February's here, postseason nears

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(Ed. note: For the complete Cheverus-Portland, Cheverus-South Portland and Deering-Portland boys’ and Cheverus-South Portland and Deering-Windham girls’ basketball games, please visit theforecaster.net)

The championship month of February has arrived. Over the next 29 days (it is a leap year, mind you), indoor track, swimming, skiing and wrestling will bestow its hardware, with basketball and hockey winnowing down to a select few teams.

Before we get to that point, there’s plenty of recent action to plow through.

Here’s a glimpse:

Boys’ basketball

With a little over a week to go in the regular season, there’s almost no separation among city Western Class A boys’ basketball teams.

Portland certainly made the most noise last week, winning games at rivals Cheverus and Deering, but falling at Westbrook.

Last Monday, the Bulldogs raced to an improbable 29-9 lead at the Stags, but couldn’t hold it as Cheverus rallied to go up, 39-38, on two free throws from senior Cam Olson (who had a game-high 14 points) with seven seconds to go. Undaunted, Portland got the ball to junior Nick Volger and he went coast-to-coast for the winning layup with 2.1 seconds remaining and the Bulldogs somehow prevailed, 40-39.

“Coach (Joe Russo) told us we were going to win this game and we believed it,” Volger said. “It was exactly how coach drew it up. We had a couple options. He told me if I got the ball to just go in and try to score. There were a couple guys open, but I decided to shoot it. I saw a hole and I don’t know how I fit in between the trees. It felt good coming out of my hands. I got nervous when I saw it rattle on the rim, but it dropped. To do it here, in a game like this, is great.”

“Nicky Volger put the team on his back,” said sophomore Justin Zukowski, who had a team-high 10 points. “He does things that not everyone else will notice. Not just that shot. He does the little things. It’s a big win. Coach makes up these plays and said we’re going to win. It’s all on him. We have a bunch of hustlers.”

“It was a great finish,” Russo added. “To execute the play and score the basket, which wasn’t easy, was a great play. We wanted (Nick) to get take it the whole way and get to the rim. He had two choices. Shoot it or dish it down low. He made one hell of a shot. It was a layup between three guys. He’s 5-foot-8 and had to finger roll a layup, which is something you normally don’t do.”

Cheverus’ 33-game home win streak came to an end.

“We did not come ready to play,” said Stags coach Bob Brown. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a team score nine points in a half. Maybe 50 years ago. We played like guys who hadn’t been coached, who didn’t know what they were doing. We got outhustled and outphysicaled at every juncture of the game, whether it was one-on-one defense, coming off screens, or stopping penetration. We played nice and they came to win and they kicked our butt.”

Portland’s excitement was short lived as it fell, 42-38, at Westbrook (despite 10 points from senior Peter Donato). The Bulldogs managed to bounce back at Deering Friday as senior Mike Herrick’s clutch 3-pointer with just over three minutes left put Portland ahead to stay. The Bulldogs held on for a 39-35 victory.

Portland extended its all-time advantage in the series to 134-77 as Herrick led the way with 12 points.

“We made sure (Deering’s) still our little brother,” said Herrick. “We were confident down the stretch. We just don’t know how to blow teams out.”

“If you guys can figure out the Bulldogs, let me know,” Russo said. “You’ll be doing a better job than I’m doing. We’ve been on a rollercoaster ride, depending on what team shows up. I’m hoping as the season winds down, the right team keeps shows up.”

Portland (10-4 and a narrow second to Deering in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) was back in action Tuesday at home against Noble. After a trip to Massabesic Friday, the Bulldogs close the regular season with home games versus South Portland (Feb. 7) and Deering (Feb. 10).

“We have the makings of a team that can do interesting things,” Russo added. “We don’t have a superstar, but we have a collective group that works together and understands their talents. We have depth. I’m hoping the depth can carry us.”

The Rams, who entered the Portland game coming off a 41-28 win at Windham (senior Jon Amabile had 12 points, junior Labson Abwoch added 10), had their chances to beat Portland, but fell short despite Amabile’s 15 points.

“There might have been some nerves early,” said Deering coach Dan LeGage.”They play tough defense. It’s a city rivalry. We’re two very similar teams in terms of personnel. What’s disappointing is that we had an opportunity at the end to win. We had multiple chances. I was proud of the guys that we didn’t quit. We can build on that. We’ll play them again and have tough games ahead of us.”

Deering (12-2) welcomed South Portland Tuesday, visits Gorham Friday, hosts Cheverus Tuesday of next week, then finishes at Portland Feb. 10.

“The whole season’s a learning curve,” said LeGage. “You hope every little bit along the way you learn something. Our attitude is to keep getting better. I think any night it all depends on who plays well and comes to play and makes shots. I think it’s good to end (with games) like this. If you go into the tournament winning by 40, 50, 60 points, you have a false sense of how great you are. If you play tough teams you know will be there in the end, that really gets you prepared and exposes what you need to fine tune.”

Cheverus bounced back from the Portland loss with a 51-31 win at Massabesic and a 49-33 home triumph over South Portland. Against the Mustangs, senior Louie DiStasio had 19 points. Senior Shawn Grover had 16 points and Olson added 15 in the win over the Red Riots, which also happened to be Brown’s 200th victory with the Stags.

“It was a team effort big time and definitely a good win,” DiStasio said, after beating South Portland. “We needed a win at home. We just got to keep getting better and be patient from the beginning and our offense will come because we’re playing great defense. This night belongs to coach Brown. Two hundred wins in 11 years is amazing.”

“It isn’t so much the win,” said Brown. “It’s the way we got the win. Three losses (in January) are prime examples of us not playing Cheverus basketball. And I thought tonight especially in that second half when we really got good looks, good shots, and I thought we got back to playing our basketball.”

The Stags (11-3) still have a shot at earning the top seed for the tournament yet again. They entered the week ranked third, went to Kennebunk Tuesday, welcome Thornton Academy Friday and go to Deering Feb. 7 and South Portland Feb. 10.

In Western C, Waynflete has hit a cold spell, dropping three of four outings to fall to 9-3 and third in the Heals. The Flyers dropped a 49-45 decision at Wells Friday, despite sophomore Serge Nyirikamba’s 14 points. Waynflete was at Hyde Tuesday, goes to North Yarmouth Academy Friday, hosts A.R. Gould Saturday and Greater Portland Christian School Monday of next week. The Flyers close at Pine Tree Academy (Feb. 8) and Sacopee Valley (Feb. 10).

Girls’ basketball

On the girls’ side, McAuley continues to hit its stride. Last week, the Lions dispatched visiting Sanford (45-23) and host Gorham (51-26) to improve to 13-0, stretching their win streak to 17 games. Against the Redskins, sophomore Allie Clement finished with 14 points. In the win over the Rams, sophomore Victoria Lux had 16 points and classmate Olivia Smith added 15. McAuley (13-0 and a narrow second to Scarborough in the Western A Heals) welcomed South Portland Tuesday, hosts Westbrook Friday and Cheverus on Senior Night Saturday, then closes the regular season at Portland (Feb. 7) and South Portland (Feb. 10).

Deering was fourth in the standings with an 11-4 mark at the start of the week. The Rams held off visiting Windham, 41-32, and rolled at Portland, 45-27, last week. Junior Marissa MacMillan went off for 17 points (and added 16 rebounds) against the Eagles.

“Marissa, in that post, she’s big,” said Deering coach Mike Murphy. “But she’s big on both sides of the floor.”

In the win over the Bulldogs, senior Ella Ramonas had 17 points and MacMillan added 11. The Rams welcome Gorham Friday and finish up the regular year next week at South Portland and Cheverus.

Cheverus has returned to form after a three-game skid. The Stags erupted in the second half to beat visiting Massabesic last Tuesday (64-50), then did the same at home against South Portland Saturday (58-42). Senior sharpshooter Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy had 22 points in each game. Junior Brooke Flaherty had 17 points versus the Mustangs and had 10 points and a whopping 16 rebounds against the Red Riots.

“We played well in the second half,” said Palazzi-Leahy, after the South Portland win. “It took us awhile to get into it, but once we got into it and ran our offense, we got open shots and pulled it together.”

“Coach just tells us to play with heart and energy since defense wins games,” Flaherty said. “We went into a little slump, but we’re trying to get out of it now.”

Cheverus (9-4 and sixth in Western A) was back in action Tuesday at home versus Kennebunk. After a trip to Thornton Academy Friday, the Stags go to McAuley Saturday and close the regular season at home versus Deering (Feb. 9) and Portland (Feb. 10).

“We have a big week,” Cheverus coach Richie Ashley added. “We have to figure out how to play 32 minutes. We’re athletic when we get things going.”

Portland fell to 1-13 and 16th in Western A after losses last week to visiting Westbrook (48-40) and Deering (45-27). Nyaliep Deng had 10 points against the Blue Blazes and Brianna Holdren scored 11 versus the Rams. The Bulldogs went to Noble Tuesday, host Massabesic Friday, welcome McAuley Feb. 7 and finish at Cheverus Feb. 10.

In Western C, Waynflete’s losing streak hit three games Friday with a frustrating 47-42 setback at the hands of visiting Western B contender Wells. The Flyers raced to a 21-16 halftime lead and had a 30-19 advantage with less than three minutes to go in the third period, but the Warriors raced back and went on a 26-7 run. Waynflete got as close as 45-42 with 1:16 go play when junior Martha Veroneau made a 3, but Wells held on to win.

Veroneau had 16 points, 12 rebounds and two steals. Junior Catherine Veroneau added 12 points, eight boards and two steals and classmate Rhiannan Jackson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.

“We had our chances,” said Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “Wells is tremendous. They made shots and we went through a dry spell there that cost us the game. We knew they’d make a run. They’re too good not too. We had shots too, but we didn’t make them. That’s one of the better teams, bar none. It was a good showing, but we’re getting tired of moral victories.”

The Flyers (5-7 and eighth in the Western C Heals) went to Hyde Tuesday, welcome Hebron Wednesday, NYA Friday and Greater Portland Christian School Monday. They close the regular season with games at Pine Tree Academy Feb. 8 and Sacopee Feb. 10.

“We just want to get in (to the tournament) and be dangerous,” Salway said.

Hockey

On the ice, the Portland and Cheverus girls’ teams remain on a playoff collision course.

The Bulldogs are 7-8 and fourth in the West Region Heals after recent home losses to Scarborough (5-0) and Brunswick (11-4). Senior Kylie Dalbec scored twice against the Dragons. Portland hosts Cape Elizabeth Wednesday, goes to Cheverus Thursday and closes at home Saturday versus Greely.

The Stags are 7-9 and fifth in the West. After a 6-2 win at St. Dom’s last Monday, Cheverus fell at home to Cape Elizabeth (5-1) and Lewiston (3-2). The Stags welcomed Portland Thursday and finish the regular season at home Saturday versus Yarmouth.

The postseason begins next Wednesday with the quarterfinals. Cheverus and Portland will square off at the Portland Ice Arena. The only drama remaining is which will be the home team.

On the boys’ side, Cheverus is 5-3 and 10th in Western A after a 5-2 loss at Scarborough and an 8-0 home win over South Portland. Liam Fitzpatrick had two goals against the Red Riots. The Stags hosted Brunswick in a makeup game Monday, welcome Fryeburg/Lake Region Thursday, go to Gorham Monday of next week and visit Kennebunk Wednesday.

Portland took an 0-11 record and the No. 15 ranking into Wednesday’s game at Thornton Academy.

Indoor track

There was no indoor track action for city schools last weekend. Next up is the Southern Maine Activities Association championship meet Saturday at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham. The boys’ meet begins at 9:30 a.m. The girls begin at 1:30 p.m.

Swimming

In the pool, Cheverus and Waynflete went to Cape Elizabeth Friday night. In the boys’ meet, the Stags had 153 points, the Capers 101 and the Flyers 23. The girls’ meet saw Cape Elizabeth score 148 points, Waynflete 70 and Cheverus 69.

Results for McAuley’s meet at Falmouth (with Yarmouth) and Deering’s home meet with Gorham Portland Friday weren’t available.

Local divers took part in the Falmouth Invitational last weekend. Deering’s Dylan Farber came in fifth on the boys’ side in the 11 dive competition. Cheverus’ Michael Gordon was eighth, Portland’s Liam Brochu 10th and Cheverus’ Adam Macaulso placed 15th. Cheverus’ Fred Baldenweck was first in the six dive competition.

On the girls’ side, Deering’s Claire Devlin was second in the six dives. Cheverus’ Courtney Kane placed 10th and Lilly Lehto was 11th in the 11 dives.

The North Division Southwesterns will be held this weekend in Westbrook, with Cheverus, Deering and McAuley taking part. The South Division takes its turn the following weekend in Cape Elizabeth where Portland and Waynflete will compete.

Skiing

Cheverus hosted Gorham, Kennebunk, Marshwood, Scarborough and Windham in an Alpine giant slalom meet last Wednesday. The boys were fourth and the girls sixth. Spencer Reynolds was ninth in the boys’ meet with a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 2.53 seconds. Margaret LaFountain was the top girl (placing 18th in 1:23.51).

On the Nordic side, city teams took part in the Sassi Memorial Saturday at Black Mountain.

In the boys’ race, won by Yarmouth, Waynflete was 15th out of 37 teams, Portland 16th, Deering 23rd and Cheverus 34th. Individually, Waynflete’s Josh Espy was runner-up in 14 minutes, 00.6 seconds. Portland’s Ben Allen came in 14th (14:57.8). Deering’s Kuba Chandler placed 17th (15:05). 

On the girls’ side, Caribou was first, Yarmouth second and Portland third. Waynflete came in 19th, Deering 22nd and McAuley 34th. Portland’s Abby Popenoe finished 11th (18:43.2) and teammate Lizzy Landry was 13th (19:13.4). Waynflete’s Jo Moore placed 49th (21:20.1).

Wrestling

With the wrestling regional championships looming Feb. 11 (at Noble) and states Feb. 18 (at Windham), Deering and Portland are putting the finishing touches on their regular season.

The Bulldogs improved to 8-7 with Wednesday’s 45-24 home win over Biddeford.

The Rams are 0-12 after Saturday’s 48-36 loss at Mt. Ararat. Deering is at Biddeford Wednesday.

Freelance writer Ryan Robb contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Sidebar Elements


Deering senior Jon Amabile heads for the basket while Portland junior Nick Volger does all he can to get in his way during Friday’s battles. The host Rams fell to 12-2 after a 39-35 setback.

Cheverus junior Drew Ferrick swats the ball away from a South Portland player during the Stags’ 49-33 home win over the Red Riots Friday night.

Cheverus senior Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy floats toward the basket during Saturday’s 58-42 home win over South Portland. Palazzi-Leahy matched her uniform number with 22 points.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.