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Cheverus earns that elusive regional crown

Sport: Basketball (Boys)

Posted: February 24th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Cheverus earns that elusive regional crown
By Michael Hoffer
Special to MBR
02/24/08

PORTLAND- Cheverus' boys' basketball team has been no stranger to the regional final this decade. Advancing to the next round, however, has been a problem.

Since winning the region in 2003, the Stags had lost to Portland in 2004, Deering in 2005 and Portland again last winter in the regional championship game.

Saturday evening, however, Cheverus took the next step, riding an amazing defensive effort to a 40-31 victory over the Thornton Academy Golden Trojans at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Cheverus got just enough offense to move on.

"It's a relief," Stags' coach Bob Brown said. "Four weeks ago, we were all wondering what we were doing. It was a great turnaround. Credit the kids. They started playing like young men who are teammates."

Cheverus won its first 14 games this year, but a 51-39 home loss to Thornton Academy on Jan. 29 started a three-game slide. The Stags rediscovered their team commitment and beat host Deering in the regular season finale to earn the top seed for the tournament.

After downing No. 9 Windham by 10 in the quarterfinal round, Cheverus enjoyed a decisive win over rival and recent nemesis Portland in the semifinal round to set up a showdown with a Golden Trojans' team which had been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2007-08 campaign.

The Golden Trojans lost only to South Portland and Scarborough during the regular season and barely survived a mighty upset in the quarterfinals when they edged No. 7 Westbrook on a late 3-pointer from senior Jeff Winnie. Thornton Academy then eliminated South Portland in the semifinals.

The teams met last season in the semifinals (a 53-39 Stags' victory).

It was apparent early on that points would be at a premium. Neither squad scored until the 5:27 mark of the first period when Golden Trojans' senior Dakota Greene made a layup. Cheverus answered on a layup from junior Mick DiStasio, but Greene made another layup for a 4-2 lead. After junior Will White hinted at a big game to come with a 3-pointer, senior Kory Martin made a floater to give Thornton Academy a 6-5 advantage.

A 3-point shot from junior Ian Barwise put Cheverus ahead 8-6 with 2:17 to go in the first. Martin made a free throw at the other end, but as time expired in the opening quarter, White scored on a rebound putback to put the Stags up 10-7.

Greene got the second quarter scoring started with a layup. DiStasio made one of two free throws, but senior Austin Gregory made a jump shot to tie the score at 11-11. After a layup from senior Doug Alston put Cheverus back on top, a jump hook from Martin tied the score again.

DiStasio again made one of two free throws and with 4:11 to play in the first half, Martin made a layup to give the Golden Trojans a 15-14 lead.

The Stags would never trail again.

A 3-pointer from Barwise gave them the lead for good. After junior John Trull made a free throw for Thornton Academy, DiStasio made a layup. With 40.8 seconds to go in the half, Martin made a bank shot, but with time winding down, Barwise buried a long shot from the corner for a 21-18 advantage.

Cheverus looked like it was finally going to take a healthy lead when DiStasio and sophomore Indiana Faithfull made back-to-back layups to start the second half, but Martin made a layup and Greene hit a foul shot, cutting the lead to four, 25-21. After Faithfull scored on a bank shot for the Stags, Golden Trojans' senior standout James Morse buried a 3-ball to make it 27-24. Alston made a runner to push the lead back to five, but Winnie made a layup with 2:05 to go in the quarter and neither team scored again, allowing Cheverus to take a 29-26 lead into the final stanza.

With 6:52 to play in the contest, Martin made a layup to get Thornton Academy back within a point, 29-28, but at the other end, Alston made a clutch jumper. With 4:31 remaining, Morse made one of two free throws, but Barwise answered with a layup to make it 33-29.

Neither team was able to score for almost two minutes.

Then, with 2:09 left, Martin scored on a baseline turnaround and suddenly it was a 33-31 game.

The Golden Trojans wouldn't score again.

With 1:24 to go, Barwise grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws for a 35-31 advantage. After a Stags' steal, White went to the line and made two foul shots with exactly a minute to play. After another Thornton Academy turnover, Faithfull made a pair of free throws and with 31.5 seconds left, White put the punctuation mark on the win with another foul shot, giving Cheverus the victory and the regional crown, 40-31.

"I felt pretty confident," said White, who missed much of the season with injury. "It's pretty easy to be confident with all the other guys around me. This shows we have what it takes. I was on the team last year when we lost. It was pretty devastating. This is a great feeling."

"It was a great game," Barwise added. "We knew it would be. They beat us the first time, but we came ready to play today. Everyone pitched in and helped. It helps to share the ball the way we do. When we share the ball, not many teams are better than us. We were pumped, ready to play. We played the whole game as hard as we could."

Brown was thrilled with his team's effort.

"The first time we played, we couldn't get into our offense and we turned the ball over," he said. "Tonight, I thought we played excellent defense and we didn't make a bunch of mistakes. The offense played together. Everything was team. We made extra passes. Because of that, we got decent shots."

Cheverus was led by 12 points from Barwise. DiStasio (who was named the Outstanding Player/Sportsman of the Western A tournament) and White both had eight. Alston and Faithfull wound up with six apiece.

"Faithfull had a great game," Brown said. "Will made major plays. He's great on defense. He came up with some big rebounds. Barwise hit some shots. He made clutch free throws. We only missed one free throw at the end."

The Golden Trojans got 13 points from Martin, seven from Greene and six from Morse. Winnie was held to just two.

"We tried to control penetration," White said. "That's what killed us last time. We did a good job."

To neutralize Winnie, Cheverus stayed away from its vaunted pressure defense.

"We pressed them once," Brown said. "When Winnie went by us and said, 'hello, hello, goodbye, goodbye,' and made a layup. He shouldn't have done it. We might have stayed in it."
Thornton Academy finished its finest season in many moons at 18-3.

The Stags earned a date with juggernaut defending state champion Bangor (21-0) in the Class A state final Saturday at 7 p.m., at the Civic Center.

The Rams are considered unbeatable in some circles, but Cheverus likes its chances.

"If we play together and we share the ball the way we can, not many teams can beat us," Barwise said. "We don't know much about them and they don't know much about us. It'll be a good game. We're all excited."

"They're 21-0 and only Edward Little has played with them," Brown added. "Edward Little is very athletic. Bangor is bigger and bigger. We'll come to play. Having it here as an advantage."