Championship time on the hardwood

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After a terrific regular season, Forecaster Country basketball teams like their playoff chances and there’s ample reason to believe that a Gold Ball or two might be in the offing.

The tournament is underway and will become all-consuming in the days to come as six local squads qualified. 

Here’s an overview:

Two left

Scarborough’s boys’ team got the postseason started Tuesday. The Red Storm finished the regular season 8-10 and earned the No. 12 seed in Western A. After Portland Public Schools cancelled school and afterschool practices, Scarborough’s preliminary round test at No. 5 Deering was moved to Wednesday, but the Maine Principals’ Association decreed that the teams had to play on the assigned date of Tuesday and even though the Rams hadn’t practiced in several days, they were able to solve the Red Storm.

Scarborough went up, 11-3, behind five quick points from Nate Wessel, but the Rams got it together and took the lead early in the second period. The contest remained nip-and-tuck until halftime and the Red Storm, thanks to 15 points from standout Milani Hicks, went into the break up three, 34-31.

Hicks picked up a controversial third foul just before halftime, however, and that loomed large in the second half.

Hicks appeared to be fouled by Rams senior Stephen Ochan while shooting a 3, but instead of earning three free throws, Hicks, to the chagrin and apoplexy of his coaches and the Red Storm fans, was also called for a foul on the play, his third. Not only did Hicks not earn three free throws, but the double foul gave possession to Deering.

“I hate to focus on one call, but I’ve never seen that call made in 40 years of coaching basketball,” said Scarborough coach Tony DiBiase. “I have no idea what that call was. That was a foul on the shot. I don’t know what the double foul was. There was no malice involved there. That was a huge call.”

When Hicks tipped home a missed shot early in the third quarter, Scarborough had a 41-36 lead, but the game turned when Hicks was whistled for his fourth foul seconds later.

Deering then took advantage, going on an 18-2 run to break the game open.

The Red Storm pulled within 54-48 heading for the fourth period and was still down six, 57-51, with just over six minutes to play, but the Rams pulled away to prevail, 78-62.

Hicks had 25 points in his swan song, but Scarborough fell short and finished 8-11.

“I give the kids credit,” DiBiase said. “We tried to hang in there into the fourth and we were only down six, but we could have had a lead (with Milani on the court). Momentum definitely switched. The fouls added up and they were shooting two every time. I thought we played well for three-and-a-half periods, but we just couldn’t defend inside after I had to move Milani to the wing. Deering’s got a good team. I think we negated what they do well most of the game.

“We’ve been competitive all year long. Our eight losses were by six points or less. That was against the top teams. It was a strange year in that we couldn’t close games out down the stretch. The seniors got us to the tournament three years in a row. We’ll keep chugging along. We’re always competitive. It’s whether we can make that next step.”

South Portland capped its stellar 15-3 regular season with a 58-46 victory at Cheverus in the finale last Thursday. Max Baker had 14 points, while Jordin Jackson added 13. The Red Riots earned the No. 2 seed in Western A behind defending state champion Portland.

“No one picked us to be up in the top echelon at the beginning of the season,” said Red Riots coach Phil Conley. “The kids had a chip on their shoulders. We had 30 kids in the gym at 7 a.m. during the summer three days a week, then they played summer league. They had something to prove. To get 15 wins in what I believe is the best league in the state, is a credit to how hard they worked. I’m very pleased.”

South Portland will battle No. 7 Cheverus (11-8) in the quarterfinals Saturday at 9 p.m., at the Portland Exposition Building. The Red Riots won both meetings this winter, also including a 61-50 home decision Jan. 16. Over the past 50 years, the Stags beat South Portland in four of six playoff encounters. The most recent was a 68-48 Cheverus triumph in the 2004 quarterfinals.

“I’m confident going in, but we know we have to play our best to advance,” Conley said. “We have to do the things that got us to 15-3 and good things will happen. Cheverus will be a very good opponent.” 

In Western B, Cape Elizabeth won 11 of its final 12 games, capped by home victories over Greely (61-39) and Fryeburg Academy (61-48), to wind up 15-3. Against the Capers, Justin Guerrette had 27 points and Quinn Hewitt added 14. Guerrette had 17 more points in the win over the Raiders, while Jack O’Rourke had 12 and Finn Bowe finished with 10.

“We played well down the stretch,” Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray said. “Pretty good in terms of wins and losses, but we still have things we need to improve. A lot of it is mental with us. You never know who will score. Consistency on offense has been our biggest struggle. We’ve been pretty consistent on defense.”

The Capers will meet dangerous No. 7 seed Greely (10-9) in the quarterfinals Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Cape Elizabeth won both meetings this winter, also prevailing in Cumberland, 61-41, Jan. 31. Cape Elizabeth won four of the previous seven playoff meetings, with the most recent being a 51-43 semifinal round triumph in 2010.

“We’ve played Greely twice in the past week-and-a-half and playing them a third time as a higher seed, they’ll have nothing to lose,” Ray said. “That makes it exciting. It could be a wide open tournament.” 

In Western D, GPCS finished 6-11 and 14th, but only 11 teams made the playoffs. The Lions closed with an 81-33 loss at Waynflete and a 58-38 win at North Haven.

Looking ahead, the Western A semifinals are Friday, Feb. 20. The regional final is Saturday, Feb. 21. Both rounds will be contested at the Cross Insurance Center, formerly the Civic Center, in Portland. The Class A Final is Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Augusta Civic Center. The Western B semifinals are Thursday of next week, with the regional final Saturday, Feb. 21 and the state final Friday, Feb. 27. All rounds will be in Portland. 

Three hopefuls

South Portland’s girls entered the tournament as the No. 5 seed, but are viewed as being capable of making a deep run. The Red Riots closed the regular season at 13-5 after a 46-43 loss at Scarborough last Thursday. Maddie Hasson had 15 points in defeat. 

“I think we had a great season,” said South Portland coach Lynne Hasson. “It was also frustrating at times, but we had some great moments. We had turmoil and tragedy (senior Holly Black’s father and junior Meaghan Doyle’s mother both passed away from cancer prior to the season), but it’s a competitive and skilled group who wants to win. That’s what we need to focus on. I think we’re ready to go. We’re good enough to compete with anyone. The kids are hungry.”

South Portland hosted No. 12 Westbrook (7-11) in the preliminary round Wednesday. Way back on Dec. 12, the Red Riots handled the visiting Blue Blazes, 74-29. Westbrook won five of the previous six playoff meetings, but the teams hadn’t met in the tournament since the 1994 semifinals (a 68-42 Blue Blazes’ triumph).

“We need to continue to improve,” Lynne Hasson said. “I know the kids will come to play. We know the first Westbrook game was early and that they’re a different team, as we are. What we did well the first time, we have the ability to do again. We need to come out strong.”

If South Portland advanced, it will battle No. 4 Deering (15-3) in the quarterfinals Monday at 7 p.m., at the Expo. The Red Riots let a 20-point halftime lead slip away in a 59-52 overtime loss at the Rams Dec. 30. The teams split four prior playoff encounters with Deering taking the most recent (50-30 in the 2007 quarterfinals).

Scarborough wound up seventh with a 9-9 record after upsetting visiting South Portland in the finale, 46-43. Bailey Adams and Ashley Briggs both had 15 points.

“I was really proud of the kids to finish like that,” said Red Storm coach Mike Giordano. “Last year, on (South Portland’s) Senior Night, we lost by 32. This time, with the teams pretty much the same, we won. It was very rewarding. It was nice to see us play our best basketball and the end of the year. Early in the season, we didn’t do the little things. Now, we’re doing them. That makes a big difference.”

The Red Storm hosted No. 10 Marshwood (10-8) in the preliminary round Wednesday. On Jan. 8, Scarborough held off the visiting Hawks, 48-42. The Red Storm beat Marshwood in the 2012 semifinals, coming from behind to prevail, 46-43. The Hawks won the four other playoff meetings, eliminating Scarborough every year between 1990-93.

“Marshwood is very well coached,” Giordano said. “They force you out of what you want to do. They’re very good on defense. We’ve been working on taking care of the ball. We’re a much better team at home. We’re eight quarters from our goal of not only making it to the Expo, but also making it to the Civic Center. We have a lot of confidence.”

If the Red Storm advanced, they’d meet No. 2 Thornton Academy (16-2) in the quarterfinals Monday at 3:30 p.m., at the Expo. Scarborough lost at home to the Golden Trojans, 44-29, Jan. 2, then hung tough in Saco Feb. 3 before falling, 49-42. The teams have never met in the playoffs.

“If we’re fortunate enough to beat Marshwood, the kids would be excited to play TA,” Giordano said. 

In Western B, Cape Elizabeth wound up 9-9 and ninth after losses at home to Greely (35-25) and at Fryeburg Academy (48-40). Maddie Bowe led the Capers with nine points versus the Rangers, while Montana Braxton had 23 points in the loss to the Raiders.

Cape Elizabeth went to No. 8 Fryeburg Academy (9-9) Wednesday for a preliminary round playoff game. The teams had no playoff history.

If the Capers pulled the mild upset, they would meet top-ranked Spruce Mountain (18-0) in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., at the Expo. The teams have no history.

In Western D, Greater Portland Christian School finished 5-11 and 14th, but only 11 teams qualified for the playoffs. The Lions closed with a 66-29 loss at Waynflete and a 38-20 victory at North Haven.

Looking ahead, the Western A semifinals are Wednesday of next week. The regional final is Saturday, Feb. 21. Both rounds will be contested at the Cross Insurance Center. The Class A Final is Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Augusta Civic Center. The Western B semifinals are Thursday of next week, with the regional final Saturday, Feb. 21 and the state final Friday, Feb. 27. All rounds will be in Portland.

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

Sidebar Elements

Despite the heroics of senior standout Milani Hicks (25 points, despite being in foul trouble), Scarborough’s boys’ basketball team lost its Western A preliminary round game at Deering Tuesday night, 78-62.

Justin Guerette and the Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team hope to drive to the title this winter.

Maddie Hasson and her South Portland teammates are hopeful of a deep run in the Western A girls’ field.

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.