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PORTLAND—Scarborough’s girls’ basketball team found itself where few expected it to be at halftime of Monday afternoon’s Western Class A quarterfinal at the Portland Exposition Building.
Leading favored Thornton Academy.
The seventh-ranked Red Storm struggled through a nearly eight-minute scoreless stretch and fell behind the second-seeded Golden Trojans, 11-2, but thanks to an improved defensive effort, Scarborough came alive in the second period and when senior standout Ashley Briggs scored six points in the final minute-plus, the final two coming on a bank shot which appeared to have no chance of going in, the Red Storm had an improbable 18-17 lead at the half.
Scarborough hung around in the third quarter too, leading, 25-22, but Thornton Academy wasn’t about to get upset.
The Golden Trojans closed the period on a 10-0 run, capped by six points in 45 seconds from junior Ashley Howe, and they didn’t look back.
Thornton Academy held the Red Storm to just two points down the stretch and gradually pulled away to prevail, 43-27.
Howe led the way with 11 points as Thornton Academy won a quarterfinal round game for the first time since 1985, improved to 17-2, ended Scarborough’s season at 10-10 and advanced to battle No. 3 Gorham (17-2) in a compelling semifinal Wednesday at 7 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena (formerly the Cumberland County Civic Center).
“It’s a resilient group,” said Red Storm coach Mike Giordano. “It shows the character of the kids I’ve been fortunate to work with this year. They refused to let things go the wrong way. They battled to the end. A couple plays here and there made the difference.”
Scarborough impressed out of the gate, handling visiting Biddeford (53-19), Windham (74-52) and Noble (57-11) before falling at Westbrook (41-39). After a 67-30 win at Massabesic, the Red Storm lost at Gorham (64-37), at Biddeford (42-36), at home to Thornton Academy (44-29) and at South Portland (60-52). Scarborough rebounded with a 48-42 victory over visiting Marshwood. After a 48-21 setback at McAuley, the Red Storm beat visiting Bonny Eagle (49-36) and host Portland (42-33) before losing at home Deering (42-35) and at Cheverus (55-41). Following a 54-45 home win over Sanford, Scarborough gave host Thornton Academy a battle before losing, 49-42. The Red Storm then upset visiting South Portland, 46-42, in the finale to earn the No. 7 seed. Wednesday, Scarborough pulled away in the second half to defeat No. 10 Marshwood, 51-36, in the preliminary round.
Thornton Academy entered the season as the favorite and made an immediate splash with a 37-34 come-from-behind win over McAuley. The Golden Trojans only lost twice, at McAuley and at home to Gorham, and wound up seeded second.
Prior to Monday, the teams had never met in the playoffs.
Scarborough got off to a good start when senior Sam Sparda scored on a leaner 63 seconds in, but the Red Storm wouldn’t score again in the first quarter.
Thornton Academy tied things up on a jumper from freshman Alex Hart, then went ahead to stay when senior Abigail Strickland scored on a jumper in the lane. Senior Victoria Lux set up classmate Katie McCrum for a layup, McCrum hit a 3 and Lux took a pass from Hart and made a layup to cap an 11-0 run.
The Golden Trojans didn’t score the final 3:53 of the first quarter either, but took an 11-2 lead to the second period.
There, Scarborough came to life and took a surprising halftime lead.
A 3 from senior Bailey Adams 3 38 seconds in ended a 7 minute, 35 second drought. After Sparda made a free throw, Strickland hit a leaner, but sophomore Brooke Malone answered with a putback. A driving layup from McCrum made it 15-8, but Sparda scored on a runner and Adams set up Malone for a layup, forcing Thornton Academy coach Eric Marston to call timeout.
It worked momentarily, as junior Kaylee Burns knocked down a jumper, but Briggs then came to life.
She scored her first points on a jumper with 1:19 left in the half, followed that up with a coast to coast layup, then, with time expiring, somehow banked home a shot from an impossible angle for an 18-17 lead at the break.
“I just heard, ‘three, two, one’ and I put it up and fortunately, it went in,” Briggs said. “I believed in my team. We’ve been down before, but I knew our offense would step up. Turnovers were the difference in the second quarter. We got shots from the floor instead of turnovers which resulted in a layup or a jump shot the other way.”
If anyone thought the Red Storm’s halftime advantage was a fluke, the team’s performance most of the third quarter suggested otherwise.
Adams started the second half with a 3. After Lux set up Strickland for a layup and Lux made a free throw to make it a one-point game, Scarborough freshman Sophie Glidden made two foul shots. Lux finished a feed from McCrum to again pull her team within one, but with 3:45 to go in the frame, Glidden took a pass from Adams on the fastbreak and made a layup for a 25-22 advantage.
But the rest of the quarter would belong to the Golden Trojans.
After a steal, Hart made a layup and with 1:21 left, Hart made a jump shot to put Thornton Academy ahead to stay.
Howe then heated up, taking a pass from Hart and banking home a shot on an inbounds pass. She was fouled on the play and completed the old-fashioned three-point play with a free throw. Then, as time wound down, Howe buried a 3 from the wing and Thornton Academy, thanks to a 10-0 run, took a 32-25 advantage to the fourth period.
“Being down seven felt like 20, because they’re so darn good defensively,” Giordano said. “Howe’s the most underrated player in our league. She made big shots.”
In the final stanza, the Golden Trojans salted it away.
Howe made two free throws, but Briggs ended a 5:15 drought with a left-handed runner to make it 34-27.
With 5:12 to go, Lux rebounded her own miss and laid it in and with 4:38 remaining, after a Lux block on the defensive end, Howe, on the fastbreak, took a feed from Hart, made a layup while being fouled and hit the free throw for a 39-27 advantage.
Down the stretch, McCrum took a pass from Lux and made a layup and Lux finished a feed from Howe with a layup and that slammed the door on Thornton Academy’s 43-27 victory.
“We were up by one at halftime last time too, but it was a good feeling,” said Briggs. “Short-lived, obviously. We couldn’t make shots and they made shots and that’s how it ended.”
“Defensive intensity turned it around,” Giordano said. “We knew the game would be won or lost on that end. They’re the top defensive team in the league. To their credit, they held their average of 27. We knew for us to have a chance, the game would have to be in the high 30s or 40s. Our legs were shot. They wore us down with their physicality. They leaned on us a little more than we leaned on them. We worked on limiting what Victoria would do. For the most part, we were successful, but they’re a good team. You have to give up something at some point. We hoped to give up the perimeter and that being enough, but good teams find a way to beat you. They have size.”
Howe led the Golden Trojans with 11 points. Lux had nine points, seven rebounds, four blocks and three assists. McCrum finished with nine points, while Hart (eight rebounds, five assists, three steals) and Strickland both had six and Burns two.
Thornton Academy outrebounded Scarborough, 26-20, committed 14 turnovers and hit 5 of 7 foul shots.
Scarborough was paced by Briggs, who had eight points in her swan song.
“It’s not easy being face-guarded and fronted all the time,” said Briggs. “It’s hard to get the ball and then you feel like you dribble too much. It’s easy as a freshman when you get shots, but then you have to create your shots. Ashley Howe did a nice job.”
“The kid’s shown such character all year,” Giordano said. “She wasn’t right physically coming in. I wouldn’t have bet she’d play all 20 games, but her will allowed her to compete.”
Adams finished with six points and four rebounds, Sparda had five points and Glidden and Malone (seven rebounds) four apiece.
The Red Storm committed 16 turnovers and made 3 of 4 free throws.
Considering it looked like it would have to play its preliminary round game on the road when the final week of the regular season commenced, Scarborough certainly saved its best for last.
“The season was up-and-down,” Briggs said. “We had some good wins and bad losses. We beat the teams we should beat, but I think we ended on the highest note we could have possibly ended on. I’m proud of the team for that. I think they’ll do well next year.”
“It’s all about playing well at the end of the year,” Giordano said. “We had some stumbles early. We ended with a loss by 7 at TA, then upset South Portland. We came into the tournament on a roll. We beat Marshwood, but we couldn’t match up with (Thornton) today.”
Scarborough expects to be back in the hunt in 2015-16.
“I love our younger kids,” Giordano said. “Glidden’s had a tremendous year, I didn’t expect that coming out of summer ball. Malone has the heart of a lion. She battles with kids who are four or five inches taller and she gives 25, 30 pounds and still gets offensive rebounds. Our JV kids had a nice season. The seniors are hard to replace, but we’ll look for younger kids to step in. We’ll do our best.”
Scarborough freshman Sophie Glidden runs into Thornton Academy senior Abigail Strickland.
Scarborough senior Ashley Briggs is closely guarded by Thornton Academy junior Ashley Howe.
Scarborough senior Bailey Adams drives past Thornton Academy freshman Alex Hart.
Scarborough senior Sam Sparda eyes the basket.
Scarborough senior Ashley Briggs drives to the basket during the Red Storm’s 43-27 loss to Thornton Academy in Monday’s Western Class A quarterfinal.
Jason Veilleux photos.
More photos below.
S- 2 16 7 2- 27
TA- 11 6 15 11- 43
S- Briggs 4-0-8, Adams 2-0-6, Sparda 2-1-5, Glidden 1-2-4, Malone 2-0-4
TA- Howe 3-4-11, Lux 4-1-9, McCrum 4-0-9, Hart 3-0-6, Strickland 3-0-6, Burns 1-0-2
S (2) Adams 2
TA (2) Howe, McCrum 1