South Portland earns sweet revenge at Cheverus

Sport: Basketball (boys)

Posted: February 2nd, 2008 by Tom Nolette

South Portland earns sweet revenge at Cheverus
By Michael Hoffer
Special to MBR
02/02/08

PORTLAND- Give the South Portland boys' basketball team credit. The Red Riots are certainly resilient. They're also proud, talented and after Saturday night's game at Cheverus, vindicated.

South Portland couldn't hold a 12-point lead and lost to the Stags in overtime eight days ago at home, then the Red Riots went to Portland and lost decisively.

South Portland could have gone into a slide, but the Red Riots came out Saturday with fire in their eyes and completed their mission in stunning fashion, opening up an early lead and building on it throughout the second half en route to a shocking 68-47 victory at Keegan Gym.

"It feels great after last week and (the Portland game) to come out like this and play so consistent and win it as a team," said South Portland senior Nick Wright, who was one of many Red Riots to produce big-time.

"This is a big win for our program against a quality team which is very well coached," added South Portland's first-year coach Phil Conley. "I'm proud of my guys for the way they worked. This is the best game we've played defensively. We also rebounded and our transition game from that was very effective." "

The Stags' win at South Portland on Jan. 25 was their 14th straight to start the season, but Cheverus lost 51-39 at home to Thornton Academy Tuesday, then continued to struggle in front of a rowdy crowd against a Red Riots team looking for another defining win.

South Portland took a 13-8 lead after one quarter and those who felt the Stags would beat the Red Riots decisively in the rematch soon realized they were in for something else entirely.

South Portland slowly pushed its lead upward in the second quarter, going from 20-14 to 28-18 right before the half. Then, right before the horn, senior Will Furbush canned a 3-ball and the Red Riots hit the stairs to the locker room on a high with a 31-18 lead.

The euphoria ended as soon as the team shut the door as memories of the recent painful loss crossed everyone's mind.

"We knew what happened last week after we had a lead at halftime," Wright said. "Tonight we said let's focus and go out and play like we did in the first half."

"I didn't have to mention it," Conley added. "It was spoken about by the players before I got into the locker room. Our guys took care of the basketball tonight."

Everyone expected Cheverus to make a second half run, but instead, the Red Riots kept pouring it on.

Senior Nick Gaddar got the second half started on a promising note when he made a layup. Sophomore standout Keegan Hyland added a free throw and the lead was 16, 34-18. After Stags' junior Ian Barwise made a jumper, Gaddar converted a three-point play and South Portland was on top 37-20.

Barwise made a 3-pointer for Cheverus, but Hyland made consecutive layups for a 41-23 advantage. Stags' junior Mick DiStasio answered with a layup, junior Peter Foley made a 3 and Barwise converted a three-point play to pull the hosts within 11, 41-30, but Hyland made a three-point play and after Barwise made a foul shot, Red Riots' sophomore Matt Lee canned a 3-ball for a 47-31 advantage.

Cheverus got back to within 13 on a 3-pointer from junior Ian Schwarz, but Lee made one free throw and Wright added a pair to give South Portland a commanding 50-34 lead after three periods.

"Every time they scored, we answered with a bucket or two," Wright said. "We just kept our composure down the stretch."

Lee opened the fourth with a 3-ball to give the Red Riots a 19-point lead, 53-34. After DiStasio made a layup, Hyland answered with two free throws. After Stags' sophomore Indiana Faithfull hit a 3-pointer, Hyland made a bank shot and it was a 57-39 game with 3:34 to play.

After Gaddar made a foul shot, Cheverus senior Chris Hendrix hit a 3-pointer, but Lee, Hyland and Wright all made two free throws apiece to give South Portland its biggest lead, 64-42, with 1:21 left.

After Stags' senior Keelan Donovan made two free throws and Schwarz sank a 3, Red Riots' sophomore Connor Hasson made three foul shots and sophomore Spencer Bowring added one more to account for the 68-47 final.

South Portland's loud and vocal cheering section rushed the court and the Red Riots celebrated their first win over the Stags since the 1999-2000 season.

"They beat us on our court, but we beat them on their court on Senior Day," Gaddar said. "It feels great. I think we came out with more intensity. I have to give up to the rest of my team. We played hard. I haven't seen my team play that hard ever."

"Against a good team like Cheverus you have to play a total game and I thought we did that," Conley said. "In the first game, we didn't do a very good job of that. You learn as a team and you learn from losing. I thought we handled their defensive pressure tonight.

"This is a huge win. Our schedule's so tough down the stretch. We're coming off two losses, but the guys didn't let that get to them. They worked hard in practice. I'm so proud of my kids. They gave it their all and played tremendous."

Hyland led all scorers with 22 points. Wright finished with 14 points and more impressively, 18 rebounds.

"The ball bounced my way a little bit," Wright said. "We boxed out and played our game. We didn't let them get second shots."

"I thought Nick Wright was unbelievable tonight," Conley added. "Offensively, he was great as well."

Lee also had 14 points, while Gaddar had 11. Furbush and Hasson both finished with three points. Bowring had one.

"I thought Hyland, Lee and Furbush made some big-time shots in the second half," Conley said. "Nick Gaddar played tremendous defense. We have tremendous senior leadership. With that senior leadership, they're very athletic, which helps. They're smart kids."

The Red Riots' strong team effort didn't surprise Wright.

"I think it's everybody," he said. "Even the kids who don't play. Everyone's so involved and loves the game so much. We play so well as a team. It comes from the heart."

Cheverus was paced by 11 points from DiStasio. Barwise had nine, Faithfull seven. Hendrix and Schwarz both had six. Donovan finished with four points. Foley and Foster had two apiece. Senior Doug Alston, who was huge in the victory at South Portland, failed to score a single point.

The Stags were searching for answers in a long postgame meeting, but coach Bob Brown admitted he was at a loss for words.

"They outplayed us in every aspect of the game," Brown said. "Give South Portland credit. They played to their strengths. They were just better, quicker and just outplayed us. He outcoached us. Right now we're in a funk. We're going backwards. Every time we started to make a run, they did something good. We got a couple calls. If they go the other way...

"I've been coaching 48 years. For the first time, I'm stumped. These guys have to grab it and get it. They have either get together or not get together. Now's the time."

Cheverus (14-2 and second to Thornton Academy in the Western A Heals) closes the regular year with games at Portland Tuesday and at Deering Friday.

South Portland improved to 12-4, its most wins since the 1999-2000 squad went 13-5 in the regular year. The Red Riots close with a visit to Deering Tuesday and a home game versus Portland Friday.

They'll enjoy this victory, but the Red Riots (fourth in Western A) still have loftier goals to attain.

"This will help us in the Heal Points," Gaddar said. "We're definitely looking for a top three seed going into the tournament. We've still got two more games and playoffs that count the most. Senior year's mapping out pretty good right now."

"This is huge," Wright said. "We'll celebrate it tonight and hopefully watch the Pats win a championship tomorrow, but we have to get ready for Deering. We lost to them earlier. We have to put this behind us. We know we're one of the top teams in the conference."

"I don't know where we're going to finish," Conley added. "This is a big one, but we have two games left. We'll get ready for Deering Tuesday. Overall, it's a great win and we look forward to our next game."