PORTLAND—Once again, Cheverus’ girls’ basketball team was the victim of an Oxford Hills fourth quarter comeback.

But this time, the Stags had the last laugh.

Thursday evening at Keegan Gymnasium, in a rematch of last year’s unforgettable Class AA North Final, Cheverus’ undefeated record was hanging in the balance as time wound down, but thanks to the clutch shooting of a confident senior captain, and not the one you might have expected, it managed to find a way to earn its most inspirational victory of the season.

The Vikings, who came in to the game with a losing record, just three weeks removed from a 29-point home loss to the Stags, quickly announced that this game was going to be different, as it took an early 7-3 lead and was even at 14-14 after an exciting first quarter.

When senior standout Maddie Fitzpatrick and classmate Megan Dearborn began the second quarter with a 3-pointers, Cheverus appeared poised to open up a lead, but Oxford Hills closed the half on a 12-5 run and thanks to 10 points from junior star Ella Pelletier, clung to a 32-30 advantage at the break.

The Stags, who committed an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers in the first half, took much better care of the ball in the third quarter and thanks to 3-point shots from sophomore Rachel LaSalle, Fitzpatrick and freshman Abby Kelly, went on a 10-0 run to seize the lead and when Fitzpatrick sank another 3 late, Cheverus was on top, 48-40, heading to the fourth period.


But there, the Vikings roared back to life, going on a 12-2 run, taking the lead on a runner from junior Gabbie Tibbetts, then seizing a 52-50 lead on a Pelletier free throw with 2:09 to go.

Dearborn answered with a 3 with 1:21 left, but with 46 seconds on the clock, two Pelletier free throws put Oxford Hills on the brink of an inspirational victory.

It wasn’t to be, however, as eight seconds later, Dearborn hit the biggest 3 of her career and after Pelletier missed a potential game-tying shot as time wound down, Fitzpatrick iced it with two foul shots with a second to go and the Stags survived, 58-54.

Fitzpatrick led the way with 22 points and Dearborn added a dozen as Cheverus improved to 8-0 and in the process, dropped the Vikings to 2-4.

“It’s good to have a competitive game like this,” said Dearborn. “It teaches us a lot and gives us a lot to work on. We’re all grateful for good competition.”

Wins keep coming


Oxford Hills, the reigning state champion, suffered its fair share of graduation losses and has been up-and-down in the early going. The Vikings opened with a 59-44 win at Edward Little, then lost at home to Cheverus (76-47).

“The score of the first game could have been a lot worse,” said Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier. “(Stags coach) Billy (Goodman) was pretty nice to us in that one. We just weren’t ready.”

After winning at reigning Class A South champion Brunswick (38-28), the Vikings fell at Mt. Ararat (49-39) and let a big early lead slip Tuesday in a loss at Bangor (44-38).

Cheverus, meanwhile, has been dominant in the early going as it perhaps came of age faster than expected.

The Stags started with decisive wins at South Portland (48-28) and Oxford Hills (76-47), then really impressed with a 53-40 home victory over preseason favorite Thornton Academy. After downing host Portland (72-35), Cheverus rolled at Deering (61-27), held off visiting Scarborough (46-37), then Tuesday defeated visiting Windham, 62-28.

Last year, the rivals met three times with each game more dramatic than the last. The first game saw Oxford Hills prevail at home, 61-50. Cheverus then won on its home floor, 51-43. The rubber match was unforgettable, a regional final for the ages, where the Stags were on the brink of getting an opportunity to defend their championship, up 12 points in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings roared back, forced overtime, then in double-OT advanced, 68-63.


Thursday, Oxford Hills was able to close the gap, but Cheverus made the biggest plays at the biggest times to stay unblemished.

Cheverus senior Ruth Boles and Oxford Hills junior Ella Pelletier jump for the ball to start Thursday’s contest, won by the Stags, 58-54. Hoffer photos.

The Stags set the tone for their sharpshooting ways when Dearborn took a pass from Fitzpatrick and opened the scoring with a 3-pointer 33 seconds in.

The Vikings then rattled off seven quick points, as Ella Pelletier fed senior Milo Seams for a 3 to tie it, then Tibbetts sank two foul shots before senior Maddy Miller drove for a layup and a 7-3 advantage.

Back came Cheverus, as Fitzpatrick found Kelly for a 3 from the corner.

Pelletier countered with her first points, a bank shot, but after a steal, Fitzpatrick set up senior Ruth Boles for a layup, then Fitzpatrick and LaSalle added 3-pointers for a 14-9 lead.

A Tibbetts 3 ended the Stags’ 11-2 run, then on the fastbreak, Pelletier set up junior Maddy Herrick for a layup to forge a 14-14 tie after one period.


Cheverus started the second quarter red-hot, as first Fitzpatrick banked home a 3-point attempt, then Dearborn took a pass from Boles and buried a 3 from the corner to make it 20-14.

Pelletier answered with a layup, then Fitzpatrick had to sit when she picked up her second foul on a charge.

After a Miller putback pulled the Vikings within two, Kelly made her second 3.

Pelletier countered with a putback, but Boles’ bank shot made it 25-20 Stags with 4;12 left in the half.

Oxford Hills then raced back in front, thanks to seven straight points.

This time, the run started with a Pelletier free throw. Tibbetts then pulled up and made a jumper in the lane in transition and after Miller tied the score on a putback, she took a pass from Herrick and made a layup with 1:31 on the clock for a 27-25 Vikings’ lead.


Billy Goodman then turned to Fitzpatrick and asked, “Can you play without fouling? Go!”

Fitzpatrick put Cheverus ahead with a 3, but Pelletier made a 3, then Pelletier set up Tibbetts for a layup in transition.

At the horn, Fitzpatrick was fouled while shooting a desperation 3-pointer and she made two of the subsequent three free throws to pull the Stags within a basket, 32-30, at halftime.

The first half saw Fitzpatrick stuff the stat sheet to the tune of 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Oxford Hills was paced by Pelletier’s 10 points, five rebounds and four assists, as well as eight points and six rebounds from Miller.

The second half would remain close and the game would come down to the wire.

Oxford Hills junior Ella Pelletier is defended by Cheverus seniors Maddie Fitzpatrick (23) and Megan Dearborn (5), along with junior Rachel Feeley.

The Stags tied the score 21 seconds into the third quarter when Fitzpatrick set up Boles for a layup, but Tibbetts countered with a jumper.


Fitzpatrick then set up sophomore Anna Goodman for a 3-pointer and the lead, but Herrick found Miller for a layup before a Fitzpatrick foul shot tied the score, 36-36.

With 4:31 to go in the period, Boles set up LaSalle for a 3 and the lead and 49 seconds later, Fitzpatrick added a 3 of her own.

Fitzpatrick picked up her third foul with 3:24 remaining, but it didn’t hurt Cheverus, as Boles found Kelly for another 3 to stretch the lead to nine.

With 2:16 to go, a Tibbetts jumper snapped the Stags’ 10-0 run and a 4 minute, 11 second scoring drought, then Pelletier added two free throws, but with 34 seconds showing, Fitzpatrick took a pass from Goodman and sank a 3 which sent Cheverus to the fourth quarter up eight, 48-40.

The Stags, who gave the ball away eight times in the first half, then only committed two turnovers in the third period, returned to their sloppy ways to start the final stanza, throwing the ball away five straight times, giving Oxford Hills life and allowing the Vikings to get right back into the contest.

After Pelletier and Herrick each made a free throw, Pelletier set up Herrick for a 3 from the corner with 6:23 on the clock and just like that, it was a one-possession game.


Fitzpatrick restored order by making a contested layup with her left hand with 5:20 to play, but 15 seconds later, Miller made a short jumper, then with 4:39 left, Pelletier got a contested leaner to roll in to cut the deficit to just a single point, 50-49.

After Kelly missed a 3, Tibbetts had a look to put Oxford Hills in front, but she missed.

Fitzpatrick then twice missed 3-pointers and with 3:14 remaining, Tibbetts’ runner in the lane gave the Vikings a 51-50 advantage, their first since the score was 36-35.

After LaSalle missed a 3, Cheverus retained possession, but a shot from freshman Addison Jordan went in-and-out and Herrick got the rebound.

With 2:09 to go, Pelletier was fouled and she made one of two attempts to stretch the lead to two.

Goodman then missed a 3 and got her own rebound and couldn’t finish that either and when Herrick got the rebound, Oxford Hills appeared in business, but Tibbetts couldn’t convert at the offensive end and Jordan got the rebound, giving the Stags another chance.


And with 1:21 left, they capitalized, as Boles swung the ball to Dearborn in the corner and her 3-point attempt found nothing but net for a 53-52 lead.

Miller then missed for the Vikings, but Pelletier got the offensive rebound and was fouled.

With 46 seconds to go, Pelletier sank both attempts and Oxford Hills clung to a one-point advantage.

It lasted all of eight seconds, as Cheverus got the ball in to Fitzpatrick, who looked up, spotted an open Dearborn and delivered a strike.

Dearborn, not in her usual spot in the corner, but more at the elbow extended portion of the 3-point line, caught the ball and didn’t hesitate and her shot found the net with just 38 seconds remaining, putting the Stags on top for good, 56-54.

“I think we all know our roles on the team and try to execute them as best we can,” Dearborn said. “My role is shooting 3s. It’s my main role. It was pretty fun to hit a shot like that.”


“We work in practice having Anna, Megan, Abby Kelly work on shooting in transition because they can make those shots,” said Fitzpatrick. “That can give us a big push of energy and get us going. Megan was on fire. I knew she’d shoot it. Coach encourages her to shoot and she’s a great shooter and can finish. I knew she’d bury it.”

“At halftime, I said to Megan, ‘Be ready to shoot,'” Billy Goodman added. “She knows I want her shooting when she’s open. She did what she was asked to do. She’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever coached.”

The Vikings would look to answer and after calling timeout with 20 seconds left to play, Tibbetts had a shot blocked by LaSalle, but Herrick got the rebound and Oxford Hills called timeout again with 10 seconds showing.

Cheverus coach Billy Goodman talks to his team during a late timeout.

The Vikings would get the look they wanted, as Pelletier got the ball in close, but with 3 seconds to go, her bid was just off the mark and Fitzpatrick got the rebound with just 1 second left and was fouled.

“In the timeout, Coach told us to help out on the shooters and remember Ella inside too,” Fitzpatrick said. “If she had made it, good for her.

At the other end, Fitzpatrick ended all doubt with two free throws and at 8:25 p.m., the horn sounded and Cheverus was able to exhale and celebrate a hard-won 58-54 victory.


“We were ready for the competition,” Dearborn said. “We knew they’d be more prepared this time. We were hoping for the best. Until the very last second, we give it 100 percent and wait for the buzzer.”

“We knew they’re a great team, very well coached and they always bring it,” Fitzpatrick said. “They have a lot of good shooters.”

“(The Vikings) have so many girls who can score, so we had to play disciplined D, which I think we did,” Billy Goodman said. “I had freshmen and sophomores out there tonight and they’re learning to play. It’s a little more intense than what they’re used to. We had a lot of rotations going on and I’m very, very proud of the girls.”

Fitzpatrick produced her latest tour-de-force performance, scoring a game-high 22 points, while also producing eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Dearborn also wound up in double figures with 12 points. Kelly had nine points off the bench, Boles added six points, five rebounds and four assists and helped neutralize Pelletier to a degree in the second half. LaSalle also had six points (as well as three steals and two blocked shots) and Anna Goodman finished with three (to go with two assists and two rebounds).

The Stags drained a whopping 15 3-pointers to the Vikings’ four, made 5-of-7 free throws and overcame 16 turnovers.


“We knew they’d bring it to us,” said Billy Goodman. “We’ve worked on what we struggled with tonight, but we didn’t work on it enough, so I’m blaming myself.”

Oxford Hills was led by Ella Pelletier, who had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Tibbetts added 15 points, three steals, two assists and two rebounds and Miller also wound up in double figures with a dozen points, to go with eight rebounds. Herrick had six points, four rebounds and two assists and Seams wound up with three points, four rebounds and a pair of steals.

The Vikings had a 32-30 advantage on the glass, hit 10-of-14 free throws and turned the ball over 19 times.

“We’re trying to find ways to win,” Nate Pelletier said. “We have a lot of kids who are learning still. I’m super-proud of our effort. We came out and we fought. (Cheverus) shot the lights out and made 15 3s. They needed all of them to squeak out a win. If that last 3 didn’t go in, it probably would have been our game. Kudos to them for shooting lights out. They made 11 3s at our place, so I knew they could shoot, but 15 is a big number. We had a shot at the end and I was happy with the look. That goes in 60 percent of the time.

“It’s not about this. It’s about building on to the next one. We just have to get some wins now. We were up at Bangor and got down and couldn’t get out of the funk. Tonight. we had some pep talks and settled down and gave ourselves a chance to win.”

Best is yet to come


If Oxford Hills and Cheverus meet again, it wouldn’t be until late February and both squads have plenty of heavy lifting in the meantime.

The Vikings hope to get on track when they return home Saturday, but they have to square off against defending Class A state champion Lawrence. Bonny Eagle and Portland pay Oxford Hills a visit next week.

“For us, we have to be laser-focused,” Nate Pelletier said. “We’re asking kids to play a lot of minutes for us. Every day in practice, we just want to get a little bit better. You never know what can happen in playoffs. If we keep improving, our goal is to see Cheverus again.”

Cheverus has a quick turnaround, as it goes to undefeated Bangor Saturday afternoon where it hopes to match the 2012-13 team for the best start in program history. The Stags then begin the second half of the season with a visit to Lewiston Tuesday of next week.

“We get everyone’s best game and every game we’re learning something about ourselves,” Fitzpatrick said. “We just have to be sponges and grow. It’s not the worst thing if we lose a game in the regular season. We just don’t want to lose in February.”

“This is one of the toughest schedules I’ve had coaching in all my years,” Billy Goodman said. “We played the defending state champs and now we’ll play an undefeated Bangor team Saturday. We’ll work a lot on handling pressure. I have to get my team ready for that.”

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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