Cheverus senior Brooke McElman blocks the shot of Bangor sophomore Abby Houghton during the Rams’ 46-44 win in Thursday’s Class AA North quarterfinal.

Ashley Conti / BDN photo

AUGUSTA—When the shot went up, it appeared the impossible comeback was going to become a reality.

After trailing by as many as 19 points, the Cheverus girls’ basketball team roared back and had a chance to win at the end of Thursday afternoon’s Class AA North quarterfinal versus Bangor, but what might have been the program’s most amazing victory to date wasn’t quite meant to be.

The fourth-ranked Stags started slowly, fell behind, 10-2, and trailed, 15-9, after one quarter at the Augusta Civic Center and things got no better in the second period, as the fifth-seeded Rams, riding the strong play of senior standout Katie Butler and the 3-point shooting of junior Lauren Young, went ahead, 29-13, at the half.

A Young 3-pointer started the second half and it appeared Cheverus was finished, but behind junior Abby Cavallaro, the Stags rose off the deck.

Trailing, 38-27, entering the fourth quarter, the Stags got 3-point shots from junior Emme Poulin and Abby Cavallaro, the latter of which made it 45-42 with 1:18 left.

Cavallaro then set up senior Ally Tillotson for a layup, but Bangor got a point back at the line, setting Cheverus up for one final chance to win or send the game to overtime.

With the Rams’ defense focusing on Cavallaro, Tillotson got the ball in the corner and as time wound down, she launched a 3 that was promising off her hand, but went off target. 

Just before the horn, Cavallaro attempted a follow-up shot for the tie, but it too was no good and Bangor got to exhale and celebrate a 46-44 victory.

Cavallaro’s 25 points were negated by 20 from Butler and 12 from Young as the Rams improved to 9-10, advanced to meet top-ranked Oxford Hills (17-1) in the semifinals Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in Augusta and ended the Stags’ season at 11-8 in the process.

“The girls played as well as I’ve seen in the second half, especially from the defensive end, but it wasn’t good enough,” said Cheverus coach Steve Huntington. “We were just one possession short. We were right there, but we only played 16 minutes of basketball instead of 32.”

Too steep a hole to climb

While Cheverus beat Bangor, 52-30, behind 20 points from Poulin Jan. 6, the teams had no playoff history entering play Thursday.

The Stags had their moments during the regular season (see sidebar, below, for prior game stories), winning six in a row in one stretch, before going 1-3 to close to finish 11-7 and fourth in the region (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories).

The Rams finished the regular season 8-10 and earned the No. 5 seed.

Thursday, Bangor came out on fire, but Cheverus eventually made its run, to no avail.

Bangor couldn’t have asked for a better start, as it got 10 of the game’s first 12 points. 

It took just 14 seconds for Butler to put the Rams ahead, as she drove for a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.

Senior Samantha Thayer then scored her first two points, putting home a Butler miss which had been blocked by Cheverus senior Brooke McElman, to make it 5-0.

The Stags got on the board with 6:22 remaining in the frame, when McElman knocked down a jumper, but Thayer countered with a 3 and with 5:07 left, Butler’s putback made it 10-2.

Huntington called timeout and the Stags began to heat up.

First, Cavallaro scored on a runner. Then, Cavallaro stole the ball and made a layup to cut the deficit to four.

Young knocked down a three for the Rams, but Cavallaro countered with a pullup 3 to cut the deficit to 13-9.

After more than three scoreless minutes, Bangor got the final basket of the period when sophomore Abby Houghton knocked down a jumper with 20.9 seconds to go to restore the advantage to six.

Cavallaro’s seven points kept the Stags in the game.

Cheverus looked to answer in the second period, as Poulin got things started with a layup after a steal, but the next 12 points went to the Rams.

Butler countered with two foul shots, Butler converted a three-point play, Houghton put home her own miss and Young’s 3 stretched the lead to 25-11, forcing another timeout.

Stags senior Kaylin Malmquist stemmed the tide with a pair of free throws, but Butler made two, then finished off her first half double-double with a rebound with just under two minutes to go in the half. 

Freshman Rowan Andrews then scored on a runner and Bangor took a commanding 29-13 advantage to the break.

“We weren’t overwhelmed with the situation, we just did some things defensively in the first half that weren’t good,” said Huntington. “Katie got to the basket and the free throw line. Brooke McElman did as well as she could, but she got in foul trouble. When Katie drew attention down low, that opened up their shooters and they shot the heck out of it.

“I wanted to see us go to the paint more to go inside-outside more. We’re a 3-point shooting team. Emma, Abby, Kaylin, (senior) Alayna (Briggs), (senior) Brooke Dawson, they can shoot with anybody in the league. Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t.”

In the first half, Butler had 12 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots and the Rams were able to overcome nine turnovers. Cavallaro led Cheverus with seven points.

In the third period, the Stags tried to cut into the deficit, but Bangor kept answering.

Young started the second half with her third 3-pointer, but Cavallaro scored on a leaner, then, after Butler made a jumper, Cavallaro set up Poulin for a 3 and Cavallaro scored on a runner to make it 34-20.

The Rams responded, however, as Houghton set up Butler for a layup.

Then, Cheverus turned to its defense to spark a rally.

First, Cavallaro stole the ball then went in and made a layup. Tillotson then stole the ball and fed Cavallaro for a layup.

With 1:16 left in the frame, Cavallaro made another layup after a steal and after yet another Cavallaro steal, she passed to McElman, who was fouled and made one free throw to cut the deficit to nine, 36-27.

Bangor did get the final hoop of the quarter, however, as sophomore Olivia Sharrow set up Butler for a layup and a 38-27 advantage with eight minutes to go.

In the fourth, the Rams did just enough to survive and advance.

Cavallaro started the frame with two free throws, but Butler set up Houghton for a layup.

With 6:28 left, Poulin sank a 3 to cut the deficit to eight.

Butler countered with a free throw, then made another, but with 3:38 left, Cavallaro buried a 3 to make it a seven-point game.

Thirty seconds later, Malmquist was fouled on an offensive rebound and made both free throws and with 2:56 showing, Poulin stole the ball and made the layup to make it a one-possession contest, 42-39.

With 2:26 left, Young made her fourth 3, her biggest of the night, and that pushed the lead back to six.

After Malmquist missed a 3, Cavallaro drained one with 1:18 left to make it 45-42.

Senior Megan Conner had a chance to extend Bangor’s lead, but missed a pair of free throws and with 56.2 seconds showing, Cavallaro set up Tillotson for a layup to make it a one-point game.

Conner got a point back at the line, but at the other end, Cavallaro appeared to tie the score with 34.4 seconds showing. She was called for traveling, however.

After Tillotson stole the ball, Butler got it back, but Tillotson stole it again and Cheverus had one final chance.

Cavallaro got the ball off the inbounds, dribbled to the right and drew the defense before passing to Tillotson, who was open behind the 3-point arc on the left side. Tillotson’s shot was just long, however, and at the horn, Cavallaro’s putback attempt was off target and Bangor held on to win, 46-44.

“That last play wasn’t what we drew up,” Huntington said. “There was some confusion and we just didn’t run it correctly.”

“That 16-point lead, we needed all of it,” Bangor coach Joe Johnson said.

Butler led the Rams by stuffing the stat sheet with 20 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. Young added 12 points (all 3-pointers), Houghton had six (to go with a half dozen rebounds), Thayer five, Andrews two and Conner one.

Bangor out-rebounded Cheverus, 41-26, turned the ball over 24 times and made just 9 of 21 free throws, but still managed to advance.

The Rams were the only team to beat Oxford Hills this year, 49-42, at home Jan. 16 (the Vikings beat Bangor, 60-50, Jan. 31 in Oxford), so they’ll enter the semifinal full of confidence.

Just short

Cavallaro had a sensational game in helping make the rally possible, scoring 25 points and registering five steals.

“At one point, Abby thought she was going to be sick because she was working so hard,” Huntington said. “She didn’t come out of the game. She’s got great hands and great instincts and helped us out on the offensive end as well.”

Poulin added 10 points, four rebounds and three steals. Malmquist finished with four points and McElman (six blocks, four rebounds) and Tillotson (four assists, two steals) had two apiece. 

The Stags forced 24 turnovers, had 14 steals, committed only nine turnovers and sank 7 of 8 foul shots, but still fell a little short.

“We did a better job in the last three games,” Huntington said. “We changed our offense a little bit, created better spacing.”

Cheverus loses five seniors: Briggs, Dawson, Malmquist, McElman and Tillotson. 

“I had great leaders, great kids,” Huntington said. “The chemistry was tremendous. I’ve known Ally for two years and Kaylin for two years. Brooke, Brooke and Alayna for three. They really steadied the ship. The first year was difficult. They brought leadership and integrity to the program. They didn’t want it to end like this. They were pretty emotional. They’ll go on and do great things.”

The Stags should be in the mix again in 2017-18, as Cavallaro and Poulin will be back to lead the way. 

“We’d like to go play basketball next week, but we’ll keep plugging,” Huntington said. “We’ll work on our skills over the summer. We have the bulk of our scoring back with Abby and Emme and some great role players like (juniors) Michaela (Jordan) and Kat (Kane). We hope to put it all together.”

Sun Journal staff writer Wil Kramlich contributed to this story.

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

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