PORTLAND—Heading into the 2023-24 season, Cheverus’ girls’ basketball team was an unknown commodity.

But in a matter of 96 minutes, the verdict is out.

These unproven Stags are already great and have the opportunity to become golden.

Tuesday evening at Keegan Gymnasium, Cheverus, which opened with impressive wins at South Portland and reigning Class AA state champion Oxford Hills, welcomed highly-touted Thornton Academy in its home opener.

And continued its early-season surge with its most impressive victory to date.

Thanks to an inspiring display of offense and defense from every player who took the floor.


The Stags started slowly and trailed the Golden Trojans, 10-5, after one quarter. Thornton Academy then went up by seven three minutes into the second period when senior standout Addisen Silkowski scored, but Cheverus, sparked by its nonpareil senior star Maddie Fitzpatrick, came to life.

The Stags amped up their defense and that awakened the offense to the tune of an 18-5 run. The Golden Trojans rallied back within a point before sophomore Anna Goodman’s late 3-pointer put the home team on top, 26-22, at the half.

Cheverus couldn’t shake Thornton Academy for much of the third quarter either, as Golden Trojans senior Emma Lizotte, a one-time Stags standout, playing her first game back in her old gym, hit a pullup jumper to make it 31-31.

And then, Cheverus delivered the knockout blow, closing the frame on a 13-1 run, to lead, 44-32, heading to the final stanza.

There, Thornton Academy got as close as nine before senior Ruth Boles, who enjoyed a night to remember, scored on a putback and Fitzpatrick added five quick points to put it away and the Stags went on to a 53-40 victory.

Fitzpatrick led the way with a tour de force performance of 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven steals and Boles added 13 points as Cheverus improved to 3-0 on the season, dropped the Golden Trojans to 3-1 and served notice that it has legitimate Gold Ball aspirations.


“I think that we’re underrated,” said the University of Maine-bound Fitzpatrick, widely considered the state’s top player. “No one really knows us. We’re just together right now and focused on ourselves. We don’t listen to all the noise.”


Prior to the school year, Lizotte left Cheverus and transferred to Thornton Academy for her senior season.

That changed the complexion of Class AA basketball and perhaps put the Golden Trojans and Stags on a postseason collision course.

Cheverus won the 2022 Class AA state title, the program’s first Gold Ball, and nearly repeated a year ago, only to let a 12-point second half lead slip away in an agonizing 68-63 double-overtime loss to eventual state champion Oxford Hills in the Class AA North Final.

The Stags are faced their share of question marks entering the season, but started strongly with decisive wins at South Portland (48-28) and Oxford Hills (76-47).


Thornton Academy, meanwhile, also lost in the regional final a year ago (getting upset by Gorham in the Class AA South Final), but came into the 2023-24 campaign as the favorite.

The Golden Trojans started in style with wins over visiting Sanford (58-42), at Noble (107-34) and at Bonny Eagle (73-32).

Last year, Cheverus defeated host Thornton Academy, 49-35, as both Lizotte and Fitzpatrick posted double-doubles.

Tuesday, in front of a vocal crowd, Thornton Academy hoped to beat the Stags for the first time since Dec. 12, 2014 (50-28), but instead, Cheverus downed the Golden Trojans for the seventh consecutive meeting.

While staking its claim as the team to beat.

Ahead of schedule.


Not surprisingly, considering the circumstances, both teams were nervous early and it took three minutes for the scoring ice to be broken by Fitzpatrick, who blocked a shot on defense, then raced in and drove for a layup and a 2-0 lead.

Thornton Academy answered with 4:38 left in the opening stanza, as Sulikowski sank two free throws.

After promising Stags freshman Abby Kelly sank a free throw, Sulikowski drained a long 3 to give the Golden Trojans their first lead.

Sophomore Rachel LaSalle tied it up with a runner, but freshman Hannah Kenniston made a 3 for the visitors, then Lizotte scored her first points, banking home a short shot after taking an inbounds feed from Sulikowski, for a 10-5 advantage after eight minutes.

The first three minutes of the second quarter were sluggish as well, as a driving bank shot from Sulikowski produced the lone points, but with 4:54 to go before halftime, a driving layup from junior Rachel Feeley ended a 5 minute, 30 second scoring drought and a 7-0 Thornton Academy run and started the comeback.

Fitzpatrick then hit two free throws and the next time down the court, she made two more.


Sophomore Kylie Lamson countered with a leaner and after Fitzpatrick again pulled her team within one with a bank shot, a Lamson 3-ball with 3:24 remaining made it 17-13 Golden Trojans.

That would prove to be the visitors’ highwater mark, however.

After Fitzpatrick buried a long 3, she set Kelly up for a 3-pointer and a 19-17 lead.

“We usually are a slow starting team,” Fitzpatrick said. “Sometimes, it’s discouraging, but we have a great coaching staff and hearing them and our bench and our student section got us encouraged. There was a buzz in the school today and that’s great, especially with girls’ athletics that doesn’t get enough attention, so that was awesome.”

Anna Goodman then made a free throw before Kelly set up Boles for a corner 3 and a six-point advantage.

“We were a little frantic at the beginning, but (Maddie) took over and our defense helped us go after the ball and attack,” said Boles.


Thornton Academy finally reawakened, as Sulikowski ended the 18-5 surge with two foul shots and Lamson buried a 3, but with 21 seconds left, Boles found Goodman in the corner and she hit a 3 to make it 26-22 Cheverus at the break.

“I thought Anna’s 3 at the end of the half was huge,” said Billy Goodman.

Sulikowski led the Golden Trojans with nine first half points and Lamson added eight, but Fitzpatrick produced a near double-double (11 points and eight rebounds) to help give the Stags a slight lead.

Lizotte, who was held to just two first half points, started the third period with a turnaround jumper, but Fitzpatrick said anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better and drained a 3.

With 6:10 left in the frame, Kenniston got an offensive rebound and set up Sulikowski for a 3 and after Boles made a pretty move to freeze a defender and drove in for a layup, Kenniston drove for a layup, then Lizotte hit a pullup jumper in the lane to tie the score, 31-31, with 5:10 on the clock.

Seconds later, after Kenniston picked up her fourth foul, Kelly made two free throws and the Stags wouldn’t trail again.


Fitzpatrick then stole the ball and pulled up from well beyond the 3-point mark and her shot found nothing but net, forcing Thornton Academy first-year coach Suzanne Rondeau to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as Boles added a jumper and after sophomore Olivia Sirois got a point back at the line for the visitors, freshman Addison Jordan made a jumper, Boles scored on a putback, then Fitzpatrick set up Jordan for another short jumper and a 44-32 advantage which Cheverus took the fourth.

And there, the Stags salted away their victory.

The Golden Trojans had one final push, as Lizotte made a free throw, then hit two more with 5:56 remaining, but Boles scored on a putback before Fitzpatrick singlehandedly ended all doubt, making a layup after a steal, hitting a free throw, then pulling up and burying a jumper with 4:51 on the clock for an insurmountable 51-35 advantage.

Down the stretch, Sulikowski hit a long 3, Fitzpatrick fed Boles for a layup and Cheverus’ final points, then Lamson drove for a layup, but it was too little, too late and the Stags were able to celebrate a most impressive 53-40 victory.

“We’re really happy,” Boles said. “It was really energetic. The crowd and student section really stepped it up and gave us energy. That really helped us play well.”


“After a rough couple weeks of preseason, I wasn’t nervous, but I wasn’t sure how the season would go,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve come together. I know it’s cliché, but we’re a team and we love each other and the chemistry shows on the court.”

“Because of all the hype and all the talk, it’s a big win for the team,” Billy Goodman said. “As a coach, I love the experience my team is getting. There were no trophies given out tonight, but we gained a lot of confidence. I’m very impressed with my players. We got down early, but we turned it on. Pulling away was huge.”

Fitzpatrick had herself a night, leading all scorers with 22 points, adding a dozen rebounds, seven steals and three assists.

“Maddie just took control,” said Boles. “She’s just an all-around great player and great person, on and off the court. She always has my back. She’s the kindest soul I’ve ever met.”

“Maddie’s just amazing,’ Billy Goodman said. “It’s rebounding, it’s passing, it’s stealing the ball. She does everything. She didn’t force it tonight. She played within herself. She was who she is. She can post up, shoot, pass. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in a big game.”

Boles, who will play next year at Springfield College, excelled as well with 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.


“I don’t realize how big an impact I have, but it’s such a privilege to play on such a great team,” Boles said.

“I think that Ruth and I have a really good relationship,’ Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve seen her grow. The past couple of weeks, she’s stepped it up to another level. I think she’s one of the most underrated players in the state. I think she doesn’t get talked about enough. She plays amazing defense, can pass the ball, rebound, score, guard the best player on the other team. With all that, she’s also a great leader and a great teammate.”

“Ruth had the best game I’ve ever seen her play at Oxford and tonight she did it again,” Billy Goodman added. “I told her what I’m looking for and I can’t believe how quickly she’s doing it. I asked her to play like a champion and that’s what she’s done the past couple games.”

With senior Megan Dearborn sidelined due to illness, the “supporting cast” was pretty impressive too, as Kelly had six points, four steals, three rebounds and two assists, Anna Goodman and Jordan both finished with four points and Feeley and LaSalle added two points apiece, while senior Olivia Conroy spent much of the night bottling up Lizotte.

“The freshmen really stepped up big with Megan out sick,” Boles said.

“It’s so exciting to see the younger kids step up into really big roles,” said Fitzpatrick. “Abby Kelly and Addie Jordan and Rachel LaSalle do everything. They play great defense, get steals and score when we need them to. They don’t have any fear, which isn’t usually seen in underclassmen. It’s nice to see.”


“Every girl who plays does something to help us win and that’s what we need,” Billy Goodman added. “Little Anna Goodman made shots and made good, smart plays, defense and offense. Rachel Feeley stepped up in the first half. Rachel LaSalle out there. Addison and Abby out there, freshmen playing like seniors. It was awesome.”

Cheverus only turned the ball over eight times and made 9-of-15 foul shots.

Thornton Academy was paced by Sulikowski, who had 15 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists.

Lamson added 10 points and four rebounds and Lizotte finished with nine points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

“It was a group effort on Emma,” Billy Goodman said. “They have shooters who don’t miss. I asked my girls to be laser focused on defense because if you give them a little, you’ll make them pay.”

Kenniston tallied five points (to go with four rebounds and a pair of assists) and Sirois had one.


The Golden Trojans hit 8-of-10 free throws, but committed 19 turnovers.

“We made a lot of mistakes that we’ve tried to focus on,” said Rondeau. “If we don’t break the press and if we get in foul trouble, we lose, and that’s what happened tonight. It was our mistakes. We tried to run our press break and we were out of spots. At the same time, it’s a good learning experience and hopefully, we’ll learn.”

Fun’s just beginning

Thornton Academy looks to bounce back when it returns to action Thursday at home versus rival Biddeford. The Golden Trojans then welcome Noble Thursday.

“It’s early in the season and I’d rather make the mistakes now and learn from them,” said Rondeau. “We have a long road to go.”

Cheverus can’t rest on its laurels, especially after such a promising start.


The Stags are at city rival Portland Thursday, then go to another rival, Deering, Saturday.

“We just have to push each other in practice,” said Boles. “Every day, we have to come focused and work hard. We have such an amazing coaching staff that drives us. Last year is an impact. We were so close last year and lost it and it hit home. We’re so determined to get back to that point. Everyone wants a Gold Ball this year.”

“We just need to continue to learn how to play and grow with each other,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve had three very tough games at the beginning. Winning all of them has given us an ego boost, but we realize we have to take it one day at a time and not get ahead of ourselves. It’s very encouraging, but we have to stay present.”

“We started the year off with three tough games and obviously, I’m very pleased, but tomorrow, we get back to basics,” added Billy Goodman. “We’ll take it one day at a time.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

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