SOUTH PARIS—Cheverus’ red-hot girls’ basketball team got its first look at undefeated Oxford Hills Saturday afternoon.

And the Stags learned quickly that their hopes of a repeat Class AA state championship are in serious jeopardy.

If they aren’t able to figure out a way to slow down the explosive Vikings.

Cheverus led for only 28 seconds and a 16-2 Oxford Hills run, sparked by three 3-pointers from junior sharpshooter Tristen Derenburger, set the tone. Stags junior standout Maddie Fitzpatrick hit a late 3, but the Vikings held a 16-9 lead after one period.

After Oxford Hills went up by double figures early in the second quarter, Cheverus drew within six, but Vikings senior star Sierra Carson, who will play at Dartmouth College next year, made consecutive layups in the waning seconds for a 29-19 advantage.

When Derenburger sank three more 3s in the first three minutes of the second half and sophomore Ella Pelletier drained one as well, Oxford Hills was up, 42-23, and threatened to run away with it, but the proud Stags refused to fold.

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Traiing 46-32 entering the final stanza, Cheverus attempted to rally and got as close as 52-44 on a basket from junior Megan Dearborn with 3:20 to play, but Derenburger’s seventh and final 3, followed by a Pelletier layup, ended any lingering doubt and the Vikings went on to a 61-50 victory.

Derenburger finished with 21 points, Pelletier added 17 and Carson tallied 15 as Oxford Hills improved to 11-0 on the season, dropping the Stags to 11-2 and snapping their 11-game win streak in the process.

“They’re a great shooting team,” said Cheverus coach Billy Goodman, about the Vikings. “They’re great on offense. I’ve told everyone who will listen to me how good they are. If you shut two players down, two others will score. There’s a lot of scoring ability on that team. It’s probably one of the most potent teams I’ve gone against in 20 years.”

The first step

Cheverus and Oxford Hills produced three memorable games a year ago. The host Stags rallied for a 62-59 victory in the first meeting, then the Vikings eked out a 49-48 overtime home win before Cheverus took care of business in the regional final, 52-36.

So far this season, the Stags and Vikings (along with Bangor) have established themselves as the class of Class AA North.

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Cheverus stumbled out of the gate with a 52-44 loss at Bangor, but dominated every foe since by nearly 30 points per game, defeating visiting Deering (55-12), Westbrook (78-39), Portland (61-24) and Lewiston (53-34), host Edward Little (67-33), visiting Hampden Academy (67-32) and Scarborough (67-40), host Deering (57-35), Portland (64-38) and Hampden Academy (45-35) and visiting Edward Little (50-21).

Oxford Hills won its first 10 outings by an average of 36 points, beating Edward Little in the opener (58-40), then defeating Lewiston (75-34), Windham (52-22), Deering (58-26), Hampden Academy (70-41), Noble (87-21), Portland (63-24), Lewiston (65-38), Edward Little (91-48) and Portland (65-32) again.

Saturday, in front of a raucous crowd, with Heal Points and bragging rights on the line, the Vikings came out firing on all cylinders and the Stags weren’t able to recover.

Cheverus junior Emma Lizotte missed two free throws 14 seconds in, but Fitzpatrick got the offensive rebound and fed Lizotte for a layup.

And that proved to be the Stags’ highwater mark.

With 7:15 to go in the opening stanza, Carson set up Pelletier for a layup and a little over a minute later, Carson found Derenburger for her first 3 and Oxford Hills never looked back.

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Derenburger added another 3 (again set up by Carson) and after Fitzpatrick answered with a driving layup for her first points, Derenburger was true from beyond the arc once more.

“I’ve had to step into a shooting role this year and I came in knowing I could shoot,” said Derenburger. “I try to hit my first shot, then I go from there.”

Carson then hit a baseline jumper for her first points before she took a pass from Pelletier and sank a 3-ball to make it 16-4.

“(Tristen’s) 3s got us going, but we went in with the mentality of pushing the ball because that’s how we play,” Carson said. “We wanted to play our game, not let them get in our head if they went on a run. If you fall behind, it’s huge mentally. The coaches told us to just play the game and not watch the scoreboard.”

Cheverus settled down and got a putback from Lizotte and a 3-pointer from Fitzpatrick to make the score 16-9 heading to the second quarter.

There, the Vikings didn’t let up.

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After Fitzpatrick started the frame with a free throw, senior Molly Corbett drained a 3 for the hosts and junior Maddy Miller set up Pelletier for a layup and a double-digit lead.

Junior Ruth Boles answered with a jumper that rattled in, but Carson got a left-handed leaner to drop.

Fitzpatrick then made a layup and freshman Jaelyn Jensen scored on a reverse layup putback to cut the deficit to 23-16.

After Miller took a pass from Carson and made a layup, the Stags appeared poised to finish the half strong, as Fitzpatrick made a free throw, then Boles hit a jumper, but with 14.6 seconds to go, Miller set up Carson for a layup and instead of getting the last shot, Cheverus turned the ball over as Carson stole it and raced in for a layup with 1 second to go and Oxford Hills’ advantage was 10, 29-19.

“I pride myself on my defense,” Carson said. “You can’t get open shots without defense. It’s a huge part of our game.”

In the first half, Carson had 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals, while Derenburger sank three 3s for nine points. Fitzpatrick kept the Stags within hailing distance with nine points.

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The Vikings then began the second half the way they started the first.

In can’t-miss fashion.

Just 21 seconds in, Derenburger returned to her long range bombing ways, draining a 3 after taking a pass from Carson.

After Dearborn answered with a long jumper, Carson set up Derenburger for another 3, which rolled around and in.

Fitzpatrick scored on a putback, but Pelletier made one of two free throws after Fitzpatrick was whistled for her third foul, Derenburger sank a 3 and Pelletier, who had assisted on Derenburger’s shot, took a pass from Corbett and buried a 3 to make it 42-23 with 4:40 to go in the quarter, forcing Goodman to call timeout.

Cheverus dug into its reservoir of championship heart and got back in the game, as Fitzpatrick sank a 3, Lizotte set up Boles for a layup, Boles scored on a putback, then with 57.5 seconds remaining, after a Boles steal, Fitzpatrick made a layup to cut the deficit to just 10.

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But again, Carson and Company closed the frame strong.

After Pelletier made a layup with 47 seconds to go, Carson stole the ball and made a layup with 6.6 seconds showing and Oxford Hills took a 46-32 advantage to the final stanza.

Where it applied the finishing touches on its biggest win to date.

A 3-point shot from freshman Anna Goodman gave the Stags some hope to begin the fourth period, but Pelletier countered with two foul shots.

With 6:39 remaining, freshman Jenna Jensen sank a 3 to pull Cheverus back within 10, but again, the Vikings responded, as Miller kept play alive with an offensive rebound, then fed sophomore Gabbie Tibbetts for a 3 to make it 51-38.

The Stags had one more run in them, as Fitzpatrick converted a runner on the baseline and after Pelletier made a free throw, Boles made a layup after a steal and a long jumper from Dearborn with 3:20 left made the score 52-44.

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“We’re at the point now where the girls coming off the bench know they have a job to do,” Billy Goodman said.

Oxford Hills refused to buckle, however, and responded like the champions they hope to become.

Eleven seconds later, Derenburger came up huge one final time, taking a pass from Corbett and sinking a dagger 3.

Carson then set up Pelletier for a layup to make it 57-44 with 2:29 left.

Lizotte made a free throw, then Fitzpatrick converted a layup after a steal, but Pelletier made two foul shots with 1:30 remaining.

Fitzpatrick made one free throw with 1:12 to go, but 25 seconds later, Carson sank two and while Lizotte made a layup with 26.3 seconds remaining, it was far too little, too late, and Oxford Hills closed out its 61-50 victory.

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“We lost to them last year, so we wanted to come back today and get business done,” said Derenburger. “It’s fun playing in these tough games.”

“It’s a great rivalry,” Vikings coach Nate Pelletier said. “All these kids know each other and play together in AAU. We always draw a good crowd at Oxford Hills and it was electric. Cheverus played hard. They made a run at the end and we hung on. We got a little frazzled, but they have two D1 kids and they’re good. We made key free throws when we needed to.

“We told the girls all along that this stretch, none of these games are championship games. They’re games for us to build on what we think are our positives and what we know at times are our negatives. At the end of the day, this wasn’t the state championship.”

Derenburger led the Vikings with 21 points.

“Tristen was lights out, but she’s been lights out all year,” Nate Pelletier said. “At some point, it’s not a fluke. She can shoot.”

Ella Pelletier added 17 points and also had 11 rebounds for a double-double, as well as three assists and three steals.

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Carson finished with a triple-double of 15 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, as well as five steals.

“Sierra is so dynamic,” said Nate Pelletier. “When we can set her loose to be athletic, that’s what she does. It doesn’t surprise us. She goes on her runs. She’s going to Dartmouth for a reason. She’s a very good player and a very smart kid.”

Corbett finished with three points and four assists, Tibbetts had three points and Miller finished with two points, four rebounds and three assists, while doing stellar defensive work on Lizotte before fouling out of the game.

“Maddy did a really good job against Emma today,” Carson said.

“I gave a lot of praise to Maddy Miller who had to play on Lizotte all game,” said Nate Pelletier. “She did everything she could to keep her off the glass and hold her down as much as she could.”

Oxford Hills made 11 3-pointers, had a 36-35 edge on the glass, hit 8-of-10 free throws and only turned the ball over 11 times.

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Learning opportunity

Cheverus was paced by Fitzpatrick, who had 21 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Boles added 10 points (and five rebounds), Lizotte had seven points (and nine boards), Dearborn four, Goodman and Jenna Jensen three apiece and Jaelyn Jensen two.

The Stags made just 4-of-11 free throws and committed 20 turnovers.

“I was happy with the heart and hustle of my team, but we turned the ball over a lot,” Billy Goodman said. “We couldn’t handle their pressure. We need to keep working on that.”

Act two

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The teams battle again a week from Tuesday in Portland.

In the meantime, Oxford Hills will get a big test Tuesday at Bangor, then hosts vastly improved Deering next Saturday.

“We still have things we need to improve and work on, but I like our chances,” said Derenburger. “We have players who can play every position. We battle every game.”

“This shows us what we need to work on to beat good teams,” Carson said. “We have to keep working on our press and going up against size. We have to be able to travel and bring this to Cheverus. We have to keep making those shots.”

“We’ve got Bangor Tuesday and that will be another battle,” Nate Pelletier added. “It’ll be electric when we go down and play (at Cheverus). We split with them last year and hopefully we can get them down there too, but you never know.”

Cheverus is home with Windham Tuesday, then travels to top-ranked, Class AA South favorite Thornton Academy Wednesday and goes to Lewiston next Saturday.

“Hopefully, we’ll keep getting better,” Billy Goodman said. “We still have a month to fix it. TA can score like Oxford can, then we have Oxford again. I like this tough schedule. We know what we have to work on and it’s up to the coaching staff to make the girls better.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected].

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