South Portland junior Jena Leckie goes up for a shot over Portland junior Reagan Brown during the Red Riots’ decisive 71-35 home victory Tuesday.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
P- 7 7 10 11- 35
SP- 19 19 21 12- 71
P- Motema 6-0-12, A. Kabantu 3-1-8, Eubanks 3-0-7, Page 1-0-3, Brown 1-0-2, Walsh 0-2-2, Watson 0-1-1
SP- K. Whitmore 4-7-15, Graff 4-3-13, M. Whitmore 6-0-12, Mazur 3-0-9, Boles 2-0-6, Leckie 2-1-5, O. Cloutier 2-0-4, Towle 1-1-3, B. Cloutier 1-0-2, Degifico 0-2-2
P (3) Eubanks, A. Kabantu, Page 1
SP (7) Mazur 3, Boles, Graff 2
SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s girls’ basketball program has produced an abundance of memorable evenings over the past 40-plus years.
Tuesday at Beal Gymnasium, the Red Riots produced another night to remember, in this case, a celebration of their seniors and on-court brilliance, as they left visiting Portland in their wake in a start-to-finish exhibition of dominance.
In the regular season’s penultimate contest, South Portland took the lead for good on a layup from junior Katie Whitmore just 21 seconds in and thanks to six points from Whitmore and another half dozen from senior captain Sarah Boles, held a commanding 19-7 advantage after one quarter.
The Red Riots remained relentless in the second period, never letting the talented Bulldogs gain confidence as they opened up a 38-14 lead at the break, thanks in large part to three 3-pointers and nine points from senior captain Eva Mazur.
South Portland then put on a dazzling display of passing in the third quarter and senior captain Meghan Graff got her offensive game going as the Red Riots stretched its advantage to 59-24.
Even after substituting liberally, South Portland didn’t lose any steam in the fourth period and it rolled to an emphatic 71-35 victory.
The Red Riots got a combined 28 points from Boles, Graff and Mazur, improved to 16-1 and dropped Portland to 11-6 in the process.
“You have a lot of emotions on Senior Night,” said South Portland coach Lynne Hasson. “We wanted to come out and play our best basketball and send a message. The three seniors led the way. They were awesome.”
Portland and South Portland came into the 2017-18 season highly touted and have been not only two of the most exciting teams to watch, but two of the most successful.
The Red Riots opened with wins over visiting Bonny Eagle (61-41), Cheverus (49-31) and Greely (63-53), host Scarborough (40-32) and visiting Oxford Hills (49-32). South Portland then opened the new year by dispatching visiting Sanford (62-26) and winning at Massabesic (49-26) and Windham (50-28). After holding off host Portland, 47-38, the Red Riots downed visiting Deering (49-40) and Thornton Academy (55-46), host Maine Girls’ Academy (62-40), visiting Falmouth (67-20) and host Noble (70-43) before finally falling from the unbeaten ranks at Edward Little, 45-44. South Portland salved that wound Saturday by winning at two-time defending Class AA champion Gorham Saturday, 54-44.
The Bulldogs opened with a 39-30 win at Thornton Academy, then downed visiting Windham, 49-40. After falling, 57-38, at Oxford Hills, Portland responded with a 48-32 home win over Massabesic. After a 48-43 home loss to rival Deering, the Bulldogs enjoyed a 43-41 victory at Gorham, then rattled off wins over visiting Edward Little (57-42) and host Sanford (48-36). After falling just short at home against South Portland (47-38), Portland defeated visiting Lewiston (49-26) and Maine Girls’ Academy (42-39) and won at Cheverus (47-37) before being upset at Bangor (44-41). After a 56-49 home victory over Bonny Eagle, the Bulldogs handled host Noble, 57-39, before dropping a 42-35 home decision to Scarborough Friday.
Entering play Tuesday, South Portland had won 23 of 29 meetings dating to the start of the 2001-02 season (see sidebar, below).
Portland was seeking its first win over the Red Riots since Dec. 20, 2013, but instead, South Portland made it seven straight in the series.
In most impressive fashion.
The Red Riots got out to a fast start, as off a press break, sophomore Maggie Whitmore fed Katie Whitmore for a layup and Mazur drained a 3. After Portland sophomore Gemima Motema banked home a long shot, Katie Whitmore was fouled after an offensive rebound and sank both free throws, Maggie Whitmore hit a pullup jumper in transition and a pair of Katie Whitmore foul shots with 4:47 on the clock made it 11-2.
After senior Shayla Eubanks countered with a 3 for the Bulldogs, Boles sank a 3, then after a Graff offensive rebound, Boles buried another 3-pointer for a 17-5 lead with 2:39 left in the quarter.
Maggie Whitmore followed with a driving layup, but with 1:28 left, Motema made a layup after a steal and South Portland took a 19-7 lead to the second period.
Boles and Katie Whitmore both had six points in the first eight minutes.
In the second stanza, the Red Riots kept the pedal to the metal.
Maggie Whitmore got the frame started by putting home a missed shot. Whitmore then scored on another putback for a 23-7 lead, forcing Portland coach Gerry Corcoran to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as after freshman Amanda Kabantu countered with a leaner, Mazur drained a 3 and after Eubanks hit a jumper, junior Bela Cloutier broke away for a layup.
Kabantu sank a 3 with 4:14 to go for Portland’s final points of the half, cutting the deficit to 28-14, but the final 10 points went to South Portland, as junior Jena Leckie threw a beautiful pass to Katie Whitmore for a layup (she was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play), Leckie made a jump shot, Mazur buried a 3 and sophomore Olivia Cloutier banked in a shot to make it 38-14 at halftime.
In the first half, Mazur and Katie Whitmore had nine points apiece to lead the Red Riots, while Maggie Whitmore added eight and Boles had six.
Portland was hindered by 14 turnovers.
In the third period, South Portland’s passing brilliance was on full the display and the Red Riots opened up their lead even further.
Graff scored her first points, on a 3-point shot, to get things started. After Kabantu hit a long jumper, Katie Whitmore made a layup while being fouled and hit the free throw for the three-point play, then, the next time down the floor, Graff set up Whitmore for another layup and-one.
“It came from unselfishness and basketball IQ,” Graff said. “We all see the court well.”
Graff then passed to Maggie Whitmore for a layup on two straight possessions for a 51-16 lead. Junior Nettie Walsh made two free throws for Portland, but Mazur set up Graff for a backdoor layup and Graff drained a 3 to make it 56-18 with 2:17 to go in the quarter.
“I got in foul trouble in the first half, but other people stepped up, which was nice to see,” Graff said. “In the second half, I wanted to make the most out of our Senior Night game.”
Motema made a layup after a steal and after Maggie Whitmore fed Graff for a layup, Motema hit a leaner. Graff then made a free throw before a jumper from Motema drew the Bulldogs within 59-24 with eight minutes to play.
Down the stretch, South Portland’s regulars and reserves continued to impress right until the final horn.
A Eubanks jump shot started the final stanza, but Graff made a pair of free throws, then sophomore Kaleisha Towle made a layup.
After a free throw from Portland sophomore Callie Watson and another from Kabantu, Brown banked in a shot and junior Molly Page sank a 3 to draw the visitors within 63-33.
Leckie answered with a driving layup and a free throw and after a technical on the Bulldogs bench, freshman Maria Degifico sank a pair of foul shots for the Red Riots, Olivia Cloutier made a layup after a steal and Towle hit a free throw before a layup from Motema accounted for the 71-35 final score.
“Senior Night is a really big deal,” Boles said. “We knew we’d have a lot of emotions, but we had to keep them in check and that’s what we did. We knew (Portland’s) a really tough team and we’d have to bring our ‘A’ game and we hit all the shots we needed to.”
“I think we’re peaking right now,” Graff said. “It’s so fun to have a game like this.”
“Last time we played them, we let up and this time, we couldn’t afford to do that,” Mazur said. “If you give them room to breathe, they’ll take it. It was easy to (not let up) in this atmosphere. Everyone was really loud and the bench was into it.”
“The girls played great,” Hasson added. “We played great defense. Portland tries to get to the rim and every time they thought they had a lane to the basket, someone closed it. Everyone moved and rotated and talked. We had great ball movement, great passes. We were very unselfish. We were disciplined and patient.
“There have been moments when the pressure affected them, it’s a lot for a high school kid to deal with, but we try to play our best every night. Even on nights when we don’t shoot well, if we bring intense defense, we have a chance regardless.”
Katie Whitmore led all scorers with 15 points and she also had six rebounds. Maggie Whitmore contributed a dozen points with six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
The seniors all had major contributions, as Graff had 13 points (all in the second half), to go with seven rebounds and four assists, Mazur added nine points (along with five rebounds) and Boles had six.
“Meghan is a four-year starter and she does it all,” Hasson said. “She matches up against the other team’s best defender. She plays point guard and scores.
“Sarah has worked her butt off. She played phenomenal tonight. She knocked down 3s and played great defense.
“Eva joined us and she’s phenomenal the way she sees the floor.
“They’re all special and hopefully they’ll lead us through the tournament.”
Leckie added five points (as well as four boards and a pair of assists), Olivia Cloutier had four, Towle three and Bela Cloutier and Degifico two apiece.
South Portland had a commanding edge on the glass (43-27), overcame 18 turnovers and made 14 of 22 foul shots.
Portland was paced by 12 points from Motema, who also had five steals. Kabantu added eight points (to go with six rebounds). Eubanks seven, Page three, Brown and Walsh two each and Watson one.
The Bulldogs made just 4 of 9 free throws and committed 24 turnovers.
“It was a total non-performance,” Corcoran lamented. “Credit to South Portland. They’re the best team in the state and when they’re on, they’re awesome. They didn’t miss. We had no answers. Everything they did, we prepared for in practice, but they still executed. They were in such sync with each other. I’m a basketball nut and that was great basketball.”
While South Portland has the top seed in Class AA South wrapped up, Portland’s final standing is still very much up in the air.
The Bulldogs (second in Class AA North at press time) close at rival Deering.
“It’s a two-game season as far as I’m concerned, so we have to rebound quickly,” Corcoran said. “If we play like we did tonight, we’ll be out of the tournament quickly. We have to bring the same pride South Portland showed tonight when we walk into Deering. We need to get right back on top.”
The Red Riots finish their regular season with a test at Cheverus Thursday.
Then, the program’s quest for its first Gold Ball since 1986 begins in earnest.
“We just need to stick together,” Mazur said. “We just have to focus.”
“I feel really good right now,” Boles said. “We’re peaking right now and this is the best time to peak. I feel like we’re stronger than ever. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been good the past few years and I think now, we’re one of the best teams.”
“We’ve played a couple really good games in a row now,” Hasson added. “There are really good teams out there. We’ll have to keep playing well to win and hopefully, we will.”
Portland freshman Amanda Kabantu soars over South Portland senior Sarah Boles for a shot.
Portland junior Nettie Walsh is hounded by South Portland senior Sarah Boles (31) and junior Katie Whitmore.
Portland senior Shayla Eubanks is defended by South Portland sophomore Maggie Whitmore.
South Portland junior Katie Whitmore shoots over Portland sophomore Kiera Eubanks.
Portland freshman Davina Kabantu shoots as South Portland senior Eva Mazur looks on.
South Portland senior Meghan Graff prepares to shoot in traffic.
@ South Portland 65 Portland 28
South Portland 60 @ Portland 29
South Portland 65 @ Portland 55
@ South Portland 63 Portland 48
Portland 50 @ South Portland 46
South Portland 48 @ Portland 35
@ South Portland 49 Portland 30
@ South Portland 63 Portland 54
@ Portland 60 South Portland 52
South Portland 58 @ Portland 56 (OT)
@ South Portland 46 Portland 38
South Portland 58 @ Portland 47
Western A preliminary round
@ South Portland 56 Portland 50
@ South Portland 56 Portland 35
South Portland 61 @ Portland 49
South Portland 40 @ Portland 28
@ South Portland 55 Portland 38
South Portland 46 @ Portland 33
@ South Portland 81 Portland 52
South Portland 36 @ Portland 35
@ Portland 62 South Portland 55
Portland 67 @ South Portland 62
South Portland 37 @ Portland 32
@ South Portland 65 Portland 47
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 57 South Portland 50
@ South Portland 55 Portland 47
Portland 56 South Portland 49