PORTLAND—The Cheverus boys’ basketball team continues to have the Portland Bulldogs’ number.

Friday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, the Stags extended their win streak over their rival to nine with a 49-41 triumph in an early season showdown between preseason favorites.

After a first half in which little was settled (Cheverus led, 23-21, thanks in large part to forcing 12 turnovers), the visitors got hot in the third period and rode the perimeter sharpshooting of senior standout Louie DiStasio to finally get some breathing room.

Portland got as close as seven points down the stretch, but thanks in large part to DiStasio’s 20 points, the Stags slammed the door and improved to 3-0 on the young season, dropping the Bulldogs to 1-2.

“It’s a big confidence booster,” DiStasio said. “Portland’s ranked No. 1. This was big for us. It shows we’re still a good team.”

Early test

Cheverus went 21-1 last winter, but its loss came at the worst possible time, in the state final to Bangor. While graduation and a couple transfers took their toll, the Stags have what takes to again play deep into the tournament and they rolled in their first two outings, 57-38 at Biddeford and 72-37 at home over Gorham.

Portland almost derailed Cheverus’ train in last year’s tournament before losing a close decision in the semifinals to finish 12-8. This year, the Bulldogs opened with a 52-43 home victory over Sanford before dropping a nailbiter at Marshwood Thursday night, 65-62.

The Stags had no trouble with the Bulldogs last year in the regular season, winning, 49-28, at the Expo and 70-43 at home. Cheverus then rallied in the fourth period to beat Portland,  45-41, in the tournament, making it eight straight victories over its city rival, dating to Feb. 5, 2008 (a 37-31 Bulldogs’ triumph at the Expo).

Friday night, the Stags did it again, although the game was close throughout.

Cheverus grabbed a 4-0 lead in the first minute of play as senior Shawn Grover hit a long jumper and DiStasio made a layup after a steal.

Portland coach Joe Russo called timeout and his team responded as junior Nate Smart scored on a layup and sophomore Justin Zukowski tied the score with a pair of foul shots.

After the visitors went back on top on a layup after a steal from senior Cam Olson, Smart tied the game with a driving leaner. A jump shot from Grover gave the Stags the lead again, but a layup from sophomore Jayvon Pitts-Young drew the Bulldogs even once more, 8-8.

With 1:14 to go in the opening stanza, DiStasio made his first 3. A Smart free throw in the final minute cut the Portland deficit to 11-9 heading for the second period.

After senior James Kapothanasis pushed the lead to four with a pair of free throws and junior Michael Flaherty made one foul shot for a 14-9 advantage, the Bulldogs got a 3 from junior Nick Volger and a layup by Pitts-Young (on a fast break started by a senior Peter Donato block) to pull even for the last time, 14-14.

With 4:33 to go before halftime, freshman Zordan Holman made a layup to put Cheverus on top to stay. DiStasio followed with a 3-ball to push the lead back to five. After Smart sank two foul shots, DiStasio canned another 3-ball, this time while falling down, to make it 22-16.

“We tried to stop (Louie), but when he got his 3s, he was relentless,” Russo lamented. “He got them when there were breakdowns. He hurts you by making tough shots.”

The Bulldogs wouldn’t buckle, however, and got a 3 from senior Mike Herrick. After Olson made one free throw, Smart hit a pair and the Stags lead was just 23-21 at the half.

Portland could have had the lead, but turned the ball over a dozen times in the first 16 minutes.

Cheverus got some margin for error in the third period.

First, just 11 seconds in, DiStasio canned a 3. After Volger missed a pair of free throws, Olson got in on the act, making a 3-ball of his own for a 29-21 advantage. Pitts-Young answered with a putback and Zukowski made a free throw, but junior Drew Ferrick made his presence felt with a 3 and the Stags were on top, 32-24.

“Coach said at half, ‘How many times did we get the ball from wing to wing?'” DiStasio said. “(Assistant) Coach (Costigan) said, ‘zero.’ That was the big thing. We got it from wing to wing and me and Drew were wide open. We hit the 3s.”

After four scoreless minutes, Smart sank a jump shot, but DiStasio answered with a baseline jumper, Holman made two free throws and DiStasio scored on a dunk after a steal for Cheverus’ biggest lead, 38-26.

The slam was an exclamation point after DiStasio was hit in the throat moments before. He got his retaliation above the rim and even after senior Zach Lane made a highlight-reel 3 as time expired, the Stags were up, 38-29, with eight minutes to go.

“(Louie) surprised me that he shot that well this early,” said Brown. “This is the second game in a row someone’s taken him out with an elbow to the throat. He got back, had his composure and went out and played.”

DiStasio started the fourth period with two foul shots. After Herrick scored on a driving layup, Pitts-Young went to the line with a chance to draw his team closer, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one. Kapothanasis then fed Olson for a layup, Ferrick made a pair of free throws and with 4:28 left, Ferrick took a pass from Holman and made a layup for a commanding 46-31 advantage.

The hosts tried to rally as Smart made two free throws, then sank a spinning floater, but with 2:32 to go, Kapothanasis made two foul shots. Smart answered with a putback and a layup and Zukowski made a layup to cut the deficit to 48-41 with 30 seconds left, but it was too little, too late and Olson iced the win and accounted for the final score with a free throw with just 11 seconds showing.

Cheverus had once again made an early season statement.

“For this time in the season, I thought we played exceptionally good defense,” said Brown. “(Portland) took us out of everything we wanted to do at the beginning. We got it where we wanted to in the second half. To play as aggressive as we did for 32 minutes this time of year, to come off the bench with two guys, a JV guy (Flaherty) and a freshman (Holman), we have to be excited. (Zordan) held his own and played like a son of a gun.

“I don’t want to play Deering and Portland and Marshwood right now. What I do like is that it tells me what we need to fix. It’s a good tell when you play a team like Portland. It’s a nice win for us this point of the season. I have one starter from last year.  I’m really pleasantly surprised. We played physically inside and held our own. We had to key on Herrick. He’s a great shooter. Smart did better than we anticipated.”

While DiStasio led all scorers with 20 points, he had plenty of help. Olson added nine points, Ferrick seven, Grover, Holman, Kapothanasis four apiece and Flaherty one.

“We have Shawn and Drew, who played great tonight,” said DiStasio. “They had their best games so far. They banged down on the blocks with Donato and Smart. They were awesome. Zordan stepped in and played awesome. He got rebounds. Once he gets into the flow of the offense, he’ll be really good.

“It’s a great group. We’re really excited. We have a lot of energy. We’re still learning to play with each other.”

Portland was led by 19 points from Smart. Pitts-Young finished with six, Herrick and Zukowski five each and Lane and Volger three apiece.

“We played hard tonight, but we didn’t play smart,” Russo said. “We didn’t embarrass ourselves, but we didn’t have patience on offense. We’re better than the way we played. It’s inexperience. Some of these guys played last year, but we’re making young mistakes. It’s part of the teaching and learning. We’re not doing the little things. We’re not taking advantage of our hard work. Offensively, we’re not patient. The positive part is every once in awhile someone comes through. Nate didn’t have a very good game against Marshwood, but he responded tonight.”

Pitts-Young (as well as Herrick) wound up fouling out.

“Jayvon put points on the board,” Russo said. “He gets to the rim, but then he gets in foul trouble. Most of them are careless fouls. He can defend anybody. He doesn’t realize how quick he is.”

Long road ahead

Portland is back in action Tuesday at Bonny Eagle, a regional finalist last winter, then closes the 2011 portion of its schedule at home versus Scarborough Thursday.

“To me, Bonny Eagle’s better than Cheverus and Marshwood,” Russo said. “I’m glad they increased that more than eight teams make the tournament.”

Cheverus hosts Westbrook and goes to Noble next Friday before its holiday break. The Stags come out of their respite hosting a very talented Marshwood squad.

“Marshwood’s good,” Brown said. “That’s the best team I think (Hawks coach Mike Zamarchi) ever had. He has all the pieces.”

Cheverus will only get better.

Looking ahead, the Stags host the Bulldogs in the second of three possible meetings Jan. 21.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cheverus senior James Kapothanasis drives to the basket during the first half.

Two of the state’s finest young players, Cheverus freshman Zordan Holman and Portland sophomore Matt Talbot square off Friday.

Portland’s speedy sophomore Jayvon Pitts-Young splits Cheverus senior defenders Louie DiStasio (right) and James Kapothanasis during the first half Friday. Pitts-Young’s foul troubles hindered the Bulldogs’ comeback quest.

The always vocal and entertaining Cheverus student section had plenty to cheer about Friday.t

Portland coach Joe Russo (kneeling) gets his point across during a first half timeout.

Sidebar Elements

Cheverus senior Louie DiStasio and Portland sophomore Justin Zukowski battle for possession during the teams’ early season showdown Friday night at the Portland Expo. The Stags earned a 49-41 victory for early bragging rights.

More photos below.


Cheverus 49 Portland 41

C- 11 12 15 11- 49
P- 9 12 8 12- 41

C- DiStasio 7-2-20, Olson 3-2-9, Ferrick 2-2-7, Kapothanasis 0-4-4, Holman 1-2-4, Grover 2-0-4, Flaherty 0-1-1

P- Smart 6-7-19, Pitts-Young 3-0-6, Herrick 2-0-5, Zukowski 2-1-5, Lane 1-0-3, Volger 1-0-3

3-pointers: C (6)- DiStasio 4, Olson, Ferrick 1; P (3)- Herrick, Lane, Volger 1