SCARBOROUGH—Through 15 tries over 27 years, the Scarborough boys’ basketball team kept coming up empty in the postseason.
Then, Tuesday evening, the Red Storm bucked history.
Scarborough, seeded sixth, had all the answers against visiting No. 11 seed Gorham in a Western Class A preliminary round game and as a result, earned a trip to the quarterfinals.
The Red Storm played bombs-away from 3-point land, played strong defense and even held its own on the glass despite a size disadvantage.
Scarborough trailed for all of nine seconds, went ahead to stay on a 3-ball (naturally) from senior Dillon Russo and had a comfortable 12-point lead after one quarter. The Rams rallied in the second and got within seven, 19-12, but the Red Storm responded and took a 10-point lead to the break. Then, with Gorham still hanging around midway through the third period, Scarborough pulled away, thanks to clutch hoops from senior Sam Wessel and junior Sam Terry to make it a 20-point game. The Rams got no closer than 15 from there and the Red Storm went on to a 65-46 victory, its first ever postseason triumph in Class A and first playoff win at any level since 1986.
Terry led all scorers with 20 points, do-everything senior Brendan Hall added 15, Russo 10 and birthday boy senior John Wheeler seven as Scarborough improved to 13-6, ended Gorham’s season at 6-13 and set up a delicious Western A quarterfinal round date with third-ranked Bonny Eagle (15-3) Saturday at 7 p.m., at the Portland Exposition Building.
“We finally got a big victory,” Hall said. “It feels good. Coach has said all year that we have to run. We got to them (with our defense), got open 3s and knocked them down.”
Since joining the Southern Maine Activities Association in time for the 2003-04 season, Scarborough has made it to the playoffs seven times, but had to play a prelim on six of those occasions. The Red Storm lost every one.
Although it lacks in size, Scarborough has held its own with virtually every foe this season and put some mighty scares into the top teams.
The Red Storm welcomed new coach Tony DiBiase with a 66-49 home win over Gorham. Scarborough then dropped close decisions at Westbrook (63-59) and Marshwood (77-74). After downing visiting Windham, 68-49, the Red Storm gave highly touted visiting Portland a scare before falling, 63-53. Scarborough closed 2012 with a 60-50 victory at Biddeford, then opened 2013 with a 76-55 home loss to South Portland. Wins at Thornton Academy (81-74), Cheverus (73-51) and at home over Noble (80-61) followed. The Red Storm then lost at defending state champion Deering (54-50) before handling visiting Biddeford (60-47) and Kennebunk (52-26) and host Sanford (70-55) and Massabesic (81-45). A gutwrenching 59-58 overtime home loss to Bonny Eagle followed before Scarborough closed with wins over visiting Thornton Academy (43-40) and at Kennebunk (60-31) to earn a 12-6 record and the No. 6 seed.
Gorham barely squeaked into the playoffs as the final seed, edging Cheverus for that honor. The Rams, who missed the tournament last year with a 5-13 mark, started 0-3 and 1-5 this winter before winning three straight. Gorham won just twice more and ended the regular season on a three-game skid, but still managed to make the field.
In the regular season meeting, way back on Dec. 7, Terry had 21 points and Scarborough set the tone for its season by making eight 3-pointers.
The teams last met in the playoffs in the (you guessed it) preliminary round of the 2006-07 season (Gorham prevailed, 36-30). The teams also played in the 1972 Western B quarterfinals (Gorham, 83-59) and the 1983 Western B preliminary round (Gorham, 47-45).
Entering the contest, Scarborough had never won a Class A tournament game and hadn’t won a postseason game at any level since the 1986 Western Class B quarterfinals (50-44 over Lake Region).
Tuesday, all that history went by the wayside amid a flurry of 3s.
It took all of six seconds for the Red Storm to set the tone as senior Kevin Manning knocked down a 3.
Gorham answered as junior Nick Greatorex made a jump shot and seniors Ryan Sullivan and Dan Holmes each made free throws for a 4-3 lead.
It didn’t last.
With 5:17 left in the first quarter, Russo hit a 3 and Scarborough was ahead to stay.
“Our tallest guy is 6-1, so we have to go from the outside in,” Hall said.
Russo added a putback, then hit another 3 for eight points in a 90 second span. Terry then made his first 3 and Wheeler added a driving layup to make it 16-4 after eight minutes.
A 13-0 run had put the Red Storm seemingly in control.
To its credit, Gorham hung tough in the second quarter.
A putback from senior Elliot Spiers 12 seconds in ended a 5 minute, 38 second drought. Junior Matt Hartl answered with a 3 for Scarborough, but Spiers hit a leaner, Sullivan made a layup and Sullivan hit a jumper to cut the deficit to 19-12.
Hall momentarily stemmed the tide with a putback, but Sullivan hit a baseline jumper. Sullivan then had a chance to draw the Rams even closer, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Terry drained a 3 to push the lead back to 10, 24-14, but Spiers scored on a putback. After a Terry jumper, Holmes scored on a putback. Two Hall free throws with 8.5 seconds to go pushed the Red Storm’s lead back to 10, 28-18, at the break.
Scarborough hit six of its first 12 3s to enjoy some breathing room.
The Red Storm finally shook the Rams in the third quarter, but it took awhile.
A Spiers free throw and a Spiers floater got Gorham within seven early in the third, but Hall scored on a driving layup.
Scarborough then found itself at a crossroads when Russo was whistled for his fourth foul. With Russo off the floor, senior Alex Owens made a 3 to get the Rams within six, but the Red Storm didn’t buckle.
Wheeler hit a jump shot, then set up Terry for a 3 from the corner and the lead was back up to 11, 35-24.
“Coach calls me a spark,” said Wheeler, who turned 18 Tuesday. “That’s what I try to be coming off the bench. We have good shooters on this team. Shooters shoot. That’s what we do.”
“(Wheeler’s) a very smart player,” DiBiase said. “He handles the ball and gets us into the sets we want to run. He’s a calming influence. He can knock down a shot here and there. He’s a really good athlete.”
A pair of Spiers free throws were answered by a Hall layup after a steal. Owens made another 3 with 3:36 remaining in the third to make it 37-29, but Gorham would get no closer.
Hall started the run with a foul shot, Wessel scored on a putback, Terry drained a 3, then scored on a driving layup.
Wheeler then found Wessel for a layup and Hall hit a pullup jumper to cap the 12-0 surge and push the lead to an insurmountable 20 points, 49-29.
The Rams ended the run with a 3 from sophomore Nick Thibeault, but Terry countered with a long 3. Junior Corey Nadeau made a 3 for Gorham, but Scarborough was fully in command, up, 52-35, heading for the final period.
Gorham started the fourth with a Holmes layup, but Hall continued to enforce his will, making a layup, then taking a pass from Terry and making a layup for a 56-37 lead.
“My role is to do everything,” Hall said. “We’re not tall, but I try to fill the rebounding role. Dillon got in foul trouble and I knew I had to step up.”
Red Storm junior Dan LeClair was fouled with 5:03 left and in the aftermath, was called for a technical foul, LeClair made one free throw and Nadeau answered on the technical with one of two attempts.
Thibeault made a layup for the Rams, but Russo hit two foul shots, Terry made one and Russo fed Manning for a layup and a 62-40 advantage.
After Sullivan and Wheeler traded free throws, Rams sophomore Cody Rioux knocked down a 3. Wheeler then made two free throws before Thibeault hit a bank shot at the horn.
The clock read 8:19 p.m. and for the first time since just after the Challenger disaster and the Patriots lost Super Bowl XX to the “Super Bowl Shuffling” Chicago Bears, Scarborough had a tournament win, 65-46.
“It means a lot,” Wheeler said. “It means we’re building as a program. Nerves come with a playoff atmosphere, but then we hit shots and we got comfortable in our press. We got stops and pushed it. That’s how we’ve won. It worked tonight.”
“Coach has said all year that we’re probably one of the most athletic teams out there and if we keep running the ball up the floor, they’d break,” Terry said. “We changed our defense to a 2-3 and it really worked. We shut down their shooters. We were a little concerned. They’d beaten some teams we’d lost to. They were bigger than we are. But we knew if we came out with intensity, we’d be OK. We were quick to the ball.”
“I’m happy with the effort overall,” added DiBiase. “I thought we played well. Gorham had us on the ropes for a little while, then we got into a flow and knocked down shots. We started out well, then hit a lull, then played our game. The past is past. We’ve had a lot of success this year.
“It was a tough matchup for us because Gorham is so big. Every team is different. I don’t think we were up tight at all. Even though Gorham made a couple runs, we executed and made shots. We changed up our defenses a couple times and found one that worked well in the second half. It took away their inside and gave us better rebounding. We got into a flow and made shots. That’s always the key for us. We have to make shots because we’re so small. We average between eight and 10 made 3s a game. That’s pretty good.”
Terry made five of the Red Storm’s nine 3-pointers and led all scorers with 20 points.
“I like the wing,” said Terry. “In other games, I haven’t been knocking shots down, but I got set and my shot was falling. Our whole team is a bunch of shooters.”
Hall added 15 points (and three steals), while Russo had 10.
“We’re tough to guard because we have more than one scorer,” DiBiase said. “We have seven or eight guys who can play. Sam Terry had a nice game. Brendan Hall played well. It’s too bad Russo got in foul trouble because he started out well.”
Wheeler finished with seven points, Manning had five, Wessel four, Hartl three and LeClair one.
Despite its lack of size, Scarborough did well on the glass, as Hall had seven boards, Terry five and Wessel four.
The Red Storm showed great poise in the postseason environment, only turning the ball over 11 times and making 10-of-14 free throws.
Gorham was paced by Spiers, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Sullivan had eight points, Thibeault seven, Owens six, Holmes five (to go with nine rebounds), Nadeau four, Rioux three and Greatorex two
The Rams had a 28-23 rebounding advantage, but committed 14 turnovers and made just 7-of-13 free throws.
Scarborough will enter its quarterfinal round game against Bonny Eagle with plenty of confidence and also with the sense of having nothing to lose. The Scots are viewed as one of the region’s favorites, but they know they could have easily lost to the Red Storm the last time they played.
Bonny Eagle, led by junior standout Dustin Cole, along with other sharpshooters, and Scarborough have never met in the postseason (the Scots lead the all-time series, 7-3).
The Red Storm will go to the Expo confident.
“Bonny Eagle’s a good team,” Wheeler said. “It will be the same thing as last time, we have to make shots at the end of the game.”
“I love where we are,” Hall said. “It’s a perfect spot. We’ve been there with all the top teams. Now is our time. We have step up and guard Cole from end to end and make shots. We’re looking forward to it. We love the excitement. We’ll bring a big crowd.”
“I’m excited,” said Terry. “It’s going to be a good one. It was a nailbiter here. I hope it’s another nailbiter and we come out on top. It’s a great experience. I’m going to enjoy it.”
“We’re the top two scoring teams in the league,” DiBiase added. “We have the same philosophy. We could have beaten them the first time. For some reason, we’re under the radar. We’ve won 12 games. A goal was to win 12 games. We got that. We wanted to get to the Expo. We did that. My philosophy for all teams is to relax and enjoy it. It’s going to be a tough matchup. A lot of people are picking (Bonny Eagle) to win it. We’ll go there, give a good account of ourselves. We’ll play hard. It should be an exciting game.”
Scarborough junior Matt Hartl eyes a second quarter 3-point shot. The Red Storm made nine of them Tuesday.
Scarborough junior Sam Terry drives to the hoop. Terry was the game’s high scorer with 20 points.
Scarborough senior Brendan Hall attempts a shot in traffic. Hall was a key cog for the Red Storm from start to finish.
Scarborough senior Dillon Russo looks for an open teammate while dribbling the ball up the floor.
Scarborough senior John Wheeler, who played a key role Tuesday on his 18th birthday, scoops a shot toward the basket during the Red Storm’s 65-46 win over Gorham in a Western Class A preliminary round playoff game. Scarborough advanced to face Bonny Eagle in the quarterfinals Saturday.
More photos below.
G- 4 14 17 11- 46
S- 16 12 24 13- 65
G- Spiers 4-3-11, Sullivan 3-2-8, Thibeault 3-0-7, Owens 2-0-6, Holmes 2-1-5, Nadeau 1-1-4, Rioux 1-0-3, Greatorex 1-0-2
S- Terry 7-1-20, Hall 6-3-15, Russo 3-2-10, Wheeler 2-3-7, Manning 2-0-5, Wessel 2-0-4, Hartl 1-0-3, LeClair 0-1-1
G (5) Owens 2, Nadeau, Rioux, Thibeault 1
S (9) Terry 5, Russo 2, Hartl, Manning 1
G (28) Spiers 10, Holmes 9, Sullivan 4, Greatorex 2, Lewis, Owens, Thibeault 1
S (23) Hall 7, Terry 5, Wessel 4, Wheeler 3, Russo 2, LeClair, Manning 1
G (4) Owens 2, Holmes, Sullivan 1
S (7) Hall 3, Terry, Wessel 2
G (3) Greatorex, Holmes, Sullivan 1
S (4) Hall, LeClair, Manning, Wessel