P-sportsBB THE PLAYOFFS Undefeated Cheverus ready to defend Class A title
Deering to meet TA in quarterfinals; Portland, Waynflete have to play prelims
By Michael Hoffer
After a fast and furious regular season, the boys' basektball playoffs have arrived.
All eyes are on defending champion Cheverus, which capped a dominating campaign in perfect fashion last week with victories over rivals Portland and Deering to earn the top seed in Western Class A.
The Stags will begin defense of their title Friday night at the Portland Expo against either No. 8 Biddeford or No. 9 Scarborough. The two teams met in a preliminary round game Tuesday (too late for this edition).
Deering will also take part in the quarterfinals Friday. The Rams rode an upset win over South Portland to win the No. 5 seed and a date with No. 4 Thornton Academy.
Portland wound up sixth to host No. 11 Bonny Eagle in a prelim on Tuesday (too late for this edition). If victorious, the Bulldogs will battle No. 3 South Portland in the quarterfinals Saturday.
In Western C, No. 9 Waynflete traveled to eighth-ranked Boothbay Tuesday for a preliminary round game. The winner will play in the Feb. 16 quarterfinals against No. 1 Dirigo at the Augusta Civic Center.
As impressive as Cheverus was during last winter's title run, this year's squad has been simply breathtaking.
The Stags were never seriously tested during their 18-0 regular season and have now won 23 consecutive games. Last week, Cheverus had little trouble at Portland, pulling away to win 50-33 behind 21 points from senior standout Mick DiStasio. The Stags also handled Deering, 60-38, behind 18 points from junior Lenny Cummings.
"We've just got too many weapons," said Cheverus coach Bob Brown. "We're not overly deep but our role players come in and do a decent job. Down the stretch in the season, scores go down and defense is the key. This group plays defense as well as any I've coached at Cheverus."
"We're a strong team and we know that," added DiStasio, who along with Portland's Ed Bogdanovich and Deering's Ronald Abwoch, was nominated as an All-American last week. "There are still things we have to get better at. We know what it's like to win and we thrive on winning. That's what we're going for."
The Stags, who also feature the nonpareil point guard play of junior Indiana Faithfull, had no trouble with the Scots in the regular season, winning 56-38 on the road Dec. 9. Cheverus beat Bonny Eagle 63-52 in the 1997 regional final – the two team's only other playoff meeting.
Most pundits and fans feel Deering's still a year away from making a serious run at the crown. But the Rams can't be discounted, especially in the wake of last Wednesday's stunning 69-50 home upset of South Portland during which Deering held Red Riots junior standout Keegan Hyland to just four points in the first three periods. Senior Khadar Abbas had 21 points and sophomore Jamie Ross had a breakout 18. The Rams fell 60-38 at Cheverus in the regular season finale Friday to wind up 12-6, good for the fifth seed.
"The last couple of years we've been plagued with injuries at the end of the year and we've dropped games," said Deering coach Dan LeGage. "This is really the first time since (the 2006 championship season) that we've won a big game heading into the playoffs. We have seven sophomores, two freshmen, three juniors and two seniors who did it. The South Portland game was the first time I can say we played as a team. Hopefully the first of many times."
The Rams earned a date with No. 4 Thornton Academy (15-3) in the tournament's lidlifter, Friday at 7 p.m., at the Expo. Back on Jan. 2, Deering shocked the visiting Golden Trojans 59-52 in overtime.
The teams met in the tournament two years ago and the Golden Trojans won 64-50 in the quarterfinals. The Rams beat Thornton Academy 50-46 in the 1965 quarterfinals.
"It's nice to play the spoiler, especially as a young team," LeGage said.
SUBHEAD-Win and get in
Both Portland and Waynflete played preliminary round contests.
In Western A, the Bulldogs were viewed as one of the title threats entering the season. But despite glimpses of greatness, Portland has struggled at times.
Portland lost 50-33 to visiting Cheverus last Tuesday, then closed the regular season on Friday by blowing a 13-point lead during a 56-51 loss to South Portland. Senior Ed Bogdanovich and junior Walter Stover both had 13 points for the Bulldogs. Junior standout Keegan Hyland scored 39, including the 1,000th of his career, to rally the Red Riots to the win.
Portland finished 12-6 and earned the No. 6 seed in the region, the lowest it has been ranked since being the eight seed in 1999-2000. Portland will play a preliminary round game against No. 11 Bonny Eagle (6-12).
Back on Dec. 15, the Bulldogs crushed the visiting Scots 84-39. Two years ago, Portland downed Bonny Eagle 52-47 in the semifinal round. The teams also met in 1998, a 65-60 Portland win in the semifinals, and in 1999, a 60-44 Bulldogs victory in the semifinals.
"For us to continue succeeding this year, I have to figure out what makes these guys tick," Portland coach Joe Russo said. "I usually have that figured out by now. We're running out of time."
If the Bulldogs were able to advance, they'd see No. 3 South Portland (15-3) for the third time in less than three weeks Saturday at 7:30 p.m., at the Expo for the quarterfinals. In addition to Friday's loss, Portland also fell 57-49 at South Portland on Jan. 27.
The teams have played nine previous times in the past 40 years in the postseason with the Bulldogs holding a 5-4 edge. The latest meeting came in the 2005 quarterfinals, a 58-51 Portland victory.
In Western C, Waynflete overcame a very young roster and a 2-9 start to make the playoffs with a 6-12 mark. The Flyers, who finished the regular season with losses to Lake Region (72-53) and Hyde (54-43) wound up ninth in the Heals.
"(Late season) wins over Hyde and St. Dom's turned the tide," said Waynflete coach Rich Henry. "We were playing well before then, but games weren't close. That showed the kids that we weren't just saying things arbitrarily. That good results would come if they listened."
The Flyers earned a trip to No. 8 Boothbay (11-7) for the preliminary round. Waynflete doesn't play Boothbay in the regular season. The teams have never met in the postseason.
"We're happy to get in the prelims," Henry said.
If the Flyers were able to spring an upset, they'd advance to Augusta to battle No. 1 Dirigo (17-1) in the quarterfinals Monday at 8:30 p.m. Waynflete has never faced the Cougars.
The Western A semifinals will be held Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 6 and 7:30 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Western A Final is Saturday, Feb. 21 at 9 p.m., at the Civic Center. The Class A state final is Saturday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m., at the Augusta Civic Center.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com