PORTLAND—The matchup that everyone salivated over produced a contest worthy of the hype Wednesday night.
No. 3 South Portland, featuring senior standout Keegan Hyland for just the third game since his return from injury, gave second-ranked Westbrook a 36-minute battle at the Cumberland County Civic Center, but ultimately, the Blue Blazes and their dynamic senior tandem of Dominic Borelli and Nich Jobin had enough to survive, 72-66, in overtime, and set up a regional final showdown with top-ranked Cheverus Saturday at 9 p.m., at the Civic Center.
The Red Riots led by seven points early in the fourth quarter, but the Blue Blazes rallied to tie the game with just under a minute to go. South Portland had a chance to win in regulation, but a turnover deprived it of the opportunity. Westbrook (19-1) then took the lead and never relinquished it in OT and gradually pulled away to break the Red Riots’ hearts and end their season at 15-5.
“I thought we had it for awhile, but we didn’t put them away when we had a chance,” said Hyland, who led all scorers with 32 points. “We were up two with the ball and made a bad decision and they came down and tied it up and took care of business better than we did in the overtime.”
South Portland entered the season as one of the favorites, but Hyland had to miss almost the whole year with a stress fracture. Without him, the Red Riots still impressed, blossoming as a team and winning 13 of 17 games behind a balanced, senior-laden attack before Hyland made his dramatic return in a 53-43 home victory over Cheverus to close the regular year and secure the No. 3 spot.
Westbrook was also highly touted in the preseason and only stumbled once, a two-point loss at Cheverus back on Dec. 8.
The teams met on Jan. 30 at Westbrook, where the Blue Blazes erupted in the second period behind a flurry of junior Sean Murphy 3s to win 66-46. Hyland didn’t play in that contest. The longtime rivals hadn’t squared off in a tournament game since Westbrook eked out a 46-41 win in the regional final a decade ago.
This one proved to be more than memorable.
Borelli got things started with a layup 13 seconds in. At the other end, South Portland senior Matt Lee made a layup to tie the score. After Jobin fed Borelli for a layup, Red Riots senior Connor Hasson got involved, making one free throw, then another the next time down to make it 4-4. A layup after a steal by Hyland gave the Red Riots a 6-4 lead, but the Blue Blazes started to heat up from the perimeter as Jobin drained a 3. After Hyland made a floater for an 8-7 advantage, senior Andrew Beckwith canned a 3-ball. Hyland answered with a driving layup to tie it, but Murphy hit a 3, Beckwith scored on a putback and with 2:04 to go in the quarter, Jobin got free for a rousing dunk and a 17-10 lead.
Lee stemmed the tide with a foul shot and got South Portland back within six, 17-11, after one period.
Westbrook started the second period the way it ended the first as Beckwith hit another 3, but senior Jon DiBiase answered with a 3-pointer for the Red Riots. After Jobin hit a foul shot, Hasson answered with one to make it 21-15. Hasson then scored on a putback and Hyland made a driving layup to make it a two-point game and induce Westbrook coach Mark Karter into calling a timeout.
With 3:41 left in the half, Jobin made a layup, but at the other end, after a miss, Hyland stole the ball again and scored on a hook shot to pull South Portland within a point, 22-21.
A Jobin jumper pushed the lead back to three, but DiBiase tied the score with a long 3 from the right wing. After senior Jose Nouchanthavong gave the Blue Blazes a lead with a free throw, DiBiase fed Lee for a fastbreak layup and a 26-25 lead. After Borelli missed a short turnaround at the horn, the Red Riots had the lead at the break.
The fun continued in the second half for both teams.
Borelli (who hadn’t scored since 41 seconds had elapsed in the first period) made a layup to put Westbrook back on top 11 seconds in. Borelli then stepped out and sank a 3. Lee then fed DiBiase for a layup and DiBiase set up Hasson for a layup which tied the game at 30-30.
With 5:43 left in the third, Borelli stepped back and made a jumper, but 21 seconds later, Lee sank two foul shots to tie the score again.
After Beckwith gave the Blue Blazes a 34-32 advantage with a layup, Hyland went into his bag of tricks, spun past a defender and kissed home a shot off the glass to forge the third tie of the half.
Borelli took the bait and in a case of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better, deked two defenders and went in for a layup to make it 36-34. Beckwith then made it a four-point game with a finger roll. Senior Greg Reinhold made a leaner, then took a pass from Hyland and made a layup to tie the score anew, 38-38, with 1:34 left in the quarter.
In the final minute, South Portland stepped up and took its biggest lead.
First, Hyland made a long jumper. Then, after a Beckwith miss, the Red Riots held for the final shot. With time winding down, Hyland fed Bowring in the corner for a clutch 3 and South Portland had a 43-38 advantage entering the fourth.
A Beckwith putback got Westbrook back within three 23 seconds into the final stanza, but Lee buried a deep 3 and the lead was six, 46-40. After Borelli made two foul shots, Hyland scored on a leaner while being fouled and added a free throw for the Red Riots’ biggest advantage, 49-42.
Westbrook was far from done.
Borelli calmly answered with a long 3, but Hyland stole the ball and raced in for a layup to make it 51-45 with 6:23 to go.
Jobin reappeared 19 seconds later and sank a 3, but after another steal, Hyland drove in and made a reverse layup to make it 53-48. With 5:07 to go, Jobin buried an NBA-range 3-pointer. Hasson was fouled at the other end, but missed both attempts. After Borelli missed in traffic at one end, Hasson was off at the other and with 4:01 to go in regulation, Jobin made another 3 to give Westbrook a 54-53 lead.
It only took 18 seconds for the Red Riots to go back on top. Hyland did the honors, knocking down a contested 3 to make it 56-54.
“I started out taking some deep, NBA 3s,” Hyland said. “Not the best idea. I got a little more comfortable as the game went on. My shot came through at the end.”
With 2:32 to go, Borelli tied the score with a left-handed layup, but Hyland put South Portland back on top with a floater 13 seconds later.
Murphy missed a 3 at the other end and Jobin’s tip attempt rimmed out. Hyland then missed, but tipped the rebound to DiBiase, but the Red Riots turned it over, giving the Blue Blazes another chance.
With 57.6 seconds remaining, Nouchanthavong was fouled and calmly sank both ends of a one-and-one to tie it for the ninth and final time, 58-58.
South Portland hoped for the last shot, but Hyland turned the ball over.
“I just tried to drive baseline and hit a dead spot on the floor,” Hyland said. “It went off my leg.”
“It was a deflection,” added Red Riots coach Phil Conley. “We had a player drive the lane and it got deflected and it went out of bounds. It was a tough break. There were plenty of those both ways.”
Westbrook then ran out the clock, but Borelli’s 25-foot 3-point prayer never had a chance and fittingly, it was on to overtime.
“They had a big turnover at the end of regulation when we didn’t allow them to take a shot,” Karter said. “We would have liked to have taken care of it on our last possession, but we didn’t execute as well as we hoped.”
Borelli took over early in the extra session, taking a pass from Jobin and making a layup for the lead (the 10th and final lead change), then, he made it 62-58 with two foul shots with 2:50 to go.
Next, it was Hyland’s turn to step to the fore, draining another contested 3 to make it 62-61 with 2:36 left.
But with 1:50 to go, Jobin fed Borelli for another layup and a three-point advantage. At the other end, Reinhold was off on a wide-open 3, Murphy rebounded and with 1:26 remaining, Nouchanthavong was fouled by DiBiase. He again was poised from the stripe, hitting the front end of a one-and-one, then rattling home the second shot to push the lead to five, 66-61.
After a Lee 3 was blocked by Murphy, South Portland retained the ball and Hasson was fouled by Jobin with 1:10 to go. This time, he made both attempts and the Red Riots were back within a possession, 66-63.
After the Blue Blazes nearly threw the ball away, they retained the ball and went up by five when Beckwith made two foul shots with 52.2 seconds left.
South Portland then had three looks at cutting into the deficit, but Lee missed a 3, Hyland missed a 3 and Hasson was off on the putback. Jobin grabbed the rebound and fed Nouchanthavong, who again hit both free throws for a 70-63 lead with 31.2 seconds to go.
Lee missed a 3 at the other end and Jobin was fouled. He made both shots to essentially ice it. With 16.7 seconds to go, Hyland made his last high school hoop, fittingly, a 3, that mometarily restored hope, but even after Nouchanthavong missed both free throws at the other end, the Red Riots could draw no closer and their season ended with the 72-66 loss.
“I tell you what, that was quite a shootout,” Karter said. “That was two just good basketball teams playing each other. I feel fortunate that we came out on the top end. Hyland is a very tough matchup. If you’re lucky enough to stop him, they have Lee on the wing. They caused us headaches.”
“We had a couple of turnovers late that hurt us,” said Conley. “That was a great high school basketball game with two very good teams.”
The Red Riots finished 15-5, but accomplished a lot.
“My players obviously are hurting right now, but once they look back at their career, they won a lot of games,” Conley said. “They left it all on the floor. We didn’t get bounces late. That was the difference in the game.”
Hyland couldn’t have asked for a better swan song, scoring 32 points along with six steals.
“Keegan had a tremendous game tonight,” Conley said. “He showed why he’s the premier player in the state, I think. He had big baskets. He’s a great kid. I’m happy he could be out there.”
“It’s been a great time with South Portland,” Hyland added. “I had a great career. It definitely stinks right now, but we accomplished a lot. We had a great team. They were just better tonight. I really wanted a state championship. I had to sit there and watch and tried to come back and play as best I could to help us accomplish our goal.”
Hyland is leaning toward prep school next year, but still has his sights set on a big-time college experience.
“Right now, I’m planning to go to Brewster Academy,” he said. “I’m talking to schools like Gonzaga, Penn State and Vanderbilt. It’s not a definite, but it’s what I’m leaning toward right now.”
Lee added 10 points, Hasson had nine, DiBiase eight, Reinhold four and Bowring three.
“I’m going to miss these seniors,” said Conley. “I told them in the locker room after the game that they won a lot of games for us. They gave me everything, every day, practice or game, and put South Portland back on the map. I’m proud of what they accomplished as a group.”
South Portland will have a vastly different look next year.
“We’ll be a rebuilding group next year, but we’ll be ready,” Conley said. “My younger guys worked hard.”
Borelli’s 26 and Jobin’s 20 led Westbrook, but Beckwith’s 16 and Nouchanthavong’s seven (all on foul shots) were equally huge. Murphy added three points.
“Our strength is inside with Nich and Dominic,” Karter said. “Dominic’s so strong. I thought he played a monster game tonight. Nich can heat it up real quick. He’s been great for us all year. Jose had some big free throws. We push him in practice to make those. It was nice to see him and Andrew Beckwith make some. A lot of guys stepped up and played really well.”
“I thought defensively we did a pretty good job,” Conley said. “Those are two big-time players. Connor Hasson played tremendous defense on Borelli the whole game. He had four points in the first half. He can score inside and out. We doubled down on their bigs to help out. That was the plan.”
Westbrook (19-1) feels its ready for the challenge of meeting Cheverus (19-1), a squad the Blue Blazes haven’t met in the postseason since a 58-56 triple-OT loss in the 2003 semifinals. Westbrook’s last tournament win against the Stags came in the 1996 quarterfinals.
“We played them a long time ago,” Karter said. “We’re playing against ourselves. If we do what we do well, we’re a tough team to beat.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
South Portland senior Matt Lee drives on Westbrook’s Andrew Beckwith during the first half of Wednesday’s game.
South Portland senior Jon DiBiase, who was tremendous down the stretch this winter, drives past Westbrook’s Jose Nouchanthavong during first half action.
South Portland senior Connor Hasson had to contend with the long arms of Westbrook’s Dominic Borelli all night, but more than held his own. Borelli had 26 points, 22 in the second half, in leading the Blue Blazes to a stirring 72-66 overtime win.
South Portland senior Keegan Hyland certainly bowed out with a flourish Wednesday night, scoring 32 points in the Red Riots’ 72-66 overtime loss to Westbrook in the Western Class A semifinals.
More photos below.