PORTLAND—What a difference 10 days makes.

For Cheverus’ girls’ basketball team and its title hopes.

Tuesday evening at Keegan Gymnasium, the reigning Class AA state champion Stags welcomed Oxford Hills in a late-season showdown that had it all.

Stars doing their thing and unheralded players making big plays with Heal Points and playoff positioning hanging in the balance.

The Vikings, who defeated visiting Cheverus by 11 points in the teams’ previous meeting, took a five-point first quarter lead, but Stags junior Ruth Boles swung momentum back in her team’s favor with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to pull Cheverus within 16-15 after eight minutes.

Then, on five different occasions in the second period, the Stags went on top, but each time, Oxford Hills rallied before junior post presence extraordinaire Emma Lizotte scored on a putback with 26 seconds left to give Cheverus the lead at the half and for good, 32-30.


While the first half featured free-flowing offense, the second half would be a defensive battle and there was little separation in a low-scoring third quarter which ended with the Stags clinging to a 40-36 lead.

When senior standout Sierra Carson drained a 3 with 3:35 to go, the Vikings were within three and senior Molly Corbett had a chance to pull her team even, but her 3-point shot was off-target.

Cheverus junior standout Maddie Fitzpatrick then made a free throw and Lizotte followed with a putback for a little breathing room and the Stags were able to go on to a 51-43 victory.

Fitzpatrick and Lizotte each scored 15 points and Cheverus got key contributions from myriad other sources, as it improved to 15-2 and handed Oxford Hills its first loss in 14 outings this winter.

“It was a great environment,” said Stags coach Billy Goodman. “The crowd was into it. It was a playoff atmosphere. Both teams gave the crowd their money’s worth.”

Part two


Ten days ago, in South Paris, Oxford Hills started knocking down 3-pointers in the first quarter and never truly cooled off as it prevailed, 61-50, behind 21 points from junior Tristen Derenburger, 17 from sophomore Ella Pelletier and 15 from Carson, which was more than enough to negate Fitzpatrick’s 21 points.

“The first game helped us,” said Goodman. “We hit rock bottom the last time and they beat us good. The girls have ratcheted it up.”

That was the Vikings’ 11th straight victory, which was soon followed by a 12th (39-34 at Bangor) and a 13th (59-28 over visiting Deering).

Cheverus, which also lost its season opener, at Bangor, won 11 in a row before falling at Oxford Hills, then returned to form with a 52-40 home triumph over Windham, an impressive 49-35 victory at previously undefeated Thornton Academy and a 66-29 win at Lewiston.

Tuesday, in front of a large and vocal crowd, the Vikings gave the Stags everything they could handle, but Cheverus responded like the champion it is.

And hopes to become again.


Both teams put on an immediate show in the first quarter, as Fitzpatrick set up Lizotte for a layup just 10 seconds in and after Carson sank two foul shots for Oxford Hills’ first points, Fitzpatrick and Corbett traded 3-pointers.

Another Lizotte layup (from Fitzpatrick) gave the Stags their final lead of the frame, as Carson set up junior Maddy Miller for a layup, then Pelletier got a turnaround jumper to roll in for the Vikings’ first advantage, 9-7.

After Fitzpatrick drove for a layup to tie it, Carson set up Corbett for a 3 and Carson pulled up and made a jumper.

The Fitzpatrick-to-Lizotte combination resulted in another layup, but Carson weaved into the lane and while falling, managed to lay the ball up and in for a 16-11 lead.

But Cheverus finished the quarter in style, as Lizotte made a free throw, then, with time winding down, Boles lofted a contested 3 from well behind the arc at the horn that rattled home, cutting the deficit to just one.

And more importantly, it gave the Stags a much-needed jolt.


“We didn’t have a shot like that the first game,” Fitzpatrick said. “That shot carried us into the rest of the game and gave us momentum and energy.”

“I’ve been telling Ruth that we need her,” Goodman said. “She’s really stepped up. It starts with her defense and the last couple games, she’s gotten confidence on offense.”

The back-and-forth continued in the second period.

Boles began the new frame with another 3-ball, but sophomore Gabbie Tibbetts tied the score with a jumper.

After Fitzpatrick again fed Lizotte for a layup, Pelletier tied the game with a putback.

After Fitzpatrick drove for a layup, Pelletier found Miller for a layup, but with 4:56 left in the half, freshman Anna Goodman took a pass from Fitzpatrick and sank a 3-ball from the corner to put Cheverus back on top, 25-22.


Pelletier countered with a jumper, but another Stags’ freshman, Jenna Jensen, took a pass from Fitzpatrick and sank a 3 from the corner for a four-point lead.

Oxford Hills quickly countered, as Carson managed to bank home a shot in traffic, then Miller made a short jumper.

With 1:02 left before halftime, Lizotte got a contested leaner to drop, but 13 seconds later, Miller answered with a leaner.

Cheverus retook the lead, for good as it turned out, when Lizotte put back a miss with 26.8 seconds showing and at the half, the Stags were ahead by a slim 32-30 margin, thanks to 13 points and seven rebounds from Lizotte and seven points and six assists from Fitzpatrick.

Both teams then struggled to score in the third quarter.

Boles began the second half with a rainbow 3, but Derenburger answered with her lone basket, a runner.


Next, it was junior Megan Dearborn’s turn to hit a key 3 for Cheverus to extend the lead to six.

After Carson answered by driving and making a left-handed layup, Fitzpatrick showed her ability to get to the basket and finish with her off-hand, but with 34 seconds remaining, Carson made two free throws and the Vikings were only down by four, 40-36, heading to the final stanza.

Where the Stags did what it took to hold on.

Tibbetts began the fourth quarter by sinking a free throw to pull Oxford Hills within three, but Dearborn countered with another clutch 3 from the corner (set up by Boles).

After Pelletier made a free throw, then sank another, Fitzpatrick took matters into her own hands, driving down the left side of the lane, then banking home a contested shot over Miller to make it 45-39 with 3:47 remaining.

“I’ve been working on determining when to pass and when to shoot,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’m still learning how to read when to do what. Sometimes Coach just yells at me to go to the basket.”


The Vikings had one final run in them, as Miller set up Carson for a 3 and after getting the ball back, Corbett lined up a potential game-tying 3-pointer, but it was off the mark.

“We hit one big 3, but we couldn’t hit the next one and if we did, it could have been different,” lamented Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier.

With 2:52 to play, Fitzpatrick went to the line and made the front end of a one-and-one, but she missed the second attempt.

Thankfully for Cheverus, Lizotte came up huge, snaring the rebound and putting it home to make it 48-42.

“I was in the right spot at the right time,” Lizotte said. “I took my time, focused and put it back up.”

Ella Pelletier got a point back at the foul line and after a Stags’ turnover, Oxford Hills had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Derenburger, on her lone long-range chance of the night, missed a 3.


With 1:17 remaining, Fitzpatrick went back to the line and made one of two attempts.

After a Tibbetts miss, Fitzpatrick made two more free throws and that slammed the door as Cheverus closed out its 51-43 victory.

“It’s great to see all the hard work paying off,” said Fitzpatrick. “Our chemistry is really working. I think the Thornton game really helped that. We just guarded the 3-point line. They only shot nine 3s and hit only three. One girl made seven last time. It was a huge difference. They can score at so many different levels. They’re really good moving the ball and they’re such a strong defensive team. I think we were a little unsure how to play them, but we realized what their weaknesses are and what our advantages are. That helped us win. I think we’re both good defensive teams. I knew we wouldn’t keep making the shots we were in the first half.”

“It’s really exciting,” said Lizotte. “It’s a big win for our confidence. It was good to see us step up and play together. It was a dramatic change in our defensive plan. Last game, we played a 2-3 (zone) the entire game and this time we played man-to-man. It’s never comfortable against Oxford Hills. They have really good shooters, but we closed it out on defense.”

“I told the girls we needed 32 minutes to beat this team, not 28 or 30, and they focused and did it,” Billy Goodman added. “Give Oxford credit, they’re a good team and they made good shots. We changed our defense from last time. The girls’ effort was way better than it was.”

As usual, Fitzpatrick (15 points, nine rebounds, six assists) and Lizotte (15 points, 13 rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists) led the way.


“We want Maddie and Emma to have the ball, but they’ve realized that they have teammates and we need them to do their job since they can’t do it all,” Billy Goodman said. “They trust their teammates and it helps us have more balance.”

Boles continued to emerge with nine points, four blocks, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Dearborn added six points and Goodman and Jenna Jensen (five rebounds, two steals) each finished with three.

“So many girls stepped up,” said Fitzpatrick. “That makes it harder for teams to guard us. We knew Ruth and Megan, Anna and Jenna could hit those 3s.”

“Megan Dearborn, Ruth, Anna, (freshman) Jaelyn (Jensen), Jenna, (junior) Olivia (Conroy), (senior) Maddie Bunnell-Parker, they all do a job for us and they’re getting more confident doing it,” Billy Goodman said. “We had three freshmen out there who did a solid job and I’m proud of all of them.”

The Stags had a 36-35 edge on the glass, made eight 3-pointers to the Vikings’ three, overcame 16 turnovers and made 5-of-11 foul shots.

Oxford Hills was paced by Carson, who had 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.


Ella Pelletier added nine points, a game-high 14 rebounds, two assists and two steals, Miller had eight points (three rebounds and two steals), Corbett six (to go with four rebounds), Tibbetts three and Derenburger two.

The Vikings only turned the ball over 11 times and made 8-of-11 foul shots, but couldn’t generate offense in the second half and tasted defeat for the first time.

“I’m actually really happy that when we couldn’t grind out points in the second half, we kept ourselves in the game defensively,” Nate Pelletier said. “I told the girls that we gave ourselves a chance. Cheverus is tough. Lizotte scored at will, then Fitzpatrick did her thing and when their perimeter kids hit their 3s, they’re tough to beat. They did a good job on us defensively in the second half. We had good looks at the end, but we didn’t knock them down. They made just enough (free throws) to keep the lead. We didn’t use our athleticism as much as we would have liked. They face-guarded our perimeter players and we have to figure out how to make them pay for that. They’re looking at what we did to them and how to make us pay.”

On to February

Oxford Hills (now ranked third in the Class AA North Heal Points standings) is back in action Thursday at home versus Gorham. The Vikings host Bangor in another big test Saturday, have a showdown at Class A South favorite Brunswick Monday, then close at Hampden Academy Feb. 9.

“Our goal was never to go undefeated,” said Nate Pelletier. “Our goal is to be playing our best basketball we can come playoffs, then hopefully make a run. We’ll just try to win the next one. We still have a lot of available Heal Points. This is a tough loss, but sometimes being undefeated into the playoffs isn’t where you want to be. Last year, they beat us early in the year, then we beat them at home and this year, it flip-flopped. I’ll take our schedule. We want to be battle-tested come playoff time. We have to put this behind us.”


Cheverus (second to Bangor in Class AA North) closes the regular season next Thursday at Windham.

“This helps us gain confidence as a team,” Lizotte said. “It helps prepare us for playoffs. We’d look forward to playing (Oxford Hills) again.”

“The season has gone by really fast, but I think we’re ready to make a run,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m really excited. After a win like this and TA, we have a lot of momentum. We trust each other and everyone is growing into their roles. That’s what you need in playoffs, different people stepping up at different times.”

“We respect Windham,” Billy Goodman added. “That will be like a playoff game, then we’ll be ready for what’s next. We realize the North this year is very tough. We’ll have to go through Bangor and Oxford Hills no matter what and we have to worry about quarterfinals and semifinals first. Edward Little, Windham, Hampden, Deering, they’re all gaining confidence. This year’s team is still getting experience.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net.

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