Thornton Academy pulls away to win at Cheverus

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Thornton Academy sophomore Dylan Griffin shoots over Cheverus senior Matt Duchaine during the Golden Trojans’ 54-29 victory Wednesday night. Griffin scored 15 points off the bench.

Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald photos.

BOX SCORE

Thornton Academy 54 Cheverus 29

TA- 12 6 19 17- 54
C- 4 13 5 7- 29

TA- Jones 6-4-16, Griffin 7-0-15, Chapman 3-0-6, Gikas 2-2-6, Gawronski 2-0-4, McGrath-Conwell 1-0-3, Bracamonte 1-0-2, Ham 1-0-2

C- Galli 4-0-10, Burke 2-1-6, Sanborn 1-2-4, Duchaine 1-0-3, Foster 1-0-3, Flaherty 1-0-2, Higgins 0-1-1

3-pointers:
TA (2) Griffin, McGrath-Conwell 1
C (5) Galli 2, Burke, Duchaine, Foster 1

Turnovers:
TA- 11
C- 20

Free throws
TA: 6-9
C: 4-8

PORTLAND—Cheverus’ boys’ basketball team has been very competitive during the first half of the 2018-19 season, but slow starts in each half doomed the Stags against visiting Thornton Academy Wednesday evening at Keegan Gymnasium.

Cheverus dug an early 10-0 hole and trailed, 12-4, after one period against the undefeated Golden Trojans, but a flurry of 3-point shots gave the Stags a momentary lead in the second period before a last-second layup from sophomore Payton Jones made it 18-17 Thornton Academy at halftime.

The Golden Trojans then broke it open in the third quarter, thanks in large part to their reserves.

With the score 24-22 Thornton Academy midway through the frame, sophomore Dylan Griffin scored nine consecutive points to help the visitors go up, 37-22, heading for the fourth period.

There, Cheverus never drew closer than 12 points and the Golden Trojans pulled away to prevail, 54-29.

Thornton Academy got 16 points from Jones and 15 from Griffin as it improved to 5-0 and dropped the Stags to 4-4 in the process.

“Credit to (Thornton Academy),” said Cheverus coach Ryan Soucie. “They were the more aggressive team, they executed better than we did. It’s hard to win when  you turn the ball over and don’t execute.”

On to 2019

Each team enjoyed success in the early portion of the season and is optimistic heading into the new year.

Thornton Academy, one of several talented teams in Class AA South, opened with a 79-36 victory at Massabesic and an 80-29 home win over Noble. After passing a test at Sanford (67-54), the Golden Trojans earned their biggest win to date: 56-52 at South Portland.

Cheverus, meanwhile, started with a 58-48 victory at Windham and after losses at home to South Portland (63-45) and defending AA champion Edward Little (61-56), downed visiting Sanford (61-59) and visiting Bonny Eagle (61-49). The Stags rolled at Lewiston, 77-42, then lost at unbeaten Bangor, 78-60.

Last year, Thornton Academy squeaked out a 45-44 victory in Saco, its fourth straight in the series.

Wednesday, Cheverus looked to beat the Golden Trojans for the first time since Dec. 12, 2014, 59-51 in Saco, and enjoy its first victory at home over Thornton Academy since Dec. 13, 2013 (63-44), but the Golden Trojans did enough to stay unbeaten.

The Stags started slowly and before they knew what hit them, they were down, 10-0.

A layup from Jones, set up by senior Anthony Bracamonte, opened the scoring. Thornton Academy then got a reverse layup from senior Will Chapman, a driving layup by Bracamonte, a pair of foul shots from Jones and a layup from Griffin.

Cheverus got on the board with 3:13 to go in the first quarter, as senior Owen Burke drained a 3-pointer, but senior Robert Gawronski countered with a hook shot before a free throw from senior Tom Higgins pulled the Stags within eight, 12-4, after eight minutes.

Cheverus came to life in the second period, as it turned up the defensive intensity and drained shots from behind the arc.

First, 3-pointers from senior Matt Duchaine and senior Patrick Foster cut the deficit to 12-10.

After the Golden Trojans answered on a driving layup from Jones, ending their 6-minute scoring drought, the Stags got a corner 3-pointer from junior Nick Galli and a fadeaway jumper from sophomore Nolan Sanborn which rattled in and provided Cheverus with its first lead, 15-14.

Griffin countered with a putback before Foster set up Galli for a layup that appeared to give the Stags a halftime lead.

Cheverus turned the ball over just before the half, however, as Gawronski stole it, passed to Griffin and Griffin fed Jones for a layup just before the horn for an 18-17 Thornton Academy advantage.

In the first 16 minutes, Galli led the Stags with five points, but the hosts were hindered by 10 turnovers and eight points from Jones was just enough to put the visitors on top.

The third quarter started like the second ended, as Cheverus turned the ball over and junior Kobe Gaudette seized it, fed Bracamonte and Bracamonte set up Jones for a layup.

Sanborn answered with two foul shots, but after Jones dove to keep the ball in play, Gawronski passed to Chapman for a layup.

After Burke made a free throw, Gawronski converted a spinner.

With 4:26 left in the quarter, Burke scored on a leaner to pull the Stags within 24-22, but the rest of the period would belong to the Golden Trojans.

A 13-0 quarter-ending run began with a putback by Griffin.

Griffin then twice made layups and with 2:17 to go, Griffin stepped back and got a 3-point shot to rattle in for a 33-22 advantage.

“My teammates know when to find me at the right time,” Griffin said. “I got a nice roll there, shooter’s touch.”

After sophomore Costa Gikas came off the bench and made two free throws for Thornton Academy, Gikas capped the quarter-ending surge with a driving finger-roll, stretching the lead to 15 points with eight minutes to play.

“The bench pretty much makes or breaks our team,” Jones said. “In practice, they push all the starters to give their all and make us play better in games. When they get their chance to shine, they do very well.”

“The kids have played together for awhile now and when the bench players get a chance to play, they want to produce,” Thornton Academy coach Bob Davies said. 

A Galli 3-pointer 59 seconds into the final stanza pulled Cheverus within 12, but the Stags would draw no closer, as the Golden Trojans embarked on a 15-2 run.

After Jones set up Chapman for a fastbreak layup, Bracamonte fed Griffin for a fastbreak layup and a 41-25 lead.

After Galli countered with a layup, Jones converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw), then he added another before senior Ben Ham scored on a putback and senior Aidan McGrath-Conwell knocked down a 3-pointer to stretch the advantage to 52-27.

Down the stretch, senior Ryan Flaherty banked home a shot for the Stags’ final points before Gikas scored on a leaner to account for the 54-29 final score.

“Coach Davies got on us about our defense at halftime,” said Griffin. “He got on us to stop giving up the middle.”

“Coach lit a fire under us,” Jones said. “We were slacking. We got up early and they got back in the game. We had to get back into our game.”

“It was definitely a collective win tonight,” Davies added. “We try to get up and down and we can score in bunches.”

Jones had a game-high 16 points and also finished with five rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

Griffin was a star off the bench with 15 points, 11 coming in the second half. Griffin also had eight rebounds and two steals.

“Dylan is doing well for us,” Davies said. “He’s a great kid. He’s learning a lot. Hopefully, he gets better and better.”

Chapman (four boards) and Gikas contributed six points apiece, Gawronski had four points, five rebounds, three steals, two steals and two blocks, McGrath-Conwell finished with three points and Bracamonte (four assists) and Ham (four assists, four rebounds) had two apiece.

Thornton Academy outrebounded Cheverus, 37-24, only turned the ball over 11 times and made 6 of 9 foul shots.

Cheverus was led by Galli, who had 10 points and seven rebounds. Burke added six points (and four rebounds), Sanborn had four, Duchaine and Foster three each, Flaherty two and Higgins one.

The Stags committed 20 turnovers and made half of their eight free throws.

“We knew they’d pack the paint on the defense,” said Soucie. “We talked about having to drive and kick. We did that at times. We fought our way back into it. We should have been up three or four at halftime, at least one. Then, we started the second half with a turnover. Defensively, we’re not terrible. We did a decent job rebounding. Tonight, we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”

Uphill climb

The slate remains tough for both teams going forward.

Thornton Academy returns home Friday, but has the daunting task of hosting Bangor, which was knocked from the unbeaten ranks by Oxford Hills Wednesday. The Golden Trojans visit Windham Saturday.

“We’re up there (in the standings),” Griffin said. “We can make a run for it this year.”

“We had the same start last year and we dipped a little bit, so we have to keep it going,” Jones said. “I think it’s one of the best groups I’ve ever played with. If we play really good defense, there’s no limit to what we can do.”

“We’re learning and hopefully we’ll continue to get better all year,” Davies added. “Anything can happen. Anyone can win on a given night.”

Cheverus is home with Scarborough Friday and welcomes Gorham Tuesday of next week. 

“We have been competitive with just about everybody,” Soucie said. “We’re at a critical point. We have to be committed to each other and working hard. We knew that this year was going to be fun because there’s so much parity.”

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

Cheverus sophomore Dylan Morrison defends Thornton Academy senior Ben Ham.

Cheverus senior Owen Burke runs into Thornton Academy sophomore Dylan Griffin.

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