PORTLAND—Sierra Carson came alive, Oxford Hills came back and as a result, the Vikings are heading to the Class AA state final.

While Cheverus’ title run has come to an end.

But not before the Stags, led by their sensational junior stars Maddie Fitzpatrick and Emma Lizotte, put forth an unforgettable, valiant effort.

Befitting a defending champion.

In a Class AA North Final for the ages Saturday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena, both powers started slowly in a difficult shooting environment and top-ranked Oxford Hills held a 9-6 lead after one quarter.

Second-seeded Cheverus then hung tough in the second quarter, even after Fitzpatrick had to sit with two fouls, and was only down by a point until Vikings sophomore Gabbie Tibbetts hit an improbable 3-pointer at the horn for a 23-19 advantage.


The Stags then appeared to seize control in the third period, as it went on a 9-0 run, highlighted by 3-pointers from freshman Jenna Jensen and junior Megan Dearborn, to lead, 35-29, heading for the final stanza.

Or what was expected to be the final stanza.

There, a Fitzpatrick layup with 6:23 to play gave Cheverus a seemingly safe 41-29 advantage, but Carson and her teammates dug deep and quickly got back in the game.

Carson scored seven quick points to make things interesting, then she fed Tibbetts for a 3-pointer before converting an old-fashioned three-point play with 1:23 on the clock to put her team in front, 49-47.

Fitzpatrick wasn’t about to go home, however, and tied the game with a putback and after a couple late misses from Carson, then contest went to overtime.

One four-minute OT didn’t settle matters either, as Fitzpatrick tied the game again with two free throws and after junior Tristen Derenburger (remember that name) missed a 3 just before the horn, a second extra session was necessitated with the score tied, 57-57.


Fitzpatrick and Lizotte each hit a free throw to start double-overtime, then Fitzpatrick added a layup, but the game turned when Derenburger hit a 3 to tie it, then with 1:03 to go, Derenburger took a pass from Carson and drained another 3-ball to finally put Oxford Hills ahead to stay.

Carson hit four free throws down the stretch and the Vikings were able to exult and exhale, 68-63.

Carson led the way with 29 points, with 24 coming in the fourth quarter and two overtimes, as Oxford Hills improved to 20-1, advanced to battle Gorham (12-9) in the Class AA Final Saturday at 7:05 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena and in the process, ended Cheverus’ fine season at 18-3.

“It’s an overflow of emotions, but they’re very good ones,” said Carson, who will play at Dartmouth College next year. “It means everything. From the beginning of the season, it’s what we came here to do.”

“A lot of things we practice we just didn’t execute,” lamented Stags coach Billy Goodman. “Give Carson and Oxford Hills credit, they did. My girls did a great job, but we just didn’t finish it the way we wanted to.”

Here we go


Cheverus and Oxford Hills have combined for the past three Class AA state titles, as the Stags ended the Vikings’ two-year run last winter.

The Vikings handled every foe but one this season.

The Stags.

Cheverus, after an Opening Night loss at Bangor, fell just once more.

At Oxford Hills.

The teams combined to go 33-3 during the regular schedule (see sidebar for links to previous stories) and wound up first and second respectively in Class AA North.


As the top seed, the Vikings dispatched No. 8 Portland (56-33) in the quarterfinals, then held off No. 5 Hampden Academy (48-35) in the semifinals Wednesday.

The Stags defeated No. 7 Edward Little (48-25) in the quarterfinals, then avenged an earlier setback with a 38-29 victory over No. 3 Bangor in Wednesday’s semifinal round.

In the teams’ first meeting Jan. 21, host Oxford Hills couldn’t miss from 3-point land, hitting 11 shots from behind the arc en route to a 61-50 victory.

In the rematch 10 days later, Cheverus went man-to-man and locked down on the Vikings and went on to a statement-making 51-43 win.

The teams had played twice before in the tournament (see sidebar) with the Stags’ victory in the regional final a year ago the most recent.

Saturday, arguably the state’s two finest teams couldn’t settle matters in 32 minutes.


Thirty-six minutes didn’t do the job either.

Ultimately, Oxford Hills needed 40 to prove to be just a sliver better and earn a chance to play for a championship.

Neither team could hit a shot from 3-point range in the first quarter, going a combined 0-for-11, so the points came near the hoop.

A bank shot from Carson opened the scoring 37 seconds in. After Fitzpatrick scored on a putback, Vikings sophomore Ella Pelletier scored on a runner in the lane, then made two free throws for a 6-2 lead.

Fitzpatrick answered by taking a pass from junior Ruth Boles and making a layup with her left hand and after junior Maddy Miller made a short jumper for Oxford Hills, Fitzpatrick made another layup (again from Boles) before a Pelletier foul shot made it 9-6 Vikings after eight minutes.

Offense picked up in the second period.


With 6:48 to go, Boles sank a 3 to snap a 5 minute, 13 second scoring drought for Cheverus.

With 5:32 left, Fitzpatrick was whistled for her second foul and had to sit and Oxford Hills had a chance to open it up, but instead, Lizotte hit a leaner and after Derenburger hit a 3 for her first points, snapping a 6 minute, 51 second scoring drought and a span of 7:51 without a field goal, Lizotte tied the score with a free throw.

With 4:20 to go in the half, Pelletier made a layup, but freshman Anna Goodman set up Lizotte for a short jumper to tie the game again, 14-14.

Miller put the Vikings back in front with a layup, then senior Molly Corbett sank a long 3, but after freshman Jenna Jensen’s offensive rebound, Boles knocked down a jumper to keep the Stags within hailing distance at 19-16 and with 1:42 remaining, Fitzpatrick returned to the court.

Carson hit a free throw, but Lizotte scored on a putback, then Lizotte made a free throw to seemingly make it a one-point game at the half, but just before the horn, Tibbetts made a sensational individual play, stealing the ball and while falling toward the baseline, she threw up a 3-point prayer from deep which rattled in to give Oxford Hills a 23-19 lead at intermission.

Pelletier’s seven points paced the Vikings, while Carson was held to just to just one. Lizotte had eight points and seven rebounds for Cheverus, while Fitzpatrick contributed six points and six rebounds despite being hampered by foul trouble.


The Stags then zoomed into the lead in the third quarter.

Jensen set up Fitzpatrick for a layup to get things started, then Fitzpatrick found Dearborn for a 3 and a 24-23 adavntage.

The teams then went back-and-forth, as Pelletier sank two free throws and Fitzpatrick answered with a  jumper, then Carson drove and finished with her left hand before a three-point play (putback, foul, free throw) from Fitzpatrick gave Cheverus a 29-27 lead with 4:27 to go in the frame.

Lizotte then set up Jensen for a 3-ball and the next time down the floor, Fitzpatrick found Dearborn for another 3 and just like that, the lead was eight.

The Vikings got a little momentum back with a leaner from Pelletier, but the Stags held a 35-29 advantage heading to the fourth.

And there, things got really, really interesting.


Lizotte put back her own miss to start the quarter, then, after a technical foul was called, Fitzpatrick made two free throws and with 6:23 remaining, Dearborn set up Fitzpatrick for a layup and Cheverus held its biggest advantage, 41-29.

Only to see Carson and company flip the switch and rally.

Carson hit a jumper to end a 15-2 Stags’ run, then Pelletier drove for a layup, Carson made a layup after a steal and with 4:41 to go, Carson stepped back and drained a long 3 to make it a one-possession contest, 41-38.

After Lizotte missed the front end of a one-and-one, senior Ashley Richardson had a chance to tie it with a 3, but missed and after Fitzpatrick missed the front end of a one-and-one, another Oxford Hills opportunity was missed due to a Jensen steal.

With 3:28 on the clock, Boles made a pair of free throws, but Pelletier answered with a short hook shot in the lane to make it a three-point game again, 43-40.

Fitzpatrick countered by driving for a layup with 2:45 to go, but Carson was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer and sank all three subsequent free throws to cut the deficit to two.


After Lizotte missed in close, Jensen came soaring in from nowhere and put home the rebound to make it 47-43 with 2:14 to play, but at the other end, Carson set up Tibbetts for a 3 in the corner.

“Gabbie is a great basketball player,” said Vikings coach Nate Pelletier. “She played a lot in last game and this game. We have kids who work hard in practice every single day that we can bring off the bench. Their time will come and her time came and it was great.”

After a Cheverus turnover, Carson drove to the basket, made a layup while being fouled, then added the and-one free throw to cap the comeback and give the Vikings a 49-47 lead with 1:23 to go.

Then, after Boles somehow saved an errant pass from going out of bounds for what could have been a backbreaking turnover, Fitzpatrick put home her own miss and with 53 seconds left, the game was deadlocked, 49-49.

Oxford Hills then had ample opportunities to win it down the stretch.

Carson took a shot that was no good, but Miller kept possession with an offensive board and tried to go back up, but Lizotte blocked the shot, only to have the ball go out of bounds to the Vikings.


With 11.9 seconds on the clock, Oxford Hills called timeout and to the surprise of no one, Corbett inbounded the ball to Carson who drove and shot. She missed, but the rebound went out to the Vikings and they had one more chance.

Again, it would be Carson taking a contested shot but it was off target, Boles grabbed the rebound and the horn sounded.



Oxford Hills won the tip to start OT, but Corbett missed a 3 and Fitzpatrick got the rebound.

Fitzpatrick then missed a shot and Carson got the rebound and at the other end, with 2:56 on the clock, Pelletier set up Carson for a 3, putting Oxford Hills on top.


The Stags answered, as Fitzpatrick found Madison Bunnell-Parker, the team’s lone senior, for a layup, but Carson countered by hitting one of two free throws for a 53-51 lead.

Out of a timeout, Fitzpatrick was fouled and she made both shots with 1:48 remaining and the game was tied up once more, 53-53.

Pelletier put the Vikings back in the lead with a left-handed leaner, but Lizotte was fouled and calmly sank both attempts to even the score again with 1:21 to play.

Fifteen seconds later, Carson scored on a short shot and after Lizotte missed at the other end and Derenburger got the rebound, Oxford Hills milked the clock down to 21 seconds and called timeout.

Carson was then fouled two seconds later, but she couldn’t slam the door, missing the front end of a one-and-one, giving Cheverus life.

And with 12.9 seconds remaining in overtime, Fitzpatrick was fouled.


She made the first and hit the second to make the score 57-57.

The Vikings again looked to win at the horn, but this time, Carson set up Derenburger for a long 3.

It was off target and the game would require a second extra session.

Where at last, a winner was determined.

This time the Stags won the tip and 11 seconds in, Fitzpatrick was fouled and sank one of two free throws for the lead.

After Carson missed at the other end, Fitzpatrick got the rebound and with 3:17 to play, Lizotte was fouled and hit one of two attempts.


After Tibbetts missed a shot, Lizotte got the rebound, but she was called for a charge, giving Oxford Hills another chance.

The Vikings couldn’t capitalize, however, as Richardson missed and Fitzpatrick got the rebound.

At the other end, with 2:08 to play, Fitzpatrick put on a show by weaving through the defense and driving for a layup to push the lead to 61-57.

But the next nine points would go to Oxford Hills.

First, Carson made one of two free throws.

Then, Carson stole the ball and set up Derenburger for a game-tying 3-point attempt which found nothing but net to tie the score for the ninth and final time, 61-61, with 1:52 on the clock.


After a Stags’ turnover, the duo connected again for the biggest scoring play of the game, as with 1:03 remaining, Carson set up Derenburger in the corner and she drained a 3 for not only the 10th and final lead change of the day, but for a 64-61 advantage the Vikings wouldn’t relinquish.

“The past two games, they’ve face-guarded me pretty tight and I only got a couple shots off each game,” said Derenburger, who made seven 3s in the team’s first meeting. “I knew I had to be there for my teammates. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Sierra’s assists. I’ve worked on my shot all year long. Sierra trusts me. I try my hardest to focus on the shot and make it.”

“At the end of the day, we thrive on shooting 3-pointers and we have kids who shoot a pretty high percentage, so the law of averages said they’d eventually fall if we got enough shots,” said Nate Pelletier. “Cheverus did a nice job face-guarding the kids who can shoot. When the chaos started happening, it was hard for them to transition back to defense and we got our shooters free. When they get open looks, good things happen.”

At the other end, freshman Jaelyn Jensen missed a shot and Carson got the rebound.

With 30 seconds on the clock, Carson got her first free throw to roll around and in, then hit the second for a five-point edge.

Fitzpatrick then missed a 3, but Lizotte got the rebound and put it home to make it a one-possession contest with 17.1 seconds left.


Carson then got back to the line three seconds later and she hit both attempts to put Oxford Hills on the brink of delirium.

After Fitzpatrick missed a 3, it was all but official and at 3:47 p.m., the Vikings at last were able to celebrate their palpitating 68-63 double-overtime victory.

“It’s incredible,” said Derenburger. “It feels amazing. Every year we have a word that we say and our word this year is ‘grit.’ We came out with grit. We were ready to fight for everything. We knew it would either be Bangor or Cheverus waiting for us here and we knew it was our time.”

“It starts with our practices, pushing that energy,” said Carson. “We knew we could get back into it, we just needed to hit shots. We just had to want it more and go in with more grit. I knew we could do it.”

“The one thing I know about these girls is that they’ll never give up,” Nate Pelletier added. “All it took was a couple made baskets. Once we cut it to eight, we knew we had a chance and we just had to keep working. Some things went our way and some things didn’t. We had some kids foul out and that made it tough on us, but it allowed us to create even more chaos with more guards on the floor. I’ve got a great coaching staff. At one point they told me we were going to dig our own grave if we kept playing a slowdown game. We had to change it up. When you have nothing to lose, you go as hard as you can.

“(Winning) a regional championship, double overtime, my daughter’s on the team, it’s hard to say there’s (a win) better, but we still have one more we’re going after. I’ve coached these kids all the way up through. It’s an amazing experience. We came in last year and thought we had a chance and (Cheverus) played better than us. Obviously, we had a chip on our shoulders and these girls didn’t want to lose to them again in this situation. All I could ask them to do is to keep fighting.”


Carson showed why she’s a favorite to be a Miss Maine Basketball finalist, by scoring 29 points, adding eight rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals.

“In a fullcourt game, I’ll put Sierra on anybody,” said Nate Pelletier. “The great thing about her is she can find and guard anybody on the floor. She’s going to Dartmouth for a reason. She’s a very, very good player. What got Sierra going is that she didn’t want to see her season end. When we were down 10 in the fourth, we said we need to cause as much chaos as possible and that’s where she thrives. She can use her athleticism in that environment. She found open shooters and got to the rim and made free throws.”

Ella Pelletier fouled out in overtime, but still had 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

Derenburger made three 3s, good for nine points, Tibbetts had six points, Miller four and Corbett three.

Oxford Hills hit 16-of-21 free throws and only turned the ball over nine times in 40 stressful, pulse-pounding minutes of championship game action.

The Vikings and Rams squared off Feb. 2 in South Paris, a 72-47 Oxford Hills victory.


Gorham prevailed in the teams’ lone prior state game meeting, 45-31, behind the heroics of Emily Esposito and Mackenzie Holmes, back in 2017.

The Vikings will settle for nothing shy of the big prize next weekend.

“I’m ready for the state final,” said Carson. “We just have to do what we’ve done all season, hit shots, play fundamental defense and push the ball. I experienced it freshman year, but I wasn’t a leader then. It’s everything I want senior year.”

“We have to have a huge week of practice,” Derenburger said. “We’ll work hard. Our ‘white team’ pushes us in practice and makes us the players we are.”

“We have a week in practice to figure it out,” Nate Pelletier added. “These girls aren’t done. They really want to go out with the Gold Ball and this was a stepping stone.”



Cheverus got sensational efforts from their two standouts.

Fitzpatrick finished with 28 points and 17 rebounds, as well as three assists.

“Maddie is something,” said Billy Goodman. “She had two people on her, coming after her and she had to decide when to pass, when to shoot, when to drive. She played like the champion she is.”

Lizotte played heroically despite clearly being in discomfort, scoring 15 points, grabbing a game-high 18 rebounds and blocking three shots.

“That shows the kind of player (Emma) is,” Fitzpatrick said. “She’s willing to do it for the team. She never gave up with an injured elbow.”

“Emma Lizotte brings it,” said Billy Goodman. “She kept playing hurt and battled and she played really well too.”


“Maddie and Emma are so good,” added Carson. “I knew we couldn’t shut them down, we just wanted to limit them. Gabbie Tibbetts and Ashley Richardson did so well containing them.”

Boles added seven points (and had four assists), Dearborn had six points, Jenna Jensen five (to go with four rebounds) and Bunnell-Parker two.

The Stags enjoyed a commanding 50-27 advantage on the glass, made 15-of-21 free throws and turned the ball over 16 times.

“It’s all you want, to play in a game like that,” Fitzpatrick said. “The kind of game you want to be in and want to win. My Dad always says to me, ‘Just take a moment and realize how lucky you are.’ (Oxford Hills) just got it going. We were so focused and into it. I just remember coming out of every timeout yelling, ‘Let’s Go!’ They just came back harder and faster. We had too many turnovers. That’s hurt us all year.”

Cheverus came light years from its loss at Bangor in the season opener. A team devoid of experience (beyond Fitzpatrick and Lizotte) came of age quickly and got the Stags within a whisker of an opportunity to repeat.

“I give out a Most Improved award every year and I probably have six girls who could get it,” Billy Goodman said. “It’s great how the girls improved all year. That’s what you want as a coach. We had to learn how to play together and we did that.


Cheverus only graduates Bunnell-Parker.

“We appreciate Maddie,” said Fitzpatrick. “She’s just a great teammate and person and has grown so much as a basketball player.”

The Stags will be starting the 2023-24 campaign in a much stronger place.

And you can rest assured that they’ll be hungry to reclaim the Gold Ball that just slipped through their fingers.

“It hurt to see them swinging the nets and cheering,” Fitzpatrick said. “It lights a fire under us and gets us motivated. I’m going to Cheverus and get in the gym after this.

“We talk about being back next year and if we want to win, we’ll have to work hard in the offseason. I’m really excited for next year. We have a solid group coming back and probably some good freshmen coming in too. We want to finish what this year’s team started.”

“The girls will have so much more experience and knowledge,” Billy Goodman said. “We’ll have to fine-tune things. Next year, I’m looking for us to execute even better.”

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

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