Scarborough boys edge Gorham in quarterfinal thriller

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Scarborough senior Nick Fiorillo drives on Gorham sophomore Grant Nadeau during Wednesday’s Class AA South quarterfinal. Fiorillo had 26 points to help the defending regional champion Red Storm prevail, 59-54.

Adam Birt / Current Sports photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Scarborough 59 Gorham 54

S- 16 16 13 14- 59
G- 16 16 14 8- 54

S- Fiorillo 8-7-26, B. Austin 7-3-18, Kirk 4-0-8, A. Austin 1-2-5, Gobeil 0-2-2

G- Bretton 4-2-11, Strout 4-0-11, Nadeau 4-2-10, Nelson 5-0-10, B. Meader 2-0-6, Haines 1-0-2, O’Neill 1-0-2, Reno 1-0-2

3-pointers:
S (5) Fiorillo 3, A. Austin, B. Austin 1
G (6) Strout 3, B. Meader 2, Bretton 1

Turnovers:
S- 9
G- 12

FTs
S: 14-17
G: 4-5

GORHAM—Scarborough’s boys’ basketball team has always saved its best for last since Phil Conley took over as coach three years ago.

It’s best for the end of the season.

And it’s best for the end of games.

Wednesday evening, in an instant classic Class AA South quarterfinal round showdown at rival and fourth-seeded Gorham, the fifth-ranked Red Storm got pushed to the brink time and again, but they dug deep into their reservoir of championship heart and thanks to some clutch performances from some veteran players who have taken part in big games on big stages, they made plays down the stretch and found a way to prevail.

And advance.

The teams were even from the get-go, as the score was deadlocked, 16-16, after one period and 32-32 at halftime.

A back-and-forth third quarter ended 46-45 Gorham after sophomore Bode Meader hit a 3.

The teams would be tied on eight different occasions and the lead would change hands a whopping 17 times, including for the final time with 1:12 to play, when Red Storm senior standout Nick Fiorillo hit a jump shot.

Gorham had its chances to answer, but couldn’t do so and two free throws from Fiorillo and two more from senior Tyler Gobeil allowed Scarborough to hold on, 59-54.

Fiorillo led all scorers with 26 points, junior Brian Austin added 18 and the Red Storm won their seventh game in eight outings, improved to 11-8, ended the valiant Rams’ season at 11-8 and in the process, advanced to face top-ranked Thornton Academy (15-4) in the Class AA South semifinals Tuesday at 8 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

“This was special,” said Conley. “Gorham’s a very well-coached, very good team. To come into their house, a packed house, and play like we did, I’m so proud of the kids.” 

Peaking

Gorham had several impressive wins during the regular season and endured some tough losses as well, but its 11-7 record gave it the number four seed in the region.

Scarborough wasn’t able to recapture last year’s magic, when it won 17 games and reached the state final for the first time before losing a close game to Edward Little, but the Red Storm produced a six-game win streak late in the season and despite a loss at Thornton Academy in the finale, wound up 10-8 and fifth in Class AA South.

The teams split during the regular season, with each enjoying a decisive victory on the road. On Dec. 21 in Gorham, Scarborough prevailed, 74-59, as Fiorillo scored 32 points and Austin added 20. Three weeks later in Scarborough, the Rams rolled, 65-43, behind a 42-12 first half run.

Gorham had won three of the previous four playoff meetings (see sidebar, below), but the most recent went to the Red Storm, 65-46, in the 2013 Western A preliminary round.

Wednesday, Scarborough got knocked down on numerous occasions, but responded like champions.

It was clear early that the nearly capacity crowd would have a lot to cheer about, as both teams came to play.

The hosts opened the scoring 36 seconds in, as junior Jordan Bretton knocked down a 3-pointer.

The Red Storm answered, as Austin made a free throw and Fiorillo sank a 3-ball.

After Bretton put the Rams back on top with a driving bank shot, Fiorillo hit a 3 and after a steal from Kirk, Austin made a layup for a 9-5 lead.

“We played here earlier this year and it was packed then too,” Fiorillo said. “We knew we had to bring our ‘A’ game. We had some great fans and came out strong. Last game, we came out flat, but this time we stayed with them.”

Back came Gorham, as sophomore Grant Nadeau hit a free throw, senior Tom Nelson came off the bench and made a jumper, then Nadeau banked home a runner for a 10-9 Rams’ advantage.

After Fiorillo scored three more points the old-fashioned way (layup, foul, free throw), a putback from Nelson tied the score.

Junior Nick Strout made a jumper in the lane to put Gorham back on top, but an Austin layup, off a nice feed from junior Owen Cascio, tied the game again.

With 25.8 seconds left in the first quarter, two Bretton free throws gave the Rams the lead, but with 3.1 seconds showing, an Austin putback made the score 16-16 after eight entertaining minutes.

Neither team could gain any separation in the second period either.

After Nadeau opened the frame with a leaner, Fiorillo set up Austin for a three-point play.

Gorham retook the lead on a driving layup from Nelson, but the next six points went to the visitors, as Fiorillo drained two free throws, Austin hit a jumper and Fiorillo’s short jumper made the score 25-20 and forced Rams coach Mark Karter to call timeout.

Gorham would eventually respond and tie the game up again.

First, after a layup from Rams junior Ryan Reno out of the break, Fiorillo answered with a 3 for Scarborough’s biggest lead of the game, 28-22.

Strout countered with a 3-ball, but Fiorillo hit a leaner.

After another long 3 from Strout, senior Alex Austin made two foul shots for the Red Storm, but in the final minute, Nadeau set up senior Henry O’Neill for a layup and a leaner by Nadeau made the score 32-32 at halftime.

In the first half, Fiorillo led the way with 18 points and five rebounds and Brian Austin added a dozen points.

Gorham got eight points from Strout, seven apiece from Bretton and Nadeau and six from Nelson.

After four ties and nine lead changes in the first half, the third quarter was more of the dramatic same.

The first five points of the second half went to Scarborough, as Alex Austin made a 3 and senior Paul Kirk scored his first points in acrobatic fashion, banking home a shot while falling, to make it 37-32 Red Storm.

Back roared the Rams, as Nadeau set up senior Tyler Haines for a layup and after Fiorillo picked up his third foul but stayed on the floor, Gorham reversed the ball beautifully and Meader buried a 3 to tie the game again, 37-37.

After Fiorillo set up Kirk for a layup, the Rams took their first lead of the second half, as Strout sank a 3 from the corner.

Scarborough answered on a Kirk jumper, but Nadeau drove for a layup while being fouled and added the and-one free throw for a 43-41 advantage.

Brian Austin tied the score with a putback, but a Meader 3 put Gorham back on top.

With 1:16 remaining in the frame, Kirk hit a floater, but the Rams took a 46-45 lead to the fourth period.

The contest remained taut in the final eight minutes, but when it mattered most, Fiorillo and Company delivered.

After Nelson opened the final stanza with a layup, Brian Austin countered with a 3 and with 5:20 to play, Fiorillo’s jumper hit the rim and bounced in for a 50-48 Red Storm lead.

A driving left-handed layup from Nelson tied it for the eighth and final time.

With 4:30 to go, Brian Austin made one free throw, but 34 seconds later, a baseline floater from Bretton put Gorham up, 52-51.

After a Brian Austin free throw was waved off due to a lane violation, Fiorillo sank two foul shots with 2:30 to play and Scarborough was back on top.

The Rams then took their final lead, 54-53, when Bretton drove for a layup with 2:13 showing.

After Brian Austin missed a shot, Gorham got possession, but Bretton missed a 3 and Fiorillo got the rebound.

This time down the floor, the Red Storm went to their standout and Fiorillo didn’t disappoint, sinking a jumper in the lane and with 1:12 remaining, Scarborough finally had the lead for good, 55-54.

“Of course I want the ball,” Fiorillo said. “It’s my senior year. I didn’t want it to end in Gorham. I want it to end at the Civic Center on a good note. I got the ball off the hand off, saw some separation and my guy sagged off and I was able to get the extension and hit it.” 

The Rams hoped to answer and after Fiorillo was called for his fourth foul, Kirk came up with the biggest defensive play of the night, stealing the ball.

The Red Storm worked the ball into the front court and with 17.6 seconds to play, Fiorillo was fouled.

Fiorillo went to the line for a one-and-one and with the partisan Gorham crowd trying to distract him, he coolly hit both ends and Scarborough had a 57-54 lead.

“I trust my foul shooting,” Fiorillo said. “I did it earlier this year against Deering and did it here sophomore year. I just had to put it over the rim.”

Gorham had an opportunity to answer, but out of a timeout, the Rams couldn’t get a good look and as time wound down, Meader attempted an off-balance, contested 3, but it was no good and Gobeil grabbed the rebound.

“We set a play up, but it was well defended and it kind of broke down a little bit,” Karter said. “It just didn’t work out for us.”

“That last stop by Tyler was huge,” Fiorillo said. “That was a huge energy swing.”

“I credit the kids for buckling down and playing great defense,” Conley said.

With just 0.8 seconds showing, Gobeil went to the line and ended all doubt by sinking both free throws and the Red Storm were able to celebrate a hard-fought, palpitating 59-54 victory.

“We had some guys really step up,” Conley said. “Tyler and (Nick), our two seniors, when we needed their foul shots, they made them. The seniors have been to a state final and they’ve won at the Civic Center.

“This means a lot because we started out 4-7. I had a good feeling coming into this game. We had a great week of practice and the kids just battled. Our practices are very intense. We push each other every day, so when we get to a game like this, we’re OK with the pressure. “

Fiorillo played like one of the state’s elite players, leading all scorers with 26 points, while also grabbing nine rebounds, blocking a pair of shots and dishing out two assists. 

“I believe Nick’s the top player in the SMAA and he showed it tonight,” Conley said.

Brian Austin added 18 points and six rebounds, Kirk had eight points, Alex Austin five (to go with four assists) and Gobeil two.

Scarborough, despite the daunting setting, made 14 of 17 free throws and only turned the ball over nine times.

Bitter end

For Gorham, Bretton and Strout each had 11 points, while Nelson and Nadeau added 10 apiece (Nadeau also had a game-high six assists and grabbed four rebounds). Meader finished with six points, while Haines (six boards), O’Neill and Reno (seven rebounds) all contributed two.

The Rams made 4 of 5 free throws and turned the ball over 12 times.

Each team had 24 rebounds.

“I think we put ourselves in a position to win the game late and we had a couple shots, but we just didn’t knock them down,” Karter lamented. “(Scarborough’s) a really good team with a really good player and a couple guys who can knock shots down. We couldn’t get over that hump. I thought we were close a couple times. I thought defensively we did a good job. If we made one of those shots, it might have been a different outcome, but it wasn’t to be.

“It was a great 4-5 game, two evenly matched teams. It was probably a fun game to watch, but it’s a tough game to come out on the short end. The guys did a great job all year. I thought we took a lot of steps forward, but we couldn’t take that one more today.”

Gorham will return plenty of talent next winter and could make a deeper run.

“These kids work hard, so hopefully we’ll go back to the drawing board,” Karter said. “This one’s going to sting for awhile though.”

TA looms

Scarborough only saw Thornton Academy once this winter and it was in the regular season finale, a 49-43 setback Feb. 5 in Saco. Brian Austin had 16 points and Fiorillo scored 15 in that one, but the Golden Trojans did just enough down the stretch to prevail.

Tuesday, in what will be the teams’ first-ever postseason encounter, the Red Storm hope to turn the tide.

“We’ll prepare this week,” Fiorillo said. “TA was a tough place to play. Playing on a neutral court will help. We know what to expect. We believe we can beat anyone. We want to finish what last year’s team started. We’ll continue working hard. We just have to keep going on defense. If shots don’t fall, but we can keep our defense consistent, we’ll be fine.

“We played a lot in the Civic Center and we wanted to get back there. I thought if we didn’t get there, the season would be a failure. We’re excited to go back there. We play well there.”

“Now, we’re in the Final Four and I couldn’t be happier,” Conley said. “We have to get some stops defensively. We’re looking forward to the rematch. (TA is) a good team and it should be a very good game.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Scarborough junior Brian Austin picks up his dribble.

Scarborough senior Paul Kirk goes up with the left hand.

Scarborough senior Nick Fiorillo, left, Gorham junior Ryan Reno and Scarborough junior Brian Austin battle for a rebound.

Scarborough senior Paul Kirk goes up and under for a shot.

Previous Scarborough-Gorham playoff results

2013 Western A preliminary 
Scarborough 65 Gorham 46

2007 Western A preliminary 
Gorham 36 Scarborough 30

1983 Western B preliminary 
Gorham 47 Scarborough 45

1972 Western B quarterfinal
Gorham 83 Scarborough 59

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.