PORTLAND—With one exception, the 2011 calendar year was very good to the Cheverus boys’ basketball team and Friday night, fittingly, the Stags bid the year adieu with yet another victory.

Facing dangerous Marshwood in a Western Class A showdown at Keegan Gymnasium, Cheverus, playing without senior standout Louie DiStasio, put on a dazzling display of team basketball, racing to an early lead, fending off a second quarter Hawks’ comeback, then putting the game away with a 21-7 run late in the first half and into the third quarter.

Marshwood couldn’t hit from the outside, while the Stags did so regularly and Cheverus went on to its sixth straight win this winter, 59-40, dropping the Hawks to 4-2 in the process.

Seven different Stags scored points., Senior James Kapothanasis hit some early baskets to get things started and led the way with 13 points. Senior Shawn Grover and junior Michael Flaherty each had 10 and senior Cam Olson eight as Cheverus reminded everyone once more that anyone entertaining hopes of winning a regional title will have to find a way to get past the reigning champs.

“I’m not going to say that we don’t need Louie because he’s a great player, but this just goes to show that we can play without him,” said Olson. “We’re a team. I think it just showed all the other teams that we can play together and win as a team. Marshwood’s a great team, but we took it to them today.”

Back on top

Cheverus went 21-1 in 2010-11, but unfortunately for the Stags, the ‘1’ came in the Class A Final March 5, 58-49, to Bangor.

Cheverus returned just one starter this season, DiStasio, but quickly reminded everyone that it expects to remain the team to beat.

The Stags opened with wins over Biddeford (57-38), Gorham (72-37), Portland (49-41), Westbrook (73-47) and Noble (74-22). After some limited holiday tournament participation earlier this week, Cheverus prepared for Friday’s test.

Marshwood gave the Stags a scare in last year’s quarterfinals, losing, 52-40, to finish 10-9. The Hawks are always competitive under coach Mike Zamarchi and 2011-12 is no exception.

After opening with a hard-fought 67-64 loss at powerhouse Deering, Marshwood got in the win column at home against highly touted Portland (55-52). The Hawks kept the good times rolling with victories against Scarborough (60-51), Sanford (58-56) and Windham (69-57).

In addition to dropping last year’s playoff encounter, Marshwood also lost at Cheverus in the regular season, 57-40.

Friday night’s game saw the Stags get the early jump and go on the win.

Just 13 seconds in, Kapothanasis put the hosts on top to stay with a jump shot. Thirty-one seconds later, he drained a 3-ball and just like that, Cheverus had a 5-0 advantage less than a minute into the game.

“(Those baskets) set the tempo,” Olson said. “We love to run and gun. It all starts with our defense. That’s how we thrive. It gave us a lot of momentum and from there, we took off.”

Marshwood got on the board with 7:06 to play in the first period when senior Troy Pappas made a free throw, but a steal and resounding dunk from senior Shawn Grover put the Stags on top, 7-1.

After Pappas scored on a putback, Olson made a layup and promising freshman Zordan Holman hit two foul shots to make it 11-3.

The Hawks crawled back to 11-6 behind a jumper from senior Jack Verrill and a Verrill free throw, but sophomore Noah Stebbins, who got the start in DiStasio’s stead, calmly buried a 3, Holman made two free throws after being fouled after an offensive rebound and with 1:22 to go in the quarter, Olson made a layup after a steal for a seemingly commanding 18-6 lead.

Then, Marshwood showed how dangerous it could be with a furious rally.

In the waning seconds of the opening stanza, after Verrill twice kept possession alive with offensive rebounds, sophomore Jack Letellier buried a 3 to make it an 18-9 game.

Twenty-nine seconds into the second period, Verrill hit a 3 and with 5:49 remaining before halftime, Letellier hit another 3-ball and just like that, the Hawks were within three, 18-15.

Undaunated, Kapothanasis calmly buried a 3 of his own 17 seconds later to restore the lead to six. Marshwood then got a putback from sophomore Brady Innes and a free throw from senior Matt Crosby to cut the deficit to three, but off an inbounds pass, Stebbins spotted Grover wide open underneath and Grover made a layup for a 23-18 lead.

With 4:03 to go in the half, Crosby sank a 3 and the Hawks were as close as they’d been since 2-0, down just 23-21. Marshwood then had several looks to either tie or go ahead, but the shots never dropped and the hosts soon regained some breathing room when with 2:07 showing, Olson hit a baseline floater.

“You can’t lose your composure,” Olson said. “(Runs) will happen in a basketball game. Coach told us every timeout not to lose our heads and we kept pushing.”

After Verrill made it a two-point contest for the final time after two foul shots, Holman was fouled and made the first shot, then had to come out of the game after the officials spotted blood around his mouth. Junior Drew Ferrick came in to shoot the second free throw. He missed, but Grover was there for the putback. Then, with 39.2 seconds to go, Kapothanasis sank another 3 and the Stags had a 31-23 advantage at the break.

Any Marshwood comeback hopes were quickly dashed in quarter number three.

As he did to start the game, Kapothanasis began the second half with a jump shot. After Letellier hit a baseline jumper to make it 33-25, Ferrick drained a 3, Stebbins hit a turnaround jumper and Grover scored on a tip-in for a 40-25 bulge with 5:41 still to go in the third quarter.

Making matters worse for the Hawks, Pappas was soon whistled for his fourth foul.

Marshwood momentarily stemmed the tide when Crosby fed Innes for a layup, but at the other end, Kapothanasis did the same for Olson. After sophomore Brady Dodge made a foul shot for the Hawks, Holman scored on a putback and Cheverus took a 44-28 lead to the final stanza.

A putback from Innes pulled Marshwood within 14 points, but Ferrick hit another 3 to make it 47-30. Verrill answered with a 3 for the Hawks, but again, the Stags had the last laugh, as junior Michael Flaherty hit a 3 for a 50-33 lead.

Flaherty then stole the show. He followed his 3 with two free throws, then, after a steal, hit another 3-pointer to give him eight points in 88 seconds. After Crosby hit a 3 for the visitors, Flaherty made a jumper and the lead was 21, 57-36.

Late in the game, Crosby and Dodge each hit two free throws, but Olson set up Grover for a layup and Cheverus slammed the door on its unlikely 59-40 triumph.

“Everybody stepped it up,” said Brown. “Kapo really stepped it up. Cam played aggressive all night long. The inside people, the freshman included, did a really nice job. I love my freshman. Michael Flaherty had some big points. Stebbins came in and did some good things. This group, there are no superstars. Everyone has stepped up.”

Statistically, the Stags spread the wealth.

Kapothanasis made three 3-pointers en route to a game high 13 points. He also grabbed six rebounds and had a pair of steals.

“Coming into practice, we knew Louie wasn’t going to be able to play, but we have a bunch of players who can play well,” said Kapothanasis. “Everyone hustled and helped each other out. I was hot early on. When I missed a couple, I was looking for my teammates. Everyone ran the floor great. When you miss a shot, you know Grover will be there. We’re good at catching and shooting. Everyone’s confident with their shots.”

In addition to his 10 points, Grover had a game-high seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Flaherty had two steals to go along with his 10 points.

Olson did a little of everything, scoring eight points, grabbing four rebounds and adding three steals, as his pressure defense set the tone for Cheverus’ effort on that side of the ball.

Holman added seven points (and four boards), Ferrick six points and Stebbins five.

“Everyone knew they had to step up,” said Olson. “It was a big game. Michael Flaherty played unbelievable, so did Noah Stebbins. Everyone did their part, scoring, rebounding.”

The Stags did have 12 turnovers and only made 7-of-15 foul shot attempts.

For Marshwood, Verrill led the way with 11 points and six rebounds. He also had two steals. Crosby finished with nine points, three rebounds, a steal and a block. Letellier added eight points, Innes six (along with six rebounds) and Dodge and Pappas three apiece. Pappas had five rebounds, Dodge four.

The Hawks made 10-of-15 free throws, but were done in by 16 turnovers, many which led to easy Cheverus baskets.

Bring on 2012

Marshwood is back in action Tuesday when it hosts Massabesic. Big games still loom for the Hawks against Thornton Academy, Bonny Eagle, South Portland and a second meeting with Sanford.

Cheverus travels to Bonny Eagle Tuesday for a rematch of last year’s regional final. The Stags welcome Sanford next Friday. After that comes games against Scarborough, Deering, Windham and Portland. The final five contests feature two meetings with South Portland and once each with Deering and Thornton Academy.

Cheverus still has a long way to go, but the Stags have the ingredients to get there.

“I’m not surprised we’re doing this well,” said Olson. “Coach is one of the best coaches ever. He just knows how to win and how to put people in the right positions. We saw what we had to do from last year. Everyone’s doing their part. We have to keep playing aggressive and not worry about mistakes. We need to work off our defense and score buckets.”

“We get better every day,” Kapothanasis said. “Right now, the defense is good, but we need to work on our offense. Even when we score a lot, there’s something to work on. We have a lot of weapons.”

“The schedule gets tougher now, but we’re starting to embrace what we’re doing,” Brown added. “If we play like this, we’ll be pretty good.”

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

Cheverus senior James Kapothanasis gives Marshwood sophomore Jack Letellier nowhere to go with his defensive intensity. Kapothanasis scored the game’s first five points and led all scorers with 13.

Stags senior Cam Olson pulls up for a baseline jumper in the first half. Olson was a rock at both ends of the floor and ended up with eight points.

Marshwood sophomore Brady Innes tries to will his shot into the basket as Cheverus senior James Kapothanasis looks on.

Cheverus freshman Zordan Holman goes up for a shot as Marshwood sophomore Brady Innes defends. Holman continued to impress with seven points and four rebounds.

Sidebar Elements

Cheverus senior Shawn Grover slams the ball home after a first quarter steal to give the Stags an early 7-1 lead over Marshwood Friday night. Cheverus went on to its sixth straight win this winter, 59-40.

More photos below.


Cheverus 59 Marshwood 40

M- 9 14 5 12- 40
C- 18 13 13 15- 59

M- Verrill 3-3-11, Crosby 2-3-9, Letellier 3-0-8, Innes 3-0-6, Dodge 0-3-3, Pappas 1-1-3

C- Kapothanasis 5-0-13, Flaherty 3-2-10, Grover 5-0-10, Olson 4-0-8, Holman 1-5-7, Ferrick 2-0-6, Stebbins 2-0-5

M (6) Crosby, Letellier, Verrill 2
C (8) Kapothanasis 3, Ferrick, Flaherty 2, Stebbins 1

M (28) Innes, Verrill 6, Pappas 5, Dodge 4, Crosby 3, Letellier, Veino 2
C (24) Grover 7, Kapothanasis 6, Holman, Olson 4,  Ferrick 2, Stebbins 1

M (6) Verrill 2, Crosby, Dodge, Letellier, Veino 1
C (10) Grover, Olson 3, Flaherty, Kapothanasis 2

Blocked shots:
M (1) Crosby
C (2) Grover

M- 16
C- 12

M: 10-15
C: 7-13