Scarborough junior Alex Austin, left, senior Zoltan Panyi, senior Morgan Pratt and senior Jaquan Seme celebrate at the final horn of the Red Storm’s 55-43 victory over South Portland in Friday night’s Class AA South Final. Scarborough will take part in its first state championship game next Friday against Edward Little.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
SP- 6 13 11 13- 43
S- 13 6 14 22- 55
SP- Malone 6-3-16, Buckley 2-8-12, Milton 2-2-6, Lewis 1-1-3, Bijokta 1-0-2, Fiorini 1-0-2, Savidge 1-0-2
S- Pratt 4-3-14, Fiorillo 4-5-13, Austin 4-1-11, Seme 3-5-11, Lagerquist 2-0-4, Kirk 0-2-2
SP (1) Malone 1
S (5) Pratt 3, Austin 2
PORTLAND—There were multiple themes at play Friday evening at the Cross Insurance Arena when Scarborough and South Portland did battle for Class AA South boys’ basketball supremacy.
The drama featured two of the state’s best teams doing battle for the right to play for a Gold Ball.
Uncertainty revolved around whether any of the Red Riots’ multiple walking wounded would return for the contest and how the Red Storm would handle a team that has been their nemesis in recent years.
History was also at play, as Scarborough was taking part in its first ever regional final and was seeking a berth in its first ever state game, while South Portland was hoping to return to the state final for the third year in a row and win the program’s first Gold Ball since 1992.
And since no good story is devoid of revenge, there was a dose of that as well, as Red Storm coach Phil Conley looked to not only lead his team to victory, but to do so against the school which let him go three years ago in controversial fashion.
Conley and his charges would eventually triumph, against doubt, history and a talented foe and now, they have a chance to etch their names in lore.
Scarborough, the top seed in AA South, raced to a 10-2 lead, behind 3-pointers from senior Morgan Pratt and sophomore Brian Austin, but the proud, second-ranked Red Riots didn’t panic and overcame a slow shooting start to forge a 19-19 tie at halftime thanks to a huge contribution from junior reserve Jacob Milton.
When juniors Tyree Bijokta and Scott Lewis scored consecutive hoops midway through the third quarter, South Portland had a 27-24 lead, but this wouldn’t be the Red Riots’ night.
The next nine points went to the Red Storm, who took the lead for good on a jumper from Austin and held a 33-30 advantage when the fourth quarter commenced.
With the game and destiny riding in the balance, Scarborough rose to the occasion, hitting free throws, playing great defense and slowly pulling away before closing out a 55-43 victory.
Pratt led the way with 14 points, junior sharpshooter Nick Fiorillo added 13 and Austin and senior Jaquan Seme each contributed 11 as the Red Storm improved to 17-4, ended South Portland’s season at 15-6 and advanced to meet Edward Little (17-4) in the Class AA state final Friday at 9 p.m., back at the Cross Insurance Arena.
“I’m happy we finally got a regional title,” Conley said. “It’s very special. Scarborough is rich in athletics. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t won before. I told the guys to add a banner this year.”
Scarborough and South Portland didn’t have much of a boys’ basketball history until recently.
Conley, who served eight years as the Red Riots’ coach, wasn’t brought back, in controversial fashion, after the 2014-15 season and after sitting out the following winter, Conley returned to the sidelines in a different shade of red last year, taking over the Red Storm.
“I’m thankful that (Scarborough athletic director) Mike LeGage believed in me and gave me an opportunity to come back because I love to coach,” Conley said.
Conley led Scarborough to its first semifinal round game in three decades, but the Red Storm lost to South Portland, 78-53, which went on to win the AA South title (and lose to Portland in the state game) for the second year in a row.
This winter, the teams have been the class of Class AA South from the get-go.
Scarborough posted its best record (14-4) since 2003 and earned its first number one ranking. After disposing of No. 8 Noble, 71-31, in the quarterfinals, the Red Storm won a semifinal round contest for the first time Tuesday, 61-35, over No. 4 Bonny Eagle.
South Portland has battled its share of injuries, most notably those that sidelined senior leaders Liam Coyne and Riley Hasson (who ultimately missed the postseason), but it managed to go 13-5 and earn the No. 2 seed. After downing seventh-ranked Massabesic, 70-40, in the quarterfinals, the Red Riots avenged a regular season loss with a 51-36 victory over third-seed Thornton Academy in Tuesday’s semifinal round.
In the regular season meeting, Dec. 19, host South Portland prevailed, 60-46, behind 25 points from senior Liam Coyne (who is out for the postseason). Fiorillo was held to 13 points.
Friday, South Portland looked to make it nine wins in a row in the series, but Scarborough earned its first-ever playoff win over the Red Riots and its first in any game since Feb. 1, 2014 (61-44 at home).
Both teams were cold early before the Red Storm began to heat up.
It took 2 minutes, 36 seconds for the game’s first points, scored by South Portland junior David Fiorini on a layup, but the next 10 points went to Scarborough.
With 4:58 on the first quarter clock, Seme scored on a putback while being fouled and he added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play.
Pratt added a 3 before Fiorillo hit a runner, then drained a jumper for a 10-2 lead.
With 1:22 to go in the first, Milton ended a 4:02 drought with a pair of free throws, but Austin countered with a 3 for the Red Storm.
In the final minute, a jumper from junior Shippen Savidge pulled the Red Riots within 13-6 after one period.
“Shippen played a great game, gave us something different,” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington.
In the second quarter, South Portland pulled even.
After senior Connor Buckley scored his first points, on a jump shot, Austin drained another 3 from the corner before Buckley set up Milton for a layup to make it 16-10.
Fiorillo picked up his second foul with 5 minutes to go and sat for over a minute. With Fiorillo off the floor, senior Noah Malone converted a three-point play.
Seme then drove through the defense before finishing with his left hand.
After Milton banked home a shot, Fiorillo made a free throw, but the Red Riots finished the half strong, as Buckley finished with his left hand and Malone made two foul shots to make it 19-19 at halftime.
In the first half, Austin paced Scarborough with six points, while Fiorillo and Seme had five apiece. Milton’s six points led South Portland.
Each team shot 7-of-23 from the floor in the first 16 minutes.
In the third period, play picked up and the Red Riots took the lead, but the Red Storm responded.
A putback from Malone 14 seconds into the second half gave South Portland a two-point advantage, but Pratt countered with a 3.
After Malone banked home a runner, a bank shot from senior Reece Lagerquist put the Red Storm back on top.
Bijokta then drove for a layup and Lewis put home a miss for a 27-24 Red Riots’ advantage.
Scarborough then got the next eight points to go back ahead.
After Seme drove for a layup, a jumper from Austin gave the Red Storm the lead for good, 28-27.
Pratt added a 3 and with 45.5 seconds to go, Seme fed Lagerquist for a dunk which brought the Scarborough fans to their feet.
It wasn’t all good news for the Red Storm, however, as Lagerquist was given a technical foul for hanging on the rim and Buckley got two points back at the line before a late Lewis free throw pulled South Portland within three, 33-30.
In the fourth period, Scarborough did what was necessary to make history.
After Fiorillo was fouled on an offensive rebound and hit two free throws to start the final stanza, senior Zoltan Panyi, bets known as the quarterback on the Red Storm’s Class A state champion football team, fed Pratt for a layup and a 37-30 lead with 6:30 to play.
The Red Riots tried to rally, as Malone made a long 3, but Malone missed three straight looks at a 3 which could have made it a one-point game (one went in-and-out) before Lagerquist set up Fiorillo for a layup to make it 39-33 with 4:01 remaining and 26 seconds later, off an inbounds set, Fiorillo passed to Austin, who made a layup while being fouled before hitting the and-one free throw for a nine-point advantage.
When junior Paul Kirk hit two free throws with 2:47 left, Scarborough had a double-digit advantage, but Malone drove and banked home a shot and Buckley hit two free throws.
Malone couldn’t hit a 3 that could have made it closer and with 2:11 on the clock, Pratt sank the first of two free throws. He missed the second, but Lagerquist skied for the rebound and Pratt got another chance from the line where this time, he made both for a 47-37 lead.
“We work on free throws every day,” Pratt said. “Guys focused and knocked them down when they counted.”
“We always tell the guys that foul shots will win games and they bought in,” Conley said.
With 1:39 to go, Buckley hit two foul shots, but Seme made two free throws, Seme made two more and Fiorillo hit two to put it out of reach.
After a Malone layup, Fiorillo took a long lead pass and with 10.7 seconds on the clock, slammed the ball home, bringing another huge reaction and naturally, another T as well.
Buckley made both free throws, but Scarborough closed the door from there and at 9:40 p.m., raucously celebrated its 55-43 victory and the first regional title in program history.
“It means a lot,” Pratt said. “It’s just now setting in what it means to the program. We knew that SoPo knocked us out before and we hadn’t been able to solve them. We knew they were banged up and we took advantage of that. We were confident and executed really well. We knew how badly we really wanted it. We had to pull away and make the game ours. Our motto all season is defense wins championships. We played tough D and got where we wanted.”
“We had emotion right from the beginning,” Fiorillo said. “Our crowd was in it. We were in it. The defense was the difference. It wasn’t a great night for us offensively, but we picked up the slack on defense. They have great scorers and we kept them pretty quiet. Our defense led to easy buckets and we took charges. That got the crowd into it. The guys off the bench gave great energy.”
“It’s very emotional (for me) because of what happened three years ago,” Conley added. “What I’m most happy for is the kids in the locker room. They believed in me and they’ve worked hard for two years. I thought we could be good. We turned the corner last year. The seniors from that team laid the groundwork. We were 0-10, but we got to the semifinals and got a taste. That was key for this year. You like to see a team peak at the right time and I think we’re peaking.
“South Portland is a very good team. We knew the team that played the hardest and won the rebound and loose ball battle would win. I think we did that. Our biggest key tonight was our team defense. They have two great scorers in Buckley and Malone. I thought Morgan and Jaquan and (junior) Tyler Gobeil did a great job defensively.”
Pratt had a team-high 14 points and also had seven rebounds and four assists.
Fiorillo was held in check for the most part, but still managed 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Austin scored 11 points off the bench and Seme had 11 points as well, to go with four rebounds and three assists.
Lagerquist added four points and Kirk had two.
“We’re very athletic,” Conley said. “Brian hit outside shots that got us going. Reece got in foul trouble and Zoltan came in and logged key minutes. He did what was asked of him. He’s a great athlete. We got into the paint offensively. Jaquan and Morgan got in there and freed up outside shots for Austin. Nick did a great job. He got double- and triple-teamed, but he didn’t force it.”
The Red Storm had a 34-32 edge on the glass, only turned the ball over 14 times and made 16 of 18 foul shots (14 of 15 in the fourth quarter).
For South Portland, Malone bowed out with 16 points and seven rebounds and Buckley’s last game produced 12 points.
Milton added six points and six rebounds off the bench, Lewis had three points (to go with 10 rebounds and five blocked shots) and Bijokta, Fiorini and Savidge finished with two points apiece.
The Red Riots turned the ball over 15 times and made 14 of 16 free throws, but shot just 14-of-55 from the floor, including 1-of-18 from 3-point range.
“We got cold at the wrong time,” Millington lamented. “We got stale and they hit shots. Their size bothered us. We had to try and do different things. We really competed hard. No one feels bad for us. We have good players, but Scarborough was the better team. Pick your poison. Austin hit big shots in the first half. Pratt and Seme made plays. To win a regional title, you have to have other guys step up.
“This is South Portland basketball, so if we don’t win it (the season is) a disappointment. I appreciated the kids. They were competitive and smart. The end result is that we wanted a Gold Ball.”
The Red Riots graduate Buckley, Coyne, Hasson and Malone, but should be right back in the hunt this time next year.
“This is the class I grew up with here,” Millington said. “They’re winners. They worked hard, but we have a lot of really good freshmen and sophomores too. The junior class is steady. We’re losing our alphas. We have alphas to replace them, but we have to figure out where they’ll be.
“The South will be very good next year. TA will be strong. Scarborough will be back. Gorham and Sanford and Massabesic are young. It’ll be tough.”
Scarborough will next take the floor for a boys’ basketball state game for the first time Friday against a very talented foe that the Red Storm have already beaten this winter.
Edward Little has also won 17 games and pulled away in the fourth quarter Friday to beat Windham, 50-35, in the AA North Final.
On Dec. 29, host Scarborough held off Edward Little, 61-56, behind 19 points from Austin. The teams have no playoff history.
This one shapes up to be memorable.
“We have to keep being us and keep playing hard,” Pratt said. “We beat them before. We’ll game plan for them and we’ll be ready.”
“We’ve seen a total shift in the culture,” Fiorillo said. “(Scarborough) wasn’t a basketball town, but it is now. That was our goal at the beginning of the season. We need one more. Edward Little has great players. We had a battle with them the first time. We’ve both gotten better since then. The lights will be a little brighter, but we have to prepare all week. We’ll play our game.”
“Edward Little is well-coached and they’re a very good team,” Conley added. “We’re a very good team too, so I expect it to be a battle. We played once this year and it was a close one. They’re very athletic, we’re athletic. We look forward to it.”
South Portland senior Noah Malone shoots over Scarborough sophomore Brian Austin.
South Portland senior Connor Buckley tries to knock the ball away from Scarborough senior Jaquan Seme.
Scarborough senior Morgan Pratt goes up for a layup as South Portland senior Noah Malone defends.
Scarborough sophomore Brian Austin is trapped by South Portland juniors David Fiorini (13) and Scott Lewis.
South Portland senior Noah Malone fights Scarborough junior Nick Fiorillo for possession.
Scarborough senior Reece Lagerquist blocks the shot of South Portland senior Connor Buckley.
Scarborough junior Nick Fiorillo shoots over South Portland junior Scott Lewis.
Scarborough junior Nick Fiorillo waves the net during the postgame celebration.
Scarborough seniors Reece Lagerquist, left, Zoltan Panyi and Sam Gorey, along with junior Nick Fiorillo, show off the championship plaque.