The 2015-16 basketball season was historic and memorable for many reasons.
For starters, the Maine Principals’ Association ushered in five classes for the first time, which, combined with new North/South instead of East/West designations, made for quite a learning curve during the course of the winter.
Play on the floor made quite an impact as well, as seven of eight Forecaster Country teams qualified for the playoffs.
There, drama was constant.
Cape Elizabeth’s girls’ team wasn’t able to match last year’s Cinderella run, losing a close game to Westbrook in the Class A South preliminary round.
Greater Portland Christian School reached the Class D South quarterfinals, but was ousted by eventual state champion Rangeley.
In AA South, Scarborough gave South Portland a scare before falling in the quarterfinals. The Red Riots, behind the excellence of senior Maddie Hasson, then eked out a dramatic overtime win over McAuley to make it to the regional final for the first time in a decade. There, South Portland clung to a halftime lead against undefeated Gorham, but the Rams ended the Red Riots’ dream before going to win the championship.
Drama was even more prevalent on the boys’ side.
Cape Elizabeth, the defending Class B champion, competing in Class A South this year, beat York in the quarterfinals and had chances down the stretch against Falmouth in the semifinals, but a potential last-second, game-tying 3-pointer fell short and the Yachtsmen went on to win the championship.
In AA South, Scarborough fought hard, but lost to Massabesic in the quarterfinals.
That left South Portland, which after a 9-9 regular season, wasn’t expected to do anything. The Red Riots beat Sanford in the quarterfinals, then hinted at some magic to come by knocking off top-ranked Thornton Academy in the semifinals. South Portland then held off Massabesic to shock the world and make it to the state final.
There, the Red Riots were given no chance against a Portland squad which beat them handily twice in the regular season, but South Portland hung around and hung around and to the shock of most, the game went to overtime. And then a second. There, midnight finally struck and the Red Riots fell two points short of what would have been one of the most improbable state championships in state history.
The 2016-17 season can’t get here quickly enough, but in the meantime, here’s one last look back at the most memorable moments from a winter we’ll never forget.
3) Cape boys fall just short in repeat quest
Cape Elizabeth battled a lot of adversity and started the season 0-2, but the Capers fought back to enter the A South tournament as a No. 3 seed. Cape Elizabeth got to the semifinals and gave eventual champion Falmouth its toughest game, but the Yachtsmen got a critical late offensive rebound and Finn Bowe’s contested late 3 for the tie fell short, ending the Capers’ title reign.
2) Hasson leads SP girls to regional final
Maddie Hasson was viewed as one of the state’s great players long before she laced up her shoes for her senior season. By the end of the winter, she was on the short list for the state’s highest honor. As South Portland emerged as a top contender in a deep and talented AA South, Hasson kept putting up big numbers. The Red Riots went 15-3 and earned the No. 3 seed behind Gorham and McAuley. After holding off Scarborough in the quarterfinals, Hasson’s overtime heroics, including the game-winning three-point play, helped South Portland edge the nemesis Lions. The Red Riots gave their all against Gorham in the regional final, but just couldn’t score enough points and fell by seven. After that game, Hasson learned she was a finalist for the prestigious Miss Maine Basketball Award. Quite a season indeed.
1) SP boys lose state final instant classic
South Portland’s boys showed that a regular season record means absolutely nothing if a team can peak at the right time. These Red Riots did that very thing, knocking off Sanford, Thornton Academy and Massabesic to make it to the inaugural Class AA state championship game. Unfortunately for South Portland, Portland stood in the way and the Bulldogs had beaten the Red Riots by 18 and 30 points in the regular season. South Portland welcomed the underdog role and only trailed by six points at halftime. The Red Riots hung around in the third quarter, then took an improbable lead when senior Jack Fiorini hit a 3-pointer in the fourth. When Fiorini made two free throws inside the final minute, South Portland was the verge of becoming the North Carolina State/Villanova of the Maine tournament, but Portland rallied to force overtime. After each team mustered just two points in OT, it was on to a second extra session and there, the Red Riots’ magic finally ran out as they lost, 52-50. No one considered this team a loser, however. They were a champion who just didn’t happen to leave with the Gold Ball.
South Portland’s boys’ basketball team got to celebrate much longer than anyone anticipated this winter, as the Red Riots won the Class AA South championship and took powerhouse Portland to double overtime before falling in the state game.
Senior Maddie Hasson had a transcendent senior season, leading the South Portland girls to the Class AA South Final and earning a nod as a Miss Maine Basketball finalist.
Senior Justin Guerette and the Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team weren’t able to repeat as state champions, but produced another memorable campaign.