BOX SCORE

Cheverus 62 Oxford Hills 59

OH- 19 12 16 12- 59
C- 20 9 17 16- 62

OH- Carson 7-2-19, Pelletier 5-1-12, Tibbetts 3-0-9, Corbett 3-0-7, Alexander 2-2-6, Derenburger 1-3-6

C- Lizotte 9-4-22, Jordan 4-0-10, Bontatibus 3-0-8, Kelly 3-0-8, Singleton 3-0-8, Kratzer 2-0-6

3-pointers:
OH (9) Carson, Tibbetts 3, Corbett, Derenburger, Pelletier 1
C (10) Bontatibus, Jordan, Kelly, Kratzer, Singleton 2

Turnovers:
OH- 10
C- 14

FTs
OH: 8-12
C: 4-9

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PORTLAND—Tuesday evening, Cheverus coach Billy Goodman earned his 200th career victory.

Which was memorable.

But Saturday afternoon, his 201st was seismic.

And perhaps program-altering.

The Stags, who suffered their first loss of the season Friday evening at Scarborough and who are still playing without sophomore standout Maddie Fitzpatrick, hosted undefeated, reigning Class AA champion Oxford Hills in front of a raucous crowd at Keegan Gymnasium and rose to every challenge.

A wild first quarter, which saw a combined seven made 3-pointers, ended with Cheverus clinging to 20-19 lead, thanks in large part to six points apiece from senior Emily Bontatibus and budding sophomore star Emma Lizotte.

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The sharp-shooting Vikings went up by seven points in the second period, but the Stags roared back and pulled within two, 31-29, when senior Maeve Kelly hit a late 3.

Oxford Hills then twice took leads of eight points in the third quarter, but again, Cheverus refused to buckle, momentarily taking the lead after a 9-0 run before a late layup from freshman Ella Pelletier gave the Vikings a 47-46 advantage heading to the final stanza.

Where the Stags produced their finest hour.

Forty-eight seconds in, senior Hayley Jordan’s putback gave Cheverus the lead for good and Jordan added to the advantage with a 3-ball. Lizotte then took over, scoring six straight points to produce a 59-50 lead and Oxford Hills couldn’t answer as the Stags went on to a 62-59 victory.

Lizotte finished with 22 points, while Jordan added 10 as Cheverus improved to 8-1 and in the process, handed the Vikings their first setback in 11 outings.

“Overall, this is one of the best wins I’ve been a part of,” said Goodman. “Oxford Hills is really good, but these girls didn’t play scared. They have fight I didn’t know they had and I love to see it. They really impressed me. This is why I love coaching high school.”

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First glimpse

Cheverus and Oxford Hills have been on a collision course all season and it’s likely that Saturday’s encounter was the first of three this winter.

Cheverus opened by beating visiting Bangor (50-36), then won at Deering (62-20) and Westbrook (64-21), at home over Portland (62-37) and at Lewiston (44-42) on Dec. 23, but the Stags wouldn’t play again until Jan. 11, when they defeated visiting Deering (60-47). Cheverus then won at Edward Little (62-20) and gave Goodman his 200th win with a 48-29 victory at Portland. Friday, Cheverus suffered its first setback, 45-40, at Scarborough.

Oxford Hills, the reigning Class AA champion, had passed every test to date, by an average of nearly 21 points, beating visiting Edward Little (55-27), visiting Lewiston (70-40),  host Windham (50-44), host Deering (52-33), host Hampden Academy (52-41), visiting Noble (62-52),  host Massabesic (68-57),  host Edward Little (65-32), visiting Portland (61-27) and  host Lewiston (55-31).

The teams didn’t play a year ago, in the COVID-shortened season. The Vikings won both meetings in 2019-20, 50-38 in Portland and 65-31 at home.

Saturday, Oxford Hills hoped to win its sixth straight over Cheverus, but instead, the Stags dug deep, made plays and beat the Vikings for the first time since Dec. 22, 2015 (67-49).

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The tone was set immediately, as Oxford Hills junior Sierra Carson stole the ball and made a layup 12 seconds in before Cheverus got a layup from Kelly and senior Julia Kratzer banked home a 3-pointer for a 5-2 lead just 46 seconds in.

Freshman Gabbie Tibbetts tied it with a 3-ball for the Vikings, but Lizotte drove for a layup for her first points.

Pelletier then hit a jumper to tie it for a third time and after Lizotte made two foul shots, two free throws from Oxford Hills senior Brooklyn Alexander produced a fourth deadlock, 9-9.

The Vikings went ahead on a jumper from Alexander, but Jordan made a 3 from the corner and Bontatibus hit a 3 for a 15-11 Stags’ advantage.

Junior Molly Corbett countered with a jump shot for Oxford Hills, but Lizotte drove and made a reverse layup.

In the final minute, Pelletier made a 3 and after Bontatibus hit a 3-ball at the other end, Carson’s 3 with 5 seconds on the clock pulled the Vikings within one, 20-19, after a most entertaining opening stanza.

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Oxford Hills then threatened to get some separation in the second period before Cheverus countered.

Just 10 seconds in, sophomore Tristen Derenburger made two free throws to put the Vikings on top but 11 seconds later, Kratzer set up Lizotte for a layup.

A long 3-pointer from Corbett gave Oxford Hills the lead again and off an inbounds set, Corbett fed Pelletier for a layup to make it 26-22.

Jordan drove for a layup for the Stags, but Pelletier made a free throw, then Pelletier made a great fake move and scored on a layup before Alexander’s leaner extended the lead to seven with 2:04 to play before halftime.

But Cheverus closed strong, getting a putback from Lizotte to end a 5-minute, 46-second scoring drought, then with 28 seconds to go, after Jordan kept possession with an offensive rebound, Kelly’s 3-pointer cut the Vikings’ advantage to 31-29 at the break.

In the first half, Lizotte had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and three blocks and was just getting started, while Pelletier paced Oxford Hills with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.

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The Vikings again looked to pull away in the third period, but again, the Stags said no.

Carson put on an individual show to start the second half, first making two free throws after being fouled after a steal, then scoring on a leaner before scoring on a putback for a 37-29 lead.

Cheverus quickly countered, as senior Lillie Singleton hit a 3-pointer and Lizotte converted an old-fashioned three-point play (putback, foul and free throw).

After a 3 from Tibbetts and a Lizotte jumper, Derenburger made a 3 in transition, then Carson set up Corbett for a jumper with 3:26 to go in the frame, pushing the lead back to eight, 45-37, forcing Goodman to call timeout.

And his team responded beyond his wildest dreams.

In an 81-second span, the Stags erased the deficit and created a one-point lead, as Lizotte set up Kratzer for a 3, Lizotte fed Singleton for a 3, then with 1:42 to go, after Jordan saved the ball from going out of bounds, Kratzer found an open Kelly, who buried another 3 to make it 46-45 Cheverus.

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“It all came down to our seniors,” Goodman said. “Their will to win was amazing. They’re such a special group.”

In the final minute, after play was stopped to tend to an apparent leg injury to Kelly (her condition was unknown at press time), Pelletier drove for a layup and Oxford Hills was back in the lead, 47-46, heading for the fourth period.

There, the Stags turned it up yet another notch and that proved to be the difference.

Just 48 seconds in, Jordan put home a miss and Cheverus was ahead for good.

The next time down the floor, Jordan got a pass from Lizotte and drained a 3 to make it 51-47.

“I’ve been told to shoot when I’m open and I was pretty wide open on that one and I just let it fly,” said Jordan.

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Carson answered with a layup, but Lizotte set up Bontatibus for a reverse layup.

With 5:27 to go, Derenburger made one of two free throws, but Jordan set up Lizotte for a layup, Lizotte spun and banked home a shot and after Vikings coach Nate Pelletier took a timeout, Jordan set up Lizotte for another layup to make it 59-50 with 2:28 to play.

After the teams traded turnovers, Oxford Hills got a 3-ball from Tibbetts, but while running time off the clock, Singleton saw open space and raced in for a layup to make it 61-53 with 1:01 on the clock.

Corbett then missed a 3 and with 35 seconds to go, Lizotte hit one of two free throws.

The Vikings made one last push seven seconds later, as Carson made a 3, but it wouldn’t be enough.

Jordan had a chance to ice it at the line with 17 seconds remaining, but missed the front end of a one-and-one.

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The Stags got the ball and kept possession, however and after running the clock down to 8 seconds, Singleton went to the line.

She too missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Oxford Hills didn’t have enough time to answer and while Carson banked home a shot from just inside halfcourt at the horn, it was too-little, too-late and Cheverus had an inspirational 62-59 victory.

Cheverus senior Haley Jordan celebrates at the final horn. Photo courtesy Steve Schwartz.

“I think this was a great way for us to bounce back,” Jordan said. “It feels great. It shows we’re a competitive team and we won’t let adversity get to us.”

“This is another big step for us,” Lizotte said. “We had to keep hustling and play with our hearts. We had to get back because their transition is really good. They were undefeated, so now there are no undefeated teams any more.”

“We really rallied together and we kept answering,” said Kratzer. “Having such a close-knit group really helps us.”

“This is a big deal because last night was tough,” Goodman added. “For the girls to regroup like they did today was amazing. A quick turnaround helped us. We’ve been in a slump and today, it turned around. We were up nine with a couple minutes left and I didn’t feel the game was won until the final horn because (Oxford Hills) can score quick.”

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The Stags were led by Lizotte, who not only had 22 points, but also grabbed seven rebounds, blocked four shots and dished out a half dozen crucial assists.

“I’m definitely looking first for my shot, but if the defense comes to me, I look for a player open because they have a better chance to score than I do,” said Lizotte.

“Emma has improved so much handling pressure,” said Goodman. “The sky’s the limit for her.”

Jordan scored 10 points off the bench and also had four rebounds and four assists. Bontatibus, Kelly and Singleton all added eight points and Kratzer finished with six (as well as eight rebounds, two steals and two assists).

Cheverus made 10 3-pointers to the Vikings’ nine and overcame 14 turnovers and 4-of-9 foul shooting.

Oxford Hills was paced by Carson, who had 19 points, six steals, five rebounds and four assists. Ella Pelletier added a dozen points, 10 rebounds and five assists, Tibbetts had nine points, Corbett seven, Alexander six (to go with six rebounds and three steals) and Derenburger six.

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The Vikings had a 33-29 advantage on the glass, made 8-of-12 free throws and only committed 10 turnovers, but fell short for the first time in a long time.

“(Cheverus) shot the ball very well at the key moments to stretch their lead,” Nate Pelletier said. “They had us scrambling a little bit and we didn’t hit big shots when we needed to. It’s not hard to see that we’re undersized at the post position, but as a whole, we played pretty well trying to battle down there.

Obviously, we want to win every game, but we have to figure out how we’ll defend bigger teams. Our rotations were a little slower than I wanted and they did a good job slowing us down. Credit to them beating us without a great player. The unfortunate piece is I wanted (Fitzpatrick) to play today so I get two films on her, not one.”

Pelletier made a point to comment on the general atmosphere of arguably the best game of the year to date.

“At halftime, I told the girls that it felt like two years since we’ve had a playoff atmosphere and this was absolutely awesome,” Pelletier said. “It felt like finally, we’re back to normal.”

See you soon

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The teams meet again Feb. 2 on the Vikings home floor and a third showdown in the playoffs appears imminent.

First, Oxford Hills welcomes Bangor and Deering.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board and figure it out,” Nate Pelletier said. “This group of kids hasn’t lost in a long time and it’s good for them to feel that and not want to feel it again. I’m not worried at all.”

The news keeps getting better for Cheverus, which should get Fitzpatrick back very soon. She was on the bench Saturday with no indication that her thumb injury is lingering.

“Maddie helps us on the sideline and supports us in everything we do,” Kratzer said. “We have some great players, but we look forward to having her back because she’s a huge part of the team.”

“We all miss Maddie and to win without her is huge for us,” Goodman said. “We’re building depth, confidence and experience, so when she comes back, we’ll be that much better.”

Cheverus looks to keep the good times rolling Tuesday when Windham pays a visit. The Stags have a makeup game Wednesday at Hampden Academy and host Lewiston next Saturday.

“I think we just need to keep playing how we’re playing,” Kratzer said. “We’re having so much fun.”

“For us, it’s all about mental and physical toughness,” Goodman said. “We’ve worked on that since November and the girls are doing great. We just have to keep working on our defense, our shooting and getting in shape.”

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

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