SCARBOROUGH—With Heal Points and playoff implications on the line Saturday afternoon, one team came to play with a vengeance, while the other struggled and now faces an uphill climb to defend its regional championship.
The Scarborough boys’ basketball team welcomed South Portland, a squad the Red Storm hadn’t beaten in six years and had lost to just a couple weeks prior, but this time, it was clear that Scarborough was on a mission.
The Red Storm raced to a 10-2 lead, held Red Riots junior standout Jaren Muller in check and got key contributions from several players.
By halftime, senior Matt Hartl and junior Nate Wessel had sparked a run that produced a 39-24 lead and South Portland simply couldn’t respond. The Red Riots never drew closer than 14 points down the stretch and Scarborough went on to a much needed 61-44 triumph.
Wessel led all scorers with 22 points, Hartl added 16, junior Sam Freeman knocked down four 3-pointers and Muller, who sat out the second half, only produced two points as the Red Storm improved to 9-8 and dropped South Portland, which is clinging to playoff life, to 6-10.
“I thought our man-to-man defense was excellent,” said Red Storm coach Tony DiBiase. “We did a great job defensively inside. We’ve had better games offensively, but defensively, inside, we did a great job. They could throw three guys 6-foot-5 at us and we held our own. They couldn’t press us because we’re quicker than they are. Getting up early was big for us.”
Scarborough and South Portland have been on the fringe of the Western Class A race this winter and both have had their positive moments.
The Red Storm opened with wins over visiting Biddeford (86-32), host Westbrook (64-50) and visiting Windham (84-82, in overtime), before losing at home to Noble (74-72, in overtime). After holding on for a 75-70 win at Massabesic, falling at Gorham (59-45) and to Windham, in a countable game played at the Red Claws Christmas Tournament, 72-63, Scarborough got back in the win column with a 69-46 victory at Biddeford, then lost at South Portland, 66-53, before getting back on track with a 77-62 home win over Marshwood. After handling visiting Thornton Academy, 70-46, the Red Storm lost at home to sharpshooting Bonny Eagle, 91-62. Losses at Portland (81-52), at home to Deering (88-72) and at Cheverus (76-63) followed before Scarborough finally got back on track Thursday with a 72-48 home win over Sanford.
As for the Red Riots, they fell to visiting Noble in the opener, 69-51, then downed host Sanford (57-45) and visiting Westbrook (61-53) before losing at Thornton Academy, 65-49, and at home to powerhouses Portland (79-49), Bonny Eagle (75-45) and Deering (81-71, in overtime) to wrap up the 2013 portion of the schedule. South Portland then won at Massabesic (48-31), at home over Scarborough (66-53) and at Biddeford (57-48) before the streak ended with a 56-41 loss at Cheverus. Following an agonizing 53-52 home loss to Marshwood (on a free throw with no time left), the Red Riots won at Windham, 74-64, then lost at home to Gorham (55-23) and at Deering (63-53).
Since Scarborough joined the Southwestern Maine Activities Association in 2003, it’s struggled mightily against South Portland, losing 11 of 13 meetings heading into Saturday’s contest (please see sidebar, below).
The Red Riots had won the past six meetings, by an average of 17 points, including a 66-53 home triumph Jan. 7.
Since DiBiase, the longtime South Portland coach came to Scarborough, the Red Riots had their way with him, but Saturday, the Red Storm managed to get off the schneid and beat South Portland for the first time since Jan. 5, 2008.
It took just 19 seconds for Scarborough to go on top as junior Milani Hicks scored on a driving layup. A layup from sophomore Jack Fiorini tied the score for the Red Riots, but the Red Storm rattled off eight in a row to seize control.
First, Wessel knocked down a jumper. Hartl then got involved, scoring on a driving layup, then adding two foul shots. A pair of free throws from Hicks after a steal with 5:15 to play in the opening stanza opened up a 10-2 advantage.
South Portland crept back as junior Kam Harper made a layup, Harper made a foul shot and Fiorini hit a layup, but Hartl countered with a 3-ball. After Harper scored on a driving layup, Wessel knocked down a jumper. In the final minute, Fiorini set up junior teammate Silas Zechman for a layup, but Hartl fouled sophomore Jacob Gardner for a layup to make it 17-11 Red Storm after eight minutes.
Scarborough opened things up even further in the second period.
After Fiorini scored on a putback, Freeman knocked down his first 3-ball. Fiorini countered with a pair of foul shots, but Freeman made another 3, Wessel hit two free throws and Freeman made yet another 3 to push the lead to 28-15.
South Portland stemmed the tide on a leaner from sophomore Jordin Jackson, but Hartl canned a three, then made two free throws. Fiorini scored on a putback, but Gardner sank a free throw and Hartl hit two to suddenly made the score 36-19,
After Jackson hit a 3 for the visitors, Wessel countered with one of his own. With 20.7 seconds to go in the half, Muller finally got in the scoring column, with a bank shot, but the Red Riots were down by 15, 39-24, at the break.
Inability to shoot consistently, nine turnovers and poor execution on defense doomed the visitors in the first half, who watched helplessly as Hartl had 14 points and Freeman and Wessel each added nine.
Things did not change in the third period and it quickly became clear that South Portland would have to rally without its star, Muller, who remained on the bench for reasons which Red Riots coach Phil Conley declined to elaborate.
Wessel opened the second half with a bank shot. After Jordan countered with a 3, Freeman made a 3 and Hicks scored on a driving layup and just like that, the lead was up to 19, 46.27.
After Fiorini made a layup, Wessel scored on a runner and Freeman set up Gardner for a layup. After Fiorini made a pair of foul shots, a last second 3 from Wessel (set up by senior Dan LeClair) pushed the advantage to 53-31 with eight minutes to go .
The final stanza was academic and South Portland never made a serious push.
Just as the third period concluded, the fourth quarter began as LeClair again set up Wessel for a layup. After Jackson made two free throws for the Red Riots, Wessel sank a jump shot. Harper countered with a driving layup, but Wessel hit another jumper. After Harper made a jumper, junior Jacob Brown was fouled after a steal and made two free throws for the visitors. Zechman added a bank shot and the deficit was 59-41 with 2:31 to go .
A pair of Hartl free throws ended Scarborough’s offensive output. Zechman made a foul shot and a late leaner from senior David Gravel finished things off and the Red Storm had an impressive 61-44 victory, its most decisive to date over the Red Riots.
“Last game, they had a 30 rebound differential and pounded us like it was volleyball on the backboard,” Hartl said. “Coach really stressed our strengths and we came out today and proved it. At home, you have to come out strong. You can’t let them have any momentum. Definitely at home we’re better, but if we’re on, we can beat anyone, anywhere. If we’re not, we can lose to anyone. That’s how the SMAA works. We’re peaking now going into the playoffs. We have more options. It’s not just a one-man or a two-man team. We had to play strong.”
Wessel continued his season-long strong play with a game-high 22 points.
“With Nate, when he’s on, you feed him the ball and he can beat anyone,” Hartl said.
Hartl had a solid 16 points, Freeman added 12 (all on 3s), Hicks finished with six and Gardner had five.
“We’ve had two good games back to back,” DiBiase said. “Maybe we’re peaking at the right time. Getting the right combinations finally. Nate Wessel is a 5-10 center and he’s scoring 17-20 points a game and is getting 10 boards a night and people aren’t even talking about him. He scored, got assists. Sam had four 3s and extended the lead. We got contributions from other kids. Gardner’s coming along defensively and he’s helping us a little bit.”
Scarborough outrebounded South Portland, 27-23, thanks to five from Hicks and four apiece from Freeman, Gardner and Wessel. Hicks and Wessel both had three steals.
The Red Storm only committed 11 turnovers and forced 14. It hit an impressive 11 of 12 free throws.
For South Portland, the promising sophomore tandem of Fiorini (14 points) and Jackson (10) paced the offense.
“We didn’t come ready to play today, but any positive I can take out of today’s game is that my two sophomore bigs played excellent,” said Conley. “Jack Fiorini and Jordin Jackson played a whale of a game inside. I always try to look on the positive side and they played a heck of a game inside even though they’re young.”
Harper had nine points, Zechman five and Brown, Gravel and Muller two each.
“Muller’s got a strong game, but we played strong and took him out of his rhythm,” said Hartl.
The Red Riots sank just 10 of 19 foul shots.
(Scarborough) hit all their shots and you tip your hat,” said Conley. “They played better than we did today.”
Both teams appear playoff-bound, but it’s not written in stone.
South Portland (which has the 12th and final Western Class A Heal Points playoff spot at press time) has a run of seven straight years qualifying for the playoffs. The Red Riots likely need to beat either host Portland Tuesday or visiting Cheverus Friday to ensure a date in the preliminary round.
“We have to win one more to get in,” said Conley. “If we don’t, we won’t get in the tournament. We play a difficult schedule, but we have to win one. You know what? Heal Points are Heal Points and we have to win. It would be nice to make it since we’re so young. We graduate two seniors graduating and everyone else returns. I’d like to get to the tournament for experience for the kids.”
Scarborough (now 10th in Western A) closes at Thornton Academy Tuesday. The Red Storm is seeking an eighth postseason trip in nine years and could manage to host a prelim if it wins in Saco.
“We’d love to have a home prelim to help us get to the Expo,” said Hartl. “At the beginning of the year, we won games, but it was definitely a transition period to see who would score, rebound and play defense, but I think we’ve figured it out by now. We’re getting better every day in practice. We want to peak at the right time.”
“With another win, who knows? Maybe we could get a home prelim,” DiBiase said. “I like the way we’re playing. We were 7-4 at one time after beating good teams, then we ran into the Portland, Bonny Eagle, Deering buzzsaw. Now, we’re back to where we’re feeling better about ourselves. The tournament could be an interesting ride. What we can do is score and a lot of teams can’t. A lot of games are in the 40s, but we’re never in the 40s.”
Scarborough junior Sam Freeman, who sank four 3-pointers, gets a step on South Portland junior Kam Harper.
South Portland junior Kam Harper brings the ball up the floor.
Scarborough senior Matt Hartl looks to pass the ball as South Portland junior Silas Zechman defends.
Scarborough junior Milani Hicks soars through the South Portland defense to the hoop for two points.
South Portland junior Jaren Muller, who had a quiet two points, goes up for a shot.
Scarborough senior Nate Wessel, who led all scorers with 22 points, throws up a shot over South Portland senior Patrick Conley.
South Portland junior Silas Zechman defends Scarborough senior Matt Hartl.
Scarborough coach Tony DiBiase, who led the Red Riots for many years and to the 1992 Class A state championship, likes what he sees during Saturday’s win.
South Portland coach Phil Conley can only look on in dismay as Scarborough led from start to finish.
@ South Portland 66 Scarborough 53
South Portland 76 @ Scarborough 55
@ South Portland 60 Scarborough 39
South Portland 48 @ Scarborough 33
@ South Portland 62 Scarborough 45
South Portland 54 @ Scarborough 40
Scarborough 47 @ South Portland 41
@ South Portland 53 Scarborough 42
@ Scarborough 59 South Portland 48
@ South Portland 55 Scarborough 31
South Portland 55 @ Scarborough 35
South Portland 55 @ Scarborough 41
@ South Portland 54 Scarborough 33
Thirteen was a lucky number for both the Scarborough and South Portland boys’ basketball teams Saturday afternoon. Red Riots sophomore Jack Fiorini goes past Red Storm senior Matt Hartl for two points, but Scarborough had the last laugh, prevailing, 61-44.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
SP- 11 13 7 13- 44
S- 17 22 14 8- 61
SP- Fiorini 5-4-14, Jackson 3-2-10, Harper 4-1-9, Zechman 2-1-5, Brown 0-2-2, Gravel 1-0-2, Muller 1-0-2
S- Wessel 9-2-22, Hartl 4-6-16, Freeman 4-0-12, Hicks 2-2-6, Gardner 2-1-5
SP (2) Jackson 2
S (8) Freeman 4, Hartl, Wessel 2
SP (23) Muller 7, Jackson 5, Beecher 4, Harper 3, Zechman 2, Conley, Graff 1
S (27) Hicks 5, Freeman, Gardiner, Wessel 4, Corey 3, Cohen, Hartl, LeClair 2, Garrard 1
SP (1) Beecher 1
S (6) Hicks, Wessel 3
S (1) Hicks 1