Oxford Hills 59 Cheverus 46

C- 5 17 10 14- 46
OH- 18 21 7 13- 59

C- Ismail 4-7-15, Huntington 2-2-8, St. Onge 2-3-7, Manning 2-0-4, Hoglund 1-0-3, Leo McNabb 1-1-3, Nzeyimana 0-3-3, Cloutier 0-2-2, Luke McNabb 0-1-1

OH- Dillingham 7-6-20, Pelletier 6-0-12, Soehren 3-2-9, Pulkinnen 2-4-8, Bickford 1-5-7, Oufiero 1-0-3

C (3) Huntington 2, Hoglund 1
OH (2) Oufiero, Soehren 1

C- 14
OH- 18

C: 19-28
OH: 17-24


PORTLAND—Cheverus’ boys’ basketball team faced a tall task, literally and figuratively, in its Class AA North semifinal Thursday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena.

The sixth-ranked Stags were decided underdogs against second-seeded Oxford Hills, led by its 6-foot-10 senior center Colby Dillingham, and despite a valiant effort, Cheverus just couldn’t match up.

The Vikings raced to a quick 18-5 lead after one quarter, as Dillingham scored the first five points and had six total.

The Stags settled in offensively in the second period and even drew within six points, 22-16, on a 3-pointer from senior Seth Huntington, but Oxford Hills erupted on a 17-4 run to end the half, and thanks to some sizzling shooting, had a commanding 39-22 advantage.

Cheverus never made a serious run in the second half and the Vikings went on to a 59-46 victory.

Dillingham led all scorers with 20 points as Oxford Hills improved to 17-3, ended Cheverus’ resurgent season at 9-10 and advanced to battle reigning champion and top-seed Edward Little (18-2) in the Class AA North Final, its first regional final appearance in eight years, Saturday at 3:45 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena.


“Ten years ago today was the last time we were here, so this is huge for a team which won seven total games in the last two years,” said Stags first-year coach Richie Ashley. “I’m really proud of the guys. They gave a lot to our community.”

No miracle this time

Cheverus had a successful season long before the playoffs began, as the Stags, rejuvenated by the hire of Ashley, a one-time player, boys’ assistant coach and girls’ head coach at the school, were competitive throughout (see sidebar for links to previous stories).

Last Wednesday, at the Portland Exposition Building, Cheverus produced one of the most dramatic buzzer-beater victories in program history, when junior Silvano Ismail’s running, 3-point prayer at the buzzer was answered and the Stags eliminated No. 3 Portland, 44-42.

Oxford Hills entered the campaign viewed as a top contender and didn’t disappoint, winning 15 of 18 games before also barely surviving in the quarterfinals, rallying late to edge No. 7 Bangor, 43-42.

Cheverus lost twice to Oxford Hills this season, 64-51 on the road Jan. 21 and 70-52 at home Feb. 1.


The teams had met five times in the tournament, dating to 1989, with Oxford Hills holding a 3-2 advantage (see sidebar). The most recent encounter resulted in a 71-58 Vikings’ victory in the 2019 Class AA North quarterfinals.

Thursday, Oxford Hills started fast and built a double digit lead before the game was five minutes old.

The tone was set 18 seconds in, as Dillingham was fouled and he made the second of two attempts to put the Vikings on top to stay.

Dillingham then took a pass from senior Isaiah Oufiero and made a layup, then got a feed from junior Cole Pulkinnen and made another layup for a 5-0 advantage just 73 seconds into the contest.

With 5:07 to go in the first quarter, the Stags got on the board, as Ismail set up junior Nick Manning for a layup, but Pulkinnen drove for an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul and free throw), Oufiero buried a 3 from the corner and with 3:16 left, sophomore Teigan Pelletier set up Pulkinnen for a layup and a 13-2 advantage, forcing Ashley to call timeout.

It did help momentarily, as Ismail drove for a layup, but junior Tanner Bickford made two free throws to push the lead back to 11.


Then, Pelletier was whistled for a technical foul and Ismail made one of two free throws.

Dillingham countered with a foul shot before Bickford knocked down a jumper for an 18-5 Vikings’ lead after eight minutes.

Oxford Hills hit 6-of-11 shots in the first period, while Cheverus made just 2-of-12.

“We’re a good defensive team,” said Oxford Hills coach Scott Graffam. “We talk about single digit quarters defensively and to hold them to five in that first quarter set the tone.”

The Stags would awaken and make a run in the second quarter, but Oxford Hills countered and extended its lead.

A runner from junior Giovanni St. Onge started the second period on a high note for the Stags, but Dillingham made two free throws.


After Ismail sank a pair of foul shots, Huntington stole the ball leading to an Ismail layup to cut the deficit to 20-11.

Pelletier set up Dillingham for a layup, but Ismail made two more free throws, then, with 4:45 to go, after an offensive rebound from freshman Leo McNabb, Huntington knocked down an open 3 to pull Cheverus within six, 22-16, forcing Graffam to call timeout.

If worked, as the Vikings closed the half on a 17-6 surge.

Pelletier knocked down a jumper and after Ismail made two free throws, the next 11 points went to Oxford Hills, as Dillingham put home a miss, junior Eli Soehren buried a 3, Bickford fed Pelletier for a layup, Pelletier scored on a putback and after an Ashley timeout, Pelletier’s bank shot made it 35-18 with just under a minute to go in the half.

Two free throws from freshman Sammy Nzeyimana ended the run, but Dillingham countered with a layup off a feed from Oufiero.

Huntington made two foul shots for Cheverus’ final points of the half before Dillingham took a feed from junior Lincoln Merrill and made another layup for a 39-22 halftime advantage.


Dillingham had 16 points in the first half and the Vikings shot a sizzling 63 percent (15-of-24) from the floor.

The Stags, meanwhile, made just 5-of-21 shots (24 percent) and were led by Ismail’s 11 points.

In the third quarter, Cheverus could get no closer than 14.

Just 20 seconds into the second half, Dillingham picked up his third foul and had to sit, but even after McNabb made a layup, Soehren drove for a layup and after a Manning putback, Pelletier put home a miss for a 43-26 lead.

Nzeyimana and Dillingham traded free throws before Huntington made a 3 from the corner to cut the deficit to 44-30.

In the final minute, Dillingham scored on a putback before Ismail gracefully weaved through the defense and made a layup to make the score 46-32 heading for the final quarter.


There, amid an abundance of whistles, Oxford Hills cruised home to victory.

Pulkinnen opened the final stanza with two free throws and Soehren added a floater.

After Ismail drove for a layup for the Stags, Pelletier took off the other way and finished a layup with his left hand.

St. Onge sank two free throws, then made a layup after a steal to cut the deficit to 52-38 with 4:35 to go, but Soehren countered with two free throws and Pulkinnen made another to push the lead back to 17.

After St. Onge and Bickford traded foul shots, McNabb and Dillingham did the same.

Junior Carter Hoglund came off the bench and drained a 3 with 2:31 to make it 57-43, but Bickford made two foul shots for the Vikings’ final points.


Then, down the stretch, senior Anthony Cloutier made two free throws before junior Luke McNabb hit one more to account for the 59-46 final score.

“When you get a week to prepare, you have to come out strong,” Graffam said. “We’d beaten them (twice), so I wanted the kids to understand we were better, but there’s no guarantee. We watched a lot of film and knew what they did. We tried to limit their fastbreak points. They like to trap you and turn you over. We didn’t turn it over in the first half very much. We’re a lot deeper than they were, I thought, and we were able to put our eighth or ninth guy in and we didn’t lose a lot.”

Dillingham was close to unstoppable down low, scoring 20 points and grabbing six rebounds.

“Colby had his way against them twice this year, so we knew they’d either double him or front him,” said Graffam. “Our size they just couldn’t match up with.”

“(Colby’s) 6-foot-10, but our guys battled and I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Ashley. “They gave every ounce of themselves and sometimes you just go up against a freight train and we didn’t have an answer for him tonight.”

Pelletier had a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds and also had two assists. Soehren added nine points and five rebounds, Pulkinnen had eight points, Bickford seven and Oufiero three, to go with a superb defensive effort.


“We didn’t want Huntington to go off and we have a great defensive player in Oufiero, who was the AA Defensive Player of the Year,” said Graffam. “He did a great job on Huntington. Teigan and Tanner Bickford guarded Ismail. He didn’t get to the bucket and get shots off very often.”

Oxford Hills had a 38-23 rebound edge, shot a stellar 20-of-39 from the floor, made 17-of-24 free throws and overcame 18 turnovers.

The Vikings lost twice this year to Edward Little (which eliminated No. 4 Lewiston in its semifinal Thursday), by margins of 66-65 at home on Opening Night, Dec. 10, and 47-35 Jan. 11 on the road.

Oxford Hills has an opportunity to reach the state final for the first time since 1990 and perhaps win the program’s elusive first championship, but it won’t come easily.

“I just told the guys this is fourth team in the history of Oxford Hills to get to the regional final (2005 and 2014 were the others),” said Graffam. “We have to figure out something to do with (Edward Little standout and Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalist) John Shea, since he scored 30 and 31 against us. We cannot have that.”



Cheverus’ effort was paced by Ismail, who had 15 points, three rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocked shots. Huntington bowed out with eight points and five rebounds. St. Onge had seven points, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals, Manning added four points (and five rebounds), Hoglund, Leo McNabb and Nzeyimana finished with three apiece, Cloutier had two and Luke McNabb one.

The Stags turned the ball over 14 times and shot just 12-of-45 from the field, including 3-of-17 from 3-point land. They did make 19-of-28 foul shots.

“We just didn’t hit enough shots and they made theirs,” said Ashley.

Cheverus says farewell to Huntington, Cloutier and Jackson Krieger.

“We had great seniors that were leaders and mentors for the younger guys,” said Ashley. “Kids who are honor students and who did everything we wanted them to do for Cheverus basketball. They set the stage and helped put us back on the map.”

The Stags will be starting from a great place next year, when Ismail, Manning, Nzuyimana and St. Onge lead the way.

Suffice it to say it won’t be another decade before Cheverus returns to the big stage.

“We do have a good team with good talent coming back,” Ashley said.

Michael Hoffer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Comments are not available on this story.