Postseason upon us, fun about to begin
(Ed. Note: For the complete Cheverus-Deering girls' basketball and Portland-Cheverus boys' basketball game stories, with box scores and additional photos, please visit theforecaster.net)
With the calendar reading February, that means it's time for local athletes and teams to be at their best as they chase their version of sports immortality.
The girls' hockey playoffs are underway. The postseason is about to begin in swimming, skiing, track and wrestling and of course, the always popular basketball tournament will tip off in mere days.
Here's a glimpse at what's occurred and what's on the docket:
As we enter the final week of the basketball regular season, the title hopes of the Portland boys remain extremely realistic.
Last week, the Bulldogs improved to 16-0 and further cemented their status as the top ranked team in the Western Class A Heal Points standings after downing visiting Windham (64-39) and rallying to beat host Cheverus (64-53). Against the Eagles, Jayvon Pitts-Young had 16 points, Matt Talbot finished with 15 and Travis Godbout added 11. Portland then found itself down, 28-22, at halftime at the Stags, but Pitts-Young opened the second half with a steal and had 12 points in the third quarter. Talbot proved unstoppable as well and the Bulldogs pulled away to beat Cheverus for the fifth straight time, cutting the Stags' all-time lead in the series to 89-88 in the process.
Talbot had a game-high 25 points and 12 rebounds, while Pitts-Young added 16 points (14 of which came after halftime).
"I was really unhappy with how I was playing," Pitts-Young said. "I thought I wasn't contributing enough. I felt I had to step up for my team so we could pull the game off. That steal changed the game and we had more fun with it."
"It's always fun playing (at Cheverus)," Talbot said. "We came out and played the way we should have played at the beginning. We came in at halftime and regrouped. We realized we were only down six."
"Cheverus was ready tonight, but then again, you'd expect that out of a rivalry, no matter what the records were," added Bulldogs coach Joe Russo. "We didn't respond in the first half. We played like we didn't want to lose. We weren't assertive. We played into their hands. At halftime, we talked about not playing to lose."
Portland is hoping to hold off Falmouth and Bonny Eagle for the top seed in the Western Class A Heal Points standings and should be able to do so presuming it handled visiting South Portland Tuesday and beats visiting Deering Thursday (that game will tip at 4 p.m. at the Expo, due to an open house at Portland High).
"With the experience we have, we'll be successful," said Pitts-Young.
"It's good to know if we get in tough situations, we can get these victories and head into the tournament on a high note," Talbot said.
"I think we need to win both of our games to get the 1 seed," Russo added. "We still need to get a lot better in our halfcourt offense."
Deering has the inside track for the No. 4 seed. Last week, the Rams increased their win streak to three and improved to 11-5 with victories at Biddeford (55-51) and at home over South Portland (63-53). Liam Densmore had 14 points and Ahmed Ismail Ahmed and Ahmed Ali 10 apiece to help Deering rally past the Tigers. In the win over the Red Riots, Benedict Williams had 15 points, Patrick Lobor had 12 and Ahmed added 10. After hosting Cheverus Tuesday, the Rams close at Portland Thursday.
Cheverus, after missing the playoffs last winter for the first time since 1999-2000, will take part in the postseason this time around, but its seeding was up in the air at press time. Last week, the Stags outscored visiting Scarborough, 76-63, then suffered a 64-53 home loss to Portland. In the win, Brad Carney, Manny Ismail and Noah Stebbins all had 15 points. In the setback, Ismail and freshman Austin Boudreau both had 10 points, while Stebbins, along with fan favorite Kodiak Simpson, who got a rare start on Senior Night, added seven. Cheverus (eighth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings at press time) went to Deering Tuesday, then closed the regular season Friday at South Portland. The Stags will compete in a preliminary round playoff game Wednesday of next week. The questions are where and against whom.
In Western C, Waynflete began the final week of the season 13-2 and fifth in the standings. After sitting idle for a week, the Flyers went to Sacopee Valley and prevailed, 68-23, as Serge Nyirikamba had 18 points, Milo Belleau added 13 and Harry Baker-Connick finished with 11. After welcoming Greater Portland Christian School Tuesday, Waynflete closes with a home game versus Hyde Friday (game time has been changed to 6:30 p.m.). If the Flyers can finish in the top four, they'll avoid a prelim.
The Western A quarterfinals will be held Friday and Saturday of next week at the Portland Exposition Building. The Western C quarterfinals are Monday, Feb. 17, at the Augusta Civic Center.
On the girls' side, reigning Miss Maine Basketball Martha Veroneau was honored as the school raised a banner at Waynflete Friday prior to the Flyers' game versus Sacopee Valley. On the court, the defending Class C state champions made it five wins in six games and improved to 10-6 and seventh in the Heals after downing host Kents Hill (60-45), visiting Hebron (61-33) and visiting Sacopee (50-30). Leigh Fernandez had 17 points and Julianna Harwood 11 versus Kents Hill. In the win over Hebron, Harwood had 14 points, Dana Peirce scored 13 and Helen Gray-Bauer added 10. Gray-Bauer led the way with 19 points versus the Hawks, while Fernandez added 11. Waynflete hosted GPCS Tuesday and closes at Hyde Friday. The Flyers will likely host a preliminary round playoff game Tuesday of next week.
In Western A, three-time defending state champion McAuley continues to pull away from the pack and was close to locking up the top seed at press time. Last week, the Lions romped at Bonny Eagle (78-28) and handled visiting Marshwood on Senior Night (75-44). Olivia Smith led the way against the Scots with 20 points, while Allie Clement, Victoria Lux and Jackie Welch all had 13. Clement had a career-high 31 against the Hawks. Lux added 19. McAuley played at Deering Monday (see theforecaster.net for game story) and closes at Cheverus Friday (we'll also have that game story).
Portland and Cheverus were battling for the fourth spot at press time.
The Bulldogs began the week 12-4 and fourth after a much-needed 58-52 win at Windham and a 48-35 home loss to South Portland. In the victory, Brianna Holdren continued her strong season with 21 points. Holdren also had a team-high 11 in the loss to the Red Riots. Portland was bolstered by the return of injured star Elizabeth Donato, who had seven points. The Bulldogs were at Biddeford Tuesday and close at Deering Friday. A pair of wins would match the program's best record in a decade.
The Stags appear to be peaking at the optimal time. Last week, Cheverus won at Scarborough (50-41), handled visiting Biddeford (63-22), then stifled visiting Deering (44-29) to improve to 12-4 and fifth in the standings. In the win over the Red Storm, standout Jess Willerson had 18 points. Against the Tigers, Willerson had 14 points, Georgia Ford added 12, Jillian Libby 11 and Laura Holman 10. In the win over the Rams, the Stags' defense was sensational, allowing just seven field goals. Willerson had 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Ford added 11 points.
"We played well on defense," said Willerson. "We really locked down. We communicated really well and played like a team. That was our goal. We're definitely peaking at the right time. We're bonding. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses."
"I thought we played great defense," Cheverus coach Richie Ashley said. "For us, it starts with defense. I thought we rebounded well too. I thought our interior defense was better in the second half. When we come with our mental mindset, we can lock down."
The Stags would host a prelim if the season ended now, but a win at South Portland Tuesday (see theforecaster.net for game story) or a first-ever victory over visiting McAuley Friday would move Cheverus further up the standings.
"We all want to do something that Cheverus girls' basketball has never done, win a state championship and beat McAuley," Libby said. "(Friday's) going to be a big, emotional night. Getting used to big crowds and being under pressure will pay off for us."
"We just want to be playing well," Ashley said. "Wherever we end up, we'll end up and we'll play whoever we have to play. We're getting there. It's a process. The girls are buying in. We need to play a certain way. We've found what we do well and we're trying to execute those things and trying to limit what we don't do well."
Deering is looking to extend its postseason streak to 14 years. The Rams beat visiting Biddeford, 55-35, then lost at Cheverus, 44-29, to fall to 7-9 and 10th in Western A. In the victory, Tasia Titherington had 21 points and Amanda Brett added 11. Deering struggled offensively at the Stags, making just seven shots from the floor. Brett led the way with 14 points.
"It's very indicative of how we've been inconsistent," lamented Rams coach Mike Murphy. "We had good looks at the basket, but we didn't knock down the shots we needed to keep us in the game. When you don't do that, it's difficult to win. We played hard, but we didn't reward ourselves with hoops. Then, we started pressing mentally."
Deering hopes to move up a couple spots to be able to host a preliminary round playoff game Tuesday, but the Rams either had to beat visiting McAuley Monday or visiting Portland Friday.
"We'll use the next two games to prepare us for the tournament," said Murphy. "We're young and I like the way we've responded this year. Going in, I knew it would be rough, but it's been rewarding. I've enjoyed watching our improvement. We've improved dramatically from the start of the year until now."
The Western A quarterfinals will be held Monday, Feb. 17 at the Portland Exposition Building. The Western C quarterfinals are Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the Augusta Civic Center.
While the Cheverus and Portland/Deering girls' hockey teams failed to qualify for the playoffs, Waynflete's co-op team with Cape Elizabeth, Capeflete, did make the cut.
Capeflete closed the regular season with a 10-8 record after losing, 3-1, to visiting Biddeford and beating visiting Gorham/Bonny Eagle, 7-0. Capeflete, ranked fourth in the West Region, will host No. 5 York Wednesday at 5 p.m. The teams split in the regular season, with each winning at home (Capeflete, 6-1, and York, 3-2). The winner has the daunting task of visiting top-ranked, undefeated, defending regional champion Scarborough (18-0) in the semifinals Friday or Saturday.
The regional finals are Wednesday of next week. The state final is Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Colisee in Lewiston.
Cheverus just missed the playoffs with a 6-11-1 mark which left the Stags seventh in a region where just six teams qualified. The Stags closed with a 3-2 loss at Biddeford, a 4-3 home loss to Gorham/Bonny Eagle and a 3-0 setback at Yarmouth/Freeport.
Portland/Deering wound up 0-18 and eighth after a 7-0 home loss to Mt. Ararat.
Boys' hockey is the lone sport that still has ample time remaining in the regular season.
Cheverus is now fifth in the Western A Heals with a 6-4-1 record following a 4-3 overtime loss at Thornton Academy last Wednesday. After welcoming Portland/Deering Monday (see theforecaster.net for game story) and hosting top-ranked Scarborough Thursday, the Stags go to Biddeford Saturday, visit Marshwood Monday and play at defending Class A champion Falmouth Tuesday.
The Portland/Deering co-op team began the week seventh (nine teams make the playoffs) at 3-8-1 after an 11-0 home loss to Scarborough Saturday. Portland/Deering was at Cheverus Monday, welcomes Marshwood Thursday and Noble Saturday.
The regular season has come to a close for city track teams, but Deering's Hany Ramadan set a school record in the 400 in the final meet of the regular season Jan. 24, besting Brian Vail's old record with a time of 50.59 seconds.
The Southwestern Maine Activities Association indoor track and field championships are Saturday at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.
The Class A state meet is Monday, Feb. 17, at USM.
Cheverus' boys' swim team beat host Falmouth, 88-66, while the Stags girls downed the Yachtsmen, 103-67.
The Southwestern championships will be held this weekend in Cape Elizabeth.
The Class A girls' state championships are Feb. 15 in Orono. The Class A Boys (Orono) and Class B girls (Bowdoin) will hold their state meets Feb. 17. The Class B boys' championships are Feb. 18 at Bowdoin.
Cheverus' boys' and girls' Alpine ski teams came in fifth in a five-team Southwestern Maine Activities Association/Western Maine Conference slalom meet last week at Shawnee Peak. Schuyler Black was eighth in the boys' race (a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 53.8 seconds). Liz Fossett led the girls with a 12th-place showing (2:19.90).
Waynflete's girls were fourth and its boys sixth in a six-team slalom meet. Beata Vest was the girls' individual runner-up in 1:41.55. Louis Frumer (third, 1:35.04) led the boys.
The Nordic skiing state championships are Feb. 19-21. The Alpine championships are Feb. 27-March 1.
The wrestling regular season came to an end last week.
Portland closed by beating Noble (42-33) and losing to Marshwood (57-18) and Sanford (51-27).
Deering finished up with losses to Noble (78-0), Marshwood (75-6) and Massabesic (48-30).
The Western A regionals are Saturday at Sanford High School.
The state championships are Saturday, Feb. 15 at Noble High School in North Berwick.