South Portland boys surge early, eliminate Scarborough in semifinals

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South Portland senior Ruay Bol scores two of his game-high 22 points over Scarborough junior Jaquan Seme during the Red Riots’ 78-53 victory in Tuesday’s Class AA South semifinal. South Portland will meet Thornton Academy in the regional final Friday night.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—A year ago, South Portland’s boys’ basketball team embraced their Cinderella status and made an improbable tournament run that didn’t end until the Red Riots fell two points shy of a state title.

This winter, South Portland is the favorite in Class AA South and the Red Riots are well aware of what happens to the favorite if it doesn’t play well, but Tuesday evening, South Portland’s playoff debut was one of sheer dominance.

Facing upstart No. 5 seed Scarborough at the Cross Insurance Arena, the top-ranked Red Riots ended all doubt early, racing to a 12-1 lead and a 16-5 advantage after eight minutes.

Senior Ruay Bol then scored 14 points all by himself in the second quarter as South Portland extended its lead to a commanding 41-20 at the half.

An 11-2 run to start the third quarter ended the competitive phase of the contest and the Red Riots went on to slam the door on a 78-53 victory.

Bol had 22 points to pace a deep and balanced attack and South Portland improved to 16-3, ended the Red Storm’s season at 7-13 and advanced to meet No. 2 Thornton Academy (17-2) in the Class AA South Final Friday at 8 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena.

“We wanted to come out hustling so we could put them away right away,” Bol said. “We’re very balanced. We all trust each other. We know we all can do it. Everyone picked up some slack and we got it done.”

Not your average semifinal

Prior to Tuesday, South Portland and Scarborough had never met in the postseason, but that was only part of what made this contest highly anticipated.

Two years ago, Phil Conley didn’t have his contract renewed as South Portland’s coach and was replaced by Kevin Millington. Conley took over the Scarborough program this season and had a chance to deliver a delicious dose of revenge.

South Portland beat Scarborough in both regular season meetings, 82-61 at home Dec. 22 and 65-52 at Scarborough Jan. 12.

That was part of a superb regular season for the defending Class AA South champions, who lost only to Portland, Cheverus and Deering en route to the top seed in the region and a bye into the semifinals.

The Red Storm started 0-10, finished 6-2 and earned the No. 5 seed in the region before downing No. 4 Bonny Eagle, 51-30, in the quarterfinals last Thursday to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1986.

Tuesday, Scarborough’s tournament stay came to a close, as the Red Riots got off to a sizzling start and didn’t look back.

A jumper from Bol 32 seconds in put South Portland ahead to stay.

The Red Storm got on the board with 5:36 to play in the opening stanza, on a free throw from junior Morgan Pratt, but the next 10 points went to the Red Riots.

Senior Ansel Stilley drove for a layup, Bol did the same, senior Moses Oreste made a 3 and senior Cameron Dailey buried a 3 to make it 12-1, forcing Conley to call timeout.

It worked momentarily, as junior Jaquan Seme set up junior Reece Lagerquist for a layup, but South Portland junior Liam Coyne answered with a runner.

In the final minute, Seme passed to Lagerquist, who willed the ball into the basket, but with time winding down, Stilley stole the ball and fed junior Connor Buckley for a layup and a 16-5 lead after eight minutes.

“We were worried about the days off,” said Millington. “We didn’t know if we’d keep our momentum. Scarborough had been playing well. They had confidence. We felt like the first quarter was the most important part of the game.”

In the first quarter, the Red Storm turned the ball over seven times.

The Red Riots added to their lead in the second period.

Senior Riley Hasson got things started with a long 3. After Seme drove for a layup, Bol did the same at the other end and with 6:04 left in the first half, Bol scored on a putback for a 23-7 lead, forcing Conley to again call timeout.

Again, Scarborough wasn’t able to respond, as Oreste made a 3. After a Lagerquist floater, Bol scored on a putback and Hasson drove for a layup and a 30-9 lead.

After a steal, Red Storm senior captain Emmett Peoples knocked down a jumper, but Bol countered with a floater.

Seme set up Peoples for a layup, but Bol countered with a reverse layup.

After sophomore Nick Fiorillo made a layup after a steal for the Red Storm, Bol continued his onslaught, hitting a baseline jumper for a 36-15 advantage with 3:12 to play in the half.

“I love playing here,” Bol said. “It’s a nice, big court. The fans really get into it. It’s not hard to get into it in a big game. During warmups, my shots were going, so I just let it fly and the shots were falling.”

“The things Ruay can do going to the hoop, not many players in Maine can do it,” Hasson said. “He can get around people and he can jump. He didn’t miss.”

“Ruay gets that look in his eye and he’s tough to guard and not people can stop that,” Millington added. “If he’s finishing, he’s a top five player in the state.”

After Hasson made a layup after a steal, senior Nick Discatio made a layup for Scarborough, but Bol drove for another basket, this one a bank shot, for a 40-17 lead.

Discatio got a point back at the foul line, then sank two free throws, but with 2.4 seconds to go, Hasson was fouled and made one shot for a 41-20 halftime advantage.

In the first half, Bol led all scorers with 18 points.

South Portland then came out and ended all doubt to start the second half.

A leaner from Bol, a 3 from Buckley and a driving layup from Hasson, all in the first 54 seconds, extended the lead to 48-20.

After a layup by Lagerquist, Bol scored on a putback and junior Noah Malone drove for a layup to make it a 30-point contest.

The Red Storm continued to play hard and were rewarded, as Pratt hit two free throws, Fiorillo made one and after an Oreste layup, Pratt hit a 3 and Lagerquist made a foul shot to cut the deficit to 54-29.

After Oreste made a layup, Hasson hit two free throws to allow South Portland to double Scarborough’s score.

Late in the frame, Lagerquist scored on a putback, but Deiley made a free throw, Malone drove for a layup and Hasson, with a gorgeous feed, set up Oreste for a layup.

“It’s fun playing here,” Hasson said. “I like the bright lights. These are the fun games to play.”

“Riley loves to hustle,” Bol said. “He gets us going.”

“Riley sets the tone,” Millington added. “We’re very tough to beat when we work harder than other teams because we have so many athletes. He sets the tone for us because he plays every position for us, offense and defense.”

As time expired, Hasson fouled Seme, who was shooting a 3, and Seme hit two foul shots to make it 63-33 with eight minutes to go.

The Red Riots started the final stanza fast as well, getting a 3 from Buckley and a fastbreak layup from Buckley before Discatio converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul and free throw).

After Deiley drained a 3, Coyne added a free throw to make it 72-36. Pratt countered with a 3, but Coyne made a layup.

After Discatio made two free throws, Lagerquist did the same. Junior Spencer Houlette knocked down a runner for South Portland before Seme set up Discatio for a layup, Seme hit two foul shots, Seme stole the ball and made a layup and Fiorillo finished a feed from Peoples and made a layup to cut the deficit to 76-51.

In the last minute, the Red Riots got a putback from senior Kamden Mallory and Pratt set up junior Sam Gorey to account for the 78-53 final score.

“We knew last year that we came out and beat the 1 seed, so we knew it’s possible to lose as the 1 seed,” Hasson said. “We wanted to come out quick.”

South Portland got 22 points and 10 rebounds from Bol. Also scoring in double figures were Hasson (12 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals), Oreste (12 points) and Buckley (10 points). Deiley had seven points, Coyne finished with five, Malone added four and Houlette, Mallory and Stilley (six assists, five rebounds) had two apiece.

The Red Riots were sizzling from the floor (sinking 33 of 64 shots, including 7 of 16 3-pointers), enjoyed a 39-28 rebounding advantage and overcame 5 of 12 foul shooting and 14 turnovers.

Building block

Scarborough’s top scorers were Discatio (nine rebounds) and Lagerquist (10 boards), who both had 13 points. Pratt added nine points, Seme (five rebounds, four assists, two steals) had eight, Fiorillo and Peoples four apiece and Gorey two.

The Red Storm made 17 of 22 foul shots, but committed 18 turnovers and shot just 17 of 54 from the floor (including 2 of 14 from 3-point land) as their late-season surge came to a halt.

“South Portland’s a very good team,” Conley said. “They have a lot of weapons. They started strong and we got behind, but we never quit. That’s a sign of the kids’ character. I’m proud of the kids. We battled and came up short.

“This is a stepping-stone. It’s been a long time since we’ve been to the Final Four. There’s a lot of pride. I’ve coached for 24 years. This year’s group is very special to me because of how they handled themselves with class. They were a joy to be with every day in practice.”

Scarborough graduates Discatio, Peoples, Dominic Joy and Andrew Parent, but everyone else returns and the Red Storm will look to cement themselves as an annual contender in the state’s biggest class.

“The seniors put their mark on Scarborough basketball and the young guys know what this feels like to get here and they’ll work hard to get back,” Conley said. “I look forward with working with the guys coming back. I like what we have coming back. Nick (Fiorillo), Jaquan and Morgan have played well. We have a good nucleus coming back and we have good young kids coming up.”

Friday night fight

Since December, it was gospel that South Portland and Thornton Academy would square off in the regional final and Friday night that will be the case.

The Red Riots won the regular season meeting, 68-58, Jan. 20 in Saco in a victory that ultimately gave them the one seed over the Golden Trojans.

South Portland has won four of the previous six playoff meetings dating back to 1970. Last year, the Red Riots upset top-ranked Thornton Academy, 39-36, in the semifinals.

South Portland knows it won’t come easily, but it intends to repeat as regional champions.

“This year is different because we have expectations,” Bol said. “It’s good to have people believing in us, supporting us. It feels good to get the ‘W,’ tonight, but we’re not there yet. We know where we want to go. We’ll give our all to make it happen.  We know what we have to do. It’s going to be a tough one Friday. We have to make sure we practice hard and get ready. TA will be fired up. We want to get back to the state final. That’s my main goal this year. To get back there and win it all.”

“Our team likes being the villain,” Hasson said. “It’s fun for us. We just go out and play our game. I expect TA to come out hard at us. We beat them on their homecourt and they didn’t like that. We have to match them. We have to keep pushing the ball, that’s what we do best. If we get up the floor, we’re a tough team to beat.”

“It’s an 180 degree different team from last season,” Millington said. “I loved last year’s kids, but we played a different way. This year, the guys from the first practice, they were competitive and we want competitive situations. It seems like all those other games were important, but this will be the game. Thornton’s awesome. They have great players, Bob (Davies) is a great coach. We’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game. Maybe beating them wasn’t the best thing, because it’s hard to do it twice, but I’ll go to battle any day with these guys.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

South Portland junior Connor Buckley shoots a 3-pointer over Scarborough junior Morgan Pratt.

South Portland junior Noah Malone drives on Scarborough senior Emmett Peoples.

South Portland senior Ansel Stilley lays the ball in as Scarborough junior Reece Lagerquist arrives too late.

South Portland junior Liam Coyne drives past Scarborough junior Jaquan Seme..

And Coyne finishes the layup.

South Portland senior Ruay Bol drives on Scarborough senior Dominic Joy.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.