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South Portland senior David Fiorini drives for a layup as Portland senior Trey Bellew defends during the Red Riots’ 58-48 victory Thursday night.
P- 4 12 14 18- 48
SP- 19 12 14 13- 58
P- Bellew 9-4-23, Alado 1-3-5, Mahan 2-0-5, Chadbourne 1-1-4, Wakati 2-0-4, Buckley 1-0-3, Gaddas 0-2-2, Thea 0-2-2
SP- Baez 9-0-18, Lewis 4-0-9, Owen 3-0-9, Bijokta 2-2-7, Pamba 3-0-7, Boles 1-0-2, Carr 1-0-2, Doucette 1-0-2, Fiorini 1-0-2
P (4) Bellew, Buckley, Chadbourne, Mahan 1
SP (6) Owen 3, Bijokta, Lewis, Pamba 1
SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s boys’ basketball team hasn’t enjoyed much success against rival Portland in recent years, but just about everything went the Red Riots’ way Thursday evening at Beal Gymnasium.
South Portland returned 6-foot-7-inch senior Scott Lewis to the lineup, raced to an early lead and did enough on both ends of the floor to outlast the Bulldogs and earn some critical Heal Points.
The Red Riots, behind a spark provided by junior Geremi Baez, shot to a 15-2 advantage and led, 19-4, after one quarter.
Portland hung tough in the second period behind senior Trey Bellew, but the Bulldogs couldn’t dent their deficit and a late basket from Baez gave South Portland a 31-16 halftime lead.
The Red Riots went up by as many as 19 points in the third quarter and after fending off a Portland rally, still held a 15-point advantage, 45-30, heading to the final stanza.
There, South Portland endured some nervous moments when senior Simon Chadbourne and junior Stillman Mahan hit consecutive 3-pointers to pull Portland within 49-43, but Lewis saved his biggest shot for the biggest moment, draining a 3-pointer to sap the Bulldogs’ will and the Red Riots went on to a 58-48 victory.
Baez led the way with 18 points and South Portland improved to 6-4 on the season, dropping the Bulldogs to 6-4 in the process.
“Nobody beats (Portland) often, but we’ve competed with them as much as anybody and it’s always nice to beat them,” Red Riots coach Kevin Millington said. “We said all game long that just because we’ve got a lead, they’re still Portland and we had to weather the storm.”
Since the establishment of Class AA in 2015-16, Portland and South Portland have been the most successful squads.
The Bulldogs and Red Riots met in the first two state finals, with Portland winning both. Each squad got knocked off shy of the state game a year ago.
This winter has seen the rivals prove to be a little more mortal.
Portland won its first four games: 80-48 at Noble, 59-46 over visiting Windham, 56-53 (in overtime) at Oxford Hills and 69-41 at Massabesic. After letting a 15-point halftime lead slip away in a 64-58 loss at Bangor, the Bulldogs beat visiting Deering, 55-32, then dropped a 56-53 overtime heartbreaker at Gorham and a 61-56 double-overtime decision to visiting Edward Little, the defending Class AA champion. Tuesday, Portland eked out a 49-47 home win over Sanford on senior Jeremiah Alado’s buzzer-beater.
South Portland, meanwhile, started with a 53-40 loss at Deering, then downed host Cheverus (63-45), visiting Greely, the two-time defending Class A champion which was riding a 46-game win streak (62-55), and host Scarborough, in a regional final rematch (69-54). The Red Riots lost to visiting Thornton Academy (56-52) and Oxford Hills (59-56), then bounced back to edge visiting Sanford (46-45) and host Massabesic (65-36) before falling Monday at Windham, 51-49.
The Bulldogs had won 10 of the past 12 meetings, including both last winter (please see sidebar, below), to take a 125-102 all-time edge in the series which dates to the 1909-10 season.
Thursday, South Portland beat Portland at Beal Gymnasium for the first time since a storied 20-16 overtime win Feb. 3, 2015, best remembered as the “Stall Game.”
The Red Riots took the lead for good 80 second in when junior Pamba Pamba lobbed the ball to Baez who laid it in.
Senior Tyree Bijokta added a 3-pointer and after Bellew made a layup for the visitors, Baez hit a floater in the lane, junior Hunter Owen drained a 3, Owen set up Baez for a layup and with 3:07 to play in the first period, Pamba stepped back and knocked down a 3 to make it 15-2, staggering the Bulldogs in the process.
“It so happened a lot of us were feeling our shots,” Baez said. “(Portland) played 2-3 (zone) on us and we’re getting used to it.”
“I don’t want to make it more complicated than it was, but we made shots,” Millington said. “We’re a very good defensive team and if we make shots, we’re a great team, a potential championship team.”
“Teams come out fast against us because they’re tired of losing to us,” Bulldogs coach Joe Russo said. “We left guys open in our zone and they took advantage of it.”
A Bellew floater ended the Red Riots’ 10-0 run, but Pamba hit a leaner and as time expired, Lewis made a fadeaway jumper for a 19-4 lead after eight minutes.
South Portland shot 63 percent from the floor in the first quarter and while it cooled slightly in the second period, the Red Riots managed to maintain a 15-point advantage at the break.
Junior Ethan Thea made two free throws for the visitors to start the new quarter, but Owen made a 3, then, after an Owen steal, he made another 3 for a 25-6 lead with 4:58 to play in the half.
Bellew made consecutive layups, but Pamba countered with a layup to make it 27-10.
After Bellew took a pass from senior Pedro Fonseca and made a layup, Fonseca fed Mahan for a layup, but Bijokta countered with a layup for the hosts.
After Bellew made another layup, Baez made a jumper in the lane and South Portland took a 31-16 lead to the break.
In the first 16 minutes, Bellew had three-quarters of the Bulldogs’ points, but eight turnovers hindered the visitors and nine points from Owen, eight from Baez and seven from Pamba helped the Red Riots take control.
Portland tried to rally in the third period, but couldn’t go on a run.
A jumper from junior Cade Carr and a pullup jumper from Baez opened the second half in style for South Portland and put it up by 19, but Bellew made a layup, then hit two foul shots.
A coast-to-coast layup from Baez and a leaner from Lewis restored a 19-point advantage, 39-20, but Fonseca set up Alado for a layup and Alado fed senior Ronaldo Wakati for another layup to cut the deficit to 15.
After Carr fed Baez for a layup, junior Griffin Buckley made a 3-pointer and Alado sank two foul shots to pull the Bulldogs within a dozen, but senior David Fiorini drove for a layup and after Alado hit one free throw, Fiorini drove, drew the defense and fed senior Logan Doucette for a layup at the horn to put the Red Riots up, 45-30, with eight minutes to play.
Portland fought to the final buzzer and at one point, got within two possessions, but it was far too little, too late.
Two Bellew free throws opened the fourth quarter and after junior Ryan Boles drove for a layup for South Portland, Bellew scored on a putback, Chadbourne made a free throw and senior Lewis Gaddas hit a pair of free throws to pull the Bulldogs within 47-37 with 6:19 on the clock.
Fiorini fed Baez for a layup at the other end, but Chadbourne sank a 3 and with 4:52 remaining, Mahan made a 3 from the corner and suddenly, Portland was down by only six, 49-43, with 4:52 to go.
That’s as close as the Bulldogs would get, as an unlikely source, Lewis, made the night’s biggest shot to reverse momentum.
With 4:15 to go, Baez passed the ball to Lewis in the corner and he sank a 3 to make it a nine-point margin.
“I felt really good to hit a 3,” Lewis said. “That’s my first 3 since I don’t know when.”
Wakati countered with a leaner, but Fiorini passed to Lewis for a layup and a 54-45 lead with 3:36 remaining.
A Bellew 3-ball 18 seconds later gave Portland a flicker of hope, but it wouldn’t score again and down the stretch, Baez scored his final points on a bank shot and Bijokta sank two free throws to give South Portland the 58-48 victory.
“Portland never backs down and we didn’t take them lightly,” Lewis said. “We stayed calm and played our basketball. That’s who we are.”
“We’ve lost a lot of games recently to teams we thought we shouldn’t have lost to,” Baez said. “We have a history with Portland and we wanted to hand them an ‘L.'”
“We tried to stay calm and do what we do,” Millington added. “We played good defense and we wound up alright.”
Baez paced the Red Riots with 18 points. He also had four rebounds and three steals.
Lewis returned to action with nine points, seven blocked shots and six rebounds.
“It’s nice to be back, but it’s tiring the first game back,” Lewis said.
“Having Scotty back is huge for us,” Baez said. “It opens up all the guards’ games.”
“Having Scotty back was great,” Millington added. “He’s such a calming influence inside.”
Owen had nine points on three 3s, Bijokta finished with seven points (and seven boards), Pamba had seven points (and five rebounds) and Boles, Carr, Doucette and Fiorini (three assists) each added two.
“Having depth with eight or nine (guys) is easy, but having depth with 17 is a challenge,” Millington said. “We talk about hunting for the right matchup on a given day.”
South Portland only turned the ball over 12 times and hit 2 of 4 foul shots.
Portland was sparked by Bellew, who had a game-high 23 points. Bellew also grabbed six rebounds.
Alado (eight rebounds, five assists) and Mahan each had five points, Chadbourne and Wakati had four apiece, Buckley finished with three and Gaddas (four rebounds, three steals) and Thea contributed two each.
Portland had a 31-28 rebounding advantage, made 12 of 14 free throws and committed 10 turnovers.
“That was legitimately our first loss,” Russo said. “The other three losses could have gone either way. We dug ourselves an early hole and the kids showed heart and came back with plenty of time and got it to two possessions, but then we turned it over and that killed us. The kids battled and I’m pleased how they came back.”
Portland hopes to get back in the win column Saturday when Scarborough pays a visit. The Bulldogs play host to Lewiston Tuesday.
“It’s back to the drawing board,” said Russo. “Teams you play once, you really want to beat.”
South Portland, meanwhile, welcomes Bonny Eagle Saturday, then plays host to Deering Jan. 18.
“We have to stay confident and we can’t turn the ball over,” Lewis said. “When we step up on defense and we don’t turn the ball over, we’re almost unstoppable on offense.”
“This is a good win, but we’re thinking bigger,” said Baez. “We want to play at the Civic Center. That’s our main goal. We have a big game Saturday. (Bonny Eagle’s) worth a lot of Heal Points.”
“We have such a tough schedule,” Millington added. “We have to use these games to peak for the tournament. We want to have a high seed, but we’ve seen that any team can be knocked off by anybody.”
@ Portland 45 South Portland 43
@ South Portland 20 Portland 16 (OT)
Portland 79 @ South Portland 49
@ Portland 64 South Portland 42
@ Portland 63 South Portland 47
@ South Portland 52 Portland 42
Western A semifinals
South Portland 49 Portland 41
Portland 61 @ South Portland 57
@ Portland 52 South Portland 48
Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 39 Portland 37
@ Portland 80 South Portland 71 (3 OT)
Portland 59 @ South Portland 54
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 69 South Portland 45
Portland 56 @ South Portland 49
@ Portland 49 South Portland 48
@ South Portland 57 Portland 49
South Portland 56 @ Portland 51
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 72 South Portland 49
@ Portland 65 South Portland 50
@ South Portland 67 Portland 57
Portland 79 @ South Portland 76
@ Portland 53 South Portland 51
Portland 75 @ South Portland 63
@ Portland 87 Portland 60
@ Portland 71 South Portland 53
Portland 78 @ South Portland 58
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 58 South Portland 51
Portland 98 @ South Portland 44
@ Portland 66 South Portland 29
Portland 62 @ South Portland 36
@ Portland 59 South Portland 40
@ Portland 65 South Portland 61
Portland 67 @ South Portland 52