If you look at the Class AA North boys’ basketball Heal point rankings, you’ll notice three 3-0 teams – defending state champ Portland, Edward Little and Cheverus.

Of the three, the Stags have had the most dramatic beginning: three victories by a total of 13 points, each decided in the final minute.

Cheverus opened with a 51-49 overtime victory at Sanford, winning on a late 3-pointer by Matt Duchaine. The next night, the Stags defeated Scarborough 57-51, scoring the final six points in the last 48 seconds. Then they pushed back Windham, winning 64-59 in a game in which the Eagles pulled within one with 57 seconds left.

“We’ve definitely showed some character and grit,” said Cheverus Coach Ryan Soucie. “And that will help us in the long run, give us confidence knowing that we can do that.”

In addition to winning close games, the Stags are finding different ways to win. Coming into the season, pretty much everyone knew about the Stags’ 1-2 punch of guard Jack Casale and forward Jesse Matthews. They combined for nearly 28 points and 13 rebounds per game last year.

And while Casale and Matthews are playing very well again, they’re receiving plenty of help. In each of the last two games, Cheverus had four players score in double figures.

Will Shibles, a junior, has provided some scoring punch. His two foul shots put the Stags ahead of Scarborough for good in the final minute of that victory.

Duchaine is the sixth man who has provided some big baskets and strong defense. “He’s off the bench now,” said Soucie. “He may not start, but he’s usually in the mix at the end.”

Then there’s junior point guard Tobias Ephron. He scored 11 points against Windham and has generally run the offense smoothly. In addition, he usually defends the opposing team’s top guard. “He’s handling everything pretty well,” said Soucie.

Soucie likes the way the team is rounding into shape. “We saw glimpses of this in the preseason,” he said. “We’ve got character kids and we have good chemistry. That’s something we talk about every day. And they’re buying into everything we’re teaching them.”

That includes those who don’t get a lot of playing time.

“Absolutely,” said Soucie. “It’s not only the five guys on the court. We’ve got 14 guys on the team and it takes 14 guys to win. In practice, the guys who are on the bench are pushing the guys who get the minutes. That’s making us better.”

MAYBE IT’S TIME to stop thinking about the Gorham girls’ team as a two-player team. Yes, senior forward Emily Esposito and sophomore center Mackenzie Holmes are two of the state’s best players, but the Rams have some pretty good players around them. And they helped the Rams defeat South Portland 44-31 on Thursday.

Esposito, who had 12 points, fouled out with 2:19 remaining. Holmes, smothered by South Portland defenders every time the ball came to her, was held to two points.

Underrated point guard Kaylea Lundin led the Rams with 13 points and did a great job defending South Portland’s Meghan Graff, holding her to seven points. Michelle Rowe and Kristen Curley combined to go 7 for 8 at the foul line in the final 1:21 to secure the win. Courtney Brent came off the bench to hit a big 3-pointer in the first quarter. And Jacqui Hamilton provided some good minutes inside.

Lundin’s performance, in particular, did not go unnoticed. She hit a huge 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter with Gorham ahead by only four.

“She sort of picks her spots,” said Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume. “She could have a game where she doesn’t score but really impacts the game. And then, she reads the game very well. If she sees we need a couple of buckets, she’s ready to step up and take it.”

South Portland Coach Lynne Hasson said her players did a great job defensively on Holmes but that “Espo hit some big shots and Lundin does what Lundin does. She takes advantage of situations. If the focus is on others, she manages to hit key baskets.”

THE SOUTH PORTLAND boys weren’t able to avenge last season’s double-overtime, state-final loss to Portland in the season opener, but the Red Riots did show they’re equipped to give the Bulldogs a significant test.

South Portland, which missed several layups early and was just 4 for 10 at the free-throw line, rallied from a 10-point second-quarter deficit and twice took a one-point lead in the late stages of the fourth quarter before losing 61-54.

The game was an introduction of sorts for South Portland junior guard Noah Malone, who scored 22 points and was 6 of 10 on 3-pointers – some coming from several feet behind the arc.

“I think he’s one of the best players in the league and I’ve thought that since Day One,” Millington said. “He’s that good. He has range and he’s strong and he can finish around the basket when he needs to, and now, what we’ve really been working on, is impacting the game in ways other than scoring. He’s playing defense and mixing it up on the glass.”

The teams meet again Feb. 6 at the Expo in the final week of the regular season.

THE GREELY GIRLS are off to a 3-0 start as they head into a challenging portion of their schedule. The Rangers play Yarmouth on Monday (a postponement from Saturday) and then travel to Gorham on Tuesday to face the Rams.

“That’s the best team around,” Greely Coach Todd Flaherty said of Gorham. “It’ll be a great test for us.”

The Rangers are playing at a fast pace, ferociously and with a lot of energy. Flaherty, in is first season as head coach, has them playing deny defense all over the court, contesting every pass and every dribble.

“I’m happy with the way we’re working,” he said.

Sophomore guard Anna DeWolfe continues to be the top scoring threat, but Flaherty says there’s so much more to her game. “She is a wonderful teammate, always willing to help anyone who needs it,” he said. “She’s a tremendous leader. She has a high basketball IQ and she is incredibly unselfish.”

DeWolfe isn’t the only threat for a team averaging more than 70 points. “All five of our starters are capable of being the leading scorer,” said Flaherty. “The girls distribute the ball well, and we usually end up with the best shot.”

PLAYERS AND COACHES often talk about how the team is “a family.” For the Seacoast Christian boys, it really is a family affair.

Former Guardian players Jaylan Archer and Chris La Croix have taken over as co-coaches, replacing Matt Cardinal, who led the team for four years, with trips to the Class D South semifinals and final the past two seasons.

The three returning starters are Archer’s younger brothers, Sky, a senior forward, and Jet, a 6-3 junior guard, and La Croix’s younger brother, Caleb, a senior guard.

The Archers’ sister, Nikki Winship, is the first-year athletic director at the South Berwick school, which has a high school enrollment of 47 students.


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