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PORTLAND—The Cheverus performance was far from flawless, but the Stags’ record remains untarnished.
Cheverus overcame an inspired Deering effort to pull out a 43-36 boys’ basketball victory on Tuesday night in a turnover-plagued affair at Deering High School that wasn’t decided until the final minute.
Junior Louie DiStasio scored seven of his team-high 15 points in the final 2:08 of the game to keep the top-ranked Stags perfect at 17-0. The Rams, who entered the game fifth in the Western Maine Class A Heal Point Standings, dropped to 10-7.
The game was tied at 34-34 with 2:20 to go after Deering sophomore Labson Abwoch scored off a feed from senior Jamie Ross, but DiStasio was quick to answer at the other end, knocking down a 3-pointer to put the Stags back on top.
Abwoch, who finished with a team-high 15 points, scored again inside to cut the Rams’ deficit to one. Cheverus sophomore Matt Cimino went to the line for two with 1:36 left, but missed both attempts. DiStasio was there for the rebound, however, and was immediately fouled. He made both to make it 39-36.
Deering turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds play, but Cheverus gave it right back. The Rams set up their offense and moved the ball around until junior Pat Green had a clean look from beyond the arc for the tie, but it bounced off the rim and Cheverus rebounded. DiStasio made two more free throws with 47 seconds left. A Deering turnover followed and Cimino made two from the line to seal the win.
“We knew that this was going to be a big game and that Deering was going to come out and attack,” DiStasio said. “We knew they’d want to take it here (at home) but we knew we just had to keep the ball moving and try to slow it down.”
The defending state champion Stags have not experienced many close games this season, often putting teams away right out of the gates with a monster first quarter, but that was not the case on this night.
Cheverus, which defeated Deering 61-51 when the teams met in January, clung to a 10-9 lead after a first quarter that saw both teams struggle to protect the ball against pressure.
The Stags took a 15-11 lead on a 3 by junior James Kapothanasis two minutes into the second quarter, but junior Jon Amabile made a 3 of his own to spark a 9-0 Rams run. Green hit a jumper to put Deering on top, then stole the ball and took it in for a layup to force a Cheverus timeout with the score 18-15. Deering led 20-17 at halftime.
With 4:18 to go in the third quarter, the Rams watched a one-point lead turn into a four-point deficit in one Cheverus possession. DiStasio drove to the hoop, made a runner and was fouled. The Rams and their loud and abundant faithful thought he received the benefit of an NBA-like continuation call. As the players lined up for the free throw, Ross was whistled for a technical foul. DiStasio made all three free throws to put Cheverus up 26-22.
“That was the game-changer,” DiStasio said. “That changed everything around. They had the lead then we went ahead.”
Cheverus coach Bob Brown agreed with the assessment.
“It was huge,” Brown said. “Huge, because they were easy points. He made the basket and hit the free throws, so it’s a five-point play.”
The Stags led 30-28 entering the fourth quarter.
The Rams missed several shots in the lane in the opening minutes of the fourth, but continued to force Cheverus into turnovers, allowing them to remain close. Abwoch banked in a turnaround shot midway through the fourth to tie the game at 32-32. The Deering defense then forced a turnover and had a chance to take the lead, but Cheverus stole it back before the ball crossed midcourt.
While the Stags were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball throughout the game, Brown was happy with his team’s effort in crunch time.
“I wasn’t pleased before the stretch, but I was pleased during the stretch,” he said. “I thought Deering played very well. I thought they played very hard. And it was a ball game all the way.”
Multiple second-half whistles — including a charge and travel against the Rams on back-to-back possessions early in the fourth — drew boos from the crowd, but the loudest complaint came after Ross stole the ball at midcourt and went in for a layup. Cheverus senior Griffin Brady swooped in to swat the ball away. While it appeared he touched the ball after it hit the backboard, goaltending was not called and play went on.
While Deering fans continued to talk about the officiating well after the final buzzer, Rams coach Dan LeGage wasn’t about to pin anything on the refs.
“I’m not going to make any excuses,” LeGage said. “You have to adjust to how the game is being called and you have to play through those types of situations. They made a couple more shots than us. I was proud of our guys. We know that we can play with them. If we can clean a few things up, cut down on turnovers and execute a little better down the stretch, hopefully we’ll be fortunate enough to have another shot at them.”
For Cheverus, Cimino scored nine points and Brady added eight. Senior Jackson Frey netted eight for Deering, while Ross chipped in five.
Cheverus (which has first place in the Western A Heals locked up) will host South Portland on Friday night to cap the regular season. A year ago, the Stags lost their bid for a perfect regular season at South Portland, as star Indiana Faithfull (who was later crowned Maine Mr. Basketball) was forced to watch the game in street clothes after the Maine Principals’ Association declared he had used up his eligibility. An 11th hour injunction got Faithfull reinstated just before the start of the tournament, where Faithfull led the Stags to the Gold Ball.
“We really want to close the season out undefeated, at home,” DiStasio said. “This was a good game leading up to it.”
Deering (fifth in Western A) wraps up the regular season on Thursday at Portland.
Cheverus senior Joseph Savino drives to the hoop as he’s guarded by Deering junior Pat Green.
Deering senior Jamie Ross has his shot blocked by Cheverus senior Griffin Brady on a play that left the pro-Deering crowd calling for goaltending.
Deering senior Jackson Frey puts up a floater over Cheverus sophomore Matt Cimino.
Deering junior Jon Amabile attempts to get off a shot against a Cheverus double team.
Cheverus senior Griffin Brady looks for room to shoot as he’s surrounded by four Deering players.
Cheverus junior Louie DiStasio, shown here elevating for a jump shot from the corner, scored a team-high 15 points to lead the Stags to a 43-36 win over Deering Tuesday night.
More photos below.