THE PLAYOFFS Cheverus' season ends in shock, agony
Stags upset by TA in semifinals
By Michael Hoffer
PORTLAND — All season, while they were decimating the opposition behind a smothering defense and the nonpareil tandem of senior Mick DiStasio and junior Indiana Faithfull, the Cheverus boys' basketball team left one question unanswered.
How would the Stags respond if they were seriously pushed in the final quarter?
Last Wednesday evening at the Cumberland County Civic Center, in the Western Class A semifinals, No. 1 Cheverus found out.
And the result was stunning and deflating.
Facing fired-up No. 4 Thornton Academy, which featured senior Ian Barwise, who last year helped the Stags win the Class A state championship, Cheverus trailed virtually the whole way. Despite making things interesting in the second half, the Stags saw their title reign and undefeated season come to a sudden end with a 47-41 loss to the Golden Trojans.
"It's a tough way to end a season," said Stags' coach Bob Brown. "We weren't the same team in the tournament. I don't know why."
Not according to plan
Cheverus beat Thornton Academy 40-31 in the regional final a year ago and won 57-48 in Saco on Jan. 27. Prior to Wednesday, that was the Stags' toughest test to date.
Cheverus struggled mightily in a 35-25 quarterfinal round win over No. 8 Biddeford, but scored the game's final six points to survive. The Golden Trojans, meanwhile, almost lost to No. 5 Deering in the quarterfinals, but got four clutch points from standout senior James Morse in the final seconds to win 51-48.
Last Wednesday, the Stags offensive woes continued in the early going. After senior Peter Foley scored on a putback to start the game, Cheverus went 5:34 without a point. The Golden Trojans took a 6-2 lead before DiStasio finally ended the drought with a free throw. Senior Dan Foster hit a 3-ball to cut the deficit to two, 8-6, at the end of one quarter.
Cheverus went on top 47 seconds into the second when DiStasio canned a 3, but the lead was short-lived and proved to be the final one of the season.
Thornton Academy sophomore Andrew Shaw finally got his first points of the tournament at the 5:55 mark with a trey. Senior Doug Wilcox made a bank shot, Morse hit a floater while being fouled, and followed that with a long 3-pointer to force Brown to call a timeout with 3:26 left in the half and down 18-9.
The timeout didn't help, as the Stags went down by as many as 10. With time winding down, it appeared Cheverus was due for a lift when Faithfull stole a pass and cruised in for an apparent layup. But Faithfull missed and Thornton Academy took a 24-15 lead into the break.
As expected, Cheverus responded in the third as the Golden Trojans went turnover, missed shot, offensive foul, airball and turnover during their first five possessions.
DiStasio got things started with a jumper, buried a 3, then hit a jumper after a spin move to make it 24-22. With 3:58 left, Faithfull's layup tied the score.
But Shaw came up huge for Thornton Academy at the other end, making a layup to put his team back on top for good.
After Faithfull cut the deficit in half with a foul shot, Barwise picked up his fourth foul and momentum appeared to swing the Stags' way. However, in the final minute of the quarter, Morse calmly buried a 3 for a 29-25 advantage.
Morse opened the fourth with a layup, but Foster hit a 3. After a Shaw layup, Foley countered with a layup, but Morse, making the most of his moment in the spotlight, stepped back and drained a jumper for a 35-30 lead.
Undaunted, Faithfull took it upon himself to keep his team alive, hitting four straight free throws to make it 35-34.
Still, Morse wouldn't let his team lose. After Barwise had a shot blocked, Morse grabbed the rebound and scored on a layup. Then, with 3:09 left, Morse was fouled while shooting a 3. More importantly, the foul was on DiStasio – his fifth – and the standout's career came to a close.
Morse made two of three free throws for a 39-34 lead. At the other end, Stags junior Kyle Randall was fouled while shooting a three and also made two foul shots. Morse then made the first of two free throws. Faithfull was fouled at the other end, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Morse got another opportunity and this time hit both for a 42-36 lead with 2:20 to go.
Fourteen seconds later, Thornton Academy went up eight on two foul shots. But Foley made a free throw, Faithfull made a layup and with 1:41 left, junior Lenny Cummings tipped home a missed shot to make it a one-possession game, 44-41.
The Stags had a chance to tie, but Faithfull was off on a contested shot and the champions' last, best opportunity to rally vanished.
With 41.3 seconds left, John Trull was fouled and hit the first of two free throws to make it 45-41. After Faithfull missed two shots, Barwise got the rebound, was fouled, and hit both shots to bring the contest to close and give the Golden Trojans the 47-41 win.
"It means the world," said Barwise, who had five points. "It was a great win. Ever since I left Cheverus, all I thought about was beating them. It's great. There was a lot of energy going into this game. Both teams played great defense. Cheverus' defense is the best in the state. I didn't want to leave the game. The team played great with or without me. They were awesome."
Morse had 22 points to lead all scorers. Trull added 11 and Shaw had seven.
Cheverus (19-1) was left shell-shocked.
"We had great practices the past three days," Brown said. "For whatever reason, we played tight. There was no flow and very little passing. That was the trademark of this team. The ball stopped everywhere it went. We couldn't get it inside the way we needed to and didn't make foul shots. They made the foul shots at the end. You can't win too many tournament going 11-for-22 at the line."
DiStasio, named a semifinalist for Mr. Maine Basketball last week, finished with 11 points, tying Faithfull for tops on the team.
"Foley and DiStasio were great captains," Brown said. "We'll really miss them. Dan Foster played hard always. Dadiego off the bench was solid all year long.
"It's going to take time to get over this one. We clearly had a group that I'm not sure was the best team, but we had the best guys who played together to form a team. We didn't have the best talent, but we made the most of what we had. We didn't the last two games."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com