PORTLAND—Leo McNabb led the way and his Cheverus teammates stepped up and played key roles as well, helping produce an inspiring regular season-ending victory over visiting rival Portland Thursday evening at Keegan Gymnasium.

McNabb, a junior guard, scored the Stags’ first 13 points and after they fell behind, 11-8, after one period, they seized control in the second, outscoring the Bulldogs, 20-3, to take a 28-14 lead.

Not surprisingly, Portland rallied in the third quarter, drawing within three on a basket from junior Drew Veilleux, but Cheverus closed the frame on a 10-2 run, highlighted by a pair of layups from junior reserve Rocco DePatsy and two clutch 3-pointers from freshmen reserve Nicola Plalum.

The Bulldogs, who never could get senior standout Jeissey Khamis going, due in large part to terrific defense from Stags sophomore Jameson Fitzpatrick, got as close as five points on three occasions down the stretch, but Cheverus got three key free throws from Plalum and two more from Fitzpatrick to slam the door on a 57-50 victory.

McNabb led all scorers with 19 points and Fitzpatrick added 11 as the Stags finished their terrific regular season with a record of 15-3, their best in 13 years, good for the No. 2 seed in Class AA North, while in the process, dropping Portland, the reigning regional champion, to 14-4 and the third seed.

“It’s a good win,” said Cheverus coach Richie Ashley. “I thought we played really, really hard and physical. To win 15 games is a big thing. The kids have done it. They bought in. They play hard and unselfish.”


Act two

Four days before Christmas, Cheverus held off host Portland, 49-44, as McNabb had a team-high 14 points and Khamis’ double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds) wasn’t enough for the Bulldogs, who suffered their first loss.

A lot has transpired for both teams since.

The Stags, who had opened with wins over visiting South Portland (58-49), visiting Oxford Hills (74-36) and host Thornton Academy (66-64), followed up the Portland win by beating host Deering (67-60). Cheverus fell from the unbeaten ranks at Scarborough (59-51), then defeated visiting Lewiston (70-53) before falling in overtime at Windham (67-62). The Stags then rattled off seven straight victories: 56-37 at Oxford Hills, 65-51 at Bangor, 51-37 over visiting Gorham, 51-37 at Edward Little, 63-50 at home over Deering, 56-42 at Lewiston and 49-46 over visiting Edward Little. The win streak was snapped last Tuesday by visiting Windham (55-51) before Cheverus got back on track with a 75-38 home win over Bangor last Friday.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, started by winning at Bangor (82-45), Bonny Eagle (64-53) and Edward Little (53-49), then held off visiting Deering (56-46) before falling at home to Cheverus. After a 46-39 victory at South Portland in a rematch of last year’s Class AA state final, the Bulldogs won at Lewiston (60-42), lost at unbeaten Windham in a playoff rematch (52-47), then righted the ship with a 58-51 victory at rival Deering. After handling visiting Oxford Hills in a playoff rematch (54-31), Portland defeated visiting Thornton Academy (60-46), Edward Little (79-48), South Portland (67-43) and Windham (55-54). After being upset at Oxford Hills in overtime (60-59), the Bulldogs defeated visiting Lewiston (58-47) and Bangor (59-34).

Friday, after Cheverus’ seniors were honored and longtime public address announcer Jon Paradise was recognized for calling his 200th game, the Stags put on a show in front of a near capacity crowd and closed their regular season in style.


Portland junior Drew Veilleux goes up for a basket as Cheverus senior Maddik Weisberg defends early in the Stags’ 57-50 victory Thursday. Hoffer photos.

The Stags, who were playing the game without senior captain Gio St. Onge, who was on the bench in street clothes, committed 10 first quarter turnovers, but the Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage and open the game up.

After Veilleux opened the scoring for the visitors with a layup, sophomore Cordell Jones added a jumper, but McNabb scored his first points on a floater in the lane, then he tied the score with two foul shots.

A free throw from Veilleux put Portland back in front before a McNabb layup, from Plalum, gave Cheverus its first lead.

The Bulldogs went back in front, as Khamis found sophomore Lucas LeGage for a layup, then Jones scored on a floater.

After senior Maddik Weisberg fed McNabb for a layup, a Jones layup, coming off a steal from freshman Maddox Meas, gave Portland an 11-8 advantage after one quarter.

Then, the second period belonged to the Stags.


To the tune of a 20-3 differential.

Forty-five seconds into the frame, senior James Johnson made a free throw for the Bulldogs, but the next 12 points went to the home team.

The run began with two McNabb foul shots after a Khamis technical foul.

Then, with 6:32 to go before halftime, McNabb’s 3-pointer gave Cheverus the lead for good.

“I just hit a couple shots and my teammates found me well,” said McNabb.

“Leo’s one of the best shooters on the floor and we knew we had to get him the ball,” said Fitzpatrick.


Twenty-three seconds later, junior Sammy Nzeyimana scored on a runner in the lane for the Stags’ first points from someone other than McNabb.

Fitzpatrick then drained a 3 and Plalum stole the ball and fed freshman Quinton Eason for a layup.

Finally, with 3:51 on the clock, a Khamis jumper ended the run, but Cheverus scored the final eight points of the half, as McNabb found Nzeyimana for a 3, Fitzpatrick scored on a reverse layup and junior Shema Rwaganje buried a 3 from the corner for a 28-14 halftime advantage.

McNabb led the way with 13 points, while six points from Jones kept the Bulldogs within hailing distance.

Portland then got right back in the game when the second half began.

Portland senior Kevin Rugabirwa is hounded by Cheverus junior Sammy Nzeyimana.

The third period began with Veilleux setting up Jones for a layup, then Veilleux fed senior Kevin Rugabirwa for a 3-pointer, his first points, to cut the deficit to 28-19.


McNabb countered with a layup before Khamis scored on a putback.

With 4:47 to go, off an inbounds set, Nzeyimana passed to Eason, who made a layup, but the Bulldogs would get the next eight points to make things very interesting.

Veilleux scored on a putback, then Jones scored after a spin move.

With 3:26 remaining, Khamis picked up his fourth foul, but his teammates kept Portland in the game, as Jones got a spinner to roll in and with 2:12 left, a jumper from Veilleux made it a one possession contest, 32-29.

But 18 seconds later, Plalum found DePatsy for a layup.

The next time down the floor, Nzeyimana set up DePatsy for another layup and after Jones got a point back at the line, Plalum, on consecutive possessions, drained critical 3-pointers.


Senior Pepito Girumugisha made a late free throw for the Bulldogs, but Cheverus took a 42-31 lead to the final stanza.

There, the Stags would do enough to close it out.

A driving layup from Fitzpatrick to start the frame pushed the lead to 13, but Khamis made a layup, then scored on a putback.

After McNabb hit a floater, Khamis answered with two free throws.

With 5:15 to play, McNabb made a jumper off an inbounds feed from Rwaganje, but Rugabirwa countered with a transition 3-pointer, then with 2:41 left, Rugabirwa made another 3 to cut the deficit to just five, 48-43.

Cheverus didn’t buckle, however, as with 1:58 remaining, Rwaganje took a pass from Nzeyimana and made a reverse layup and after Jones sank two free throws at the other end, Nzeyimana found Fitzpatrick for a layup and Plalum hit two free throws with 38.1 seconds to go to make it 54-45 and essentially ice it.


LeGage kept hope alive with a 3 and after Plalum made a free throw, Girumugisha drove for a layup to make it 55-50 with 16.7 seconds left.

But after Plalum missed two free throws, Fitzpatrick, fittingly, got an offensive rebound and was fouled and with 8.3 seconds remaining, he made both foul shots to bring the curtain down on a 57-50 victory.

“It was really a team effort,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m really grateful to be in this environment with these guys. It’s a great opportunity. We thought we could come out this year and tear it up, but we didn’t know until we did it.”

“There was a lot of pressure, but we got the win,” McNabb said. “It was fun to play in front of a crowd like that. Our defense was really good. They weren’t getting any good shots. We just stayed locked in and stayed together to pull it out.”

“We did a really good job on Jeissey and Kevin, especially in the first half,” Ashley added. “The plan was to control them as much as we could. We played good team defense.

“I wanted the kids to have an experience like this. They’ll remember it the rest of their lives. In all likelihood, we’ll see (Portland) again.”


McNabb had a game-high 19 points.

“Once the other guys see Leo go, they get confidence too,” Ashley said.

Fitzpatrick also finished in double figures with 11 points, to go with a terrific defensive effort to neutralize Khamis.

“(Jeissey’s) one of the best players on the floor for Portland and we wanted to slow him down,” said Fitzpatrick. “I was just trying to being in his grill at all times. Trying not to foul, but bother him.”

“Jameson stymied Jeissey and that gave us a good chance,” Ashley said. “Jeissey’s an excellent player. We wanted to make it as difficult as possible for him.”

Plalum had nine points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and a blocked shot in a superb stint off the bench. DePatsy (four points, four rebounds) and Eason (four points, two rebounds and a steal) were also big contributors as reserves.


“Nicola and Q, two freshmen, got big minutes tonight against really good players,” Ashley said. “Nicola hit a couple big 3s.”

Nzeyimana (eight assists) and Rwaganje (five rebounds, three steals) added five points apiece.

Cheverus had a 32-25 rebounding advantage and overcame 9-of-16 foul shooting and 18 turnovers, with just four coming after the half.

“We did a good job handling (Portland’s) press,” Ashley said.

Portland’s effort was paced by Jones, who had 15 points and four rebounds. Khamis (10 points, eight rebounds) and Rugabirwa (three steals) added 10 points apiece, Veilleux finished with seven points (as well as four rebounds, two assists), while LeGage had five, Girumugisha three (to go with three assists and three steals) and Johnson one.

The Bulldogs made 8-of-12 foul shots and turned the ball over 19 times.


“Turnovers, bad decisions and lack of rebounding. Put it all together in a pot of soup and this is what happens,” said longtime Portland coach Joe Russo. “The kids didn’t quit and we came back and got within a couple possessions, but unfortunately, our decision-making, turnovers and lack of rebounding hurt us when it mattered most. Cheverus played hard and Leo played great.”

Act three?

It’s possible the Stags and Bulldogs will meet again in the Class AA North semifinals in two weeks at the Cross Insurance Arena across town, but both squads have business to attend to first.

Portland will host No. 6 Edward Little (5-13) in the quarterfinals next Thursday. The Bulldogs swept the Red Eddies this year, winning 53-49 Dec. 15 in Auburn and 79-48 Jan. 17 at home.

“If we look at our regular season, 14-4 is a very, very good year,” Russo said. “The games we lost were close. To move on, we have to take care of the ball and get rebounds. I’m not quite sure where we’re at right now. I do know our first game won’t be easy.”

Cheverus will host No. 7 Bangor (1-17) in its quarterfinal next week (day and time to be announced). The Stags swept the Rams this year, winning Jan. 6 on the road (65-51) and Feb. 2 at home (75-38).

“We just have to be a team,” Fitzpatrick said.

“It’s exciting to play at home,” McNabb said. “It’ll be good to have our fans. It’s been more than 10 years since we’ve done this well. Our chemistry is off the charts this year and that’s the biggest thing that’s helped us.”

“We’ll get healthy and get ready,” Ashley added. “It’s a long stretch of trying to stay fresh. We have to fine-tune some things offensively. Any team can beat anybody. Bangor will come down here and play us hard. We’ll keep our eye on the prize. It’s a great group and this is the fun part.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

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