Portland senior Charlie Lyall exults after cutting down the net following the Bulldogs’ 60-38 victory over South Portland in Saturday evening’s Class AA state final. Portland won its second straight championship and its third in four seasons.
Adam Birt photos.
More photos below.
SP- 2 8 11 17- 38
P- 13 13 18 16- 60
SP- Deiley 3-0-9, Bol 3-0-6, Stilley 2-2-6, Oreste 2-1-5, Hasson 1-2-4, White 2-0-4, Coyne 1-0-2, Mallory 1-0-2
P- Moss 6-8-22, Foley 4-0-9, Fonseca 3-2-9, Lyall 2-4-8, Yugu 1-3-5, Joyce 1-2-4, Hardy 1-1-3
SP (3) Deiley 3
P (4) Moss 2, Foley, Fonseca 1
AUGUSTA—Basketball can be a simple game.
And an enormously frustrating one.
If you can put the ball in the basket, you’re golden, literally, and if you can’t, well, your season can end in abject disappointment and futility.
Saturday evening’s Class AA boys’ basketball state final rematch between defending champion Portland and talented South Portland was expected to rival last year’s double-overtime thriller, but it didn’t take long for it to become clear that it wasn’t going to be the Red Riots’ night and that another Bulldogs’ coronation was imminent.
Portland got first quarter 3-pointers from juniors Griffin Foley and Terion Moss and sophomore Pedro Fonseca to open up a 13-2 lead, but the big story was South Portland’s inability to put the ball in the basket, as the Red Riots missed on 15 of 16 field goal attempts.
It didn’t get much better for South Portland in the second period either, as it made just 3 of 18 shots, and the Bulldogs, behind 11 first half points from Moss, gradually opened up a 26-10 advantage.
The Red Riots hoped to rally in the second half, but never mustered a serious charge, and when junior Manny Yugu sank two free throws late in the third quarter, Portland had a 25-point lead.
The fourth period was a prolonged coronation and the Bulldogs went on to a 60-38 victory.
Portland got 22 points from Moss and key contributions from many other players as it won its second straight Class AA state championship and its 10th all-time title. The Bulldogs finished 19-2 and ended South Portland’s season at 17-4.
“This one is special,” said longtime Portland coach Joe Russo. “We haven’t gone back-to-back and it’s not easy to do. This team was young. I moved players around until I was comfortable. We went around and around a few times. They gave me a workout. We couldn’t figure out our best chemistry. It took nearly the whole season. Tonight, it all worked.”
No one who witnessed it will ever forget the 2016 Class AA state final. South Portland, which was a .500 team in the regular season, was a decided underdog, but took heavily favored Portland to the brink in regulation, a first overtime and then again in a second before the Bulldogs eked out a 52-50 victory. There were 12 different lead changes with the last resulting in Amir Moss’ go-ahead and ultimately winning basket.
The prospect of a rematch was in play from the get-go this winter an neither team disappointed (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories).
Portland began its title defense with a 61-54 win at South Portland, then downed visiting Bonny Eagle (71-45), Oxford Hills (73-52) and Lewiston (73-31). After stumbling at Edward Little (76-70), the Bulldogs caught fire and won at Noble (87-41) and Bangor (71-32), handled visiting Scarborough (67-38) and prevailed at Sanford (72-41) and Gorham (58-44) before downing visiting Deering (63-44) and rallying to edge host Cheverus, 47-43 and visiting Thornton Academy, 68-64. Portland then easily defeated visiting Windham (96-48) and host Massabesic (81-40) and rolled at Deering, 67-47. Portland finally met its match when it lost at home to South Portland, 74-69, but the Bulldogs closed with an easy 69-46 home win over Cheverus.
As the top seed in Class AA North, Portland earned a bye into the semifinals where it sent No. 5 Oxford Hills packing, 56-36. In the regional final, the Bulldogs avenged their earlier setback with a 66-53 victory over No. 2 Edward Little, as they pulled away in the second half.
South Portland dropped its opener, 61-54, to visiting Portland. The Red Riots then rattled off eight straight victories: 59-50 at Westbrook, 56-42 over visiting Gorham, 75-35 at Noble, 82-61 at home over Scarborough, 47-32 at Bonny Eagle, 66-37 over visiting Sanford, 73-41 at Lewiston and 65-52 at Scarborough. South Portland finally met its match, falling, 56-54, at Deering, then got back on track with a 68-58 victory at Thornton Academy. After losing at home to Cheverus, 60-55, the Red Riots won their final six games: 68-60 at home over defending Class A champion Falmouth, 67-33 at home over Massabesic, 62-53 at home over Windham, 48-34 at Cheverus, 74-69 at Portland and 54-31 at home over Deering.
As the top seed in Class AA South, South Portland earned a bye into the regional semifinals and there, had no trouble with No. 5 Scarborough, 78-53. The regional final versus No. 2 Thornton Academy was a vastly different game, as the Red Riots trailed much of the way before rallying to force overtime where they would pull away to prevail, 71-61.
South Portland was taking part in its 21st state final (see sidebar, below, for previous results). The Red Riots had split the previous 20 and they also won a regional crown in 1926, but the South Portland-Bangor state final was never played.
Portland had gone 8-6 in its previous state games and was also named the champion in 1943, when a state final wasn’t played because of World War II.
Portland and South Portland started squaring off on the hardwood not long after Dr. James Naismith invented the sport of basketball in 1891.
In just the second state tournament, the teams met for the first time in the postseason, a 38-18 Portland victory March 9, 1923 in the West Region first round.
The Bulldogs and Red Riots would meet 28 more times over the next 90 years (see sidebar, below) and the winner would go on and take the state championship on 12 occasions, including, of course, last winter.
Saturday’s contest didn’t produce anywhere near the drama or the length of last year’s state final, as South Portland couldn’t make a shot in the first half and seasoned Portland took advantage, evening the all-time postseason series at 15 wins apiece.
Both teams were tight early and it took 2 minutes, 28 seconds for the ice to be broken, as Terion Moss shook a defender with a stop-and-go move and made a layup to put the Bulldogs ahead to stay.
The next time down the floor, Portland got a corner 3-pointer from junior Griffin Foley and with 3:57 left in the first, sophomore Pedro Fonseca buried a floater from the lane and the Bulldogs had a 7-0 advantage.
Fifteen seconds later, the Red Riots finally got on the board, as senior Moses Oreste sank a jumper, but South Portland wouldn’t score again until the second period was more than a couple minutes old.
Portland’s long-range acumen helped open up a double digit lead, as first Fonseca, then Moss, buried long 3s and the Bulldogs took a 13-2 advantage to the second quarter.
“We came out and took the energy from them,” Foley said. “That momentum carried over all game.”
In the first eight minutes, Fonseca and Moss had five points apiece and the Red Riots took 16 shots and made just one of them.
“We were really just a little riled up to start and a little strong at the rim,” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington. “That led to nerves and panic. We never got settled. It happens. We never got to be ourselves.”
Portland kept the pedal to the metal early in the second period, getting a layup from Fonseca after a nice hesitation move, a fastbreak layup from Moss after a pretty pass from Yugu, and a Moss-to-Foley fastbreak layup to make it 19-2 with 5:53 left in the first half.
Eleven seconds later, a putback from senior Ruay Bol, the Class AA South regional most outstanding player, snapped the Red Riots’ 6 minute drought and the Bulldogs’ 12-0 run, but Moss countered with a floater that barely eluded Bol’s reach and kissed off the glass.
After senior Ansel Stilley made a free throw for South Portland, Moss set up Foley for a fastbreak layup and with 1:29 to go in the half, Moss made two foul shots for a commanding 25-5 lead.
After Oreste converted an old-fashioned three-point play (putback, foul and free throw), senior Charlie Lyall made a free throw for Portland. With 23.7 seconds left, Bol scored on a putback, but the Bulldogs took a 26-10 advantage to the locker room.
In the first half, Moss led the way with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists and Lyall snared six boards and blocked a shot. Oreste had five points, which was half of the Red Riots’ output to that juncture.
Any hopes of a South Portland comeback were quickly dashed in the third quarter.
Lyall started the second half with a putback and Yugu followed with a free throw.
After Stilley drove for a pretty reverse layup, Lyall countered with a jumper.
With 5:43 to go in the frame, junior Riley Hasson, who had a memorable state game as a sophomore, scored his first points on a layup, but 16 seconds later, junior Liam Coyne picked up his third foul, followed by a technical foul for his fourth, and Moss made two free throws, then buried a 3 for a 36-14 advantage.
“I expected a run from them,” Russo said. “We were sputtering, not scoring either. If they hit two or three shots in that stretch, it could have been a different game.”
After Stilley scored on a putback, Fonseca made a free throw, senior Clay Hardy drove and banked home a shot and with 2:21 remaining, Hardy made a free throw to make it 40-16.
Stilley got a point back at the line, but Moss countered with two free throws. After Hasson drained two foul shots, Yugu matched him. Senior Deandre White, whose return from injury to be able to play in the state final was a South Portland highlight, closed the third quarter with a layup after a steal, but Portland was still ahead by 23, 44-21, heading to the final stanza.
There, the Bulldogs finished it off.
Lyall started the fourth period with a free throw, Yugu made a layup after a steal and with 7:19 to play, Lyall fed Foley for a fastbreak layup and Portland’s biggest lead, 49-21.
After Coyne made a leaner for the Red Riots, Lyall countered with two foul shots. Bol then scored his final points, on a jumper, but Fonseca made a free throw.
With 4:51 remaining, senior Cam Deiley made a 3 for South Portland and 50 seconds later, Deiley drained another 3, marking the first time in the game that the Red Riots scored successive baskets.
Moss then wrapped up his night with two free throws and a putback and senior Thomas Joyce made two foul shots for a 58-31 advantage.
After White drove for a layup and senior Kamden Mallory scored on a putback, a Joyce driving layup proved to be the Bulldogs’ final points. Inside the final minute, Deiley made one final 3 and Portland ran out the clock from there and at 10:32 p.m., celebrated another championship.
“It feels incredible,” said Lyall, who will row at the University of Washington in Seattle next year. “I’ve had it both ways, I’ve lost and I’ve won and this is a lot better. It was just a matter of rhythm. They didn’t come out well and that can kill a team. We killed them on the boards, especially early. We killed them on defense. Rebounding and defense are the most important part of the game and we dominated that tonight. I think we executed and did what we needed to do. I wanted it really bad after we lost to them last time and I wanted to win by a lot.”
“I’m excited to win another championship,” Moss said. “It’s a big accomplishment for us to reach our dream. All week, we practiced 100 percent and Coach said we had to come out with a lot of intensity and play defense and rebound and play our roles and that’s what we did. The first part of the game, I knew we were going to do pretty well and we did. We knew last time we didn’t have intensity on defense. We knew if played them again, we just had to come out and play basketball.”
“It feels phenomenal,” Foley said. “After winning one, we wanted to come back and do it again. We were determined and it feels great to accomplish our goal. (The score) was surprising to all of us. Last game gave us motivation and they had extra motivation from us beating them in states last year. The rivalry gave us our own energy.”
“I was anxious since we beat EL, wanting to play,” said Fonseca. “I knew we were a good team and I knew we would win. Coach kept us focused in practice, getting to know how they’d play. We knew what Bol would do. We have a lot of pride. It’s awesome to win again.”
“Some people might have expected this (result) last year, not this year, but that’s how basketball is,” Russo added. “South Portland is like a mirror team of ours, but our team played defense and rebounded tonight better than any team I’ve coached. We stayed where we were supposed to be and kept them from penetrating. This is a tremendous basketball venue, but you have play up here. We’ve learned that. We like it here now.
“After we lost to them last time, we made adjustments. We had too much respect for their 94-foot speed. We’re usually a pressing, trapping team, but tonight, we went man-to-man and contained them. Last time, they got by us and kicked it out for open looks. We got a good feel for them playing them a couple times.”
Moss had a superb game on the biggest of stages, scoring 22 points while also grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out three assists.
“My responsibility this year was to run the team and put the team first,” Moss said. “If I had a chance to score, I’d score, but I tried to put the team first.”
“I love (Terion),” Foley said. “He can score when he needs to score. He can pass and create. He’s just a great player.”
“Terion played relaxed tonight,” Russo added. “For some reason, he had a different look in his eye. He communicated a few times on what he thought was open. He showed leadership and outstanding coachability tonight. He had the green light when he felt it was a good shot. He played probably one of the best games of his career running the team, shooting percentage, leadership.”
Foley and Fonseca had nine points apiece.
Lyall bowed out with eight points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
“Charlie has taken care of the boards in a state game three years in a row,” Russo said. “We’ll miss him. He’s a great leader and teammate.”
Yugu quietly had a solid game (five points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals), Joyce added four points and Hardy finished with three.
“The rookies, Pedro, (sophomore) Simon (Chadbourne), (sophomore) Trey (Bellew), they all played well,” Russo said. “Not many guys were in double figures, but it seemed like we had many of them. It was a total team effort. You couldn’t ask for a better culminating production.”
Portland made 18 of 42 shots from the floor, including 4 of 10 from behind the 3-point stripe, sank 20 of 27 free throws, held a 38-34 rebounding advantage and overcame 17 turnovers.
Saturday’s win was Russo’s 401st with his alma mater. Following the game, he received his share of praise as well.
“It’s all due to Coach Russo,” Lyall said. “He’s the reason for all of our success. He’s the best basketball coach I’ve ever had. Since day one, it was the perfect fit for me.”
“We all come to practice and work hard and that’s because we have one of the best coaches in the state,” Moss said.
“I’ve been talking Joe into staying the last few years, but I think I’m going to start trying to convince him to retire,” joked Millington.
Russo deflected praise to his players.
“It starts with players,” Russo said. “You’ve got to have players to work with, then you have to have players who are willing to listen to what’s best for the team. These guys were very coachable and they were open to what was best. They put their egos to the side. That made coaching enjoyable.”
South Portland was paced by Deiley, who had nine points off the bench in just seven minutes of action. Bol finished with six points and nine rebounds. Stilley bowed out with six points and five boards. Oreste had five points and five rebounds, Hasson added four points, White finished with four points, four steals and three rebounds and Coyne and Mallory added two points apiece.
The Red Riots made just 15 of 65 shots (23 percent) and hit just 3 of 17 3-pointers. South Portland made 5 of 11 free throws and only turned the ball over a dozen times.
“It stings to lose like that,” Millington said. “We knew they’d be tough to come back on. Portland was Portland. They didn’t do anything different. I was just shocked that we played how we played. Our guys worked hard, but the ball just wasn’t going in. The scary thing was that it didn’t like it was going to. They’re very good on defense, but we didn’t turn the ball over that much. We got enough shots. They usually force you way out on offense, but they defended the rim. They’re the champs. They might have played badly against us at the Expo, but that was an abnormality. They methodically scored. There were no big runs. Our defense wasn’t bad.”
One difficult night won’t spoil what was a special season for South Portland. The Red Riots can argue they were the state’s second-best team, they won 17 games and got to a state final in successive seasons for the first time in a quarter-century.
“This was an awesome team,” Millington said. “I love these guys. They worked hard and they were competitive. We didn’t want second place. It doesn’t feel good, but we had a darn good year. The seniors had a great year. Ruay is one of a kind. He’s super-competitive. He has laser focus.”
In addition to Bol, the Red Riots have to also say goodbye to Deiley, Mallory, Oreste, Stilley, White and Benjamin Tucker.
Coyne and Hasson, along with seniors-to-be Connor Buckley and Noah Malone, will lead South Portland into the 2017-18 campaign, as the Red Riots look to get back to the state game and this time, finish it off.
“The program’s very healthy,” Millington said. “We have a good core coming back, but of course, Portland does too. Compared to everyone else, we’re hopefully in good shape. We have a lot of hard-nosed kids coming back. It’s hard to be hungrier than we are.”
Portland graduates Hardy, Joyce and Lyall, but to the dismay of the rest of the state, everyone else is back and the younger Bulldogs will have a year of experience under their belt.
The last boys’ team to three-peat in the state’s biggest class was Morse between 1987 and 1989 (Winslow was the only other to do it between 1937-39). No squad in the state’s biggest class has ever been to a championship game in five successive seasons (Hampden Academy made it to four successive finals between 2012 and 2015 and Portland qualified every year between 1942 and 1945, but due to World War II, no state game was held in 1943).
Don’t bet against Portland writing another historic chapter this time next year.
“I’d love to win one more as a senior,” Moss said. “We have a really good bench and a lot of good guys coming back.”
“We want to win it again badly,” said Fonseca. “We have to keep doing what we do.”
“It’s a special bond we have,” Foley said. “It gets taught all the way down to JV, freshmen. If we stay together, anything is possible. Every year we want to give it our best shot, but our ultimate goal is a Gold Ball. We have the personnel to do it again. If we work hard in practice like we did this year and last year, anything is possible.”
“It’s not easy to win,” Russo added. “We have the ability to do it again, but I’ll have to figure them all out and put them where I think they should be.”
Portland junior Terion Moss passes the ball.
Portland sophomore Trey Bellew looks to pass as South Portland senior Cam Deiley defends.
South Portland senior Deandre White shoots over Portland junior Terion Moss.
Portland senior Clay Hardy handles the ball.
Portland senior Charlie Lyall defends South Portland junior Riley Hasson on a drive to the basket.
Portland senior Clay Hardy comes out with the ball in a rebounding scrum which also includes South Portland Ruay Bol and Bulldogs junior Manny Yugu.
South Portland senior Ansel Stilley loses the ball as he runs into Portland sophomore Trey Bellew.
South Portland players look on in disbelief following the loss.
Following the trophy presentation, the Bulldogs gather around the Gold Ball.
Portland senior John Bento shows off the Gold Ball to his classmates.
2016 Class AA Final
Portland 52 South Portland 50 (2 OT)
2013 Western A semifinals
South Portland 49 Portland 41
2012 Western Class A quarterfinals
South Portland 39 Portland 37
2011 Western Class A quarterfinals
Portland 69 South Portland 45
2009 Western Class A quarterfinals
Portland 72 South Portland 49
2005 Western Class A quarterfinals
Portland 58 South Portland 51
1999 Western A Final
Portland 79 South Portland 67
1998 Western A quarterfinals
Portland 58 South Portland 49
1987 Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 57 Portland 46
1986 Western A semifinals
Portland 65 South Portland 47
1981 Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 92 Portland 47
1975 Western A semifinals
Portland 53 South Portland 49
1971 Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 61 Portland 38
1968 LL West Final
South Portland 56 Portland 54 (OT)
1962 LL West quarterfinals
South Portland 66 Portland 56
1958 L West Final
South Portland 70 Portland 58
1950 L West semifinals
Portland 43 South Portland 33
1949 L West Final
South Portland 60 Portland 42
1943 Western Maine Final
Portland 33 South Portland 20
1942 first round
Portland 34 South Portland 22
1940 second round
South Portland 25 Portland 22
1937 second round
Portland 35 South Portland 5
1935 third round
South Portland 30 Portland 27
1932 Western Maine Final
Portland 24 South Portland 18
1931 second round
South Portland 48 Portland 19
1929 second round
South Portland 26 Portland 20
1928 Western Maine Final
South Portland 21 Portland 14
1926 Western Maine Final
South Portland 29 Portland 14
1923 first round
Portland 38 South Portland 18
Bangor 56 Portland 39
Portland 69 Brunswick 63 (OT)
Portland 77 Lawrence 58
Portland 58 Lawrence 52
Portland 28 Stearns 23
Waterville 42 Portland 35
Waterville 53 Portland 33
Portland named winner (no state final due to WWII)
Portland 27 John Bapst 19
Portland 30 Bangor 15
Presque Isle 31 Portland 30
Bangor 41 Portland 22
Bangor 62 South Portland 37
South Portland 81 Bangor 79 (5 OT)
Waterville 60 South Portland 35
South Portland 66 Caribou 49
South Portland 75 Old Town 51
South Portland 102 Presque Isle 58
Cony 84 South Portland 63
South Portland 55 Presque Isle 53
Stearns 73 South Portland 67
Stearns 59 South Portland 57 (OT)
South Portland 83 Caribou 70
Ellsworth 61 South Portland 40
Waterville 51 South Portland 42
Winslow 41 South Portland 26
South Portland 34 Presque Isle 29
South Portland 25 Old Town 15
South Portland 20 Bar Harbor 17
South Portland Bangor (game not played)
South Portland 24 Bangor 21