SOUTH PORTLAND – James Kapothanasis’ steal in the final seconds saved the game for Cheverus against South Portland on Friday night.

And it just might have saved the Stags’ chances in the upcoming Class A boys’ basketball state tournament, as well.

Kapothanasis’ hustle to steal the ball moments after it was taken from him helped the Stags hold on for a 45-39 victory over the Red Riots in a regular-season SMAA finale at Beal Gymnasium.

The Stags had a 39-37 lead with about 40 seconds to play. Kapothanasis was moving the ball out of his end along the right sideline, hoping to run down the clock. South Portland’s Jordan Muller was playing tight defense, as he had all night. The pair moved into the path of the referee. Kapothanasis stepped back to change direction and Muller swiped the ball away and headed for the basket.

“Coach always says, play the next play, don’t let the last play get you down,” Kapothanasis said. “I just stayed in the play, stole it back under the basket and got it out to Cam (Olson.)”

Olson was fouled, hit two free throws and made it a four-point game with 19 seconds left. No small task, considering South Portland had hit five 3-pointers.

“That play by Kapothanasis was as big a play in high school basketball as I’ve seen this year,” said Cheverus Coach Bob Brown. “He had enough courage to stay with the play and go steal it back. That saved the game.”

And the season? Maybe so, considering the Stags (13-5), ranked fourth in Heal points, had lost two straight, 46-45 to Thornton Academy and 50-46 to Deering.

“I would hate to try to get them believing after three losses in a row,” Brown said.

“We now know were doing the right thing, that we’re heading in the right direction.”

Louie DiStasio led the Stags with 21 points and added four rebounds and four steals. Olson added 10 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.

“We came out and played defense like we always try to do,” DiStasio said. “The difference was, tonight our shots were falling when we needed them.”

The Stags were tested by the Riots’ balanced attack, with the outside shooting of Tanner Hyland (15 points, including three 3-pointers) and the slashing play of Logan Gaddar (13 points).

Muller added 8 points, including two 3-pointers.

“This is definitely a building block for us,” Olson said.

“We had those two losses but the past is the past and we’re getting better, and that showed tonight.”

The teams were tied at 20 at the half.

Cheverus finally pulled ahead in the fourth, 35-27, but the Riots clawed back in with a 10-4 run that set up Kapothanasis’ play.

South Portland (10-8), ranked seventh in the Heals entering the game, has gone 1-5 down the stretch with close losses to Portland, Deering, Bonny Eagle and now twice to Cheverus.


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