Cheverus junior Jesse Matthews beams and is congratulated by senior Jack Casale (22) and sophomore Patrick Foster after the Stags’ 60-55 win at South Portland Monday night. Matthews had 24 points, Casale finished with 25 and Cheverus earned its biggest win of the season to date.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
C- 12 8 20 20- 60
SP- 6 10 14 25- 55
C- Casale 6-13-25, Matthews 10-4-24, Duchaine 1-0-3, Ephron 1-0-2, Foster 1-0-2, Johnson 1-0-2, Shibles 1-0-2
SP- Bol 10-3-23, Hasson 2-7-11, White 3-0-8, Oreste 2-1-5, Stilley 1-3-5, Malone 1-0-3
C (1) Duchaine 1
SP (3) White 2, Malone 1
SOUTH PORTLAND—Friday evening, Cheverus’ boys’ basketball team had defending Class AA champion Portland on the ropes, but couldn’t finish the job.
Monday night, the Stags paid a visit to the reigning Class AA runners-up, South Portland, and this time, they utilized the painful lessons they learned against the Bulldogs to produce their signature win of the season so far.
The Red Riots, coming off a huge road win over Thornton Academy Friday, only mustered 16 first half points, with 10 coming from senior Ruay Bol, but Cheverus’ offense wasn’t much more prolific, only producing 20 points, thanks in large part to junior Jesse Matthews, who had a dozen.
Play picked up in the second half and while South Portland kept making runs, the Stags kept answering and when they closed the third quarter on an 11-2 surge, they had a 10-point advantage, 40-30, heading for the fourth period.
The Red Riots would draw as close as one point, 54-53, when Bol made a layup with just under a minute to play, but Cheverus turned to the poise of senior standout Jack Casale, who made all 10 of his fourth quarter foul shots, to hold on for a 60-55 victory.
Casale finished with a game-high 25 points, Matthews, who fouled out in the final stanza, had 24, and the Stags improved to 9-3 and dropped South Portland, which got 23 points from Bol, to 9-3 in the process.
“It’s our marquee win of the season,” Matthews said. “It feels really good. We were really disappointed after Friday’s loss, but we got it done this game.”
Both teams played intense, emotional games Friday night and are scheduled to play again Tuesday, so Monday’s contest was understandably choppy.
Both teams have shown plenty of promise this winter.
South Portland dropped its opener, 61-54, to visiting Portland in a state game rematch. The Red Riots then rattled off eight straight victories: 59-50 at Westbrook, 56-42 over visiting Gorham, 75-35 at Noble, 82-61 at home over Scarborough, 47-32 at Bonny Eagle, 66-37 over visiting Sanford, 73-41 at Lewiston and 65-52 at Scarborough. South Portland finally met its match, falling, 56-54, at Deering, then got back on track in a big way Friday night with a 68-58 victory at Thornton Academy.
Cheverus started by downing host Sanford in overtime (51-49) and edging visiting Scarborough (57-51) and Windham (64-59). After a 71-51 loss at Edward Little, the Stags downed visiting Oxford Hills (54-44) and won at Massabesic (56-45) and Bangor (58-44). A 67-48 home loss to Deering was followed by a 51-43 home triumph over Bonny Eagle and a 77-37 victory at Noble. Friday, Cheverus nearly upset visiting Portland, but fell just short, 47-43.
Monday’s contest was originally supposed to be played last Wednesday, but poor weather forced it to be moved.
Entering play Monday, dating to the start of the 2001-02 season, Cheverus had won 25 of 32 meetings (see sidebar, below), but South Portland had taken four of the past five. Last season, each team won on the road, as the Red Riots prevailed in Portland, 50-42, while the Stags won in South Portland, 66-53.
Monday, Cheverus won at Beal Gymnasium again.
The Stags, behind a great effort from Matthews, had the better of play in the first quarter.
The Red Riots scored first, as Bol set up senior Ansel Stilley for a layup, but Matthews answered with a bank shot from a tough angle and Casale hit a jumper.
After Bol converted a feed from junior Noah Malone and made a layup, senior Riley Hasson made a layup after a steal for a 6-4 South Portland lead with 4:07 left in the first period.
That would prove to be the Red Riots’ final advantage, as the rest of the quarter and the next 12 points would belong to the visitors.
The Stags tied the game when junior Will Shibles set up senior Noah Johnson for a layup and with 2:32 left in the quarter, a leaner from Matthews put Cheverus on top.
In the final minute, Matthews, in traffic, banked home a leaner, and Matthews added two free throws to make it 14-6 Stags after eight minutes.
When Shibles hit a jumper 25 seconds into the second period, the lead was 10, the run was 12-0 and South Portland coach Kevin Millington called timeout.
It worked, as the Red Riots settled down, but they couldn’t quite catch up by halftime.
With 7:07 to go before the break, Bol’s leaner ended a 5 minute drought. Bol then scored on a putback, but Matthews hit another leaner to make it 16-10.
After Bol made two free throws, Casale made a layup, but Hasson made two free throws and Stilley set up Bol for a layup, cutting the deficit to two.
A late layup from Matthews after a baseline drive gave the Stags a 20-16 lead at halftime.
Matthews had 12 of Cheverus’ first half points, which countered 10 from Bol.
“My teammates got me the ball in a good position to score and I just maintained my focus,” Matthews said.
“I was cold in the first half,” Casale said. “I missed a lot of shots. I didn’t take quality shots. Jesse carried us. He can score as well as anybody. That really helped us.”
Both teams kicked it into gear in the second half, but the Stags answered every challenge.
After junior Tobias Ephron banked home a shot for the visitors to start the third quarter, Bol spun and put the ball in and senior Deandre White buried a 3-pointer.
Out of a timeout, Casale hit a floater, but another White 3 tied the game, 24-24.
The Red Riots couldn’t take the lead, however.
With 3:39 left in the frame, Casale hit two free throws. After Bol set up senior Moses Oreste for a layup to tie it, Casale drove and hit a bank shot while being fouled, then made the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play, putting Cheverus ahead to stay.
White cut the deficit to one with a layup after a steal, but the Stags closed the quarter on an 11-2 run to open it up.
A difficult scoop shot from sophomore Patrick Foster started the run. After Matthews put home a missed shot, sophomore Matt Duchaine calmly stroked a 3-pointer from the corner and Casale hit a leaner in the lane to make it 38-28.
A Bol layup with 27.1 seconds left ended the run, but 10 seconds later, Matthews made two free throws to make it 40-30 Cheverus heading for the final stanza.
South Portland committed nine third period turnovers, but did make an expected run in the fourth quarter.
Hasson made two free throws to start, but Matthews countered with a driving layup.
After Oreste converted a three-point play, Casale hit a jumper, but with 6:12 to go, Stilley was fouled and on the play, a technical foul was called as well. Stilley made three of four free throws and the Red Riots kept the ball. They turned it into a five-point possession, as Bol knocked down a jumper, cutting the deficit to 44-40.
Matthews restored order with a leaner, but Bol made a reverse layup while being fouled and hit the subsequent free throw and with 3:37 to go, Hasson was fouled on an offensive rebound and made one of two foul shots to pull South Portland within two, 46-44.
The Stags refused to buckle, as Duchaine set up Matthews for a layup and Casale sank two foul shots to make it a six-point game.
Back came South Portland, as with 2:50 to go, Hasson converted a three-point play.
After Stilley fouled out, Hasson had a look at a 3-pointer to tie the score, but it was no good and Casale got the rebound.
At the other end, with 1:51 showing, Shibles set up Matthews for a layup, restoring a two-possession lead, 52-47.
After Matthews fouled out with 1:40 left, Hasson made one free throw. Casale countered with two for a 54-48 lead, but South Portland junior Noah Malone hit his lone basket of the night, a long 3, and after Malone forced a turnover, White set up Bol for an ally-oop layup, pulling the Red Riots within a single point, 54-53, with 51.5 seconds still to play.
The Stags could have folded, but they kept their poise and Casale led them to victory.
With 45 seconds left, Casale was fouled and hit both free throws.
White missed a shot at the other end and with 29.1 seconds remaining, Casale went back to the charity stripe and made two more foul shots for a 58-53 lead.
“Free throws are muscle memory,” said Cheverus coach Ryan Soucie. “We take them every day in practice for moments like this. They win or lose games.”
“Give credit to Casale,” Millington said. “He made all his free throws down the stretch and how often does that happen? He’s very good. You saw his senior leadership. He hits shots and he’s a very good defensive player too.”
White set up Bol for one final layup with 16 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to three, but with 15.3 seconds showing, Casale made two more foul shots and after Malone missed a shot, Casale got the rebound and that iced it as Cheverus was able to run out the clock on its pivotal 60-55 triumph.
“We found out against Portland that we can compete against anybody,” said Casale. “We knew if we played defense like we played against Portland, our offense would come and we could compete the whole game. We did that and we came out on top. We knew we had to take their hay-makers. We knew they’d go on runs and we had to hold our own. We had to slow it down and we were good from the foul line. I’m confident going to the line. I want to be in that situation and show the younger guys.”
“We kept our poise and knocked down free throws at the end and that was huge,” Matthews said. “We really wanted to beat these guys after breaking down against Portland. We didn’t let it happen again. It was tough watching (after fouling out), but I had confidence in Jack.”
“We put the ball in the basket tonight,” Soucie added. “We got to the bonus and we hit our free throws down the stretch. That was the difference. South Portland’s a good team. Their defense is tough to execute against. I’m proud of our guys. When we had to make plays, we did. We made some mistakes down the stretch. We fouled and didn’t take charges. We want to stay aggressive regardless of the score. That’s our mentality and we’re slowly getting there. We didn’t cut hard enough early on or get the ball in the middle consistently enough, but once we did, we broke them down a little bit. Defense is our calling card. We’ll play tough, solid man-to-man. We’ve done that now for two games.”
Casale only scored four first half points, but wound up leading all scorers with 25, thanks to 21 in the second half, including 13 from the line. Casale also had seven rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
“Jack is a luxury to have,” said Soucie. “He showed again why, in my opinion, he’s one of the top players in the state and I don’t think he gets enough credit. He’s tough, he wants to win. He’s become more of a leader and gets his teammates involved. He’s still scratching the surface. I have full trust in him.”
Matthews dominated with 24 points before having to depart.
“Thank goodness Jesse gave us an early push,” Soucie said. “What I think might be a bad shot for Jesse is sometimes a good shot for Jesse. He can hit the floaters and circus shots.”
Duchaine added three points, while Ephron (five rebounds), Foster, Johnson and Shibles had two apiece.
It was another solid team effort.
“Noah has done a great job guarding the paint, sacrificing his body and taking charges,” Casale said. “Jesse had a couple big blocks. Will and Tobias are playing great D. Pat Foster and (sophomore) Owen Burke and Duchaine off the bench gave us great minutes. Everybody knows their role. Defense comes first and everyone bought into that.”
The Stags committed 18 turnovers (including eight in the fourth quarter), but sizzling foul shooting (17 of 18) proved to be the difference.
Bol paced South Portland with 23 points. He also had six boards and a pair of steals. Hasson added 11 points, White had eight (to go with four steals and three assists), Oreste and Stilley five apiece and Malone three.
The Red Riots had a 22-21 rebounding advantage and made 14 of 17 free throws, but they turned the ball over 19 times.
“We didn’t play our best game for sure, but they beat us,” Millington said. “It wasn’t a letdown. There are a lot of good teams in the league. We have to bring our ‘A game’ every night. We wanted the pace to be more up and down, but they did a good job being deliberate and getting their two big guys the ball. They played good defense. They made plays when they had to.”
The teams will meet again Feb. 3 in Portland. In the meantime, both will be tested.
The Red Riots (still first in the Class AA South Heal Points standings) hope to bounce back Tuesday evening (weather permitting) when defending Class A champion Falmouth pays a visit.
“Falmouth has probably the headiest player in Maine (senior Colin Coyne) and one of the best coaches around (Dave Halligan),” said Millington. “It’ll be a clash of styles. We look forward to it.”
Home games versus Massabesic and Windham follow.
“It’s a grind,” said Millington. “Win or lose, we try to improve. Our position in the tournament is pretty locked in. We’re focused now on learning from our mistakes and highlighting our strengths.”
Cheverus (now third in Class AA North) is also scheduled to be back in action Tuesday when Lewiston pays a visit. A trip to Deering Friday and a visit to Thornton Academy Tuesday of next week loom before the Stags see South Portland again.
“This gives us confidence going forward,” said Matthews. “We think we can beat any team in the league. We still have to work on turning the ball over less down the stretch.”
“It’s our biggest win, but we’ve got more to come,” Casale said. “This reassures us we can play with anybody, but we can’t take anyone lightly. There’s a lot of talent in the league. The team that comes out on top will be the one that plays the best defense. We had an easy stretch at the beginning of the year. (Losing to) Deering was a wakeup call. Now, we know we can play tough and play with anybody.”
“We left it on the floor Friday night against a very good team and I think that gave us confidence going into tonight and it’ll give us confidence the rest of the way,” Soucie added. “We’re in that stretch of top-tier games. The season is a process and we won’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. We want to play our best basketball in a few weeks.”
South Portland senior Ruay Bol shoots over Cheverus sophomore Matt Duchaine. Bol matched his uniform number by leading the Red Riots with 23 points.
South Portland junior Riley Hasson is fouled by Cheverus sophomore Patrick Foster.
Cheverus senior Jack Casale gets a shot off in traffic.
South Portland senior Deandre White goes up for a layup.
Cheverus junior Tobias Ephron sends South Portland junior Riley Hasson to the floor as Red Riots junior Connor Buckley also defends. Hasson was called for the foul much to the partisan crowd’s chagrin.
South Portland senior Moses Oreste and Cheverus junior Jesse Matthews fight for possession.
South Portland 50 @ Cheverus 42
Cheverus 66 @ South Portland 53
@ Cheverus 56 South Portland 41
Cheverus 59 @ South Portland 34
@ South Portland 67 Cheverus 44
@ Cheverus 56 South Portland 51
@ Cheverus 49 South Portland 33
Cheverus 45 @ South Portland 39
Cheverus 63 @ South Portland 46
@ Cheverus 50 South Portland 35
@ Cheverus 66 South Portland 44
@ South Portland 53 Cheverus 43
@ Cheverus 60 South Portland 41
Cheverus 52 @ South Portland 39
Cheverus 63 @ South Portland 61 (OT)
South Portland 68 @ Cheverus 47
@ Cheverus 59 South Portland 42
Cheverus 52 @ South Portland 45
Cheverus 85 @ South Portland 41
@ Cheverus 74 South Portland 48
Cheverus 61 @ South Portland 57
@ Cheverus 68 South Portland 60 (OT)
@ Cheverus 69 South Portland 61
Cheverus 60 South Portland 40
Western A quarterfinals
Cheverus 68 South Portland 48
Cheverus 62 @ South Portland 42
@ Cheverus 59 South Portland 34
@ Cheverus 64 South Portland 58
Cheverus 67 @ South Portland 65