PORTLAND — The potential team for the ages proved to be too much for the individual superstar Friday evening at Keegan Gymnasium.
The Cheverus Stags continued their perfect defense of their Class A crown by holding South Portland junior standout Keegan Hyland in check and riding a 14-0 second half run to an emphatic 60-41 victory over the Red Riots.
Cheverus’ transcendent senior Mick DiStasio had five 3-pointers and 23 points in helping the Stags pull away.
“I felt we played very well at times,” Cheverus coach Bob Brown said. “I thought (Mick) just drilled them and that showed immense amounts of character.”
Last Feb. 2, South Portland came to Ocean Avenue and stunned the Stags, 68-47. The Red Riots were 12-1 entering Friday’s tilt, with only a home loss to Westbrook.
Cheverus, meanwhile, has been close to invincible, capturing its first 12 league decisions in addition to winning the Portland High Holiday tournament.
The Stags got a huge break prior to tipoff when South Portland lost junior Matt Lee, who hurt his knee and couldn’t play. Although the Red Riots put forth a solid effort, they simply couldn’t counter Cheverus’ defense or the play of DiStasio and junior Indiana Faithfull.
Just 29 seconds into the game Red Riots’ junior Spencer Bowring hit a 3-pointer to put his team on top. After Faithfull fed junior Lenny Cummings for a dunk, junior Connor Hasson made a layup and Hyland buried a 3-ball to put South Portland on top 8-2. Cummings and Hasson traded hoops to make it 10-4 before the hosts exploded for seven straight points to take their first lead.
After senior Dan Foster made a 3-pointer, DiStasio converted a layup and Foster buried a jumper. The Red Riots went back on top 13-11 on a 3-pointer from junior Jon DiBiase, but senior Peter Foley tied the game with a layup. With 7.5 seconds to go in the first, South Portland took a 15-13 lead on a Hasson layup.
Cheverus seized control in the second period.
Faithfull tied the game with a layup, then put his team up 17-15 with another layup after a steal. The Red Riots tied the game on a Hyland jumper, then went up 20-17 on a Hyland 3-pointer.
With 5:35 to play in the first half, the Stags pulled even and turned the tide for good when junior Kyle Randall buried a 3. Thirty-five seconds later, Cummings tipped home a missed shot to put the hosts ahead permanently. Faithfull followed with a pair of foul shots, DiStasio canned a 3-ball, then made a layup for a 29-20 lead. After Bowring ended the 12-0 run with a layup, Foley tipped home a shot at the horn to put Cheverus ahead 31-22 at the break.
The Stags then put the game away coming out of the half.
A layup from Cummings got things started. DiStasio followed with a 3-pointer. After Cummings made a layup, DiStasio did the same. DiStasio then stole the ball and raced in for a jam. With 5:28 to go in the third period, Faithfull scored on a layup after a steal, was fouled, and made the free throw for a 45-22 lead, capping a 14-0 run to start the half and a 28-2 surge.
“I thought Cheverus’ run at the start of the third period when we didn’t answer, that was the difference in the game,” South Portland coach Phil Conley said.
A pair of foul shots from Hyland ended the run. Hyland then hit a leaner and junior Brian McHugh scored on a rebound layup, but Foley scored on a rebound layup to give the Stags a 47-28 advantage heading into the final period.
Cheverus then went ice cold, but South Portland couldn’t put together enough solid possessions to make a serious run. The Red Riots managed to pull within 47-35 with 4:26 to go, but DiStasio returned to form, hitting a 3-ball, then, after a Hyland layup, another 3-pointer for a 53-37 lead. Junior Ryan Curit made a pair of free throws for the visitors, but DiStasio rose to the occasion once more with a 3-point bomb for a 56-39 lead with 2:18 to play.
“(South Portland) killed us last time,” Brown said. “We subtly reminded (our kids) of it and that it’s our home court. I was pleased for the most part. I thought everyone played very well. That’s what we do. That’s our team defense. It doesn’t matter who we play. I thought we played terrible zone offense until the end, when we lit it up.”
DiStasio had 23 points to lead all scorers. Faithfull added 11 and Cummings had 10.
Hyland led South Portland with 17 points, far under his average of nearly 30 per contest.
“(Hyland’s) an awesome player.,” DiStasio said. “He’s probably the best in the league. The most prolific scorer. Defensive pressure was our key. Playing physical was big. These are the best games. That’s what we want. I wish we could play those games every night.”
Lee’s absence was certainly felt.
“It was sort of disappointing,” DiStasio said. “We want all the best players to be out there. He’s obviously one of their best players. We just played our game. We had trouble with the zone at first and we made some bad passes. We found our spots and spread the ball around.”
“Obviously, Lee’s presence makes them a much better team,” Brown added. “Would it be enough? We’ll find out the next time.”
Cheverus made it 14 in a row Saturday with a 78-56 home win over Massabesic Saturday behind 19 points from DiStasio and 15 from Faithfull.
The Stags, now first in the Western A Heal Points standings, went to Thornton Academy Tuesday (too late for this edition). They’ll play a rematch at South Portland on Friday before finishing the regular year at Portland and at home versus Deering next week.
“These are all exciting games,” DiStasio said.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com