PORTLAND, Maine — Their height advantage was a formidable obstacle in its own right.
But combine that with a reservoir of title-game experience to turn to when things got tight, and it’s no surprise the McAuley Lions are Class A girls basketball champions for the second straight year.
Sophomore center Olivia Smith scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and McAuley of Portland used a decisive 9-0 run late in the third quarter Saturday to pull away to a 54-41 victory over Cony of Augusta in a battle of unbeatens for the gold ball at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Sophomore Allie Clement added 11 points and freshman Victoria Lux scored 10 for McAuley, while junior Molly Mack grabbed 12 rebounds to help the Lions end their season with a 22-0 record.
McAuley committed 30 turnovers, but the Lions’ front line of the 6-2 Smith, 6-2 senior Alexa Coulombe, the 6-0 Lux and 5-11 Mack helped limit the shorter, quicker Cony squad to 24 percent (13 of 54) shooting from the field — including just 13 percent (3 of 23) from 3-point range.
“Our big girls are used to having to go out and guard guards,” said first-year McAuley coach Bill Goodman. “It’s not easy when you’re taller; having that height is great but other teams are quicker so that’s where the team defense kicks in and the girls did a good job.”
Cony’s tallest player, 5-11 senior center Melanie Guzman, had 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Mia Diplock scored 10 points and Josie Lee grabbed 13 rebounds for the Rams, who finished 21-1.
“Some shots didn’t fall and we had some great, great looks,” said Cony coach Karen Magnusson. “A couple fell at key moments to get us going, but some of them didn’t fall at the right moment that would have gotten us over the top.
“We knew we had to shoot well.”
McAuley jumped out to a 13-2 lead in the game’s first six minutes as Cony had no answer for McAuley’s size and was relegated to 20 feet from the basket to find any shot attempts.
Of the Rams’ first nine field-goal tries, eight were from beyond the arc — all misses.
“You’re going to find that players are coming in here and trying to make something happen, they’re not just throwing those shots up because they’re scared,” said Magnusson. “They were throwing them up hoping to make the big shot, and some of them didn’t fall.”
Cony did begin using its quickness to force McAuley turnovers early in the second quarter, mounting a 9-2 run to draw within 15-11 after a steal and layup by Diplock with 5:06 left in the the half.
McAuley then went back inside, with Jaclyn Welch scoring on a drive and Smith hitting a jumper from the lane to stem Cony’s momentum.
A layup by Lux and a low-post move by Coulombe extended the McAuley lead to 24-15 with 1:16 left, and the margin was 25-17 at intermission.
Cony pulled within 26-24 three minutes into the second half as Bethany Elwell hit a 3-pointer and Guzman made a follow-up shot and two free throws, but McAuley used a recently installed zone press defense to ignite a run of nine unanswered points.
“Their length in (the press) really shrunk the court and it was hard to find open spots, and they did a good job of forcing us to sidelines rather than to the middle,” said Magnusson. “We kept trying to attack the middle but they took that away and that forced us to the sidelines where they could trap us.
“We haven’t faced a team with that size and that quickness for their size.”
A steal by Coulombe stemming from that defensive pressure led to a short jumper by Smith, then Smith was fouled after making a steal and converted both free throws to give the Lions a 30-24 lead.
Clement followed with her second 3-pointer of the game and Smith added another low-post basket to extend the McAuley advantage to 35-24 before Guzman went inside for a layup to end the Lions’ run and pull Cony within 35-26 at the end of the third quarter.