South Portland girls pass first playoff test with ease

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South Portland senior Eva Mazur is congratulated by her teammates after hitting a midcourt shot at the end of the third quarter of the Red Riots’ 55-32 win over Noble in Wednesday’s Class AA South quarterfinal.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 55 Noble 32

N- 4 6 6 16- 32
SP- 13 24 14 4- 55

N- Exel 4-1-9, Fleming 3-0-8, Kelly 2-2-6, Morrill 2-0-4, Noel 1-0-3, Lessard 1-0-2

SP- Boles 4-0-12, Mazur 4-1-12, B. Cloutier 3-0-8, Graff 3-0-7, K. Whitmore 3-0-6, Leckie 2-0-4, M. Whitmore 2-0-4, Towle 1-0-2

3-pointers:
N (3) Fleming 2, Noel 1
SP (10) Boles 4, Mazur 3, B. Cloutier 2, Graff 1

Turnovers:
N- 20
SP- 17

Free throws
N: 3-4
SP: 1-3

SOUTH PORTLAND—Beseiged by the flu, South Portland’s girls’ basketball team was far from 100 percent when it took the floor Wednesday evening at Beal Gymnasium for a Class AA South quarterfinal against Noble.

But like just about every foe they have faced this winter, the flu, and the Knights, were no match for the Red Riots juggernaut.

Top-ranked South Portland started slowly, leading No. 8 Noble, just 8-4 late in the first quarter, but a 3-pointer from senior Eva Mazur and a layup from sophomore Maggie Whitmore provided a nine-point lead after eight minutes.

Then, in the second period, the Red Riots discovered their long-range acumen and never looked back.

Leading, 15-6, South Portland got a 3 from senior Sarah Boles, consecutive 3-balls from junior reserve extraordinaire Bela Cloutier and another 3 from Mazur to blow it open and lead 27-6.

By halftime, the Red Riots were firmly in command, up, 37-10, and by the end of the third quarter, South Portland enjoyed a 51-16 lead.

The Knights rallied in the fourth period against the Red Riots’ reserves, but South Portland closed the door on a decisive 55-32 victory.

Boles and Mazur led the way with 12 points apiece and the Red Riots improved to 18-1, ended Noble’s season at 4-15 and they advanced to the Class AA South semifinals Tuesday of next week against either No. 4 Maine Girls’ Academy (13-5) or fifth-ranked Gorham (11-7) at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

“It took us awhile to get out of the gate,” said Mazur, who made a pair of highlight-reel plays that left the crowd in awe. “It hit me throughout the day that it isn’t impossible we could lose tonight. We came in and stepped up. We were mentally prepared even though we were sick.” 

Taking care of business

After back-to-back narrow losses to Gorham in the Class AA South Final, the 2017-18 Red Riots entered the season the favorites to win the Gold Ball and they have risen to the occasion from the get-go.

South Portland won 17 games, by an average of 18.5 points, and lost only once, by a point at Edward Little (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories). The Red Riots then finished atop the Heal Points standings for the first time since 2005.

Noble went 4-14, overcoming an 0-9 start to the season by going 4-5 down the stretch, beating St. Dom’s, Massabesic, Biddeford and Sanford.

South Portland took the regular season encounter, 70-34, Jan. 29 in North Berwick. Maggie Whitmore had 17 points and senior Meghan Graff added 16. The Knights were paced by 16 points from sophomore Raegan Kelly.

The teams had met three previous times in the postseason (see sidebar, below), with Noble winning twice, including a come-from-behind 40-38 decision in the 2008 Western A semifinals, the most recent.

Wednesday, the Red Riots made quick work of the Knights and advanced to the semifinals for the fourth year in a row.

Points were at a premium for much of the first quarter.

It took 95 seconds for the ice to be broken, as Mazur took a pass from Graff in transition, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw for the old fashioned three-point play.

With 4:03 left in the frame, Maggie Whitmore scored on a putback.

After Boles’ first 3 of the game, Noble’s first points came with 1:16 on the clock, when Kelly hit two free throws. Kelly then set up junior Alexis Morrill for a layup, but Mazur hit a 3 from the corner and after a Mazur steal, she set up Maggie Whitmore for a layup and a 13-4 lead after eight minutes.

In the first quarter, Mazur had six points and three steals and the Knights turned the ball over eight times.

South Portland then heated up from the perimeter in the second period and blew it open by halftime.

A jumper from junior Katie Whitmore started the frame and after Kelly answered with a layup, the 3-point parade began.

With 7:14 to go, Boles hit a 3.

With 6:12 left, Cloutier made her first 3-pointer.

With 5:04 remaining, Cloutier struck again.

Then, with 4:03 on the clock, Mazur buried a 3 to cap a 12-0 run (all points coming on 3-pointers) to spell a commanding 27-6 lead.

“I think (the slow start) was because we haven’t played in awhile,” Mazur said. “We played really good team defense and it led to good options on offense.”

A leaner from Morrill ended the surge, but Maggie Whitmore answered with a jumper and with 2:35 remaining, on the most memorable play of the night, Mazur drove the floor and just before going up for a shot, she threw a behind the back pass to Katie Whitmore for a layup which brought the house down.

“I’ve worked on that in AAU, but I haven’t done it at South Portland,” Mazur said.

“That was a beautiful pass,” said Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson. “You could tell by the crowd’s reaction it was pretty.”

Boles then canned another 3 to make it 34-8.

Noble’s final points of the first half came on a finger roll from sophomore Kelsey Lessard with 53.8 seconds left, but at the other end, Boles made her fourth 3-pointer of the half (South Portland’s eighth) to make it 37-10 at the break.

“We shot really well and I thought we played great defense in the first half,” Hasson said. “We had good ball movement and got open shots. They had three players who could shoot it and we couldn’t leave them open for jump shots. I don’t think they hit a shot from the perimeter in the first half.”

Boles led all scorers with a dozen points, while Mazur added nine.

The third quarter saw the Red Riots continue to impress.

Katie Whitmore scored on a putback to start the second half.

After freshman Tori Exel made a free throw and sophomore Amy Fleming sank a 3 for the visitors, Graff scored her first points, on a 3, sophomore Kaleisha Towle scored on a leaner, Graff hit a long jumper, then Graff made a runner for a 48-14 advantage.

Noble got a leaner from Exel, but as time expired, Mazur banked home a shot from midcourt to make it 51-16 heading for the final stanza.

“I was dribbling and I didn’t think it was worth shooting, but I heard Coach yell, “Shoot it!” so I did,” Mazur said.

“That shot was lined up and it went in,” Hasson said. “(Eva’s) shooting better and she’s looking to score.”

The Knights got the first eight points of the fourth, as Fleming, then senior Emma Noel sank 3s and Exel made a layup.

After Cloutier countered with a layup, Exel scored on a putback.

Leckie hit a jumper for the hosts’ final points. Kelly then scored on a putback, Fleming made a layup and an Exel putback accounted for the 55-32 final score.

“The kids were sick and it wasn’t a big crowd, so it was hard to get up for it, but we played well,” Hasson said.

Mazur stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, five assists, five steals and three rebounds.

Boles also had a dozen points.

Cloutier added eight points, Graff had seven (all in the second half), Katie Whitmore six, Leckie (six rebounds, two blocked shots) and Maggie Whitmore (six boards, three steals and three assists) finished with four apiece and Towle had two (to go with six rebounds).

“We have five kids who can score and with Bela and Jena off the bench, we have seven,” Hasson said.

South Portland hit 10 3-pointers, overcame 17 turnovers and hit 1 of 3 free throws.

Noble was paced by nine points and 12 rebounds from Exel. Fleming added eight points (and five rebounds), Kelley had six (to go with five rebounds, three assists and two steals), Morrill four, Noel three and Lessard two.

The Knights committed 20 turnovers and made 3 of 4 foul shots.

Each team had 36 rebounds.

Tougher task

South Portland figures to get more of a challenge Tuesday in Portland when it faces either MGA or Gorham. The Red Riots beat the host Lions, 62-40, Jan. 24 and won at the Rams, 54-44, Feb. 3.

South Portland has won four of six prior playoff meetings with MGA (back when the school was known as McAuley), with a 39-36 overtime victory in the 2016 AA South semifinals the most recent.

The Red Riots are 0-2 against Gorham in the postseason, with a 46-44 loss in last year’s regional final the most recent.

“We have to focus on defending,” Mazur said. “If it’s (MGA), we have to focus on our plays and if it’s Gorham, we have to focus on stopping Mackenzie (Holmes). If we play our game, we’ll be fine.”

“Getting healthy is the big thing right now,” Hasson said. “We’ll take tomorrow off. We scrimmage Greely Friday and we’ll practice. The kids are focused. It’s one game at a time.”

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

South Portland senior Sarah Boles, who tied for top scoring honors in the game with 12 points, shoots over Noble freshman Tori Exel.

South Portland sophomore Kaleisha Towle shoots over Noble sophomore Amy Fleming.

South Portland senior Meghan Graff floats for a shot.

South Portland junior Katie Whitmore shoots over Noble freshman Tori Exel.

South Portland sophomore Maggie Whitmore is defended by Noble senior Emma Noel.

South Portland junior Bela Cloutier races up the floor with Noble sophomore Kelsey Lessard giving chase. Cloutier had eight points off the bench.

With sophomore teammate Kaleisha Towle and Noble sophomore Raegan Kelly looking on, South Portland senior Eva Mazur takes a 3-point prayer from midcourt at the third quarter horn. It went in.

South Portland freshman Cora Boothby-Akilo cheers on her teammates.

Previous South Portland stories

Season Preview

South Portland 63 Greely 53

South Portland 40 Scarborough 32

South Portland 50 Windham 28

South Portland 47 Portland 38

South Portland 62 Maine Girls’ Academy 40

South Portland 54 Gorham 44

South Portland 71 Portland 35

Previous South Portland-Noble playoff results

2008 Western A semifinals
Noble 40 South Portland 38

2002 Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 38 Noble 36

1991 Western A quarterfinals
Noble 65 South Portland 53

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