PORTLAND—Top-ranked Scarborough received an absolutely dominant defensive effort in its Western Class A quarterfinal round tilt Monday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, but No. 9 South Portland, to its credit, never gave up.
The Red Riots failed get a shot off on its first 12 possessions, didn’t score in the first period and had just six points in the first half, but early in the fourth, South Portland only trailed by nine before the Red Storm put them away once and for all and advanced with a 40-22 victory.
Scarborough forced 33 turnovers and got just enough offense from its senior leaders to improve to 19-0 and set up a rematch with No. 5 Biddeford in the semifinals Friday night.
“All week, when we prepared, we focused on our defense,” said senior Jenn Colpitts, who finished with nine points. “We know that defense wins games. We put all of our effort into defense. Our offense came from our defense.”
Refuse to lose
Not only have the Red Storm won every game this winter, but several players on the team haven’t suffered a loss in ages in sports like field hockey and softball. Scarborough was ousted by Biddeford last year in the semifinals, but was viewed as a favorite this season. The Red Storm passed a series of tests and earned the No. 1 seed.
South Portland, meanwhile, wasn’t even expected to make it to the Expo after finishing the regular year 10-8 and losing senior Danielle McCusker. Last Wednesday, the Red Riots went to Sanford and won a preliminary round game, 32-27, to make it to the quarterfinals for the 10th year in a row.
On Jan. 5, the Red Storm easily handled visiting South Portland, 43-23. Last year, in the quarterfinals, Scarborough beat the Red Riots, 53-26, in the only previous playoff meeting.
Monday, the Red Storm made a statement from the get-go, but they did so with defense. A jumper from senior Christy Manning just 13 seconds in put Scarborough on top to stay. South Portland turned the ball over on its first 12 possessions, but the Red Storm couldn’t increase their lead until Manning made two free throws at the 3:31 mark. Colpitts then made a foul shot, stole the ball and fed senior Brittany Ross for a 7-0 advantage.
With 1:27 remaining, sophomore Libby Grant’s 3 marked South Portland’s first shot attempt. It was off-line. Colpitts made two free throws 10 seconds later, then added one more for a 10-0 lead after one period.
In the opening eight minutes, the Red Riots managed just one shot and turned the ball over 14 times.
Scarborough couldn’t put South Portland away in the second.
A 3 from Ross extended the lead to 13-0 56 seconds in. With 5:54 to go in the half, the Red Riots finally got on the board thanks to a foul shot from freshman Danica Gleason. After sophomore Carly Rogers made two free throws for the Red Storm, a layup from sophomore Emily Masters provided South Portland’s first field goal at the 5:54 mark. Late in the half, Manning sandwiched a layup and a jumper around sophomore Jillian Legere’s 3-pointer and Scarborough took a 19-6 lead to the break.
Manning made a layup to start the second half scoring and after Red Riots junior Abby Hasson made a layup at the other end, Colpitts made a 3 for a 24-8 lead.
But South Portland wouldn’t go away.
Junior Stephanie McDonough and senior Esther Palmieri hit back-to-back 3s to make it a 24-14 game. The Red Storm didn’t score the final 6 minutes, 20 seconds of the third and took a 10-point lead to the fourth.
There, finally, Scarborough iced the victory.
Colpitts made two foul shots 45 seconds in to end a 7:05 drought. After Palmieri cut the lead to nine with a 3 at the 6:48 mark, Ross buried a 3 and hit a long jumper in a 28-second span to make it 31-17. A foul shot from senior Tayla Genesio with 4:27 remaining was answered by a Manning layup (from Colpitts) and it was 33-18.
“Once it started getting close, we knew South Portland would give it their all and try to come back,” Colpitts said. “We had to contain them to win the game.”
Gleason hit a jumper with 3:01 to go and junior Danielle DiBiase added a jumper 59 seconds later, but with 1:58 left, senior Heather Carrier made two free throws for Scarborough. She made two more with 1:05 remaining. Ross then hit three of four foul shots in the final minute to bring the curtain down on the 40-22 victory.
“Defensively, I thought we played extremely well,” Scarborough coach Jim Seavey said. “The shots weren’t falling consistently tonight. We have to be ready for the same type of defense again Friday night. If we play defense like that, I like our chances. I thought we rebounded fairly well too. With the exception of a couple long bombs from them, this game would have been 20-plus. Defense and rebounding are two things we focus on. We did well from the line as well, which is another key come tourney time.
“(South Portland) wanted to try and shorten the game. They tried to hang around as long as they could. Our defensive pressure in the first half held them to six points. You can’t ask for much more.”
Ross led all scorers with 13 points. Manning had 12 and Colpitts nine. Colpitts left the game with a wrist injury in the second half, but returned. She’ll be monitored this week.
“I tried to take a charge and when I was falling down, I fell on my wrist,” Colpitts said. “It hurt really bad. I was able to play, but I was restricted because it was taped. I tried to do the best I could. I passed the ball and tried to create.”
“(Jenn) changes the complexion of the game,” Seavey said. “Her game is slash which is very effective against that type of defense.”
Carrier added four points and Rogers finished with two. The Red Storm only turned the ball over 11 times and hit 17-of-26 foul shots.
South Portland coach Mike Giordano said his team did itself in.
“We were only down 11 at the half and really had no right to still be in the game,” said Giordano. “We had a good third quarter and got it to nine, but Brittany hit a big 3 and broke our back. They’re a good team. We knew that. We didn’t play with much composure and made a lot of unforced errors. That cost us. Going into the game, I thought we had an opportunity to hang around. We didn’t.”
The Red Riots wound up 11-9, but return most of their points scorers from Monday.
“This is 10 years in a row into the quarters,” said Giordano. “That’s a compliment to the kids. Not many programs have that kind of consistency. We’re still knocking on the door. We’re not discouraged. South Portland basketball will be around for a while yet. We’re not going anywhere.”
Taming the Tigers
Scarborough lost 32-29 to Biddeford in last year’s semifinals, the only previous playoff meeting. The Red Storm held on for a 44-39 victory at the Tigers on Dec. 28. Friday at 6 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center, Scarborough will look to beat Biddeford and advance to a first-ever Western A Final.
“We need to stay focused this week and obviously we have motivation from last year,” Colpitts said. “Hopefully it will work out for us Friday. Our seniors are really determined to make it a memorable ending.”
“It’s two very good teams who will go after each other and try to get it done,” Seavey added. “We want to contain (Biddeford stars Keila Grigware and Lauren Rousseau). You can’t let either one go off. It’ll be a good ballgame, just like it was a year ago. Two teams that play good team defense. It could be a repeat of last year, low scoring, like all the games were today.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com