BOX SCORE

Cheverus 49 Gorham 36

G- 13 6 4 13- 36
C- 15 4 13 17-49

G- Nelson 3-4-11, Walker 3-2-8, Woodbury 3-0-6, Gay 2-0-5, Michaud 1-2-4, Curtis 1-0-2

C- Kratzer 6-1-17, Lizotte 6-2-14, Fitzpatrick 2-2-6, Singleton 3-0-6, Kelly 0-4-4, Bontatibus 1-0-2

3-pointers:
G (2) Gay, Nelson 1
C (4) Kratzer 4

Turnovers:
G- 21
C- 22

FTs
G: 8-9
C: 9-10

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PORTLAND—The Cheverus girls’ basketball dynasty has commenced.

And there’s no end in sight.

Saturday evening against talented Gorham in the Class AA state final at the Cross Insurance Arena, the Stags completed a season of perseverance with the greatest victory in program history.

Courtesy a phenomenal defense and offensive contributions from players expected and unexpected.

Sophomore star Emma Lizotte led the way in a well-played first quarter with eight points and four rebounds, but Cheverus only managed to lead the Rams by two, 15-13.

Neither team could generate much offense in the second period and a late basket from senior Leah Woodbury pulled Gorham even at 19-19 at the break.

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And then, just as they did in a regional final victory over Oxford Hills, the Stags flipped the switch in the third quarter, as unheralded senior Julia Kratzer got things started with a three-point play, senior Lillie Singleton added a layup and a late three-point play from Lizotte made it 32-23 heading for the fourth period.

And there, Cheverus wouldn’t be denied, pulling away behind a pair of Kratzer 3s and going on to a 49-36 victory.

Kratzer had the game of her life with 17 points, Lizotte added a double-double and the Stags completed the finest season in program history at 18-3, ending Gorham’s fine campaign at 18-4 in the process.

“This is a dream come true,” said Lizotte, who was unstoppable in the post. “I’m so happy to win it with my team. We fought through the adversity and all came together.”

“We really dealt with a lot and the girls are mentally tough,” added Cheverus coach Billy Goodman, who won three state championships at McAuley last decade and got the Stags to the pinnacle in just his third season with the program. “They really motivated themselves. They found a way to win a lot of games.”

First-time coronation

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Cheverus won just five games in 2018-19, the year before Goodman arrived, but the Stags improved to 11 victories in 2019-20 and went 9-1 in the COVID-shortened, postseason-free 2020-21 campaign, creating high expectations for this season.

And Cheverus lived up billing, overcoming a long COVID-pause, as well as sophomore standout Maddie Fitzpatrick’s wrist injury. In spite of that, as well as having to forfeit a game at Hampden Academy, when they chose not to make the trip for undisclosed reasons, the Stags still managed to boast a solid 14-3 record, thanks to staunch defense and stellar play from their five seniors, who helped take the pressure off Fitzpatrick and Lizotte.

Cheverus held the opposition to fewer than 40 points in 10 of its 18 regular season games and was even more stingy in the playoffs. The second-seeded Stags had no trouble with No. 7 Portland in the quarterfinals (72-45), then held No. 3 Hampden Academy to just five first half points en route to a 35-25 semifinal round victory. In the regional final, against top-ranked Oxford Hills, Cheverus overcame a slow start and pulled away for a 52-36 win, reaching the state game for the first time in the program’s two decade history.

Gorham was the Class A South favorite and also didn’t disappoint, winning its first eight games and after losing at Scarborough, taking the next five. The Rams stumbled against Massabesic and Brunswick, but closed with wins over South Portland and Noble and as the top seed, cruised past No. 8 Noble (57-28) in the quarterfinals, fought off fourth-ranked Massabesic (51-43) in the semifinals, then shot their way past No. 2 Scarborough in the regional final, 49-26.

While Cheverus was playing in its first state final, Gorham was taking part in its 12th. The Rams won four straight Class B crowns between 1978-81, lost to Hermon in the 1989 Class B Final, beat Houlton the following year and George Stevens Academy in 1999 before losing to Camden-Rockport in the 2000 state game. After moving up to Class AA, Gorham won Gold Balls in 2016 and 2017, then lost to Edward Little in the state final in 2018.

Saturday, the Rams hoped to win a championship for the ninth time, but instead, it was the Stags celebrating for the first.

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Unlike many title games, nerves weren’t prevalent at the start and the first period was one of excitement and six lead changes.

Lizotte set up the first basket, a Fitzpatrick layup, and after Woodbury got Gorham on the board with a bank shot, Lizotte put home her own miss.

After Rams senior star Anna Nelson hit a transition jumper for her first points, Lizotte took a pass from Kratzer and made a layup for a 6-4 lead.

Sophomore Ellie Gay’s 3-pointer gave the Rams their first lead, but Lizotte answered with another putback.

Nelson then made two free throws, but senior Hayley Jordan set up Lizotte for another layup and a 10-9 advantage.

The back-and-forth continued on a layup after a steal from Gorham senior Nicole Walker for what proved to be her team’s final lead, but Krazter countered with a 3.

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After Walker tied it with a bank shot, Fitzpatrick’s bank shot gave Cheverus a 15-13 advantage after eight minutes.

Lizotte led the way in the frame with eight points and four rebounds.

“We have to go to Emma all the time,” Goodman said. “She’s physically and mentally tough. All week, we talked about getting out to a fast start. That’s something we needed to improve on and we did it.”

Scoring slowed in the second period.

After Stags senior Emily Bontatibus got a shot to rattle in, Walker made two free throws and Walker set up sophomore Kalin Curtis for a layup to tie it.

Fitzpatrick made two free throws with 2:02 remaining, but with just 16 seconds to go, Woodbury’s leaner rolled in and the contest was deadlocked, 19-19, at the half.

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Both teams were cold from the field, as the Stags shot 8-of-25, including 1-of-6 from 3-point land, while the Rams were 8-of-22 from the floor, making just 1-of-5 3-pointers.

Cheverus then roared out of the locker room and seized control of the game in the third quarter.

Just eight seconds in, Kratzer made a backdoor cut, took a feed from Singleton and made a layup while being fouled. She then added the and-one free throw and the Stags were on top to stay.

Then, Fitzpatrick stole the ball and set up Singleton for a layup and Gorham coach Laughn Berthiaume had to call timeout just 19 seconds into the half.

The Rams responded, as senior Sophia Michaud hit two free throws, but Fitzpatrick set up Kratzer for another huge 3 before Singleton stole the ball and made a layup for a 29-21 lead, forcing Berthiaume to call timeout again.

“Our motto from the beginning of the year is that defense wins championships and that’s what we prided ourselves on today,” Lizotte said.

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“In November, we discussed how our defense had to get better and it really got good,” Goodman said. “We went to a more aggressive defense in the second half. The girls thrived on it.”

“(Defensive pressure is) something that they do, so it wasn’t a surprise, but obviously, we needed to handle it better,” Berthiaume said. “They’re really good at what they do. They got some tipped passes and they were able to feed off that energy. I called a couple quick timeouts, but they got some easy baskets and it caused problems for us.”

Woodbury made a layup out of the timeout, from Curtis, but with 1:15 to go, Lizotte got a pass from Singleton in an optimal spot, made a bank shot while being fouled, then added the free throw, capping a terrific third quarter and putting Cheverus ahead, 32-23.

“I wasn’t happy with how I played (last time out), so I wanted to show what I’m made of today,” Lizotte said. “Our main thing was showing consistency. We wanted to play that third quarter like the best third quarter of our lives.”

For the second straight game, the Stags credited Goodman for firing them up.

“We asked Coach to yell at us again at halftime, since that seems to work for us,” said Singleton. “I think the Oxford Hills game we had a really good third quarter and we knew we had to do that again.”

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“We knew we could play better,” said Fitzpatrick. “Coach gave us motivation and we just pulled away.”

“We knew that the third quarter was an important part of the game,” Kratzer said.

When Kratzer opened the fourth quarter with a short jumper and Lizotte added a free throw, the lead was a dozen, but Nelson countered with a runner.

Then, with 5:46 left, Kratzer got the ball from Fitzpatrick and calmly sunk another 3-pointer.

“My teammates got me the ball when I was open and I was just able to get open shots,” Kratzer said. “We all moved the ball and worked as a team. I was just feeling it.”

Nelson was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer at the other end and made two of her free throw attempts, but senior Hayley Jordan set up Lizotte for a short bank shot to make it 40-27 with 4:49 to go.

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Gorham made one final push, as Gay hit a runner in the lane, then Nelson set up Walker for a layup to cut the deficit to nine with 3:31 left, forcing Goodman to call timeout.

Kratzer then came to the rescue again with her fourth and final 3-ball.

“I knew Julia had a game like that in her,” said Fitzpatrick. “She works so hard in practice. She’s one of the best teammates. It was just her time.”

“Julia’s worked really hard,” Lizotte said. “She deserves it. This was her game.”

The Rams then got a 3 from Nelson and Walker found Michaud for a layup to make it a 43-36 contest with 2:30 still to go.

But Gorham wouldn’t score again and Cheverus closed it out.

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First, senior Maeve Kelly made two free throws with 2:23 left, Singleton then essentially ended it with another layup after a steal with 1:29 to go.

Kelly then sank two more foul shots with 27 seconds remaining and at 8:25 p.m., the horn sounded and the Stags rushed the court to celebrate their 49-36 victory and initial state championship.

“We’ve wanted this for a really long time,” Singleton said. “To bring the first Gold Ball back to Cheverus High School feels amazing. We just overcame our adversity. It made us stronger. We knew how to battle and we knew how to win in the playoffs. We’ve worked so hard for this. I just love my team.”

“It’s amazing, the best moment of my life,” said Kratzer. “All the seniors came out to play and Maddie and Emma were super-helpful.”

“This has always been a dream of mine,” Fitzpatrick said. “I couldn’t ask for better teammates and coaches. It’s incredible. It’s indescribable.”

“I don’t want to disrespect any of (the McAuley) championships, but there are a plethora of reasons why this one’s special,” Goodman added. “When (McAuley) closed, I was at a low. I lost a team I really loved. A lot of things have happened since then. I just want to thank (Cheverus athletic director) Amy (Ashley) for hiring me. I love coaching basketball. I happened to run into a great group of girls who just don’t give up. I’m a very lucky coach.”

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Kratzer had a career high 17 points at the most ideal time.

“Julia was amazing,” Singleton said. “I’m so proud of that girl. I knew she could do it and she showed it tonight.”

“Just Julia’s defense alone was a big deal for us,” Goodman said. “As a coach, I believed she could do it. I’ve been on her all year to do more. She’s focused on defense, ball-handling and passing, but I knew she could score and she did it on the big stage. She did whatever it takes for the team to win.”

“Playing with a couple kids (Fitzpatrick and Lizotte) who demand a lot of (defensive) attention, you get some shots and (Kratzer) stepped up and made them today,” said Berthiaume.

Lizotte added 14 points and 14 rebounds and dished out a couple assists.

Fitzpatrick had a quiet six points, but added five rebounds, four assists, a couple of steals and played stellar defense.

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“We take pride in our defense,” Fitzpatrick said. “We knew if we’re not having our best offensive game, we could rely on our defense.”

“Maddie does so many things for us, rebounding, defense, she’s always moving her feet, she causes so many problems,” Goodman said. “She’s just a great basketball player. She’s in the right spot and causes havoc.”

Singleton added six points, five steals, four assists and four rebounds, Kelly had four points and three rebounds and Bontatibus wound up with two points and three rebounds. Jordan didn’t score, but helped the cause with four steals, three assists and two rebounds.

“The seniors were an incredible group,” Goodman said. “Lillie, I think she’s an all-star, Hayley came into the season late with a foot injury, but she’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached, Emily got some big rebounds for us tonight and Maeve Kelly does so many hustle things for us.”

The Stags had 4-2 edge in made 3-pointers, controlled the glass to the tune of a 36-20 advantage, hit 19-of-42 field goal attempts, including 4-of-10 from behind the 3-point arc, made 9-of-10 free throws and overcame 22 turnovers.

For Gorham, the Dartmouth College-bound Nelson led the way with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists. Earlier Saturday, Nelson was named a finalist for Miss Maine Basketball.

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Walker added eight points off the bench, Woodbury had six points and three rebounds, Gay five points and four rebounds, Michaud four points and Curtis two.

The Rams made 8-of-9 free throws, but hit just 2-of-14 3-point attempts and turned the ball over 21 times.

“I felt like we moved the basketball pretty well and got looks we needed to,” Berthiaume said. “We wanted to compete hard on the backboard and we did. They’re just an athletic team that’s tough to rebound against.

“I thought my girls played hard. I’m really proud of my team. This season’s been extremely enjoyable. Anytime you have a bunch of kids who play hard and play together and play for each other, as a coach, that’s something that makes going to practice every day a lot of fun. It’s a close group. The seniors led by example for the underclassmen and I think that will help promote our program going forward.”

On to the next

Speaking of going forward, Cheverus has a lot to look forward to in 2022-23.

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But first, the Stags have to say goodbye to their five indispensable seniors.

“I’ve learned how to be a good person and be a great teammate from the seniors,” said Fitzpatrick. “They’re just the best. I don’t even know what next year will be like without them. It’s really hard to imagine.”

“I’ve learned so much from the seniors about energy, positivity, being there for your teammates and working hard, “Lizotte said. “They’re great leaders and I look up to all of them.”

Next year’s team will begin with the solid nucleus of Fitzpatrick and Lizotte, who figure to be that much better with another year of maturity, which is bad news for everyone else in Class AA.

Other players will get their chance to shine as well.

It will likely add up to another deep run in a year’s time.

“This feeling I’m having, I want to have it again,” said Fitzpatrick.

“I’d love to win again,” Lizotte said. “We’ll hope for the best.”

“We start with those two special kids, then we’ll build around them,” Goodman added. “This summer will be a big deal for us since we have a lot of girls who don’t have varsity experience.”

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

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