Cheverus’ bench exults during the Stags’ rally in Thursday’s 53-50 win at Portland.
Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos.
More photos below.
C- 7 10 15 21- 53
P- 9 16 17 8- 50
C- Oryem 4-5-16, Galli 5-3-13, Duchaine 3-2-10, Burke 2-4-8, Foster 0-4-4, Flaherty 1-0-2
P- Bellew 6-3-15, Alado 5-1-13, Fonseca 4-0-8, Chadbourne 2-0-6, Greenwood 2-2-6, Mahan 1-0-2
C (5) Oryem 3, Duchaine 2
P (4) Alado, Chadbourne 2
PORTLAND—Games against rival Portland haven’t gone well for the Cheverus boys’ basketball team in recent years and when the Stags dug a 16-point hole Thursday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, Cheverus appeared destined for another loss to its rival.
But the Stags, consisting of players and coaches who had never beaten the Bulldogs, saved their best for last and came away with a stunning victory.
After a sluggish first period which saw Portland lead, 9-7, the Bulldogs culminated a 16-0 run and appeared to have control at the half with a 25-17 advantage.
Portland then took a 41-25 lead with 3:46 to play in the third quarter, when senior Pedro Fonseca scored, but Cheverus refused to fold.
The Stags, behind junior Nick Galli, closed the frame on a 7-1 run and were within 10 points, 42-32, heading to the final stanza.
There, Cheverus completed an epic comeback.
The Stags were down by nine with under six minutes remaining, but senior Owen Burke scored six straight points and his two foul shots with 1:05 on the clock put Cheverus up to stay, 49-48.
Senior Patrick Foster added two free throws and after Portland senior Trey Bellew made a layup to cut the deficit to one, senior Matt Duchaine sank two more foul shots and the Stags held on for a 53-50 victory.
Senior reserve extraordinaire Akera Oryem led Cheverus with 16 points, Galli added 13, Duchaine tallied 10 and Burke contributed eight as the Stags beat the Bulldogs for the first time in four years, improved to 9-7 and in the process, dropped Portland to 9-7.
“I’m really happy for my seniors,” said Cheverus coach Ryan Soucie. “They went their entire careers without beating Portland. I’m happy they got it done tonight, their last time playing at the Expo. I’m just so proud. It has nothing to do with the coaches, it’s all the kids. They made the plays, they believed, they went out and executed when it really mattered. Credit to them.”
Portland has had its way with Cheverus in recent years, but the Bulldogs haven’t struggled more than they’re accustomed to this winter.
Portland won its first four games: 80-48 at Noble, 59-46 over visiting Windham, 56-53 (in overtime) at Oxford Hills and 69-41 at Massabesic. After letting a 15-point halftime lead slip away in a 64-58 loss at Bangor, the Bulldogs beat visiting Deering, 55-32, then dropped a 56-53 overtime heartbreaker at Gorham and a 61-56 double-overtime decision to visiting Edward Little, the defending Class AA champion. After eking out a 49-47 home win over Sanford, Portland fell at South Portland, 58-48, then downed visiting Scarborough (59-40), visiting Lewiston (68-55) and host Cheverus (72-42). Last Friday, the Bulldogs were humbled, 54-23, at Thornton Academy and Wednesday, Portland lost at home in overtime to Bonny Eagle, 62-61.
Cheverus, meanwhile, started with a 58-48 victory at Windham and after losses at home to South Portland (63-45) and defending AA champion Edward Little (61-56), downed visiting Sanford (61-59) and visiting Bonny Eagle (61-49). The Stags rolled at Lewiston, 77-42, then lost at unbeaten Bangor, 78-60 and at home to Thornton Academy (54-29), before downing visiting Scarborough, the defending Class AA South champion (61-53), and visiting Gorham (68-64). Following a 65-52 loss at Deering, Cheverus romped at Massabesic (66-17), but losses to visiting Portland (72-42) and at Oxford Hills (54-49) followed. Tuesday, the Stags defeated host Noble, 62-40.
Entering play Friday, Portland held a 96-90 all-time lead in the series, thanks to seven straight wins, including a 30-point road victory Jan. 18, as senior Jeremiah Alado had 18 points and Fonseca added 14.
This time around, Portland hoped to make it 13 out of 14 in the series, but Cheverus earned its first victory over the Bulldogs since Jan. 30, 2015 (55-44 at the Expo) thanks to a memorable rally.
The game began slowly as each team missed its first four shots.
A putback from Alado opened the scoring and a jumper from Duchaine got the Stags on the board.
Portland then took a 7-2 lead behind a 3-pointer from Alado and a driving layup from junior Stillman Mahan.
After Galli scored his first points, on a putback, Mahan set up senior Trey Bellew for a layup, but in the final minute, Oryem first made his presence felt with a 3-pointer to pull Cheverus within two, 9-7.
The Stags started the second quarter strong, as Galli tied the game with two free throws, Oryem drained another 3 and with 5:08 left in the first half, Burke sank two foul shots to cap a 10-0 run and put Cheverus up, 14-9.
The Bulldogs then embarked on a 16-0 surge to seemingly seize control.
With 4:18 remaining in the second period, Bellew’s leaner snapped a 4-minute, 53-second drought.
After junior Richard Greenwood tied the score with an old-fashioned three-point play (putback, foul, free throw), a Bellew foul shot put the hosts back on top.
Alado then scored on a putback, Fonseca set up Alado for a layup, Greenwood converted another three-point play and with 1:22 on the clock, junior Simon Chadbourne drained a 3-ball for a 25-14 Portland advantage.
An Oryem 3 with 1 minute to go snapped a 4:08 drought and pulled the Stags back within eight, 25-17, at the break.
Alado had nine first half points for the Bulldogs, while Oryem’s nine points kept Cheverus in the contest.
Portland then threatened to run away and hide in the third quarter, but the Stags stayed within hailing distance.
Bellew got the second half started in style with a three-point play, but Duchaine countered with a 3-pointer.
Bellew then made a hook shot, Alado sank a 3 and Fonseca made a layup to push the lead to 35-20.
After Duchaine stemmed the tide with a 3, Chadbourne set up Bellew for a layup and with 4:33 remaining in the frame, Greenwood passed to Fonseca for a layup which made the score 39-23, capping a staggering 30-9 run.
But just when it appeared Cheverus was destined for another loss at Portland’s expense, it got off the deck.
After Galli and Fonseca traded hoops, senior Ryan Flaherty made a leaner for the Stags and after Alado sank a free throw, Galli scored on a reverse layup and Galli converted a three-point play to pull Cheverus within 10, 42-32, with eight minutes to go.
And those final eight minutes would be the best of the night for the visitors.
Oryem began the fourth period with a driving layup while being fouled and he added the free throw to set the tone.
After Bellew got a point back at the line for the Bulldogs, Galli banked home a leaner to pull the Stags within six, 43-37.
Chadbourne then sank a 3, but Portland’s comfort would be short lived.
After senior Patrick Foster hit two foul shots, Oryem did the same and a with 3:14 on the clock, Oryem made both ends of a one-and-one and Cheverus cut the deficit to 46-43.
Fonseca drove for a layup eight seconds later, but Burke put the Stags on his shoulders and helped them complete their rally.
With 2:51 on the clock, Burke scored on a leaner.
“My teammates got me good open looks and I just happened to finish,” said Burke.
Forty seconds later, Duchaine missed a 3, but Burke got the offensive rebound and scored on a putback to make it a one-point game.
Then, after an Oryem steal, Burke was fouled with 1:05 to go and Burke made both ends of a one-and-one and just like that, Cheverus was ahead, 49-48.
“I didn’t want to overthink it,” Burke said. “I do it in practice and I just wanted to put it in. That says a lot about our team’s focus. We went to the line, focused and put it in. We didn’t have anxiety.”
“I’m proud of Owen,” Soucie said. “He didn’t play well early on, he was on the bench in the third quarter, but we put him back in and he came up huge.”
After Portland turned the ball over, Foster was fouled and he sank both attempts with 17.9 seconds showing for a three-point lead.
Bellew kept hope alive for the hosts when he finished a feed from Chadbourne and made a layup with 4.9 seconds to go, but with 3.2 seconds left, Duchaine was fouled and he made two more free throws.
“We preach how important free throws are and the guys came through tonight,” Soucie said.
Portland had a chance to tie, but couldn’t get a shot off and the Stags were able to celebrate their 53-50, come-from-behind triumph.
“It didn’t look like it was going our way, but we stayed together as a unit,” Burke said. “We slowly got back in the game. It was a strong team effort. It’s an awesome feeling, especially for the eight seniors to beat Portland at the Expo.”
“We said some things at halftime that I think struck a chord,” Soucie said. “We came out in the third quarter and got down, but I think those words still resonated. I used my timeouts to keep us in it and the guys bore down. We made some shots, got some stops and turnovers and started to believe. We had guys step up. We had timely rebounds, timely steals and we were (great) from the free throw line.”
Oryem was once again a revelation off the bench, scoring a game-high 16 points while producing a couple of steals.
“Akera brought energy in the first half,” said Burke. “He kept us in it and gave us hope.”
Galli had 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
“Nick’s always the tough kid who does the dirty work and we all appreciate it,” Burke said.
Duchaine finished with 10 points, Burke had eight, Foster four and Flaherty two.
The Stags were a superb 18 of 20 from the free throw line and overcame 15 turnovers.
The Bulldogs, who have lost three games in a row for the first time since Jan. 25-29, 2011, were led by Bellew, who had 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Alado added 13 points (and seven boards), Fonseca had eight, Chadbourne (four assists) and Greenwood contributed six apiece and Mahan had two.
Portland made 6 of 9 foul shots and turned the ball over 14 times.
“It is what it is,” Bulldogs coach Joe Russo said. “Unfortunately, as of late, we’re learning how to lose when usually, we know how to win, especially this time of year. Cheverus battled back. The hardest thing is everybody who played tonight did some really good things, but all of them at the end did some things that hurt us. It wasn’t a physical effort, it was the conceptual understanding. They got nervous and did uncharacteristic things down the stretch.”
The basketball regular season ends next Thursday and both teams face a pair of tough challenges before learning their postseason ranking.
Portland (now sixth in the AA North Heal Points standings) hosts South Portland Tuesday, then finishes at Deering Thursday.
“I’m not sure there’s anything I can do now,” Russo said. “It’s up to them. It doesn’t get any easier because we’re playing teams that are preparing for the playoffs. They’re excited for their opportunities and they won’t feel sorry for us.”
Cheverus (fifth in the region) hosts Deering Tuesday, then closes at South Portland Thursday.
“This is great confidence for the team,” Burke said. “This gives us energy going into Senior Night against Deering. I think the league is wide open. We’re capable of more stuff. We just have to figure it out.”
“I think this gives us confidence,” Soucie said. “We’ll see how the playoffs shake out. Deering on Senior Night will be a battle, but it’s good for us. South Portland as well. That’s Class AA. We have to be prepared because there will be no easy games the rest of the way.”
Portland senior Lewis Gaddas dives for a loose ball in front of Cheverus sophomore Nolan Sanborn.
Cheverus senior Akera Oryem, who had a game-high 16 points, shoots over Portland senior Pedro Fonseca.
Cheverus senior Owen Burke leans in for a shot on Portland junior Simon Chadbourne.
Portland senior Pedro Fonseca tries to knock the ball away from Cheverus sophomore Nolan Sanborn.
Portland junior Stillman Mahan drives through the Cheverus defense for a layup.
Cheverus junior Nick Galli goes up for a shot as Portland junior Simon Chadbourne defends.
Portland 72 @ Cheverus 42
Portland 59 @ Cheverus 37
@ Portland 67 Cheverus 45
Portland 47 @ Cheverus 43
@ Portland 69 Cheverus 46
@ Portland 72 Cheverus 42
Portland 59 @ Cheverus 48
Portland 57 @ Cheverus 45
Cheverus 55 @ Portland 44
@ Portland 55 Cheverus 46
Portland 64 @ Cheverus 53
@ Cheverus 63 Portland 35
Cheverus 58 @ Portland 41
@ Cheverus 59 Portland 44
Cheverus 50 @ Portland 33
@ Cheverus 68 Portland 62
@ Portland 37 Cheverus 31
Western A semifinals
Cheverus 63 Portland 49
Cheverus 65 @ Portland 59
Portland 69 @ Cheverus 63
Western A Final
Portland 62 Cheverus 44
@ Cheverus 60 Portland 53
Cheverus 64 @ Portland 58
Western A semifinals
Portland 55 Cheverus 44
Cheverus 43 @ Portland 41
Cheverus 52 Portland 50 (OT) (@ SMCC)
Western A Final
Portland 68 Cheverus 52