Faithfull's shocking return leads Cheverus to easy quarterfinal win over Scarborough
PORTLAND—A couple hours before the start of Friday evening's Western Class A quarterfinal round playoff matchup between top-ranked Cheverus and No. 8 Scarborough, a buzz swept the venerable Portland Exposition Building as word spread that Stags senior standout Indiana Faithfull, who had been declared ineligible just two weeks ago, would play.
At that point, the Red Storm seemingly no longer had a fighting chance.
After sitting for five games, Faithfull returned to the floor and had 10 points as Cheverus cruised to a 49-34 victory, setting up a semifinal round date with No. 4 Windham in Wednesday's semifinal round.
"Obviously, he's the team leader and it's nice to have him back," said Stags coach Bob Brown. "He looks like he's been off. He's not as sharp as he's capable, but he did a nice job and made foul shots down the stretch."
Earlier this week, Faithfull's family filed a lawsuit and request for temporary injunctive relief against the Maine Principals' Association. Friday afternoon, Superior Court Justice Joyce A. Wheeler ruled in favor of the Faithfull family, finding that Indiana has shown a "strong likelihood" of prevailing on the merits of his claim that the MPA discriminated against him on the basis of his national origin and "enjoined and restrained" the MPA and those acting in participation with it "from enforcing an interpretation of the 'eight consecutive semesters eligibility rule' that would have excluded Faithfull from playing this semester." The order further provided that, "Cheverus is entitled to rely on the Order and restore the Plaintiff to his former position."
Cheverus athletic director Gary Hoyt stressed that the proceedings were "not something we sought or participated in."
"It's an unfortunate situation, it's a result of circumstances well beyond my control and the school's control," Hoyt continued. "We're adhering to the court order. I have a great deal of sympathy for Indiana."
"I'm sure the MPA will contest the action. That's their right and their privilege."
Scarborough coach Joe Johnson didn't know that Faithfull was playing until he got a call from athletic director Gary Groves just before his team boarded a bus for the Expo, around 6:30 p.m.
"I had to make a decision when to tell the kids," Johnson said. "When got on the bus, or when we got there. I told them on the bus. They were ticked."
Taking care of business
Even without Faithfull, Cheverus was considered a favorite entering the tournament. The Stags enjoyed another stellar regular season, going 17-1, a record blemished only by a 53-43 loss at South Portland Feb. 5. Cheverus had the top-ranked offense and defense in the Southern Maine Activities Association.
Scarborough, meanwhile, was playing in the Western A quarters for the first time since 2003 after going 6-1 down the stretch, including a five-game win streak to end the regular season. Senior Conor Sullivan has been a scoring machine in recent games, the Red Storm had the fourth-ranked defense in the league and late road wins at Portland and defending state champion Thornton Academy gave Scarborough reason to believe it could contend with a Stags team that had their way with the Red Storm back on Jan. 9 (59-44, in a game Cheverus led 43-8 at halftime).
The first-ever playoff meeting between the schools began with Faithfull drawing a foul and making one of two free throws 25 seconds in. Faithfull added a second foul shot with 6:08 to go in the quarter. Senior Kyle Randall then got in on the act, draining a 3. Junior Griffen Brady added a tip-in, sophomore Louie DiStasio made a runner, then DiStasio scored on a layup after a steal for a 11-0 advantage.
With 2:39 to go in the quarter, Scarborough finally got on the board on a layup from junior Mike Wofford. Junior Peter Moore added a pair of foul shots for the Red Storm and that was it for first period scoring.
Scarborough had six turnovers to four for the Stags in the first eight minutes. Both teams would struggle to hold on to the ball in a low-scoring second period.
After a layup from sophomore Cameron Olsen gave Cheverus a 13-4 advantage in the first minute, Sullivan got in the scoring column with a driving layup. Faithfull fed junior Alex Furness for a layup, but Sullivan answered with one at the other end. With 4:26 left in the half, junior Zach Bean pulled the Red Storm within 15-10 with a pair of foul shots, but Furness scored on a putback and Faithfull hit a pullup jumper (his lone field goal) to make it a nine-point contest. With 1:16 to go in the half, Sullivan made a layup. After DiStasio hit a bank shot, a late free throw from Moore pulled Scarborough back to 21-13 at the break.
The Red Storm were still in the game, despite their 13 turnovers, largely because the Stags had given it up 10 times.
"I thought we were overanxious," Johnson said. "We missed a ton of layups and free throws. I just told them to calm down."
Cheverus seized control in the third.
After Bean made a contested layup to pull Scarborough within six, Furness made a bank shot, Randall sank a 3 and DiStasio followed with another to make it 29-15. After Brady added a foul shot, Sullivan stemmed the tide with a 3, but Furness made a layup for a 32-20. With 8.1 seconds left in the quarter, the Red Storm got a layup from Wofford and when junior Joe Savino's halfcourt prayer at the horn hit the back of the rim, it was a 32-22 game heading for the fourth.
Furness started the fourth with an old-fashioned three-point play. DiStasio followed with a long jump shot and Faithfull made two free throws with 4:27 to go to make it 39-22. After Bean converted a three-point play, Faithfull made two more foul shots. A layup by Sullivan was countered by an old-fashioned three-point play from Furness and it was 44-27. Scarborough could get no closer than 14 from there and Savino put the icing on the cake when he made a free throw in the final minute to account for the 49-34 final score.
"We wanted to pick it up tonight since it was (Indy's) first game back," Furness said. "It was kind of a boost for us. We wanted to come out and show everyone we still had the same drive to win a state championship. We had to start moving on offense. In the first half, we weren't moving a lot. We moved the ball around in the second half and got shots in transition. The first game of the tournament and the first game with Indy back in, it was an adjustment phase. It took us awhile."
Furness led the Stags with 15 points.
"Alex has been playing better," Brown said. "He made some nice plays."
DiStasio had 11 and Faithfull finished with 10 (with eight of them coming from the line).
Faithfull wasn't available for comment after the game, but Brown said that obviously, the Stags benefited from his presence.
"He is very important," said Brown. "He's the leader on the floor, on offense and on defense. Usually, he has a lot more steals than he did tonight. He's the guy we look to. The rest of the team always looks to him. Indy is the only person who has been in a tournament game and I think that showed tonight. We weren't sharp. Now that some of us have a game under our belt, we'll be better.
"He's been practicing, but I've used him with the second group, so he hasn't run our offense or defense and has been fodder for the other guys. He was excited to be out there, but I'm not sure he was any more excited than the rest of the team. It's very hard. We grow as a team. The kids grow as individuals. Through all the different adversities."
Randall added six points, Brady three and junior Conner O'Neil one.
For Scarborough (11-8), Sullivan had 15 points, Bean 10, Wofford four, Moore three and junior Kyle Kelley two.
"I'm happy with how we competed," Johnson said. "I thought Conor was the best player on the floor. As badly as we played in the first half, we made them play bad too. We cut it to six in the third, then they hit two 3s. The big floor affected both teams.
"We had a different game plan (prior to Faithfull's reinstatement). We knew we had to guard Furness, DiStasio and Randall. Savino didn't scare us as much. We couldn't play like we wanted. I told the guys not to let this be an excuse for us. We just didn't win.
Scarborough finished with its just its third winning record since 1993.
"I'm very impressed with how we handled ourselves all year, especially at the end," said Johnson. "It's the best season we've had. I'm happy for the seniors to get to the Expo."
The Red Storm lose Conor Sullivan, Brendan Sullivan, Peters and Edward Conceison to graduation, but everyone else returns, suggesting we haven't heard the last of this squad.
"Our junior class is talented," Johnson said. "The JV and freshmen were competitive. There are a lot of teams in the SMAA who will have a rebuilding year next year. I don't think we will. I'm excited."
Cheverus will battle Windham (now 14-5, after Friday's 59-42 over Thornton Academy) in the Western A semifinals Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Back on Dec. 18, the Stags dispatched the visiting Eagles, 61-43.Cheverus last met Windham in the playoffs two years ago (a 50-40 quarterfinal round triumph).
"We're looking ahead to Windham," said Furness. "They looked good tonight."
"I thought Windham played very, very well and I thought they were strong," Brown added.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com