Sunday, March 2, 2014

WHS girls' basketball team runner-up in Western Maine Class A play - By Jim Beers - Photos by Stephanie Coffin

The Windham Eagles girls’ basketball team came up just short in their magical run in the 2014 playoffs, losing to top-ranked Catherine McAuley 50-28 in the western Maine final game at the Cumberland County Civic Center Saturday night. The valiant effort by the girls earned them some big respect among the Class A schools. 

Starting out ice cold from the field, the Eagles found themselves down 8-2 at the end of the first quarter. Catherine McAuley's swift rotating defense forced Windham into some bad passes and enabled the Lions to get out and fast break. Windham's Sadie Nelson picked up two fouls in the first period, sending her to the bench early. 

Heading into the second quarter, McAuley looked to go inside to Victoria Lux and Olivia Smith early and often. Lux missed a lot of her attempts, though she still had five of Catherine McAuley's nine early points.
For Windham, shots continued to go up, but were not finding the net, as evident by the 5-24 first half shooting. After Ayla Tartre made a free throw to put the Lions up 10-2, Windham's Katie Herzig breaks the drought and nails a jumper from the left side. The Eagles were getting a taste of their own medicine as McAuley limited Windham to one shot on the offensive end. Combine that with some costly turnovers, and Windham had dug a dangerous hole. The Eagles needed a spark offensively and Luisa Sbardella checked in to provide one. Hitting her first three shots, two of which were three pointers, Sbardella ignited the crowd and her teammates and got the Eagles to within six, 19-13 going into halftime. 

As the third quarter began, both teams still couldn't establish any rhythm offensively. Both squads looked to set the tone for the second half, and play was picking up in intensity. McAuley's Alexandra Clement scored 11 points on her own, helping the Lions to a 15-2 run to lead 34-15 at the end of the third quarter. Windham went completely cold in the quarter with their only bucket coming from Nelson at the 4:30 mark. 

Continuing to rack up the offensive rebounds, Catherine McAuley made it 38-15 on buckets by Lux and Clement to start the fourth. The Lions were quick to switch defensive assignments and made it difficult for Windham to get open on offensive. Grabbing a rare offensive rebound, the Eagle's Nelson scores and gets fouled. She converts the free throw to complete the 3-point play, down 38-18 with 6:28 to go. 

After another bucket by Nelson, this time off a length of the court pass by Sam Frost, play was abruptly halted due to an injury. 

Windham's Sbardella got picked above the key by McAuley's Smith, and fell to the floor in a heap. It was a clean, legal pick by Smith. Sbardella was down on the floor for nearly 30 minutes. Looking alert and talking, she was carried out on a stretcher amid great concern by her teammates and the capacity crowd. Still 5:34 to play in the game, both teams had to snap back into action. 

Scoring seven points in the final quarter, Catherine McAuley's Lux proved to be too much for the Eagles down the stretch. Windham still couldn't break through and find the openings it needed to make a run. The Lady Eagles finished their impressive season at 14-8, and as Western Maine Class A runner-ups. Sbardella led Windham with eight points, while Nelson added seven. 

McAuley was led by Clement, who finished with 23 points. Lux chipped in with 14 as the Lions improve to 20-1, and advance to the Class A State Championship game.

Photos by Stephanie Coffin. 

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