BOX SCORE

Cheverus 52 Oxford Hills 36

C- 7 11 12 22- 52
OH- 11 7 3 15- 36

C- Fitzpatrick 6-6-19, Lizotte 4-5-13, Singleton 4-0-9, Kratzer 2-1-5, Kelly 1-0-3, Jordan 1-0-2, Bontatibus 0-1-1

OH- Pelletier 6-4-16, Alexander 4-0-10, Carson 2-0-4, Corbett 1-0-3, Miller 1-1-3

3-pointers:
C (3) Fitzpatrick, Kelly, Singleton 1
OH (3) Alexander 2, Corbett 1

PORTLAND—For most of its 20-year varsity history, Cheverus’ girls’ basketball team knocked and knocked and knocked at the championship door.

But never broke through.

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Until now.

Saturday afternoon, in the Class AA North Final at the Cross Insurance Arena, the second-ranked Stags, featuring two superb sophomores and an unforgettable class of five seniors, faced adversity against top-seeded, two-time reigning champion Oxford Hills, but as they’ve done all season, they didn’t run from it.

Instead, they embraced it and overcame it.

And as a result, Cheverus is just one win shy of a first Gold Ball.

The Stags came out ice-cold and fell behind the Vikings, 7-0, but they settled in and despite committing six turnovers, by the end of the first quarter, pulled within four points, 11-7.

With fouls adding up on Oxford Hills, Cheverus then sent the game to the half tied at 18-18.

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The Stags’ terrific defense completely stymied the Vikings in the third period, not allowing a field goal, and thanks to clutch 3-pointers from seniors Maeve Kelly and Lillie Singleton, Cheverus was up by nine, 30-21, heading to the fourth.

But with memories of letting an 11-point lead slip away the last time they played Oxford Hills ripe in their heads, the Stags didn’t let off the gas in the final stanza, stretching the lead to as many as 14, and while the Vikings crept back within eight, Singleton essentially iced it with a pair of layups and Cheverus went on to a 52-36 victory.

Cheverus got 19 points from sophomore standout Maddie Fitzpatrick and 13 points and 10 rebounds from sophomore star Emma Lizotte as it improved to 17-3, ended Oxford Hills’ title reign and its season at 18-3 and advanced to the Class AA state final for the first time, where it will battle Gorham (18-3) Saturday at 7 p.m., at Cross Insurance Arena.

“It’s very exciting, especially for the five seniors who have improved a lot,” said Stags coach Billy Goodman, who in just his third season, has his team on the brink of a title. “I’m very happy for the seniors, I’m very happy for the school, for the alumni and I’m very thankful to (athletic director) Amy (Ashley) for giving me a chance.”

As expected

Oxford Hills has been the gold standard in Class AA North in recent seasons and Cheverus has joined the Vikings in the upper echelon this year, even though its season has presented some challenges (see sidebar for links to previous stories).

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The Stags started 5-0, had to pause for nearly three weeks due to COVID complications, lost Fitzpatrick for nine games, had to play without senior Hayley Jordan at times as well, lost at Scarborough and Oxford Hills and had to a forfeit a game against Hampden Aacdemy, but they beat everyone else, gave Goodman his 200th career victory along the way and after eliminating No. 7 Portland, 72-45, in the quarterfinal round, they held off No. 3 Hampden Academy, 35-25, in Wednesday’s semifinal.

“When Maddie went out and Hayley (Jordan) was out, the other girls stepped up and the bench did a great job,” Goodman said. “When Maddie and Hayley came back, we got in a groove.”

The Vikings lost twice this year, at Cheverus by three points and at home to Bangor in the penultimate game of the regular season. Oxford Hills sent eighth-ranked Deering packing in the quarterfinals (63-30), then avenged its loss to the Rams in Wednesday’s semifinals, prevailing, 50-45.

Cheverus and the Vikings played two memorable games this regular season, with the Fitzpatrick-less Stags rallying for a 62-59 home victory behind Lizotte’s 22 points Jan. 22 and host Oxford Hills erasing an 11-point deficit and eking out a 49-48 overtime home win nine days later, as Fitzpatrick scored 23 points, but junior Sierra Carson’s 22 points helped the Vikings take it.

“We respect Oxford,” Goodman said. “They’re a very good team and when you can play toe-to-toe with a good team, it gives you confidence. Those two games gave us confidence.”

Oxford Hills had won the only prior playoff meeting between the schools, a 59-49 decision in the 2019 Class AA North semifinals.

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Saturday, the Vikings got off to the start they wanted, but Cheverus hadn’t come this far just to come this far and as the game progressed, a changing of the guard occurred and history was made.

The Stags, who only managed 35 points at the Cross Insurance Arena in the semifinals against Hampden Academy, appeared they wouldn’t get anywhere close to that number when the first quarter was halfway complete and they had zero points, six missed shots and a turnover.

By then, Oxford Hills was up, 7-0, but Cheverus did get its offense going and only trailed by four, 11-7, heading to the second quarter.

The Vikings then went cold and junior Molly Corbett picked up her third foul as well. The Stags then went on top for the first time, 16-15, before Oxford Hills came back and set the contest to the half deadlocked, 18-18.

“I thought defensively in the first half, we did exactly what we wanted to do, hold (Cheverus) to 18 points,” Vikings coach Nate Pelletier said.

Oxford Hills then couldn’t make a single field goal in the third quarter and Kelly’s 3-pointer put Cheverus on top to stay. Singleton added a 3 and while Vikings freshman Ella Pelletier managed to sink three free throws, that was it for her team’s offense and by quarter’s end, the Stags were beginning to feel it, up, 30-21.

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“You’ve got to make baskets if you want to win the game,” Nate Pelletier said, after Oxford Hills went 0-for-13 from the field in the quarter. “We just could not buy a basket. I thought we were getting great looks, but at the end of the day, you have to make baskets.”

Cheverus credited a more vocal than usual Goodman for sparking the surge.

“Coach Goodman yelled at us,” Fitzpatrick said. “He didn’t yell mean things. He said positive things and it worked and it’s probably the best third quarter we’ve ever played.”

“We’ve been talking about how important third quarters are for the past month and today we executed,” Singleton said.

“I got a little vocal in the timeout,” Goodman added. “I don’t do it often, but I was upset. Instead of worrying about everything else, they were worried about me and they turned it around.

“Sarcastically, I told them, they’re the worst third quarter team I’ve ever seen, but they did alright today.

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While Oxford Hills had rallied against Cheverus once before, the Stags learned their lesson and built on their lead before cruising to the crown.

By the midway point of the fourth, Lizotte’s three-point play made it 40-26, but the Vikings had one final push, pulling within 42-34 after a layup from Pelletier and a 3-point shot from Corbett.

Singleton then made consecutive layups and Fitzpatrick sank six free throws down the stretch and that brought the curtain down on the Stags’ 52-36 victory, setting off a wild, 20-years-in-the-making celebration.

“It’s just great, I can’t put it into words,” said Fitzpatrick. “There was a little doubt in my mind, but this team has really come together. I think we all trust each other. It just turned out so well because we believe in each other.”

“This means a lot,” Lizotte said. “We’re all excited and ready for one more game.”

“As a senior, there’s nothing I wanted more than going to states,” Singleton said. “We’ve put in the effort. We made history. We have alumni who are so proud of us. This has been our best year.”

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Cheverus was led by Fitzpatrick, who had a game-high 19 points.

“It didn’t come easily for Maddie,” Goodman said. ‘She’s a sophomore playing on the big stage. She’s had ups-and-downs, but she came up big today. She really did.”

Lizotte won the Edward “Red” McMann Award as the regional tournament’s outstanding player/sportsman after scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

“Emma’s been clutch all year,” Goodman said. “She’s been our go-to girl all year. She fights through everything. I’m very proud of her.”

Singleton was a big-time contributor as well with nine points, senior Julia Kratzer added five, Kelly had three, Jordan two and senior Emily Bontatibus one.

Oxford Hills got nearly half of its points from Ella Pelletier, who had 16, as well as a game-high 15 rebounds. Senior Brooklyn Alexander bowed out with 10 points, Carson was held to four and Corbett and sophomore Maddy Miller each added three.

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“Obviously, Cheverus is a great team, all the credit to them,” said Nate Pelletier. “They capitalized on the momentum when the time came and we weren’t able to stop them.”

History awaits

Cheverus and Gorham did not meet this season. The Stags are 1-0 all-time versus the Rams in the playoffs, winning, 50-44, in the 2012 Western A preliminary round.

Gorham was very impressive in eliminating Scarborough, 49-26, in the Class AA South Final and the Rams figure to give Cheverus a mighty challenge Saturday, but the Stags believe they have the pieces in place to take the final step.

“We played (Gorham) in preseason and it doesn’t mean anything, but we’ll have confidence,” Fitzpatrick said. “Beating our rival, Oxford Hills, was huge for us. We know we have the potential to beat any team.”

“We have to get off to a faster start (against Gorham),” Singleton said. “We have five captains. Two of us cut the nets down today and next week, we want two more to be able to do it.”

“I told the girls enjoy the weekend, then we’ll get focused Monday,” Goodman added. “Gorham can score a lot of points. We’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game.”

Sun Journal staff writer Tony Blasi and Press Herald staff writer Mike Lowe contributed to this story.

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

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