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PORTLAND—The Cheverus boys’ basketball team was able to focus on the game and not external issues Wednesday night and the Stags made just enough of the opportunity to live to fight another day.
With the Indiana Faithfull eligibility saga resolved for the time being, the top-ranked Stags never trailed and held on to defeat No. 4 Windham, 40-30, in a Western A semifinal contest at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Faithfull, senior Kyle Randall and junior Griffen Brady all had big first halves as Cheverus built an insurmountable lead and the Stags went on to punch their ticket for a regional final showdown with No. 2 Westbrook Saturday at 9 p.m., at the Civic Center.
“We didn’t play our best,” said Faithfull, who led all scorers with 16 points. “We had a chance to open it up if we made some layups. (Windham’s) a real good team and they did some good things.”
Another regional final
Cheverus was superb throughout the regular season, winning its first 17 games, with only one being close. Faithfull was found to be ineligible near the end of the campaign and the Stags lost their final regular season game, at South Portland, but still grabbed the top seed.
Windham, entered the contest in the midst of its finest season since joining the Southern Maine Activities Association. After a 13-5 regular season, the Eagles knocked off defending state champion Thornton Academy in the quarterfinals Friday night.
On Dec. 18, Cheverus downed Windham, 61-43. Two years ago, en route to a championship, the Stags eliminated the Eagles, 50-40, in the quarterfinal round.
Wednesday, it was far from pretty, but Cheverus did enough to advance.
Windham actually had a chance to grab an early lead when senior Andy Brix went to the line 29 seconds in, but he missed both shot attempts. Seven seconds later, Cheverus was in the lead for good when Faithfull fed junior Brady for a layup and-one. Brady sank the foul shot and with 6:33 to go in the first, Faithfull made a layup for a 5-0 lead.
Neither team scored for over two minutes before Brady made a free throw. With 1:21 left in the quarter, the Eagles finally got on the board when sophomore Nolan Allen buried a 3. A pair of Faithfull foul shots nine seconds later gave the Stags an 8-3 lead after one.
Even though Cheverus forced seven turnovers, it wasn’t able to open things up.
That changed in the second quarter.
After Randall buried a 3, Windham answered on a layup from senior Adam Szklany, but sophomore Louie DiStasio sank a 3 from the left wing and DiStasio fed Randall for a layup and a 16-5 lead with 6 minutes to go in the half, forcing Eagles’ coach Kevin Millington to take a timeout.
A pair of layups from Szyklany stemmed the tide, but only for a moment, as the Stags rattled off nine straight to gain some separation.
Brady got it started with a bank shot, Randall added a 3, Faithful made two free throws and with 1:51 left before halftime, hit two more for a 25-9 lead.
Two foul shots from senior Jackson Taylor put the Eagles in double digits, but Cheverus was in control at the break.
Neither team did much in the third period.
Windham crept within 11 on a leaner from Allen and a foul shot from senior Garrett Clemmer, but with 3:04 to go in the period, Faithfull made two free throws to end a 6:47 drought. DiStasio followed with a layup for a 29-14 lead. A free throw from Nolan and pretty baseline leaner off the glass by Nolan got the Eagles within 12, 29-17, heading for the fourth.
There, the Stags did just enough to hold on.
After DiStasio and Szklany traded jumpers, senior Jackson Taylor scored on a putback to make it 31-21.
A putback from sophomore Cameron Olsen with 3:46 to go pushed the lead back to 12, but senior Stephen Lambert hit a jumper and Taylor made the front end of a one-and-one with 3:09 to play to make it a 33-24 game.
With 2:51 left, Lambert’s 3 went in and out, preventing the Eagles from drawing even closer. At the other end, Faithfull scored on a leaner for a 35-24 lead with 2:27 remaining.
Still, Windham wouldn’t buckle.
A pair of Szklany foul shots was followed by a Szklany jumper, making it 35-28 with 59.3 seconds left. After Faithfull missed the front end of a one-and-one, Brix had a chance to really make things interesting, but his 3 was off. Junior Alex Furness got the rebound and was fouled. He made his first attempt, but missed the second. With 37.1 seconds left, a Szklany layup cut the deficit to six, but Faithfull hit four foul shots down the stretch and Cheverus held on, 40-30.
“We missed open shots and layups,” lamented Stags coach Bob Brown. “It was ugly at times. I was pleased with our defense. Our defense was pretty good. Our defense has carried us in many games. Our offense was terrible. In practice, you’d say, ‘Wow!” In a game, it’s, ‘Whew, ugly!’ And it was. We should have gone in at halftime up 25. Part of it was Windham. They played solid defense and are extremely well coached. They always give us a hard time.”
Faithfull led all scorers with 16 points (12 coming from the line).
“I thought we should have done a better job,” Faithfull said. “I’m the only guy who’s been here before. That’s not an excuse anymore. (Windham) did a really good job.”
“Indy’s the only one who’s back who played here,” Brown added. “I thought Indy played better than against Scarborough. Truthfully, he’s had three days of practice with the team. The major problem is that the other guys around him aren’t doing what they should. We’ve got some good players. I have to do a better job and getting them to stop standing around.”
Randall had eight, DiStasio seven, Brady six, Olsen two and Furness one.
Szklany led Windham (14-6) with 14 points. Allen added eight, Jackson Taylor three, Lambert and Nick Taylor two each and Clemmer had one.
Saturday night special
Saturday night, Cheverus has the daunting task of slowing a Westbrook squad which has won 18 in a row since falling 50-48 (on a last-second Faithfull bank shot) Dec. 8 on the Stags’ home floor. The teams haven’t met in the postseason since an epic 58-56, triple-overtime Cheverus victory in the 2003 Western A semifinals.
The Blue Blazes advanced Wednesday, 72-66, in OT, over South Portland, behind a combined 46 points from senior standouts Dominic Borelli and Nich Jobin.
“I’m excited,” said Faithfull. “I’m lucky to have a really good team. We’re a good, solid team and we’re together. Westbrook’s a great team. They have all-around, good, solid players. It should be a fun game. We’re all excited and ready for Saturday. We have one goal and that’s to win it all together.”
“We’ve been through so much in the past month,” Brown added. “It’s nice we’ve gotten to the finals. We’ll see what happens. Obviously, Westbrook’s very, very good. Hopefully, we’ll get better very quickly since Westbrook looks very good. Westbrook’s improved a lot since the first time we saw them. All of them have improved. It’s a nice club. They have all the pieces.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]
Cheverus’ sophomore sharpshooter Louie DiStasio fires over a Windham defender. DiStasio had seven points in the Stags’ victory.
Cheverus junior Alex Furness was big on the offensive and defensive end Wednesday, helping the Stags set up a regional final showdown with Westbrook.
Cheverus senior Kyle Randall soars to the hoop for two points Wednesday during the Stags’ 40-30 semifinal round win over Windham.