No upset this time...SP ousted by Bonny Eagle
PORTLAND—After rallying to upset No. 2 Portland in the quarterfinals last weekend, seventh-ranked South Portland had every intention of keeping the good times rolling Friday night in its Western Class A semifinal round showdown versus No. 3 Bonny Eagle.
Then, the Red Riots' upset hopes were pretty much dashed in the game's first few minutes.
Before South Portland could get settled and comfortable on the Cumberland County Civic Center floor, it was down, 16-2, as the Scots buried four 3-pointers.
As expected, the Red Riots battled back and got as close as 30-26 after three quarters, but an inability to take even further advantage of a three-point third period by the Scots left the door open for the higher seed to deliver a knockout blow and courtesy of Bonny Eagle super sophomore Dustin Cole, that's exactly what happened.
Cole buried a backbreaking 3 just seven seconds into the fourth period and the Scots quickly opened things up and never looked back as they prevailed, 54-39, ended South Portland's season at 12-9, improved to 17-3 and advanced to face top-ranked Deering (17-3) in the Western A Final Saturday at 8:45 p.m., at the Civic Center.
The Red Riots got 11 points from junior Tanner Hyland and strong efforts from several other sources, but the magic carpet ride finally came to an end as Cole had a game-high 24 points and Scots senior Cole Libby added 15.
"I'm proud of my kids for how hard they worked this year," said South Portland coach Phil Conley. "They're all hurting right now, but they gave me everything they had. We'll look back at the positives and get ready for next year. I don't think anyone thought we'd be in the final four. We continued to improve throughout the year."
End of the line
South Portland, which lost to Portland in the quarterfinals last year, started the 2011-12 season 6-1, but struggled once the schedule turned more difficult and wound up 10-8, good seventh in Western A. The Red Riots had to host and beat No. 10 Westbrook in the preliminary round, 40-32, then, Saturday night, they added a chapter to the program's lore by rallying from 11 down to beat heavily favored Portland, 39-37, in the quarterfinals.
Bonny Eagle made it all the way to the regional final last season and didn't disappoint this winter, going 15-3 (losing only to visiting Portland and Deering and at Biddeford) to earn the No. 3 seed. The Scots dominated No. 6 Marshwood in the quarterfinals, 61-40.
The teams met back on Jan. 24 in South Portland, where the Scots prevailed in a close game, 56-49.
They'd only squared off once previously in the postseason, a 57-51 Bonny Eagle victory in the 2007 quarterfinals.
Friday, it was clear instantly which team had previous experience on the Civic Center floor and which was still a little overwhelmed as the Scots dominated the first period.
Just 46 seconds in, Cole gave Bonny Eagle a lead it would never relinquish, when he knocked down a 3. The next time down the floor, Libby did the honors from behind the stripe and with 4:56 remaining in the opening stanza, Scots junior Clayton Autry hit a 3 of his own, making it 9-0 and forcing Conley to call timeout.
Out of the timeout, Bonny Eagle got possession and got a transition layup from Cole (set up by junior Jon Thomas).
With 4:19 left in the first, the Red Riots finally broke the ice as junior Ben Burkey made a jump shot, but Libby set up freshman Ben Malloy for a 3 and with 3:07 to go, Libby made a jumper to make it 16-2 Scots.
"It was a tough start," Conley said. "They were hot, for one. Also, we had jitters. It was the first time on this floor for all these guys and (the Scots) were in the Western Maine Final last year. No excuses, they made the shots when it counted."
South Portland could have folded its tents and gone down to a decisive defeat, but the Red Riots gradually came back.
A 3 from Hyland cut the deficit to 11, but Libby made a free throw, then set up senior Evan Arnell for a layup, giving Bonny Eagle a 19-5 advantage after one period.
South Portland hung tough in the second quarter as the Scots started to go cold.
A free throw from senior Jordan Muller and an up-and-under layup from junior Jack Tolan pulled the Red Riots within 11, but Libby made two free throws and Thomas hit one. After Logan Gaddar scored on a putback for South Portland, Libby made two foul shots to give Bonny Eagle a 24-10 lead.
With 2:26 remaining in the first half, Gaddar stole the ball, raced in for a layup, was fouled on the shot and added the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. A minute later, a Burkey pullup jumper pulled the Red Riots within nine, but in the final minute, Autry hit a 3 and the Scots took a 27-15 lead to the half.
The third period saw South Portland make things very interesting, but ultimately, it proved to be a missed opportunity as Bonny Eagle made exactly one shot for three points in the eight minutes.
Gaddar set up Burkey for a jumper to get the second half started. After Muller scored on a putback, Gaddar set up Tolan for a layup and it was 27-21 with 3:42 left.
Autry's 3 11 seconds later appeared to restore order, but Hyland answered with a deep 3 and with 2:01 to go, Tolan made two free throws to pull the Red Riots closer than they'd been since the first minute of the game.
"We got back in the game," Conley said. "We didn't fold. We did a better job rebounding the ball in the second half and limiting them to one shot. That's how we got back in the game."
South Portland had its chances in the final two minutes to get closer than four, but couldn't complete the comeback, and trailed, 30-26, with eight minutes to play.
Then, at the start of the fourth, Bonny Eagle opened up an insurmountable lead.
The game turned for good seven seconds in, when Cole, from the top of the key, buried a 3-ball to give the Scots a little breathing room.
Twenty-six seconds later, Cole scored on a leaner and it was 35-26.
"Those five points separated them again," Conley said. "(Cole's) a first-team all-star for a reason. He played a heck of a game tonight."
A Gaddar layup momentarily stemmed the tide, but Libby drained a 3, Cole made a layup and with 5:41 to play, Libby split two defenders and made a layup to push the advantage to 42-28.
A pair of Muller foul shots and a reverse layup from Tolan got South Portland back to 42-32, but Cole made two free throws and Cole hit a floater and it was 46-32 with 4:05 to play.
Two Hyland free throws were answered by a pair from Cole. Hyland made a 3 and Burkey had a chance to get the deficit back into single digits, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The Scots then ended all doubt as Cole made six of eight free throws in a minute's time. With 33 seconds to go, Red Riots senior Matt DiBiase scored on a putback and that would be it as Bonny Eagle put the finishing touches on its 54-39 triumph.
The Scots got 24 points from Cole. He also had two rebounds and two steals. Libby was solid as well with 15 points, eight boards, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot. Autry added nine points (on three 3-pointers) and a team-high nine rebounds, Malloy had three points, Arnell two and Thomas one (along with seven boards).
Bonny Eagle had eight 3-pointers to three for South Portland (those 15 points were the difference in the game). The Scots were outrebounded, 35-30, but had six steals, turned the ball over a mere eight times and made 16-of-23 free throws.
Bonny Eagle will face Deering Saturday night for the Western A crown. On Dec. 30, the Scots dropped a 57-55 overtime decision at home to the Rams. Bonny Eagle did beat Deering in last year's semifinal round, 43-34. The Scots are seeking their first state final appearance since 1995.
A lot to be proud of
South Portland's high scorer was Hyland, who had 11 points (thanks to three 3s). Tolan added 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Gaddar's swan song produced seven points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block. Burkey finished with six points (and five boards), Muller had three and DiBiase two.
The Red Riots committed 11 turnovers and made 8-of-14 foul shots.
South Portland, which faced its share of detractors entering the tournament, certainly turned heads in the tournament and can look back on the 2011-12 campaign with pride.
"When we take a look back, it's a successful season," Conley said. "We won 12 games, beat Portland, the No. 2 seed, and competed with the No. 3 seed into the fourth quarter. I knew my kids can win a big game. All that other stuff is just talk."
Three Red Riots will graduate.
"Mulller and Gaddar and DiBiase gave me everything," Conley said. "They came to practice. They were great leaders. They worked extremely hard. Muller and Gaddar's job was to stop defensively the best players from the other team and they consistently did that. I'll miss those guys. They showed the young kids how hard to work in practice and carry it over to the game."
A solid core, led by Burkey, Hyland, MacVane and Tolan, returns, suggesting South Portland should be right back in the mix in 2012-13.
"We lose two starters, but we have good guys coming back," Conley said. "We hope next year, we get back to the Civic Center and are fortunate enough to win a game."