South Portland girls fight to the finish, but ousted by Gorham in regional final

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South Portland captains Lydia Henderson, left, and Maddie Hasson receive the runner-up trophy after the Red Riots’ 37-30 loss to Gorham in Friday’s Class A South Final. 

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

A valiant effort sparked by a transcendent player ultimately wasn’t enough to beat a dominant team.

Friday evening at the Cross Insurance Arena, South Portland’s girls’ basketball team hung with top-ranked, undefeated Gorham for 32 minutes, led by one at halftime and was within four points late, but the Red Riots’ dream of a first state final appearance in 30 seasons ultimately fell seven points short, 37-30.

South Portland’s fine season ended at 17-4, while the Rams improved to 20-0 and will meet Edward Little (16-4) in the Class AA Final Saturday at 7 p.m. in Portland.

A special year

After losing to McAuley in last year’s semifinals, the Red Riots expected to be one of the top teams in the newfangled Class AA South this winter and didn’t disappoint.

South Portland stumbled in the opener at McAuley, then lost at home in overtime to Gorham before rattling off 12 straight victories. The streak ended with a loss at Deering, but the Red Riots finished 15-3 for the second time in three seasons.

Despite a stellar record, South Portland only earned the No. 3 seed in the region, due to the presence of Gorham and McAuley.

The Red Riots had to play a quarterfinal round game and got a scare from Scarborough, but held on to advance, 49-41. Then, in a semifinal instant classic, South Portland eked out a 39-36 overtime win over McAuley behind the late game heroics of senior standout Maddie Hasson to reach the regional final for the first time since 2006.

Gorham lived up to lofty expectations this season, winning all 18 games and had no trouble with No. 5 Bonny Eagle in its semifinal, rolling by a 60-28 score.

In the regular season meeting, Dec. 11 in South Portland, the Rams were without junior standout Emily Esposito (who eclipsed the 1,000 career point mark in the semifinals), but got 13 points from freshman post player extraordinaire Mackenzie Holmes and 12 from junior Danasia Fennie and held Hasson to only 10 points to get out of town with a victory.

The teams had never met in the tournament.

Friday, they went out and made some history.

Gorham got off to a fast start when Holmes hit a jumper 15 seconds in. The Red Riots missed a couple shots before Holmes converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) for a quick 5-0 lead.

With 6:18 remaining in the first quarter, South Portland freshman Katie Whitmore got her team on the board with a layup and Hasson added her first points on a layup to cut the deficit to 5-4.

After Fennie made a free throw, Esposito converted a three-point play, but Hasson answered with one of her own.

With two seconds remaining, an Esposito jumper gave the Rams an 11-7 lead after eight minutes.

After shooting just 23 percent from the floor in the first quarter, the Red Riots continued to struggle on offense for much of the second period too before Hasson, as she so often has this year, put them on her back and led them to a halftime lead.

Gorham went up, 13-7, when Esposito hit a jumper four seconds into the new quarter, then neither team scored until 4:28 remained when South Portland snapped a 3:38 drought with two Hasson free throws.

Hasson added two more foul shots 17 seconds later, but the Rams went up, 15-11, when Esposito made a jumper. 

The Red Riots then got a jumper from sophomore Sarah Boles and after a free throw from Rams sophomore Michelle Rowe, Hasson made a layup and with 26 seconds showing, sophomore Meghan Graff hit a jumper to put South Portland on top at the half, 17-16.

Both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket in the first half, as Gorham shot 25 percent and the Red Riots 23 percent. Hasson’s 11 points led South Portland, while Esposito paced the Rams with nine.

Gorham reasserted control in the third period, holding the Red Riots, who made just one of 12 shots in the frame, to a mere two points.

Forty-three seconds into the second half, Holmes made a layup, but Graff countered with a jumper with 6:09 remaining in the third.

That would be South Portland’s only basket until the fourth period.

The Rams went on top to stay with 4:17 to play on a jumper from Holmes.

Fennie added a layup, Fennie hit two free throws and with two seconds left, Holmes’ layup gave Gorham a 26-19 advantage with eight minutes to go.

“We got good looks, but could only score one basket,” Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson lamented. “Our shots just didn’t drop.”

With 7:38 remaining, Hasson made two free throws to snap a 6:31 drought, but Gorham junior Kaylea Lundin countered with a layup.

Graff hit a jumper with 6:49 to go, but with 5:07 left, Lundin made another layup for a 30-23 lead. 

Whitmore made two foul shots with 4:46 showing, but again the Rams answered 28 seconds later, as Lundin drove for another layup while being fouled and added the free throw for a 33-25 advantage.

With 3:44 to go, Holmes made one free throw and the lead was nine.

South Portland appeared finished, but the Red Riots made one last furious push.

Hasson made a layup with 2:33 remaining and 53 seconds later, junior Lydia Henderson hit a clutch 3 to make it 34-30.

South Portland wouldn’t score again.

Whitmore stole the ball and the Red Riots had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Hasson was called for a charge.

With 1:05 left, Lundin made one of two free throws and after a Hasson miss, Gorham junior Kristen Curley was fouled and added one free throw for a 36-30 advantage with just 35 seconds remaining.

After Graff missed a 3, Esposito added a free throw and South Portland finally ran out of time as the Rams survived and advanced, 37-30.

“It was close,” Lynne Hasson said. “Defense has been our thing this year and it kept us in the game. Meghan Graff did a great job on Esposito. Maddie did a good job on Mackenzie, but she got shots over her. Lundin came through for them. She’s a good player. Lydia did a good job on her, but she made shots in the fourth quarter.”

Gorham got 12 points, nine rebounds and a couple blocked shots from Holmes, 10 points and eight rebounds from Esposito, eight points and five rebounds from the 5-foot-2-inch sparkplug Lundin, five points from Fennie and one apiece from Curley and Rowe.

The Rams shot 34 percent from the field, missed all seven 3-point attempts, made just 11 of 20 free throws and committed 15 turnovers, but moved on to states for the first time since 2000 (a 60-51 loss to Camden-Rockport in the Class B Final).

Gorham will meet an Edward Little squad which upset top-ranked Oxford Hills in the Northern AA Final Friday. The teams did not play this season.

The Rams, who figure to be a top championship contender for the foreseeable future, are seeking the program’s first title since 1999.

Paving the way 

Half of South Portland’s points were scored by the incomparable Hasson, whose swan song not only included 15 points, but also a game-high 18 rebounds (which was twice as many as anyone else on the floor) and four steals.

“Looking back, I needed to get Maddie more touches,” Lynne Hasson said. “She only took 12 shots.”

Hasson will be sorely missed by everyone in the program, including her coach and mother.

“I was very fortunate to coach Maddie,” Lynne Hasson said. “We’ve been able to be player and coach, but after the game, we went back to being player and parent. Maddie’s goal was to win a Gold Ball. It was hard to watch the other team cut down the nets. That won’t stop hurting. (My older daughter Abby) was good and had success, but Maddie was at another level.” 

Graff added six points and seven rebounds, Whitmore had four points, Henderson three and Boles two.

“I’m really proud of the girls,” Lynne Hasson said. “This was a very close team. There wasn’t one kid with an attitude or who wasn’t coachable. I’m not sure there was another team that had more fun than we did. Beating McAuley was incredible, but less than a week later, this loss was tough to take.”

The Red Riots just couldn’t generate enough offense Friday, as they made only 10 of 52 shots (19 percent). They were only 1 of 11 from behind the 3-point arc and sank 9-13 free throws. South Portland did have a slight (32-31) edge on the glass.

South Portland didn’t end up in the state game for the first time since 1986, but it won’t come as a surprise if the Red Riots get there soon.

“I love the group we have coming through and I’ll start looking forward to next year soon,” Lynne Hasson said. “We have 10 players coming back and a strong eighth grade group. Gorham has everyone back and I hear about kids transferring, so I don’t know what the landscape will be. We’ll be good, but it will be an uphill battle. We should have the pieces to get back to where we were this year.” 

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

South Portland freshman Katie Whitmore goes up for a shot but is stymied by Gorham freshman Mackenzie Holmes.

South Portland senior Maddie Hasson drives to the basket for two of her 15 points.

South Portland sophomore Meghan Graff, left, and freshman Katie Whitmore battle Gorham junior Kristen Curley for the ball.

South Portland sophomore Sarah Boles defends Gorham junior Kristen Curley.

Gorham senior Molly Merrifield waves the net in the postgame celebration after the Rams advanced to their first Class AA Final. Gorham meets Edward Little in the state game Saturday.

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