AUGUSTA — A sleepy start to the tournament? Hardly.
Consider: The Bangor girls basketball team could only watch as Cheverus poured in 3-pointer after 3-pointer and scored one transition basket after another. Deering stood during a stoppage in play with one minute to go, its three-possession lead frayed to a single point.
And those were the teams that actually won their games. No. 5 Bangor beat No. 4 Cheverus, 42-40, and No. 3 Deering edged No. 6 Lewiston, 51-47, in the quarterfinals of the AA North girls basketball tournament at the Augusta Civic Center. All four teams got to feel that their games were both in hand and slipping away, providing a reminder to fans — just in case they forgot — the cardinal rule of February.
In the tournament, no lead is safe. No team can be written off. And anything can happen.
“Absolutely. Regular season is regular season, but once the playoffs come, anybody’s going to win,” Lewiston coach Lynn Girouard said. “It can be anybody’s game, whether you’re the one seed or the six seed.”
Dramatic rallies and upsets go hand-in-hand with regional finals and championship games, but the quarterfinal round was the one setting a high bar Thursday for the rest of the Civic Center action. Cheverus and Deering beat their respective opponents by a combined 38 points during the regular season. And if a possession or two goes Lewiston’s way, both favorites drop their tournament openers and get a head start on spring.
“There’s 12 teams in it, and there’s 11 of us (where) it’s a coin flip,” Deering coach Steve Huntington said. “Gorham’s about 12 steps ahead of everybody, (but) it’s high school. Anybody can get beat.”
While the region’s two lowest seeds flirted with upsets, it was Bangor — a 52-30 loser in its first game against Cheverus — that finished the job. It wasn’t easy, even if it started that way. Six-foot-tall center Katie Butler, playing her final tournament before heading to play at Tufts, overwhelmed the Stags and totaled 12 of her 20 points and seven of her 10 rebounds in the first half, helping the Rams take a 29-13 lead at the break while Cheverus managed to shoot only 5-for-30 from the field.
“She’s fiercely competitive. She’s one of the most competitive, intense girls I’ve ever coached,” coach Joe Johnson said. “I knew that coming into the season, people were going to have trouble with her. … She’s always had a little bit of an outside game, and now she’s really taking it to the basket where she’s starting to use her size. You’ve got the rebounds, the blocks. She really can do it all.”
In the second half, however, the Bangor blowout and romp to the semifinals turned into a fight for survival. Cheverus’s Abby Cavallaro (25 points) erupted for 10 points in the third quarter and eight in the fourth, bringing a Stags team that at one point trailed by 19 points to a one-point deficit with under a minute to go.
That was as close as they got, however. Cheverus had a chance for a winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds but was off the mark, and couldn’t get the desperate follow-up attempt to fall either.
“My heart kind of skipped a beat,” Butler said. “If she had made that shot it would have been awful, but I’m just happy it didn’t go in.”
Less than two hours later, Lewiston and Deering were in the same spot. The Blue Devils were on track for the day’s second upset, going into halftime holding a 25-19 lead. But things changed in the second half again, with Lewiston managing only two third-quarter field goals and Deering taking a 32-29 lead after three.
The Rams upped the advantage to 36-29 with seven minutes to go, but the nature of the tournament struck again as Lewiston — a 58-42 loser the first time the teams met — whittled the lead down to two points three times and one point once, at 45-44, before Deering’s Tasia Titherington (17 points) iced the game with clutch free-throw shooting in the final minute.
“It’s kind of our M.O. all winter long,” Huntington said of the rally. “Nothing is easy. … That’s been the story of our team since the fifth game of the year.”
And the story of the tournament, where just a few plays can change the course of a game and make it a showdown of poise and nerve — one that will only continue with top seeds Oxford Hills and Edward Little entering the fold.
“I tell the girls all the time, basketball’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” Girouard said. “You’ve got to be mentally strong, and a lot of our girls were nervous. But that’s to be expected. I was nervous. It’s the playoffs. Everybody’s nervous.”
Drew Bonifant — 621-5638