Girls’ basketball: Cheverus dethrones Oxford Hills in Class AA North final

As the final seconds ticked off in the Class AA North girls’ basketball championship game, and Cheverus Coach Bill Goodman pumped his fists, then brought his hands to his head.

It was a reaction of joy and relief. And considering the way in which the Stags returned to the state final for the second time in three years, it was a fitting one.

Ruth Boles scored 20 points, Maddie Fitzpatrick added 13, and top-seeded Cheverus took down No. 2 Oxford Hills, 48-38, at Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Start with the joy. Cheverus remained undefeated at 20-0 and avenged a loss to Oxford Hills in the regional final last season. The Stags beat the Vikings in the 2022 regional final en route to the state title, but then lost a double-overtime thriller in the rematch a year ago, and Oxford Hills went on to its third state championship in four seasons.

“It’s incredible. It happened sophomore year for me and a couple of others, but it’s just different this year,” Fitzpatrick said. “We worked so hard, it’s indescribable.”

Fitzpatrick was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, though the biggest impact Saturday came from Boles, who also pulled down 12 rebounds and had 16 of her points through three quarters.

“Last year, we walked out of this crying, and I think that really hit home,” Boles said. “This year, we knew what needed to be done.”

There was also reason for relief, as foul trouble for Fitzpatrick put the Cheverus lead on shaky ground. The Miss Maine Basketball candidate picked up her third foul with 3:19 left in the third quarter and her fourth with 1:33 to go in the quarter, prompting the Stags to head into the fourth quarter without her on the floor.

When the Vikings’ Maddy Herrick made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 38-32 early in the fourth, the tension was at its peak. The Stags, however, were prepared.

“We really worked on that for a week, with (Fitzpatrick) not practicing and other girls stepping up and having to be in a different role,” Goodman said. “The practice paid off.”

Indeed, Cheverus kept Oxford Hills off the board on its next four possessions and remained six points ahead when Fitzpatrick reentered with 3:50 to play. The impact was immediate, as Fitzpatrick (nine assists, eight rebounds) set up Boles for a basket, made a pair of free throws and drove for a basket to push the margin to 12. Cheverus led by at least eight the rest of the way.

“It was definitely hard because she’s our leader,” Boles said. “All the girls stepped up on defense, offense. We just got into each other.”

Fitzpatrick said the team was more ready for adversity than last year, when the Stags let a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter slip away.

“We started to get down on ourselves when they started to come back (last year),” Fitzpatrick said. “(We wanted to) just keep pushing, and playing the good defense we were playing.”

The Stags gave up 19 points to Gabbie Tibbetts, but held Ella Pelletier to eight points and sharpshooter Tristen Derenburger to three.

“We had a lot of time off, and all we did was work on was defense,” said Goodman, who also got nine points from Megan Dearborn. “They had to be really focused, and they were. They did an amazing job.”

Oxford Hills Coach Nate Pelletier praised the work ethic of his team, which rallied from a 2-5 start this season to reach the brink of another state final.

“They played their butts off all year,” he said. “We knew if we could get close to 50, we had a chance, and we just stalled out there in the second half.”

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