Hoops season at the midway point-Portland edition

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(Ed. Note: For the full Cheverus-Thornton Academy and Deering-South Portland boys’ and the Cheverus-Scarborough girls’ game stories, visit theforecaster.net)

A high school basketball season that gets more compelling by the day has passed the halfway pole and is heating up. The tournament is less than a month away.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the nine city teams, where they stand and what’s to come.

Still the champs

Cheverus’ boys’ team features just one returning starter this winter, but the Stags have remained a powerhouse and are the prohibitive favorites to win Western Class A again.

Cheverus improved to 9-0 last week with three impressive victories, at Thornton Academy (52-37), at Bonny Eagle (63-34) and at home over Scarborough (63-48).

Against the Golden Trojans, the one team that’s given the Stags fits in recent years, Cheverus got scoring from eight players (junior Shawn Grover had 11 points, seniors Griffin Brady and Connor O’Neil and junior Cam Olson all added eight) and rode its usual staunch defense to the win.

“Coach stresses that everyone has a part on the team and no matter who plays, they get the job done,” Olson said.

“Everyone made plays,” added Stags coach Bob Brown. “I don’t know who was an outstanding player for us. Everyone did something at different times.”

At Bonny Eagle, the Stags raced to a stunning 25-1 lead after one period and rolled behind 18 points from O’Neil, 12 from DiStasio and 10 from Olson, as 10 players scored in all. O’Neil (14 points) and DiStasio (13) led 10 scorers in the victory over the Red Storm, a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal round tournament game.

Cheverus (first in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) still has some heavy lifting ahead, including a pair of contests against top contenders Deering and South Portland. The Stags have back-to-back home games this weekend versus Portland Friday and Deering Saturday. Tuesday, they’re at Biddeford.

“We have to go back and work and have more good games,” Olson said. “We need to become more of a team. We’re almost there, but we need to keep playing hard and ensure we do the right things. We can’t wait for the challenge. We’ll do our best.”

Deering was viewed as a top contender in the preseason, but the Rams have been up-and-down to date. After dropping two of its first three amid offensive woes, Deering turned around and rattled off four straight wins, capped by a 54-34 victory at Kennebunk last Tuesday (senior Jackson Frey led the Rams with 14 points). Thursday, however, Deering lost at home to resurgent South Portland, 50-39, despite 10 points from junior Jon Amabile.

“We didn’t do a good job,” said Rams coach Dan LeGage. “Credit South Portland. They hit shots and got off to a good start and sat on it. We took ill-advised shots trying to get back in the game. We need our guys to give a consistent high-energy, high-enthusiasm effort every game. It’s a long season. We have to stop having inconsistency.”

Deering bounced back Saturday with a 77-43 romp at Massabesic (Amabile had a game-high 20 points, Frey 16, sophomore Labson Abwoch 13 and senior Nick Colucci 11) to improve to 6-3 (good for eighth in the standings). The Rams go to Noble Thursday, Cheverus Saturday, then host Westbrook Tuesday.

Portland’s youth and inexperience have hurt at times this winter, but the Bulldogs appear to be hitting their stride and will be very dangerous in the weeks to come.

Portland evened its record at 4-4 last week with a 71-46 home romp over Windham and a 64-50 victory at Massabesic. Junior Mike Herrick had 20 points, sophomore Nate Smart added 15 and senior Matt McInnis scored a dozen in the win over the Eagles. At the Mustangs, Herrick led the way with 17 points, McInnis had 13 and junior Pete Donato added 10. The Bulldogs (10th in the latest Heals, only eight teams make the playoffs) hosted South Portland Tuesday, go to Cheverus Friday and Kennebunk Saturday, then welcome Bonny Eagle Tuesday of next week.

In Western C, Waynflete is right in the playoff mix. The Flyers have taken three of their past four games to improve to 6-4 (good for eighth in the Heals, in a region where 10 teams qualify). After losing, 59-47, at Traip last Tuesday (seniors Alex Hadiaris and Joe Veroneau had 14 and 13 points, respectively), Waynflete upset host Old Orchard Beach, 43-40 (Veroneau had 16 to help his team win a nip-and-tuck affair), then rolled over visiting Sacopee, 51-29 (junior Chris Burke led the way with 14). The Flyers are at Western B power Cape Elizabeth Friday, then host Traip Saturday.

Three powers

Coming into the season, consensus held that Western A would come down to Cheverus, Deering and McAuley and with half the season behind us, that’s exactly how it looks.

The Rams, the 2008 and 2009 Class A champions, who lost a heartbreaker to eventual champion Scarborough in last year’s regional final, boast arguably the finest player in the state in 1,000-point senior Kayla Burchill, who has a pretty impressive supporting cast.

Deering began the week 9-0 and second to McAuley in the Western A Heals after  lopsided home wins last week over Kennebunk (62-16) and Massabesic (79-30). In the battle of the Rams, Deering led 18-1 after one period and 42-4 at half. Burchill led nine scorers with 13 points and junior Ella Ramonas and sophomore Chelsea Saucier both finished with nine. Then, against the Mustangs, Burchill scored 27, the last four of which put her over the 1,000 mark for her career. Ramonas added 16. Deering is home against Noble Thursday, visits Cheverus in a highly-anticipated showdown Saturday at 1 p.m., then plays at Westbrook Tuesday.

Speaking of the Stags, they’ve stumbled just once this winter, at home to McAuley back on Dec. 21, but have since won five in a row to improve to 9-1 (fourth in the region). Last week, Cheverus defeated visiting Thornton Academy (66-32) and Bonny Eagle (58-42) and host Scarborough (49-35). Junior Morgan Cahill scored 17 points against the Golden Trojans. Senior Britni Mikulanecz had 19 points, while Cahill and junior Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy each added 11 versus the Scots. Palazzi-Leahy had 14 points and Cahill and Mikulanecz 12 apiece in the win over the Red Storm, Cheverus’ first over Scarborough since Feb. 10, 2006 and just its second ever over the Red Storm.

“It’s never easy coming into a Saturday afternoon game, but we played well,” Cahill said. “It took us a while to pull away, but we were able to hit some shots when we needed.”

“It’s win and that’s all we needed,” Cheverus coach Rickie Ashley said. “When we look at it, it’s a 14-point SMAA win and I’m happy with it.”

The Stags host Deering in the lone regular season meeting between the teams Saturday. They welcome Biddeford Tuesday.

McAuley, behind Division I-bound standouts senior Rebecca Knight and junior Alexa Coulombe, was expected to excel this winter under new coach Amy Vachon and the Lions have risen to every occasion to date.

McAuley is 9-0 and first in Western A after downing visiting Bonny Eagle (48-33), host South Portland (43-39) and visiting Sanford (56-36) last week. Knight had 16 points, Coulombe 10 versus the Scots. Freshman standout Allie Clement led the way with 17 points in the narrow win at the Red Riots. Knight went off for 25 points and Clement added 20 versus the Redskins. The Lions were at Biddeford Monday, host Portland Friday and welcome Kennebunk Tuesday of next week.

Portland has some work to do to get into playoff contention. The Bulldogs were 15th in Western A at 3-6 at the start of the week. Last week, Portland dropped an overtime heartbreaker at Windham (66-64), then bounced back to down visiting Massabesic (66-57) and Kennebunk (58-31). Senior Nicolette Kapothanasis had 26 points and junior Becca Smith added 18 in the OT loss. Kapothanasis finished with 22 and junior Nyaliep Deng added 17 against the Mustangs. In the win over the Rams, led the way with 13 points. The Bulldogs went to South Portland Tuesday, visit McAuley Friday and play at Bonny Eagle Tuesday of next week.

In Western C, Waynflete, despite the graduation loss of Morgan Woodhouse and some injury issues, has remained a force. The Flyers have won four straight and started the week 8-2 and third in the Heals. Last week, Waynflete won at Traip (55-47) and at home over Old Orchard Beach (35-24) and Sacopee (39-11). Sophomore sharpshooter Martha Veroneau went off for 22 points (helped by seven 3-pointers) at the Rangers, but that win was marred by the loss of her twin sister, Catherine, who suffered an ACL injury and will be sidelined for the rest of the season.

Martha Veroneau bounced back to score 18 against the Seagulls as Waynflete pulled away in the second half.

“It was a nice win for us,” said Veroneau. “It was really hard playing without Catheirne. It’s my first game ever playing without her. We definitely felt like we were missing something out there. We pulled together as a team and came together at the end. We wanted to get a win for Catherine, so that was nice. We have a lot of people who can step up and help out. It’s really a team effort.”

“It was ugly, but any time you play a team three times that knows you really well, it lends to a defensive battle,” added Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “I thought we played pretty good defense. I’ll take it. We’ll go forward without Catherine. We’ll miss her intangibles. She does all the little things. She’s smart, she rebounds. We always put her on the other team’s offensive player. It’s a huge loss. It might take us a couple games to adjust and get used to different roles. (Sophomore) Rhiannan (Jackson) is ready to step up. She’s improved a ton. (Freshman) Leigh (Fernandez) will play more. (Freshman) Ella (Millard) did a nice job today.”

Against the Hawks, Veroneau finished with 15 points and senior Lydia Stegemann added a dozen.

The Flyers hosted Greater Portland Christian School Tuesday, visit Hebron Wednesday, then welcome Western B contender Cape Elizabeth Friday and Traip Saturday, in a pair of contests that will be huge for Heal Points.

“Heal Point-wise, we’re in pretty good shape, but the key now is to jell going forward with people playing different roles,” Salway said. “We need to just get better. We’ve closed out games unlike we did at the beginning of the year. It won’t get easier going forward.”

Jeff Christenbury contributed to this story

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

Sidebar Elements


Junior Shawn Grover is one of several Cheverus boys’ basketball players who have helped the defending champion Stags stay perfect so far this winter.

Sophomore Brooke Flaherty and the Cheverus girls have to like their chances in the second half of the season.

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