Deering senior Delaney Haines (23) is congratulated by her teammates at the conclusion of the Rams’ 34-17 upset of Bangor in Wednesday’s Class AA North semifinal.

Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—From the ashes of a 1-13 start to its season, Deering’s girls’ basketball team has ascended to an improbable, inconceivable, unimaginable spot.

Playing for a regional championship.

Wednesday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena, the seventh-ranked Rams continued their late-season surge with their biggest win yet, as their defense smothered No. 3 Bangor for 32 minutes and 17 points from senior standout Delaney Haines helped produce a 34-17 victory in a Class AA North semifinal.

Deering improved to 6-14, ended Bangor’s season at 12-8 and advanced to meet top-ranked, powerhouse Oxford Hills (18-2) in the regional final Friday at 2 p.m., at CIA.

“I’m very happy for the kids,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “The whole thing is unique. No one with four (regular season) wins makes the (regional) final. The kids are playing with grins on their faces. It’s house money.”

Look who’s here

Deering was 1-13 after a 12-game skid, but the Rams won three of their final four, as Haines returned from a wrist injury and got back into basketball shape, other players gained confidence and as a result, Deering earned the No. 7 seed in Class AA North.

The Rams upset No. 2 Windham, 41-26, in last Thursday’s quarterfinals. Deering built a 20-5 halftime lead and never looked back.

Bangor, meanwhile, posted an 11-7 regular season record and advanced with a 50-38 win over No. 6 Cheverus in its quarterfinal.

In the regular season meeting Jan. 12, Deering lost, 49-38, at Bangor. The teams had no playoff history.

Wednesday, Deering was in control virtually throughout.

Senior Victoria Garand put Deering up just 24 seconds in with two free throws and Haines added her first points, on a jump shot, for a quick 4-0 lead.

Bangor’s first points came with 5:29 to play in the first quarter on a putback from sophomore Abby Fleming.

After Haines hit a runner and Bangor sophomore Libby Fleming countered with a putback, Haines’ 3 made it 9-4.

Bangor got another putback, this one from senior Sarah Hollis, to make it a three-point contest, but the final five points of the quarter went to Deering, as Haines made a 3 and Garand scored on a putback just before the horn for a 14-6 advantage.

Haines had seven points in the frame and the Rams from Portland didn’t commit a turnover.

“It was important to play from ahead,” Haines said. “We try to come out with a lot of energy and that just carried us.”

Offense was then at a premium in the second period, but despite going scoreless for most of it, Deering was able to extend its lead.

A leaner in traffic by Haines 11 seconds into the second quarter pushed Deering’s advantage to 10, but the Rams didn’t score again for 6-minutes, 31-seconds.

Bangor only managed to shave three points off its deficit, however, as senior Olivia Sharrow made a free throw and junior Rowan Andrews added two foul shots before two Haines free throws ended the drought.

Bangor appeared primed to gain some momentum when Andrews stole the ball with time winding down, but Haines got back to block the shot just before the horn and Deering took a surprising 18-9 lead to the half.

Bangor tried to make a run in the third quarter, but Deering hung tough.

After Hollis scored on a putback to start the second half, Deering senior Mandy Mastropasqua drove for a layup. Libby Fleming sank a 3 for Bangor, but Mastropasqua answered with one at the other end.

“I was just thinking, ‘Go in!” Mastropasqua said. “It did.”

After sophomore Maggie Cowperthwaite scored on a putback for Bangor, Haines’ 3 allowed Deering to take a 26-16 advantage to the fourth period.

And in the final stanza, Deering wrapped it up.

After nearly three minutes without a point, Haines made two free throws to make it a 12-point game.

Junior Liz Drelich added a foul shot and with 3:03 to go, Mastropasqua added a pair.

Down the stretch, Garand and Haines each made a foul shot and while Cowperthwaite made one with 44 seconds remaining, all that did was account for the 34-17 final score.

“We had a lot of injuries and sickness and we had a rough season, but we’ve played together for two years now and we know how each other plays and we want to win,” said Mastropasqua.

“The season was really rough, but now that we’re healthy, we’re back to normal,” Haines said. “We tried to keep our hands up the whole time during defensive possessions and just talk. That gets everyone fired up.”

“We’re playing how I thought we’d play coming into the season,” Murphy added. “We spread the floor, we took care of the ball, ran some time and looked for our best options from there. I’m so happy with our defense. I thought our defense did a great job taking away their cutters, making them tentative. We didn’t score a ton of points, but we haven’t all year. We were very good with the ball. We had a few turnovers, but not many. The key was to run clock, see what’s happening and not turn the ball over. Playing from ahead helped.”

Haines tallied 17 points and added seven rebounds.

“Delaney knows how to make plays and score,” said Mastropasqua. “She’s a big player on our team. It’s so good to have her back.”

“Delaney was the difference,” said Murphy. “Adding her back in the mix, it’s great.”

Garand added seven points and seven rebounds, Mastropasqua had six points, Mathisen three and Drelich one (to go with seven boards).

“We had great efforts from all the kids,” Murphy said. “Half the battle is believing you belong here. Everyone did their role.”

Deering had a 28-22 edge on the glass, made 12 of 17 free throws and only turned the ball over 10 times.

Bangor was paced by five points from Libby Fleming. Hollis added four points, Cowperthwaite had three, Abby Fleming and Andrews two apiece and Sharrow one.

The Rams turned the ball over eight times and made four of six foul shots.

An improbable finalist

Deering will return to CIA Friday as one of the most unthinkable regional finalists in the long history of the state tournament.

Not that the Rams don’t belong.

Awaiting Deering Friday will be Oxford Hills, which has established itself as the finest squad in the region during the regular season and so far in the postseason. The Vikings went 16-2 during the regular year, then advanced by handling No. 8 Lewiston (77-26) in the quarterfinals and downing No. 4 Portland (47-36) in its semifinal Wednesday.

On Jan. 4, in perhaps the Rams’ low point of the season, they mustered just 19 points in a 53-19 loss at Oxford Hills.

The teams have met five previous times in the postseason, with the Vikings holding a 3-2 lead, including last year’s 55-40 victory in the quarterfinals.

“We’ll keep what we’re doing,” Mastropasqua said. “We’re ready to win and we want to win. That’s the mentality we have to have.”

“I think we’re capable of beating anyone,” said Haines. “It’ll come down to who wants to win more and who will play harder. Who does the little things and who brings the energy.”

“We have so much respect for (Oxford Hills), but you just never know,” Murphy added. “We’ll just come out and do our thing.”

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

Deering senior Delaney Haines floats for two of her game-high 17 points.

Deering junior Liz Drelich, left, senior Mandy Mastropasqua and senior Victoria Garand defend Bangor junior Rowan Andrews.

Deering senior Victoria Garand goes up in traffic.

Deering senior Ashleigh Mathisen lines up a 3-pointer.

Deering junior Liz Drelich looks for a shot.

Deering senior Delaney Haines drives on Bangor sophomore Abby Fleming.

With victory imminent, Deering’s bench erupts.

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