South Portland girls start with a flourish, down MGA in playoff rematch

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South Portland freshman Maggie Whitmore goes up for a basket during Friday’s 58-29 win over Maine Girls’ Academy in the teams’ regular season opener.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 58 Maine Girls’ Academy 29

MGA-  1 11 11 6- 29
SP- 14 18 16 10- 58

MGA- Joyce 5-0-10, Mower 2-3-7, Reid 3-0-7, Beaulieu 0-2-2, Z. Mazur 1-0-2, Olson 0-1-1

SP- Graff 7-6-20, Leckie 4-2-10, Boles 3-0-7, M. Whitmore 3-0-6, Rende 1-2-4, Towle 2-0-4, K. Whitmore 1-1-3, Henderson 1-0-2, E. Mazur 1-0-2

3-pointers:
MGA (1) Reid 1
SP (1) Boles 1

Turnovers:
MGA- 19
SP- 22

FTs
MGA: 6-12
SP: 11-16

SOUTH PORTLAND—It was Opening Night in front of a boisterous crowd and South Portland’s highly touted girls’ basketball team wanted to put on a show.

And that’s exactly what the Red Riots did Friday evening against new-look Maine Girls’ Academy at Beal Gymnasium.

South Portland dominated the first quarter, getting nine points from junior Meghan Graff, and raced to a commanding 14-1 lead.

The Lions settled down in the second period, but the Red Riots still took a 32-12 lead to the break. MGA made things interesting in the third quarter, as sophomore Jill Joyce sparked a comeback that cut the deficit at one juncture to 13, but South Portland, behind a spirited effort from sophomore reserve Jena Leckie, quickly reasserted control, then went on to a 58-29 victory.

Graff led all scorers with 20 points, Leckie added 10 and the Red Riots produced the first of what they hope will be many victories this winter.

“We wanted to come out strong,” Graff said. “Coach (Lynne Hasson) wanted us transitioning and pushing the ball the whole game and playing fullcourt defense the whole game. That was the focus.”

New beginnings

Not only did Friday evening mark the start of a new season, but it also was the first time Maine Girls’ Academy replaced McAuley, an iconic name in Maine girls’ basketball lore.

The school, which no longer has a religious affiliation, changed its name this year and the basketball team also has a very different look, as key players either graduated (Sarah Clement and Jess Willerson), transferred (junior Eva Mazur is now playing for South Portland) or aren’t available because of injury (junior Emily Weisser, who hopes to get back to action by February). As a result, not much is expected of the Lions this year, even though it’s never wise to write them off.

South Portland is coming off a glorious campaign, one which saw the Red Riots reach the inaugural Class AA South Final, where they lost, 37-30, to Gorham. The game before, in the semifinals, South Portland edged McAuley, 39-36, in an overtime thriller.

That marked the second consecutive time the Red Riots had beaten the Lions, after McAuley had enjoyed an eight-year, 11-game domination of South Portland (see sidebar, below).

While standout Maddie Hasson graduated (and is playing at Bowdoin College), the Red Riots are again viewed as a potential powerhouse and Friday evening, they showed those on hand why.

Graff put on a show in the first half, helping South Portland quickly open up a healthy lead.

Just four seconds in, after winning the opening tip, the Red Riots went on top to stay when Mazur set up Graff for a layup. The next time down, freshman Maggie Whitmore put home a missed shot for a 4-0 advantage.

Graff went back to work with five straight points, first making a layup after a pass from Mazur, then scoring on a leaner while being fouled before adding the extra point for the old-fashioned three-point play. Sophomore Katie Whitmore added a foul shot and Graff hit two free throws to make it 12-0 with 2:18 to go in the opening stanza.

MGA finally got on the board 41 seconds later when freshman Hope Olson made a free throw, but as time wound down, Leckie made a jumper to give South Portland a 14-1 advantage after eight minutes.

Graff led the way with nine points.

“It was nice to score points early,” Graff said. “I wanted to set people up too since they were in a zone. Our ball movement was phenomenal.”

“Meghan is Meghan,” Hasson said. “She just does whatever it takes  Their 1-3-1 (zone) bothered us at first. We weren’t running our offense very well. Once we broke it down, we had great ball movement. We had one, two, three, four passes. We were really unselfish.”

The Lions were much more competitive in the second period, but the Red Riots extended their lead.

After junior Sarah Boles opened the quarter with a jumper, MGA sophomore Catherine Reid made her team’s first field goal, a jump shot, then added a runner to cut the deficit to 16-5. South Portland answered with nine straight, as Boles sank a 3, Graff made a layup, senior Lydia Henderson made a long jumper and Graff added a leaner to make it 25-5.

After the Lions got a layup from sophomore Zoe Mazur, Graff hit a jump shot, Eva Mazur added a jumper and Graff made a free throw to extend the lead to 30-7. Senior Maddy Beaulieu got two points back at the foul line for MGA, but sophomore Grace Rende made two foul shots for the hosts’ final points of the half. With 10.1 seconds to go before the break, freshman Serena Mower converted a three-point play, bank shot, foul and free throw, and the Lions trailed, 32-12, at the break.

In the first half, Graff led the way with 16 points. MGA was hindered by 13 turnovers.

The Lions then made things very interesting in the third period before South Portland pulled away for good.

Joyce began her strong second half with a layup 19 seconds in, then took a pass from Reid 23 seconds later and made another layup to cut the deficit to 32-16.

After Boles hit a long jumper for the Red Riots, Reid took a pass from Mower on an inbounds set and canned a 3-pointer to make it 34-19. Maggie Whitmore answered with a putback, but off an inbounds pass, Reid fed Joyce for another layup and after Whitmore made a short jump shot, Mower made two free throws, then took a pass from freshman Hope Olson and made a layup to make the score, 38-25, forcing Hasson to call timeout.

It worked, as after Reid missed a 3 which could have cut the deficit to 10, Graff set up Katie Whitmore for a layup, Graff made two free throws after a steal and Graff buried a long jumper. Leckie then made her presence felt by finishing a feed from Katie Whitmore with a layup, then setting up freshman Kaleisha Towle for a layup and a commanding 48-25 advantage after three.

“In the beginning, when I first went in, I was super-nervous because it was our first game, but I got more confident,” Leckie said. “I play on the inside like Maddie did. I hope to contribute some points. The big crowd was really awesome. It was great that they were cheering and they were there for us..”

South Portland ended all doubt in the fourth period, getting a fastbreak layup from Leckie to cap a 12-0 run and after Joyce made a layup, Red Riots sophomore Grace Rende made a fastbreak layup, Leckie sank two free throws, Leckie made a layup and Twole scored on a putback for a 58-27 advantage.

Inside the final minute, Joyce made a layup and that accounted for the 58-29 final score.

Graff led all scorers with 20 points. She also had five assists, three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.

Leckie joined Graff in double figures with 10 points. She added 14 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive glass. 

“Jena got into the flow of the game,” Hasson said. “She’s very athletic. She rebounds well. She did a nice job in the high post, looking for a shot and passing.”

Boles had seven points, Maggie Whitmore six, Rende and Towle four apiece, Katie Whitmore three and Henderson and Mazur (five assists) two each.

“Our biggest strength this year is that all 12 girls can play,” Graff said. “Whenever someone needs a break, we’re so deep, someone else can go in.”

“I was pleased with how the starters played, but even more how the end of the bench played,” Hasson said. “Maggie didn’t play like a freshman. Sarah shot well tonight. She’s a shooter.”

The Red Riots made 11 of 16 foul shots.

South Portland’s defensive effort stood out from start to finish.

“I thought we did a nice job defensively,” Hasson said. “The communication was great. Lydia anchors our defense. We stuck to our game plan. We didn’t let them get ball handoffs and screens up top. I was pleased how we did on the glass in the second half.”

Seeing it was the season opener, it’s not a surprise that Hasson listed several items that needed improvement, most notably her team’s 22 turnovers.

“We had some unforced turnovers,” she said. “One of our goals is to take care of the ball and make decisions. We’re an up-tempo team and we have to run under control. We have to have patience running the offense. We didn’t push it enough. We want to get out and go.”

The Lions were paced by Joyce’s 10 points and four rebounds. Mower added seven points, four steals and three rebounds in her debut. Reid also had seven points, Beaulieu and Zoe Mazur finished with two apiece and Olson had one.

MGA made just 6 of 12 free throws and committed 19 turnovers.

“It took us awhile to get settled,” said Lions coach Billy Goodman. “The speed of the game is different for the kids right now. South Portland has a lot of talent, but we didn’t back down. I’ll never question the girls’ heart, hustle and effort. I’m lucky to have such good kids. Serena played well in her first game. She stepped up. Maddy goes 130 percent in every game. Zoe fought and did a lot for the team. Jill stepped up too.”

“They’ll win some games,” Hasson said, of the Lions. “They’re good defensively and they’re well coached.

Game two

Maine Girls’ Academy plays its home opener Tuesday against Massabesic where it will seek to get into the win column for the first time. The Lions then welcome Bonny Eagle Thursday and Noble Saturday.

“We have to get better,” Goodman said. “We have to work on our weaknesses. We know what they are. We have a big week next week. We’re fighting those teams for a playoff spot. We have to be competitive. It’ll be nice to play at home.” 

South Portland faces a big test Tuesday when it goes to highly touted Deering. The Red Riots then have their lone shot at Gorham Thursday, on the road.

“We can’t foul and turn the ball over as much,” Graff said. “Turnovers are never good.”

“We’re athletic and (Deering’s) physical,” Hasson said. “They have three really good players and they’re well coached. It’ll be a tough week.”

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

South Portland junior Sarah Boles lines up a shot over MGA junior Madison Legassey.

MGA senior Maddy Beaulieu and South Portland junior Meghan Graff battle for a rebound.

South Portland sophomore Jena Leckie looks to pass.

MGA freshman Hope Olson is sandwiched by South Portland freshman Kaleisha Towle, left, and sophomore Katie Whitmore. 

South Portland senior Lydia Henderson steals the ball from MGA senior Maddy Beaulieu.

MGA junior Madison Legassey is defended by South Portland sophomore Katie Whitmore.

Recent MGA (McAuley)-South Portland results

2015-16
@ McAuley 46 South Portland 37 
@ South Portland 57 McAuley 45
Class AA South semifinal
South Portland 39 McAuley 36 OT 

2014-15
McAuley 45 @ South Portland 36
Western A semifinal
McAuley 39 South Portland 34 

2013-14
@ McAuley 41 South Portland 36

2012-13
McAuley 75 @ South Portland 48
@ McAuley 53 South Portland 11

2011-12
McAuley 43 @ South Portland 39
Western A quarterfinals
McAuley 52 South Portland 27

2010-11
@ McAuley 55 South Portland 24
McAuley 51 @ South Portland 32

2009-10
@ McAuley 47 South Portland 31

2008-09
McAuley 51 @ South Portland 45
South Portland 41 @ McAuley 37 (OT)

2007-08
South Portland 42 @ McAuley 26
@ South Portland 48 McAuley 41

2006-07
@ South Portland 36 McAuley 28

2005-06
@ McAuley 44 South Portland 38
Western A semifinals
South Portland 39 McAuley 29

2004-05
@ South Portland 55 McAuley 47

2003-04
South Portland 68 @ McAuley 56

2002-03
@ McAuley 61 South Portland 46
McAuley 65 @ South Portland 28

2001-02
McAuley 47 @ South Portland 37
@ McAuley 73 South Portland 42

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