Cheverus rallies past SP in an Instant Classic

Sport: Basketball (boys)

Posted: January 26th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Cheverus rallies past SP in an Instant Classic
By Michael Hoffer
Special to MBR

SOUTH PORTLAND- For the vast majority of Friday night's showdown at historic Beal Gymnasium, the host South Portland Red Riots woke up the echoes and had the undefeated Cheverus Stags on the ropes.

When the dust had cleared, however, the Stags remained the lone unbeaten team in Western Class A after rallying for an absolutely palpitating 63-61 overtime victory.

Cheverus embarked on a furious fourth quarter rally, erased a 12-point deficit, tied the game with just over a minute to go in regulation, took the lead for good with 37 seconds remaining in overtime, then watched helplessly as two potential South Portland game-winning 3-point bids barely missed in the waning seconds, before holding on for a 63-61 victory in arguably the finest game of the year.

"This was the first scare I've had all season," said Cheverus senior captain Doug Alston, who tied the game with two free throws late in regulation, then added five points in OT. "(South Portland's) a very good team. In the first half, we didn't play the best we could. We came out with heart in the second half and came out with a 'W.' It shows we can overcome the challenge. We buckled down and got through it as a team."

"We had a few turnovers late in the game, but overall, I'm so impressed with and proud of my team," countered South Portland's first-year coach Phil Conley. "I couldn't have asked for anything more. They left it all on the line. I thought we hit shots, like they did. I thought it was a great high school basketball game. Cheverus is a very good team, but we are as well and I think we proved it tonight."

Cheverus came to South Portland with a 13-0 record and plenty of confidence after riding staunch defense and devastating 3-point shooting to relatively easy home wins over Westbrook and Deering earlier in the week.

The Red Riots, meanwhile, have impressed under Conley, and the up-and-coming team has hit its stride earlier than expected. South Portland's lone losses were close decisions at home to Deering and Scarborough. The Red Riots' biggest win to date was a victory over Thornton Academy.

Some still felt South Portland wasn't quiet at Cheverus' level, but the Red Riots dispelled all doubts with their performance in front of a raucous crowd.

The visitors took a quick 3-0 lead on a 3-ball from sophomore Indiana Faithfull. After the hosts tied the game on a bank shot from sophomore standout Keegan Hyland a foul shot from senior Nick Gaddar, the Stags went up 6-3 on a free throw from junior Peter Foley and a rebound layup by senior standout Mick DiStasio.

South Portland would get the next six points as senior Nick Wright made a layup, Hyland scored on a rebound layup and senior Will Furbush scored on a layup for a 9-6 lead. Alston got one point back with a foul shot, but the Red Riots closed the quarter with two free throws from sophomore Matt Lee and a layup by Gaddar for a 13-7 advantage.

Cheverus would get the first eight points of the second quarter.

Faithfull got things started with a second 3-ball. After junior Will White made two free throws, White canned a 3-ball to make it 15-13 Stags, but Cheverus wouldn't lead again in regulation.

Lee tied the game with a layup after a steal and Gaddar (taking a pretty pass from Lee) put his team on top with a layup. After Stags' junior Ian Barwise made a free throw, Wright scored on a layup after a steal. DiStasio scored on a layup to make it a 19-18 game, but Hyland hit a baseline jumper, Gaddar scored on a rebound layup and Furbush canned two foul shots for a 25-18 lead.

Cheverus junior Dan Foster stemmed the tide with a floater, but Hyland answered with two free throws. After Faithfull made a layup, Hyland scored on a transition layup to give South Portland a 29-22 advantage at halftime.

Many on hand expected the Stags to make a run in the third period, but the Red Riots didn't let up.

After junior Ian Schwartz made a layup for the visitors, Gaddar converted a left-handed layup. Faithfull answered by making one of two foul shots, but Hyland buried a 3-pointer at the other end (South Portland's first made 3 of the night) for a 34-25 lead. After DiStasio scored on a layup, Furbush canned a 3-ball and Wright made two free throws to give the hosts their biggest lead, 39-27.

DiStasio answered with a long jumper and Foster made a 3, but Hyland answered with a 3 at the other end, keeping the lead at 10, 42-32. After Alston answered with a 3-ball for the visitors, Lee made one of his own for a 45-35 advantage.

With just over a minute to go in the third, DiStasio made two free throws, but Hyland hit his third 3 of the quarter and South Portland led 48-37. Faithfull gave his team some momentum, however, making a bank shot as time expired (after Barwise tipped a rebound to him) to make it a nine-point game, 48-39, with eight minutes to go.

The Stags' heart, desire and skill would make a huge difference in the final stanza.

Alston opened the period with a layup. After Hyland made a floater for his final points of the night, Faithfull scored on a layup after a steal, DiStasio made a long jumper, then DiStasio canned a 3-ball with 3:37 to go, cutting the Red Riots' lead to just two, 50-48. Seconds later, Alston appeared to tie the game with a layup, but the officials ruled he traveled first.

With 3:03 left, Furbush took a pass from Gaddar and made a 3-pointer for a 53-48 lead, but 24 seconds later, Barwise converted an old-fashioned three-point play. Lee made a layup off an inbounds play with 2:02 to go for a 55-51 advantage, but Barwise tipped home the miss of DiStasio 3-point attempt with 1:48 left, and after a South Portland turnover, Alston made two free throws to tie the game at 55-55 (the first deadlock since 15-15) with just over a minute to play in regulation.

"We worked the ball around a lot more in the second half and got more open shots," Alston said. "As a captain, I felt it was my duty to help the team as much as I could and that's what I did."

With time winding down, Furbush had a shot from the wing to win it, but it was off. Hyland attempted to tip it home, but failed and Cheverus got the rebound with 1.3 seconds left. The Stags weren't able to get a good shot off, however, and it was on to overtime.

If South Portland had capitulated there, no one would have been surprised.

Instead, the Red Riots kept battling.

After the Stags went up 57-55 (for their first lead since 15-13) on two Alston free throws, Gaddar tied the game with a layup. With 1:46 to go in OT, Alston made two more free throws. Twenty seconds later, he hit another for a 60-57 advantage, but Gaddar made a layup to cut the deficit to one, then, with just 48.3 seconds to go, Furbush canned two free throws to put the Red Riots back on top, 61-60.

Cheverus then proved it had icewater in its veins.

With the game on the line, DiStasio fed Barwise with a gorgeous pass and the junior made a layup for a 62-61 lead with 37 seconds to go. South Portland dribbled into the Stags' zone and looked to answer, but instead called timeout to set up a potential game winning shot.

The Red Riots would execute the diagrammed play perfectly as Hyland dribbled into the lane, drew the defense, then fed Furbush on the wing, but Furbush's shot rattled in and out and Faithfull rebounded and was fouled with just 5.6 seconds to go.

Faithfull missed the first foul shot, but made the second, putting the hosts on the ropes.

"I wasn't going to miss the second one," Faithfull said. "It was fun. We all played with our hearts. The crowd was amazing. Everyone got into it. We got after it in the second half."

South Portland quickly raced the ball up court and got it to Gaddar as the clock neared zero. Gaddar unleashed a promising shot from just outside the 3-point arc, but it was barely long and as the horn sounded, Cheverus exulted while several Red Riots sagged to the floor in shock.

The Stags had survived and stayed undefeated with the stirring 63-61 win.

"(South Portland) outplayed us," Cheverus coach Bob Brown said. "They outhustled us. They outexecuted us in the first half. Give them all the credit. We made a few substitutions. We made played hard and solidly executed some offense that they didn't take us out of. We made plays. This is our fourth game in seven days. For those kids to have enough in them to win shows a lot."

"In overtime, the two looks were exactly what we wanted, but the shots were in and out," Conley lamented. "I can't fault the shots. That's what we drew up and what we wanted. We executed. We just didn't make it, but I think this game is good experience for us as we make our stretch run.

"(Cheverus) played very good defense. I thought offensively, we had looks all game. It was a great atmosphere. A packed gym. Our fans were supportive, which I appreciate."

Cheverus got 15 points from DiStasio, 14 from Faithfull and 13 from Alston. Barwise added eight. White and Foster both finished with five, Schwartz had two and Foley added one.

"We've got so many players who contribute in different ways," Faithfull said. "We never get down."

"The reason I think we won is that the bench came in and helped us," Brown added. "I'm talking about (senior Keelan) Donovan, Schwartz, White and Foster. All of those guys came in and even (senior Chris) Hendrix came in. Two of them started in the second half because my big guys sat since they weren't doing anything.

"I think we showed character. Especially having to play these games against good teams. I thought Alston played hard down the stretch. He stepped up and made the plays. He had courage to fail. He didn't fail. He made foul shots."
"DiStasio at the end made three or four big plays. That pass at the end was a very big play.

"I think (South Portland's) phenomenal. The place was packed and the crowd was going crazy. It was like the old days. The fans got their money's worth. South Portland is as dangerous a team as we've played. They're athletes. Hyland's a great player. Furbush is a great player. I think Conley's done a great job and has made them believe."

Hyland led all scorers with 21 points (although he had just two in the fourth quarter and OT). Gaddar had a sensational effort with 13 points. Furbush finished with 12. Lee had nine and Wright six.

South Portland (11-3 and fourth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) doesn't have much time to lick its wounds. The Red Riots go to Portland Tuesday, then visit Cheverus Friday. The regular season slate ends with a game at Deering and a visit from Portland.

"Our guys continue to work hard everyday and continue to get better," Conley said. "I think we're right there. We'll have good practices and be ready for Portland Tuesday."

Cheverus (now 14-0, but still third to Thornton Academy and Deering in the Heals) hosts Thornton Academy in a compelling showdown Tuesday night. The Stags then welcome South Portland before finishing the regular year at Portland and Deering.

"We don't have any breathers the rest of the way," Alston said.

Either do those of us fortunate enough to follow these amazing athletes and teams.