Local hoops teams primed for tournament glory-Southern edition

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Local boys’ and girls’ basketball teams will make their presence felt at the Portland Expo, Cumberland County Civic Center and Augusta Civic Center in the days to come.

The fun begins Friday at 7 p.m. at the Expo when the South Portland boys meet Portland in a compelling Western A quarterfinal round showdown.

Cape Elizabeth’s boys begin their Class B title quest Saturday at 12:30 p.m., when they take on Wells at the Expo.

On the girls’ side, the fun begins Monday.

In Western D, Greater Portland Christian School faces Valley at 10 a.m., in Augusta.

In Western A, South Portland will battle McAuley at 3:30 p.m., at the Expo.

Cape Elizabeth’s girls play their first quarterfinal in 15 seasons Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., when they take on Leavitt, at the Expo.

Here’s an in-depth look at the matchups:

Boys

South Portland has stolen headlines this season with its ability to overcome and win games in dramatic fashion. Despite losing standout Keegan Hyland and several other key contributors to graduation, the Red Riots managed to go 12-6 this winter and grab the No. 4 spot in Western A. South Portland did stumble down the stretch, capped by a 59-54 home setback to Portland and a 50-35 setback at Cheverus. Senior Vukasin Vignjevic had  a team-high 12 against the Stags.

“I’m very pleased with our regular season with such an inexperienced group,” said Red Riots coach Phil Conley. “They’ve really worked hard. To be 12-6 and the No. 4 seed is a testament to how hard they and the coaching staff worked. The kids got better each step of the way.”

South Portland and No. 5 Portland (11-7) kick off the tournament Friday. The teams are no strangers. Not only did the Bulldogs beat the host Red Riots last week, they also held on for an epic 80-71 triple overtime victory Jan. 19 on the Expo floor. Portland has captured six of the past nine playoff meetings, including a 72-49 decision in the 2009 quarterfinals, which came after South Portland won the two regular season showdowns.

“It’s a great game to start,” said Conley. “We look forward to playing Portland at the Expo. They’re a good team. It should be a great game. We’ll have to rebound the ball a lot better than we did in the second game (a 59-54 home loss to the Bulldogs last week). Control the glass on both ends. We need to make a few more shots. We hope that’s the case and we can win.”

A victory Friday would send South Portland to Wednesday’s semifinals at the Cumberland County Civic Center, likely against top-ranked, undefeated and defending Class A champion Cheverus. The Western A Final is at the Civic Center, Saturday, Feb. 26, beginning at 9 p.m. The Class A state final is in Augusta this year, Saturday, March 5, at 7 p.m.

Scarborough didn’t qualify for the playoffs. A quarterfinalist last winter, the Red Storm began 2010-11 6-1, but only won two of their final 11 contests, capped by a loss to host Kennebunk (30-28). Senior Jack Adams had a team-high seven points versus the Rams. Scarborough wound up 8-10 and 10th in the Western A Heal Points standings, but just eight teams made the playoff cut.

In Western B, Cape Elizabeth, thanks to its stellar triumvirate of seniors, Theo Bowe, Cam Brown and Joey Doane, posted a solid 14-4 mark to wind up second in the region. The Capers finished strong with a 53-44 home victory over defending state champion Falmouth, which eliminated the Yachtsmen from postseason consideration. Bowe had 26 points.

“I knew we’d be good,” Bowe said. “We played great this summer. We knew we had talent and we got experience.”

“I’m pleased with the efforts of the kids,” added Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray. “The stretch run was a good test.”

Ray indicated that he’s concerned about his team’s experience and reliance on the seniors.

“Our inexperience is something that is troublesome,” Ray said. “We lack confidence and consistency from game to game. We only played six guys against Falmouth and we were really exposed with foul trouble. If the guys can come to play with confidence, it helps a lot. It’s hard to depend on three guys, but they know how to play.”

Cape Elizabeth meets No. 7 Wells (11-7) Saturday. The Capers won the two regular season meetings, 60-41, on the road in the opener Dec, 10 and 52-39 at home on Feb. 3. Bowe had 17 points, Brown 13 and sophomore Henry Babock 10 in the first meeting. Bowe led the way with 23 in the second game, while Doane added 18.

The teams last met in the playoffs in the quarterfinals three years ago when Cape Elizabeth rolled to a 72-35 victory. Wells enters the game with no pressure or expectations.

“I’ve been in the lower seeded position before and anything can happen,” Ray said. “That will be a point of emphasis.”

If the Capers advance to Thursday’s semifinals, they’ll likely get a third crack at a York team which beat them twice in the regular season. The Western B Final is at the Civic Center, Saturday, Feb. 26 at 3:45 p.m. The Class B championship game is also at the Civic Center, Friday, March 4, at 8 p.m.

In Western D, Greater Portland Christian School wound up 4-14 and out of the playoffs. The Lions lost, 51-38, at Buckfield and won, 48-24, at Acadia Christian to end the season. Ben Hammond had 19 points and 20 rebounds against the Bucks and 12 points and 21 boards versus Acadia to record a double-double in all 18 games.

Girls

South Portland’s girls’ squad has been consistently strong this winter, playing every foe tough en route to an 11-7 mark. The Red Riots dropped their last two games, capped by a 52-41 home setback to Cheverus. Senior Abby Hasson had 14 points and classmate Danielle DiBiase 13 versus the Stags.

“Other than finishing with two losses, I’m very pleased,” said South Portland coach Mike Giordano. “The kids compete in every game. We’ve gotten a great year from Abby Hasson and Danielle DiBiase and (sophomore) Danica Gleason has been a nice surprise.”

South Portland and second-ranked McAuley (16-2) know each other well. The Lions were fortunate to survive the host Red Riots, 43-39, back on Jan. 13. The teams have three prior playoff meetings with South Portland taking them all. The most recent was the most memorable, a 39-29 Red Riots’ upset in the 2006 semifinals.

“I’m pleased we’re going straight to the quarterfinals,” said Giordano. “We’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re a playing a good team. The first game was close in the fourth quarter. We had chances, but they held us off. We have to neutralize (University of Maine-bound senior) Rebecca (Knight). You can’t let her go off for 25 or 30. You have to neutralize (junior) Alexa (Coulombe) in the paint. We played them well the first time. I hope we can again. The pressure’s all on them. If we play loose and keep it close, the better chance we’ll have. We have to get going early.”

If South Portland can spring an upset, it would face either No. 3 Gorham or No. 6 Windham in the semifinals, Friday, Feb. 25. The regional final is the following evening at 7 p.m. Both rounds are at the Civic Center. The Class A state game is Saturday, March 5 in Augusta. Tip time is 4 p.m.

Scarborough, the defending state champion, couldn’t qualify this year and wound up 6-12 after a 50-28 home win over Kennebunk Friday. Junior Brittany Bona had 14 points, freshman Alisha Starbird 12. The Red Storm finished 14th in the region.

In Western B, Cape Elizabeth made history in surprising fashion. With only two players returning who had seen ample playing time, the Capers still managed to go 9-9 and earn the No. 7 spot, despite a season-ending, 40-30, home loss to Falmouth Friday.

“I wouldn’t have put us at 9-9,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Chris Roberts. “We won some games I didn’t pick us to win. The girls surprised me.”

The Capers haven’t played in a quarterfinal since 1996 (Roberts’ senior year), when they made it to the regional final. They return Tuesday when they face undefeated second-ranked Leavitt (18-0) in a daunting challenge.

“We have to put more points on the board, but we play hard night-in, night-out,” Roberts said. “Our defense is what we rely on. I think everybody’s beatable. For us, it’s stepping up and being confident. I’m hoping the kids don’t get it and don’t get nervous under the bright lights of the Expo. We go in with a game plan and try to keep it close. You never know how things shake out.”

In Western D, GPCS capped a 13-4 regular season last week with a 40-26 victory at Buckfield (Elaine Beech had 12 points and Andrea Ruiz added 11) and a 52-25 win at Acadia Christian (Suzanne Gonzalez led with 11 points) to grab the No. 6 spot in the region.

The Lions did play No. 3 Valley (11-6) in the regular season.

Freelance writer Jeff Christenbury contributed to this story

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net and followed on Twitter @foresports

Sidebar Elements


Junior Logan Gaddar is one of several players who have gone above and beyond and helped the South Portland boys’ basketball team to a 12-6 record this winter. The Red Riots open tournament play Friday night versus Portland.

The sharpshooting of Cape Elizabeth senior Theo Bowe makes the Capers once again a favorite in Western Class B.

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