Deering rallies past Cheverus
PORTLAND—Much more than highly coveted bragging rights were on the line Tuesday evening when the Cheverus boys' basketball team made the short jaunt to rival Deering.
More important were the Heal Points and playoff positioning at stake and most critical for the Rams was the desire to end an 11-game losing streak to the Stags.
It didn't come easily, but thanks to a late surge, Deering finally accomplished that goal.
The Rams, who led most of the first half before Cheverus closed on an 11-0 run to take the lead, found themselves down, 34-27, late in the third period before rallying.
Thanks to the 3-point shooting of unlikely hero, senior Pat Green, Deering was able to match the sharpshooting of Stags' senior standout Louie DiStasio and stay within hailing distance.
With 3:28 to play, a dunk from junior Labson Abwoch tied the score, but DiStasio answered with a 3 to put Cheverus back on top. Green countered that 3 and tied the score and finally, with just under a minute to play, an Abwoch layup put the Rams ahead to stay.
The final seconds were harrowing, but a jawdropping, heads up play off a missed free throw from senior Cal London led to the clinching basket and Deering improved to 15-2 with the 50-46 victory, dropping the Stags to 12-5 in the process.
"It's a good win," said Rams coach Dan LeGage. "(Cheverus has) been the measuring stick in the league. If you want to consider yourself a serious contender over the past several years, you have to beat them. They're there every single year."
After winning its first 21 games, Cheverus fell in the state final to Bangor a year ago. The Stags have proved much more mortal this winter.
After they rolled in their first two outings, 57-38 at Biddeford and 72-37 at home over Gorham, they held off Portland at the Expo, 49-41. Wins over Westbrook (73-47), Marshwood (59-40) and Noble (74-22) followed, but Cheverus rung in the new year with a 46-37 setback at Bonny Eagle. After bouncing back to down visiting Sanford, 77-52, the Stags were stunned at Scarborough, 58-43. Again, Cheverus answered with an impressive victory, this time handing visiting Deering its first loss, 49-40. After a 64-40 home win over Windham, the Stags lost to visiting Portland on a buzzer beater, 40-39. A 51-31 victory at Massabesic got Cheverus back on the winning track and a 49-33 home triumph over South Portland gave coach Bob Brown his 200th win with the program. After a 69-15 win at Kennebunk, the Stags dropped another tough home decision Friday, 46-45, to Thornton Academy.
Deering, which lost to Bonny Eagle in last year's semifinals, won its first nine contests this winter, downing host Thornton Academy (62-41), visiting Marshwood (67-64), visiting Massabesic (82-31), host Noble (78-36), visiting Sanford (63-31), host Bonny Eagle (57-55, in overtime), visiting Kennebunk (73-25), host South Portland (40-29) and visiting Biddeford (61-48). After a 49-40 loss at Cheverus, the Rams bounced back to win at Scarborough (55-44), at home over Westbrook (48-41) and at Windham (41-28) before falling to visiting Portland, 39-35. Wins over visiting South Portland (49-38) and at Gorham (61-54) got Deering back on track.
The rivalry between the Rams and Stags has been all Cheverus ever since Deering won the 2006 Class A championship. The Stags took the next 11 meetings, capped by their win last month. The Rams hadn't beaten Cheverus anywhere since a 51-47 triumph Feb. 7, 2006, exactly six years ago.
This time around, the teams were neck-and-neck for 32 minutes before Deering finally got over the hump.
The Rams got on the board first when junior Thiwat Thiwat made a driving leaner 30 seconds in. After senior Jon Amabile made a free throw, DiStasio first announced that it was going to be a big night with a 3-ball to tie the score.
Deering went on a 7-0 run as Thiwat made a free throw, sophomore Chhorda Chhorn hit a 3 and Abwoch, who came off the bench with 3:22 to go in the opening stanza, took a pass from Amabile, made a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw for a 10-3 advantage.
Stags senior Cam Olson answered with two free throws, but Green scored on a putback. As time expired in the opening stanza, DiStasio somehow managed to sink a turnaround 3-pointer with a high degree of difficulty and the visitors were within four points, 12-8.
A jumper from DiStasio and a layup from senior Shawn Grover (set up by senior James Kapothanasis, whose return from mono has bolstered the Stags) tied the score, but the Rams scored the next eight points to seemingly take control.
The run started with a 3 from Amabile. After Thiwat scored on a putback, Green hit a 3 and midway through the second quarter, Deering had a 20-12 lead.
It didn't last.
With 3:21 to go before halftime, Thiwat was whistled for his third foul. Cheverus junior Drew Ferrick went to the line for a one-and-one, which he missed. That was the good news for the Rams. The bad was that LeGage couldn't get a sub into the game and Thiwat remained on the floor. The next time down, Thiwat fouled DiStasio and had to sit with four fouls.
"Thiwat's an anchor for us defensively," LeGage said. "He was a beast early on. I couldn't get him off the court. I had a sub, Cal London, at the table. I was trying to get (Thiwat) out. I couldn't get Cal in. I think in the heat of the moment, it's tough for a junior to (avoid fouling). It's a good experience for next time."
"We just had to bear down," said Abwoch. "(Thiwat's) a big part of what we do down low."
DiStasio ended a 4 minute, 56 second drought with two free throws. Kapothanasis then buried back-to-back 3s to tie the score. With 47.4 seconds remaining, DiStasio hit another 3 and the Stags were on top for the first time and took a 23-20 advantage to the locker room.
The first half statistics were almost identical and there wouldn't be much separation in the second half either.
A pretty left-handed layup from Kapothanasis got the third quarter scoring started. After Chhorn hit a jumper, ending a 13-0 Cheverus run and a 5:08 drought, DiStasio sank another 3 and it was 28-22 Stags.
Green set up Abwoch for an old-fashioned three-point play, but Grover passed to DiStasio for a backdoor layup. After an Amabile jumper made it a three-point game, Grover scored on a putback and DiStasio fed Olson for a layup and a 34-27 lead with 2:47 left in the period.
Deering was at a crossroads, but instead of buckling, rallied.
Before the quarter's end, Abwoch scored on a putback and London took a pass from Amabile and made a layup to make it 34-31 with eight minutes to go.
Early in the fourth, Amabile had a look at a 3 to tie the score, but missed. At the other end, Grover hit a jumper.
The next time down, Amabile set up Green for a 3 and the Rams were within two. After Grover fed Olson for a layup, Green took a pass from junior Dominic Lauture and sank another 3-ball to cut the deficit to 38-37.
At the other end, DiStasio canned a 3 of his own, but London set up Abwoch for a layup.
With 4:29 to play, with DiStasio at the line, Thiwat finally returned to the game. DiStasio made both attempts, but Green passed to Abwoch for a pretty hook shot and with 3:28 remaining, Amabile set up Abwoch for a resounding dunk and the game was deadlocked, 43-43, the first tie since 20-20.
After a Cheverus turnover, the Rams had a chance to go on top, but Thiwat's shot was blocked by Grover and after the ball went out of bounds, Olson had a steal which led to DiStasio somehow making a contested 3 with 2:19 to play, putting the Stags back on top, 46-43.
The lead only lasted 31 seconds as Green, one final time, came up huge from behind the arc, making the score 46-46 with 1:48 to go.
"People have their days," Green said. "I credit my team. They got me the ball when I was open. Hard work pays off. You knock down a couple, you get the stroke going. That's what happened."
"Pat was on fire," Amabile said. "I tried to get him the ball when he was open."
After Olson missed a jumper and Green got the rebound, Deering transitioned to offense and finally, with 59.1 seconds showing, London passed to Abwoch for a layup and a 48-46 lead, the Rams' first since 20-17.
After Grover missed a shot and a follow, Amabile got the rebound. Twice, Cheverus trapped looking for a turnover, but on both occasions, the Stags were whistled for a foul.
Finally, with 14.3 seconds to play, London was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one. If he made both, the win would essentially be sealed. A miss would give Cheverus a chance to tie or even win.
No one anticipated what happened next.
London's free throw was short and hit the front of the rim, but he wasn't blocked out, raced in and tipped the rebound to Amabile who went up for an improbable layup and a 50-46 lead with just 11.9 seconds remaining.
"It was just one of those wild things," said Amabile. "(Cal) controlled the tip right to me. He saw I was open. It was all Cal. All the credit to Cal."
"I think the difference at the end, we got contributions from a variety of sources," LeGage said. "Cal London was superb. He missed the free throw, then tipped it to Jon. They didn't box him out. He tipped it to Jon and that changed the whole game. Our guys never gave up."
The Stags couldn't get up off the deck after that as two final shots went awry and Deering finally got the monkey off its back with the palpitating 50-46 triumph.
"It feels great," Abwoch said. "We haven't beaten Cheverus in six years."
"It's a great win," said Amabile. "It boosts our confidence a lot and brings us together as a team a lot more. This is the best team I've been on and the most fun too. Everyone's bonding and likes each other."
"Cheverus is a great team," Green said. "We hit them once, they hit us back. It was a battle from there. When two great teams go at it, that's what happens. It's going to be up and down the whole way. It's going to come down to the very end and it did. It's great. We needed this."
LeGage was thrilled with his team's effort.
"We have some really good individual players, but when you play a good team like Cheverus, if you want to beat them, you have to play as a team where no one cares who gets the points or who gets the assists," LeGage added. "We came together, snapped the ball around, found the open guy. We were confident. They forced us to come together and take the next step you want to take at the end of the season. I told the guys if you want to beat these guys, you have to play as a team.
"What we had to do differently was move the ball around and be patient. If we moved the ball and kept moving through their zone, we wouldn't allow them to match up against us. If you have a lot of movement cutting through and from behind the zone, it's very difficult for them to match you. The whole premise of the defense is to match up. If you're moving and cutting, you create confusion."
Abwoch made the most of his time on the floor, leading the Rams with 16 points. He also grabbed four rebounds.
"Labson's an all-around great player," Green said. "He moved without the ball and that's something we emphasize in practice. We moved the ball too, which was great."
"(Labson) came in and gave us some fire," LeGage said.
Green made four 3-pointers and had 14 points, to go along with four rebounds.
Amabile was limited to eight points, but had five rebounds, five assists and a steal.
"As good as Jon is and he can get a shot off any time he wants, he was looking for other guys tonight," LeGage said. "He went from being a great scorer to being a great player. There's a difference. He was unselfish. He made the most of his opportunities."
Chhorn and Thiwat each added five points and London had two (along with five boards.).
The Rams had a 23-19 rebounding edge, turned the ball over 15 times (13 fewer than in the first meeting this winter) and shot 4-of-7 from the charity stripe.
Cheverus' charge was led by DiStasio, whose 26 points (featuring six 3-pointers) left Deering in awe.
"DiStasio was unbelievable," LeGage said. "He was hitting shots like a high-level scholarship player. Credit our guys to even stay close because he was so hot. He's a great player anyway, but he was hitting turnaround 3s."
"Offensively, (Louie) sure had a great game," said Brown.
Kapothanasis had eight points, Grover six (along with five rebounds) and Olson six (with six boards and three steals). Ferrick didn't score, but had four steals. Freshman Zordan Holman blocked four shots.
The Stags had a dozen turnovers and made 6-of-7 free throw attempts.
"We gave up some 3s that should have never been given up," Brown said. "It's not really discouraging because of the way the season's unfolded with injuries, sickness, late starts and everything. We basically have one starter back."
One final piece of business
Cheverus (fourth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) puts the wraps on its regular season Friday at South Portland. The Stags will likely finish third or fourth.
"Come tournament time, I think it's going to be anybody's ballgame," Brown said. "I don't think there's a team in the first round who will say, 'Boy am I glad we play those guys.' I think everybody will say, 'We better play well or we're going home.' It's going to take three good ballgames. I've never coached a season like this where the season really doesn't matter as long as we get in. If we get in and play well, we'll move on. If we don't, we'll go home. That goes for everybody. Our whole goal this year is to be ready at tournament time. We'll have our hands full Friday night."
As for Deering (ranked first), a win in its finale, at Portland Friday, would ensure the top spot for the first time in six years.
"We're looking forward to (playing Portland)," Abwoch said. "We're looking to set that straight. I feel like no one knows what will happen. We just have to be ready. No matter what seed we are."
"We're going to be right back in the gym tomorrow," Green said. "Working hard, like we have all year. It's going to be a wild tournament. Any team can win it. There's going to be great teams. We just have to go out and play."
"It's going to be a fun tournament," LeGage added. "It's wide open. I thought we took a giant step together tonight. Having 15 wins is good, but these guys stepped closer to each other as a team. It was definitely a playoff atmosphere tonight. I'm really proud of the guys. I think it will give us No. 1, but I'm not sure. We just play the game in front of us."
The tournament begins a week from Friday at the Portland Exposition Building.