February Madness has arrived-Southern edition

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Kaleisha Towle and her South Portland teammates are again the top seed for the Class AA South girls’ basketball tournament. The Red Riots are hoping to win the program’s first championship since 1986.

If you’re a high school basketball fan, this is your time of the year.

The tournament is underway and there are an abundance of compelling story-lines to follow.

Unfinished business

For the better part of a year, South Portland’s girls’ basketball team has stewed about the one that got away last year.

The Red Riots were the top seed in Class AA South last winter, but were upset by Gorham in the semifinals. That disappointment has been used as fuel this winter by South Portland, which won 17 of 18 games, including its final 15, to earn the top ranking again. Last Thursday, the Red Riots closed the regular season with a 58-24 home victory over Cheverus behind 20 points from Maggie Whitmore and 11 from Jena Leckie.

South Portland was scheduled to host No. 8 Thornton Academy (4-14) in the quarterfinals Tuesday, but bad weather moved that game to Wednesday. On Dec. 21, the Red Riots won, 52-23, in Saco. South Portland won two of three prior playoffs meetings, but the most recent went to the Golden Trojans, 50-30, in the 2012 Western A preliminary round.

If, as expected, the Red Riots advance to the semifinals next Tuesday at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, they will play either No. 4 Noble (10-8) or fifth-seeded Bonny Eagle (12-6). South Portland opened the year with a 59-28 victory at the Scots and handled the visiting Knights, 72-27, Jan. 28. The Red Riots are 4-3 all-time in the playoffs against the Scots, with a 51-50 win in the 2001 Western A third round the most recent, and they’re 2-2 versus Noble, with a 55-32 triumph in last year’s quarterfinals the most recent.

“We’ve just got to play,” South Portland coach Lynne Hasson said. “In some ways, we’re more balanced this year. We’re more of a team, more confident. 

Scarborough finished second in Class AA South at 16-2 and opened its tournament run Wednesday at home versus No. 7 Massabesic (7-11) in the quarterfinals. The Red Storm won the regular season meeting, 67-56, Jan. 18 at home. Scarborough won both prior playoff encounters, including a 60-52 victory in the 2002 Western A Southwest Division preliminary round, the most recent.

If the Red Storm move on to the semifinals, they will either face the three-time defending regional champion and third-seeded Gorham Rams (12-6) or sixth-ranked Sanford (8-10). Scarborough swept Gorham this year, 50-36 on the road and 44-36 at home, and swept the Spartans as well, 41-38 at home and 50-39 on the road. The Red Storm are 0-3 all-time in the playoffs against the Rams, with a 47-28 loss in last year’s Class AA South Final the most recent, and they’re 1-1 against Sanford, with a 53-36 victory in the quarterfinals last winter the most recent.

In Class B South, Cape Elizabeth qualified for the postseason after two years of falling short, placing seventh with an 8-10 mark following last Thursday’s 34-15 home win over Poland. The Capers meet No. 2 Oak Hill (16-2) in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., at the Portland Exposition Building. The teams don’t play in the regular season. Cape Elizabeth won the only prior playoff encounter, 55-36 in the 2013 Western B preliminary round. 

If the Capers spring the upset, they will meet either No. 3 Freeport (14-4) or sixth-seeded Mountain Valley (13-5) in the semifinals next Thursday at the Cross Insurance Arena. Cape Elizabeth lost, 33-30, at home to Freeport Jan. 15. The teams have no playoff history. The Capers don’t face Mountain Valley in the regular season and have lost all three prior playoff meetings, with a 60-39 loss in the 2006 Western B preliminary round the most recent.

Capable of greatness

On the boys’ side, Cape Elizabeth has saved its best for last, closing the regular season on a 7-1 surge to finish 11-7 and third in Class B South. Last Thursday, the Capers finished with a 56-32 win at Poland. Andrew Hartel and Nate Mullen each scored 14 points. 

Cape Elizabeth will face sixth-ranked Freeport (12-6) in the quarterfinals Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Expo. On Jan. 15, the Capers rallied for a 46-43 win at the Falcons. The teams’ lone prior playoff encounter saw Cape Elizabeth take the 2008 Western B Final, 57-50.

If the Capers reach the semifinals next Thursday at the Cross Insurance Arena, they will battle either No. 2 Maranacook (16-2) or seventh-seeded Yarmouth (8-10). Cape Elizabeth split with the Clippers this year, falling on the road, 46-44, and winning at home, 45-27. The Capers have captured four of the five previous playoff encounters, with a 51-30 victory in last year’s semifinals the most recent. Cape Elizabeth didn’t face the Black Bears this year. The Capers are 2-1 all-time against Maranacook in the playoffs, but in the most recent meeting, the 2008 Class B state final in Bangor, Cape Elizabeth lost, 56-46.

In Class AA South, South Portland finished third at 10-8 after closing with a dramatic 67-60 overtime home win over Cheverus last Thursday. Scott Lewis had 19 points and Tyree Bijokta added 17. The Red Riots hosted No. 6 Sanford (6-12) in the weather-delayed quarterfinals Wednesday. On Jan. 2, host South Portland eked out a 46-45 win over the Spartans. The teams have played eight previous times in the postseason, with the Red Riots taking every meeting, including a 62-44 victory in the 2016 Class AA South quarterfinals, the most recent.

If South Portland gets to the semifinals Tuesday of next week at the Cross Insurance Arena, it will play either second-seeded Bonny Eagle (15-3) or seventh-ranked Massabesic (3-15). The Red Riots handled the visiting Scots, 58-25, Jan. 12 and are 1-2 all-time in the postseason against Bonny Eagle. South Portland did take the most recent encounter, 56-52 in the 2013 Western A Final. The Red Riots enjoyed a 65-36 win at the Mustangs Jan. 4. South Portland has won both prior playoff meetings, with a 70-40 victory in last year’s quarterfinals the most recent.

Defending regional champion Scarborough wound up 10-8, as after a slow start to the season, the Red Storm won six of their final seven contests. Scarborough finished fifth in Class AA South and went to No. 4 Gorham (11-7) for the quarterfinals Wednesday (see theforecaster.net for game story). The teams split in the regular season, each winning on the road, with the Red Storm prevailing, 74-59, and the Rams winning, 65-43. Gorham had won three of four prior playoff meetings, but Scarborough took the most recent, 65-46, in the 2013 Western A preliminary round.

If the Red Storm advance, they will battle top-ranked Thornton Academy (14-4) or No. 8 Noble (3-15) in the semifinals next Tuesday at the Cross Insurance Arena. Scarborough ended the regular season with a 49-43 loss at the Golden Trojans. The teams have no playoff history. The Red Storm romped at the Knights, 95-46, Jan. 2. In last year’s Class AA South quarterfinals, in the only prior playoff meeting between the teams, Scarborough rolled, 71-31.

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

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