PORTLAND – Just as she’s done after each of McAuley High’s championship-game appearances, Lion senior Justine Pouravelis gave the award from Saturday night’s Class A state championship game to Sister Edward Mary Kelleher, the principal of the all-girls, 320-student Portland school.
Only this time, Pouravelis didn’t just have a Western Maine championship plaque or state title runner-up award.
When the co-captain climbed into the stands Saturday, she handed Sister Mary some serious hardware: the game ball, and the gold ball.
Pouravelis and the rest of the undefeated Lions, who were 0-2 in the two previous state-title games, finally reached the next level, holding off perennial powerhouse Cony of Augusta 67-61 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Not only did the Lions break a streak, but McAuley’s win ended a 13-year Class A state title drought for Western Maine teams. It may also be the first time an all-girls school has won a state basketball crown.
It has been a remarkable climb for the Lions, who were 1-17 just four years ago, won the Western Maine tournament as a No. 10 seed in 2000 but fell in the state game, and won the 2001 regional title again but lost in the state final again.
“I thought my sophomore year when we won the Western Maine championship that was the biggest and most exciting moment,” Pouravelis said. “But now that we’ve won this, I don’t think anything could top it. It was incredible.”
The Lions’ win was a tribute to poise and defense down the stretch.
In a game of runs, as McAuley coach Liz Rickett described it, the Lions reeled off the biggest one of all in the third quarter.
The Rams had a 42-33 lead and had made four straight 3-pointers in the third quarter and had nine overall, which is a state-final record. But Pouravelis and point guard Sarah Marshall (game-high 22 points) sparked a 12-0 run that gave McAuley a 45-42 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The key to the run was pressure defense. Pouravelis started the streak with a layup, and 17 seconds later a Cony turnover had the two girls streaking down the floor for a Marshall fast-break hoop. About 10 seconds later, Pouravelis stole the ball in the backcourt and put in the basket. After the two each picked up a foul, Marshall had a steal, was fouled on the field-goal attempt, and converted the free throws.
“We’ve relied on defense and runs all year,” Pouravelis said. “It was hard because Cony did that to us [in the second quarter] and we’re not used to that. But I think we had one run they couldn’t handle.”
Then, the Lions hit the offensive boards. Vermont-bound Tricia Freeman (16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) put back a rebound, as did the 5-foot-7 Marshall, to end the run.
“McAuley stepped up their defense and we didn’t react to it,” Cony coach Paul Vachon said. “We didn’t do a very good job of taking care of the basketball … we kind of froze there for a while and they got their run and I think that was the turning point.”
Cony climbed back into it in the fourth quarter thanks to guards Ashley Underwood, Karen Sirois and Lindsay Frye. About 11/2 minutes into the period Sirois hit a 3-pointer that tied the game and then put in a free throw for the lead. Marshall made three free throws to regain the lead; Mallory Dumont scored for Cony and Frye put in a 3-pointer to take a 53-50 advantage.
But Pouravelis scored off a pass from Freeman and substitute center Vanessa Lux hit a free throw and drove inside for a hoop and a 57-55 lead with 2:27 left.
Underwood tied it up on a 3-pointer with 1:30 to go, but Freeman put back a rebound to take the advantage for good.
Marshall and Freeman each made two free throws in the final 31 seconds to seal it. The Lions went 20 for 27 (8 for 11 in the fourth quarter) from the line overall.
“It’s something we actually struggled with all season and I told them in the locker room before the game, it’s free throws, rebounds, turnovers and defense,” Rickett said.
Cony used a 9-0 run to outscore McAuley 23-10 in the second quarter. The Lions made just two baskets in the period.
“We shot poorly and they were just starting to light it up,” Rickett said. “Their guards were getting easy penetration. … I don’t think our defense was strong.”
McAuley opened the game in a man defense and also played a 3-2 zone in the second half, which closed off the middle. Cony’s starting post players, 6-1 Jauna Andrews and 6-2 Katie Rollins had nine rebounds apiece but McAuley outrebounded Cony 31-27.
The Rams also had an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers.
Cony was hot from beyond the 3-point arc, however (the 1988 record the Rams broke was their own from that year in a game they lost to Portland High). Frye was 5 for 11 overall and 3 for 4 in the third quarter (she finished with 17 points). Underwood, who led Cony with 18 points, was 2 for 4. Sirois, who racked up nine assists, knocked down two 3-pointers.
LIONS 67, RAMS 61
Cony (21-2) McAuley (23-0)
Player G AG F AF TP Player G AG AF TP
Underwood 8 14 0 1 18 Marshall 7 14 7 8 22
Purington 0 0 0 0 0 Pouravelis 5 10 16
Frye 6 14 0 0 17 Gagnon 0 0 0 0
Rollins 1 2 1 3 3 Ebrahim 0 1 0
Dumont 2 2 1 2 5 Freeman 6 12 16
Sirois 3 8 1 2 9 Stone 1 2 3
Andrews 4 9 1 2 9 Champagne 0 0
Lux 4 7 2 10
Totals 24 49 4 10 61 23 47 20 27 67
Cony 7 30 42 61
McAuley 15 25 45 67
3-pt. goals: Cony (9-21): Frye 5-11, Underwood 2-4, Sirois 2-6; McAuley (1-3): Marshall 1-1, Ebrahim 0-1, Freeman 0-1