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PORTLAND — After a relatively lackluster first half, the Cheverus boys’ basketball team showed its stuff in the final 16 minutes of Wednesday night’s Bracket M Final of the 2009 Yankee Ford Holiday Classic.
The Stags turned up the defensive intensity, forced numerous turnovers and pulled away to beat Deering, 49-37, to win the tournament for the third straight year.
“We picked up our energy and just went after it,” said Cheverus senior Indiana Faithfull, named his team’s Oustanding Player of the Tournament.
Cheverus downed Yarmouth, 52-36, and Cape Elizabeth, 68-52, to advance to the title game, while Deering defeated Kennebunk, 51-40, and Falmouth, 66-60.
In the final, the Rams grabbed an early 4-0 lead on a putback from senior Eddie Tirabassi and two Tirabassi foul shots. Cheverus responded with a Faithfull 3-pointer, then went up 5-4 on a layup from junior Alex Furness, but Deering went back on top on a 3-ball from sophomore Jon Amabile. The Stags answered with a 3-pointer from sophomore Louis DiStasio, but another Amabile 3 put the Rams ahead, 10-8 after one period.
Deering went up 12-8 on a layup from Tirabassi 16 seconds into the second quarter, but Cheverus junior Griffin Brady made a hook shot and Furness followed with a leaner to tie the score. Tirabassi then made a putback and added a pair of foul shots for a 16-12 advantage, but Brady answered with a 3, then hit another to put the Stags on top. With 3.2 seconds to go before the half, Tirabassi scored on a driving layup to make it 18-18 at the break.
Cheverus seized control in the third.
Just 31 seconds in, a floater in the lane by DiStasio put the Stags ahead to stay. Senior Kyle Randall added a layup for a 22-18 lead. After Deering junior Nick Colucci converted an old-fashioned three-point play, but Faithfull made a free throw, Furness buried a 3 and Randall scored on a leaner to make it 28-21.
A layup by Amabile momentarily stemmed the tide, but Faithfull converted a three-point play after a steal, DiStasio made a free throw after Tirabassi was whistled for a technical foul and Faithfull made a layup to make it 34-23 Cheverus.
“We were more focused on crashing the boards,” said Faithfull. “I focused on attacking and playing as hard as I could. We were more active on defense.”
“I thought Deering outplayed us in the first half and executed well and we didn’t respond to it,” added Stags coach Bob Brown. “We had to crank it up in the second half. We caused some turnovers and took them out of the comfort zone they were in. “
The Rams attempted to rally behind a long jumper from junior Dennis Ross and a Tirabassi 3, but junior Connor O’Neil answered with a putback to push the Cheverus lead back to eight, 36-28. In the waning seconds of the third, Tirabassi made a layup to make it 36-30, but nine Deering turnovers and several Stags’ offensive rebounds turned the tide.
“We played one half of basketball tonight where we stuck with our game plan,” said Rams coach Dan LeGage. “It was one of the best unselfish halves I’ve seen us play. In the second half, we went overboard. We weren’t getting the shots we wanted. They put pressure on us to get us out of our rhythm and we didn’t handle it well.”
Faithfull started the fourth with a layup, but Tirabassi answered with a leaner to keep the deficit at six, 38-32. Cheverus then erupted for seven straight to essentially ice the win. A putback from Brady got it started. Junior Peter Gwilym hit a 3 and with 5:06 to go, Faithfull made a layup for a 45-32 advantage.
After Deering junior Riko Augustino made a layup, DiStasio sank two free throws and Furness made a layup. A 3-ball from Amabile in the final minute accounted for the 49-37 final score.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know if I consider it a championship,” said Brown, alluding to the new tournament format necessitated by Maine Principals’ Association’s changes to the number of exhibition dates each team can play.
“We played three games and won all three. (Portland coach and tournament organizer Joe Russo’s) trying to do the right thing because the principals came up with a very ‘wise’ decision. I think it’s good that we had three games where we had to go after it to win. I never thought Deering from where they were this summer would get to as good as they are right now.“
Faithfull led the Stags with 13 points. Brady added 10, Furness had nine, DiStasio eight, Randall four, Gwilym three and O’Neil two.
“This was a good chance for us to get better as a team for our goal,” Faithfull said. “It feels good to win a championship, but it’s not the big one.”
Deering was led by 19 points from Tirabassi, who was named the Player of the Game and the Rams’ Outstanding Player of the Tournament. Amabile added 11, Colucci had three and Augustino and Ross two apiece.
“Eddie has a monster game every time.,” LeGage said. “This game was a nice opportunity for us to get a free look at (Cheverus). We learned what we need to work on. We need to make a few adjustments and clean up what we did in the second half. We didn’t handle the press well. It was a win-win situation for me as a coach, getting to play everyone. We proved to ourselves that we can play with these guys. It’s a big confidence booster. “
The Rams (5-1 in league play) returned to action Tuesday versus Kennebunk and have a huge home showdown with South Portland Thursday. They host Massabesic Saturday.
The Stags (6-0 to date) were home Tuesday with defending Class A champion Thornton Academy, the squad which broke their hearts last February. Cheverus hosts Bonny Eagle Thursday and goes to Scarborough Saturday.
Cheverus visits Deering Jan. 12. The Rams go to the Stags on Feb. 2.
“We play seven games over the next two weeks,” Brown said. “We’ll have to be ready.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Deering senior Eddie Tirabassi soared for two despite the effort of Cheverus junior Alex Furness during the teams’ showdown in the Yankee Ford Holiday Tournament Final last week.
Cheverus senior standout Indiana Faithfull drove past Deering junior Jackson Frey as the Stags came to life in the second half to beat the Rams, 49-37.