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Cheverus boys top ranked again; Deering, Portland capable of making a run

Sports

Cheverus boys top ranked again; Deering, Portland capable of making a run

(Ed. Note: For the Cheverus-South Portland and Deering-Portland game stories, please visit theforecaster.net)

The regular season is complete and three city boys' basketball teams are ready to make a run at the Class A state title.

Cheverus tops again

Despite falling in its season finale Friday night, Cheverus will be the top-ranked squad for the third year in a row and the sixth time in the past eight seasons. The Stags, who appeared unbeatable prior to losing senior standout Indiana Faithfull to ineligibility, wound up 17-1 and will meet Scarborough (11-7) in the quarterfinals Saturday at 8:30 p.m., at the Portland Expo. On Jan. 9, in Scarborough, the Stags ran out to a 43-8 halftime lead en route to a 59-44 victory. The teams have never met in the playoffs.

Last week, Cheverus continued to go through growing pains sans Faithfull as they dominated visiting Deering 28-10 in the first half before holding on for the 63-53 victory (sophomore sharpshooter Louie DiStasio had 23 points). The Stags then fell, 53-43, at South Portland, which returned its injured senior star Keegan Hyland.

Junior Alex Furness had 15 points in the setback, which was the Stags first in the regular season since 37-31 loss at Portland on Feb. 5, 2008.

"It was a good first half against Deering, but in the second half, the lack of press kept them in the ballgame and we lost energy and focus," said Cheverus coach Bob Brown. "We hung on. I'd say the first half is as good as we've played over a number of games. The second half is as bad as we've played. I was disappointed with our interior defensive play in the second half. Against South Portland, we didn’t show up to play in the first half and they dominated us. They pushed us around until the second half when we finally started to play. Give them credit. No excuses. We didn’t get it done and they did."

Even without Faithfull, the Stags have plenty of scoring options, a ton of athleticism and a matchup zone that gives virtually every foe fits. Cheverus is still on the short list of title hopefuls.

"We're playing pretty well, but I think we've come back some," said Brown. "At times, we're not playing poorly at all. When you take someone out, everybody has to play three more minutes and they get more tired. That's a factor.

"We’re still the top-seeded team for the tournament. We won the league championship. We know who we are and we’ll respond. We’ll come ready to play. I've said since Day One that (No. 2 seed) Westbrook's the best team. Full-bore, they'll be tough for us to handle. Maybe in a couple weeks we'll be ready, I don't know."

A win Friday sends the Stags to the semifinals Wednesday of next week against either No. 4 Windham (13-5) or No. 5 Thornton Academy (13-5), the defending state champion. Cheverus beat the visiting Eagles 61-43 on Dec. 18 and rolled 80-46 over the visiting Golden Trojans Jan. 5. Last year, of course, in the semis, the Stags' perfect season came to an end with a 47-41 loss. Cheverus last met Windham in the playoffs two years ago (a 50-40 quarterfinal round triumph).

Rams rising

After falling at Cheverus Tuesday (despite 22 points from senior Nick Colucci), Deering's postseason future was still in flux and the Rams desperately needed a signature victory. They sure got one Thursday night in the regular season finale at home versus rival Portland. Down 11 points with just 6:25 to go, Deering closed with a stunning 17-5 run and won, 49-48, when sophomore Jon Amabile (a game high 23 points) canned a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining, allowing the Rams to finish 11-7 and earn the No. 6 seed.

"(The kids) showed guts tonight," said coach Dan LeGage. "We had to get stops and be aggressive going to the hole. That seemed to do it. We haven't had a win like this in awhile. I think this game was kind of a mirror of our season. Parts of the season we played great and it looked like we turned the corner, then we played like a young team again. This is the first time I looked in their eyes and said if we don't get this one, there might not be a tomorrow. For our program, that's a big deal. We've only missed the playoffs once in my tenure. They didn't want that to happen."

Deering has the unenviable task of facing No. 3 South Portland (14-4) and Hyland in the quarterfinals Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. The Red Riots appear to have the upper hand, having won both regular season meetings, 62-58 Jan. 7 in Portland and 62-50 in South Portland on Jan. 28. South Portland has taken eight of the 10 playoff meetings dating back to 1966. The most recent was in the 2004 preliminary round, a 44-42 come-from-behind triumph by the Red Riots.

Regardless, LeGage is optimistic.

"I like the length of the floor at the Expo," he said. "That will change things for some teams. It's a nicer environment now. South Portland's a better draw for us. (If we finished seventh) Westbrook would have been tough. Their strength is our weakness. We struggle with size. We'll let the chips fall where they may. We'll work hard and try to give the best effort we can. If the kids do that, I'll be happy."

If Deering can spring the upset, it will meet either No. 2 Westbrook (17-1) or No. 7 Portland (10-8) in the semifinals next Wednesday. The Rams split with the Bulldogs this year (losing 56-45 on the road Jan. 22) and fell, 63-42, at the Blue Blazes Jan. 19. Deering last saw Portland in the playoffs two years ago (a 48-41 Bulldogs victory in the quarterfinals). The Rams last postseason meeting with Westbrook came in the 2001 regional final (a 62-46 Deering victory).

Never write off Portland

Portland's final two games were a microcosm of its season. Last Tuesday, the Bulldogs scored the game's final six points and beat visiting South Portland 49-48 on a late 3 from senior Wally Stover. Then, Friday, Portland fell apart down the stretch and lost by the same score at Deering, despite 16 points from Stover and 14 from senior Joe Zukowski to finish 10-8 and seventh in the region (the Bulldogs lowest seed in a decade). Portland has played as well as anyone in stretches, then turns around and is capable of losing to any foe. It all leaves longtime Bulldogs coach Joe Russo scratching his head.

"Nobody wanted to step up the plate against Deering," Russo said. "It was a scrappy game. It was a perfect tennis match. We had the advantage, but we didn't have the victory. It was our game to lose and we lost it. We allowed the other team's best player to get the ball. The way we played at times, I didn't think we'd lose it. At the end, I didn't think we'd lose it, but Deering was scrappy and came back. We kept giving them chances. We let them fight and fight and fight and they went for the 3. I didn't have any timeouts left. We couldn't get a nice shot at the end. It's disappointing. We had the victory in our grasp. The loss isn't so disappointing, it's that we had the game in our grasp. Instead of attacking, we retreated. It's exactly what we deserved."

Portland has the daunting task of meeting red-hot Westbrook (17-1), the No. 2 seed, in the quarterfinals Saturday at 9 p.m. The teams' lone regular season meeting came three days before Christmas, a 52-36 home triumph for the Blue Blazes. The Bulldogs beat Westbrook 55-43 in last year's semifinals, the most recent playoff meeting. Since 1964, Portland is 4-5 against the Blue Blazes in the tournament, but the Bulldogs haven't lost to Westbrook on the big stage in a decade (57-49 in the 2000 regional final). Portland has the advantage of playing on its homecourt, but no one knows whether the Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde Bulldogs will make an appearance.

"I'm not sure what team will show up," Russo said. "It depends on how badly these guys want it."

An upset win would set up a semifinal round game against either No. 3 South Portland (14-4) or No. 6 Deering on Wednesday of next week. The Bulldogs swept the Red Riots (winning 56-49 on the road on Jan. 12 in addition to last week's triumph). Portland beat South Portland 72-49 in last year's quarterfinals.

Waynflete falls short

In Western C, the Flyers of Waynflete finished up 7-9, which left them 12th in the region. Unfortunately, only 10 teams qualify for the postseason, meaning the Flyers are on the outside looking in for the first time in six seasons.

Waynflete did close with a pair of victories, 42-39 at Wells, a Western B team, and 63-39 at home over Gould. Senior John Malia, who has been solid all season, had 18 points in each win and senior Cecil Gardner bowed out with 15 points against Gould.

" I’d characterize our season as one that, despite the work and effort put forth by the players, we really struggled to play consistently and up to our potential," said Flyers coach Rich Henry. "Basketball fundamentals like taking care of the ball, boxing out, helping out on defense, those are such an important aspects of the game, and when you don’t do them consistently, other aspects of team performance are affected. You take forced shots, get in foul trouble, etc. If I consider the sheer talent on the team, it ranks up there with any of the teams I’ve coached at Waynflete, but we weren’t able to put together consistent stretches of plays and I bear the ultimate responsibility for that.

"In terms of next year, we’ll be a lot younger, that’s for sure. We graduate six seniors, and will have two starters returning. I’m cautiously optimistic about our sophomores and freshmen from this year’s team, but the test for them will be how hard they work in the offseason on improving their individual skills."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net