
Western A semifinals
McAuley 46 Deering 35 

McAuley 50 @ Deering 42
@ McAuley 44 Deering 37

McAuley 56 @ Deering 36
@ McAuley 56 Deering 48

@ McAuley 60 Deering 55
@ Deering 71 McAuley 62 (2 OT)
Western A Final
Deering 56 McAuley 46

Sidebar Elements

McAuley senior Olivia Dalphonse lines up the winning free throw with 19.3 seconds left in Tuesday’s 49-48 victory at Deering.

More photos below.


McAuley 49 Deering 48

M- 9 17 11 12- 49
D- 10 17 10 11- 48

M- Tartre 7-3-19, Clement 4-0-9, Furlong 3-0-6, Mazur 2-1-5, Willerson 2-1-5, Dalphonse 1-2-4, Tillotson 0-1-1

D- Titherington 5-1-14, A. Brett 5-2-12, Tadsse 3-0-8, Ismail 1-3-6, Burnham 1-1-3, Donovan 1-1-3, Ramirez 1-0-2

M (3) Tartre 2, Clement 1
D (6) Titherington 3, Tadsse 2, Ismail 1

M- 18
D- 19

M: 8-19
D: 8-16