PORTLAND, Maine — They were behind and their three best players were in foul trouble — a rare challenge on multiple levels for the McAuley High School girls basketball team.
It was but a temporary distraction.
The Portland-based juggernaut merely picked up the defensive intensity and used a run of 16 unanswered points midway through the contest to take control and win its fourth consecutive Class A state championship Saturday with a 67-41 victory over Oxford Hills of South Paris at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“I know that no matter what winning the fourth was the goal,” said Lions’ senior guard Allie Clement, who finished the game with 17 points, five assists and three steals. “But playing really well and having one of our best games is going to make it even more memorable.”
The game was locked at 20-20 before McAuley scored the final five points of the first half, three on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Clement.
Clement added two more 3-pointers and 10 points overall during the third quarter, when the Lions outscored Oxford Hills 25-10 while not committing a single turnover.
McAuley scored the first 11 points of the third period, and the run eventually grew to 23-2 before Oxford Hills ended a 7:33 field-goal drought on a four-point play by Mikayla Morin.
“Their defense was very good, and it seemed like every play was a steal out front and then when it wasn’t they came down and hit a three,” said Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier. “Clement is just good. There’s a reason she’s a Division I player.”
Victoria Lux added 19 points and eight rebounds for 21-1 McAuley, while Jaclyn Welch scored 12 points and Olivia Smith contributed six points and five rebounds.
Anna Winslow led 17-4 Oxford Hills with 17 points while Morin scored nine points and Tiana Sugars and Brooke Murch combined for 17 rebounds.
McAuley trailed by as many as eight points late in the first quarter but rallied for its 25-20 halftime lead despite Clement, Lux and Smith all sitting out substantial time with two fouls.
The Lions struggled early against Oxford Hills’ 2-3 zone defense, and a 3-pointer by Crystal West gave the Vikings their biggest lead at 12-4 with 1:40 left in the opening period.
But as McAuley began experiencing foul trouble coach Bill Goodman pulled back the Lions’ fullcourt press and switched to a smaller lineup and halfcourt approach that proved much more successful.
“We were nervous (about the foul trouble),” said Clement, who will attend Marist College in the fall. “We had to still pressure but not go for as many steals and not take as many chances.”
Oxford Hills began having trouble getting the ball inside to capitalize on the 6-foot-3 Smith and the 6-foot-1 Lux being sidelined, and McAuley started finding the range from the perimeter.
Clement converted a four-point play after being fouled on a 3-pointer to give the Lions their first lead, 15-13, early in the second quarter.
Welch later scored off an inbounding pass from Clement and followed with a 3-pointer as McAuley grabbed a 20-16 edge with 3:23 left until intermission.
A follow-up basket by Sugars and two Morin free throws tied the game with 1:31 remaining, but Smith returned to hit a 15-foot jumper before Clement droved the length of the court to connect on a 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key as time expired.
Oxford Hills turned the ball over on each of its first four second-half possessions, with Clement and Olivia Dalphonse turning two steals into layups to extend the McAuley lead to 29-20.
Three more Oxford Hills turnovers led to seven more points that stretched the McAuley run to 16-0 before Winslow finally ended the Vikings’ scoring drought with two free throws with 4:12 left in the period, only for Clement to strike again from beyond the arc to spark a new 7-0 surge that gave the Lions a 43-22 cushion with three minutes left in the quarter.
“In the first half we were so crazy because it was for the the state championship and it was the last game, especially for us seniors,” said Clement. “I think once we got past that in the first half, the third quarter has always been our best quarter and we just wanted to come out with a bang and get some points and play some good defense.”
“I think we did that and it changed the momentum of the game and got us going.”