Local teams eyeing Gold Ball-Southern edition

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Scarborough’s boys’ basketball team, led by sharpshooter Nick Fiorillo, has turned heads all season and is the top seed for the Class AA South playoff field.

Katie Whitmore and her South Portland teammates have their sights firmly set on a run at the Class AA girls’ Gold Ball.

Five basketball teams from Forecaster Country enter the tournament believing they have what it takes to go all the way and win a state title.

While nothing will come easily, there is reason for optimism.

Team to beat

The South Portland girls entered the 2017-18 campaign as the favorite in Class AA South and with the exception of a one-point slip-up at Edward Little, the Red Riots passed every test, going 17-1 after closing with a 41-36 win at Cheverus last Thursday. Maggie Whitmore had 15 points and Eva Mazur added 11.

South Portland earned the top seed in the region and hosts No. 8 Noble (4-14) in the quarterfinals Wednesday. The Red Riots beat the host Knights, 70-34, Jan. 29 in North Berwick. South Portland had won one of three prior playoff meetings, with a 40-38 Noble victory in the 2008 semifinals the most recent.

If, as expected, the Red Riots advance to the semifinals, held Tuesday of next week at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, they will battle either fourth-ranked Maine Girls’ Academy (13-5) or two-time defending Class AA state champion Gorham (11-7). South Portland won at both the Lions (62-40, Jan. 24) and the Rams (54-44, Feb. 3).

The Red Riots are 4-2 all-time in the postseason against MGA (previously McAuley), with a 39-36 overtime win in the 2016 Class AA South semifinals the most recent. South Portland has lost the past two regional finals to Gorham, including a 46-44 decision last winter.

“There are really good teams out there,” said Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson. “We’ll have to keep playing well to win and hopefully, we will.”

Scarborough has been nearly as hot as South Portland, closing its season on a 13-game win streak, capped by a 53-34 home victory over MGA last Thursday, to finish 15-3 and second in the region. Madison Blanche and Sophie Glidden both had 13 points against the Lions.

“I’m very pleased,” said Scarborough coach Mike Giordano. “To finish the way we did after a 2-3 start, we’ll hitting on all cylinders. The expectations coming in were for us to be pretty good and we equalled that.”

Tuesday, the Red Storm host No. 7 Sanford in the quarterfinals. Scarborough beat the visiting Spartans, 58-30, Jan. 23 and Sanford had won the only previous playoff meeting (38-37 in the 2003 Western A preliminary round).

If it’s victorious, Tuesday of next week, Scarborough will meet either third-ranked Bonny Eagle (13-5) or sixth-seeded Thornton Academy (5-13) in the semifinals. On Dec. 15, the Scots came to Scarborough and won, 45-34. The teams have no playoff history. On Feb. 6, the Red Storm beat the host Golden Trojans, 57-38. The teams have played twice before in the playoffs, with Thornton Academy winning, 43-27, in the 2015 Western A quarterfinals and Scarborough prevailing, 42-38, in last year’s Class AA South quarterfinal.

“We want to get downtown and not just show up but to win,” Giordano said. “We’re battle-tested. It will come down to who is playing best.”

Looking ahead, the Class AA South Final is Friday, Feb. 23. The Class AA state final is Friday, March 2. Those games will be contested at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

Cape Elizabeth wound up 6-12 and 11th in Class B South, but only nine teams made the playoffs. The Capers closed with a 48-38 loss at Poland despite 10 points from Erin O’Rourke.

Opportunity awaits

On the boys’ side, South Portland its seeking its third straight trip to the Class AA state final, but the Red Riots didn’t earn the top seed in the South this winter, Scarborough did.

The Red Storm finished 14-4, their best mark since 2002-03 and finished first for the first time. Scarborough met No. 8 Noble (1-17) in the quarterfinals Tuesday. The Red Storm downed the visiting Knights, 83-35, Jan. 2. If, as expected, Scarborough advances, it will meet No. 4 Bonny Eagle (7-12) or No. 5 Gorham (8-11) Tuesday of next week in the semifinals at Cross Insurance Arena. The Red Storm handled the host Scots, 52-34, Dec. 15. The teams split two prior playoff meetings with Scarborough taking last year’s Class AA South quarterfinal, 51-30. The Red Storm held off the visiting Rams, 56-50, back on Jan. 11. Gorham won three of four prior playoff meetings, but Scarborough took the most recent, 56-50, in the 2013 Western A preliminary round.

South Portland wound up 13-5 and second in Class AA South following last Thursday’s 42-35 win at Cheverus (Connor Buckley had 16 points and Scott Lewis added 12). The Red Riots hosted No. 7 Massabesic (5-13) in the quarterfinal round Wednesday. South Portland took the regular season meeting, 62-33, Jan. 5 at home. The Red Riots beat the Mustangs, 62-60, in the 2016 Class AA South Final in the only previous playoff encounter.

If, as expected, South Portland prevails, it will meet either No. 3 Thornton Academy (8-10) or sixth-ranked Sanford (6-12) in the semifinals Tuesday of next week. The Red Riots lost at the Golden Trojans, 76-64, Jan. 20 and beat the host Spartans, 82-42, Jan. 2. South Portland is 5-2 over the past 50 years in the tournament against Thornton Academy, including last year’s 71-61 overtime victory in the Class AA South Final. The Red Riots have won all eight previous playoff meetings against Sanford, with a 62-44 quarterfinal round victory in the 2016 Class AA South quarterfinal the most recent.

“We’re as good as anyone in the South and we can compete with anyone in the North,” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington. “It’ll be a grind. We have to play well.”

The Class AA South Final is Friday, Feb. 23. The Class AA state final is Friday, March 2. Those games will be contested at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

In Class B South, Cape Elizabeth earned the second seed behind defending regional champion Wells after an 11-7 regular season which was capped by a 77-36 home win over Poland last Thursday. Finn Bowe had 12 points, Andrew Hartel added 11 and Tanner Carpenter, Robel Hagos and Nathan Mullen each finished with 10.

The Capers will face No. 7 Mountain Valley (11-7) in the quarterfinals Saturday at 11:30 a.m., at the Portland Exposition Building. The teams don’t play in the regular season. The Falcons won the lone prior playoff meeting, 62-33, in the 2007 Western B semifinals.

The Class B South semifinals are Thursday of next week in Portland, the regional final is Saturday, Feb. 24 in Portland and the state final is Friday, March 2 in Bangor.

Greater Portland Christian School finished 0-14 and 12th in Class D South, where only eight teams made the playoffs. The Lions closed with a 70-37 loss at Temple Academy.

Sports Editor 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.