SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s boys’ basketball team boasts the kind of size that Scarborough can only dream of and that disparity went a long way toward deciding the teams’ showdown Saturday afternoon at Beal Gymnasium.
Early on, Red Riots junior Jack Fiorini, who stands 6-foot-5, and 6-5 senior Jaren Muller helped build a 15-11 lead.
Then, after Muller picked up his second foul early in the second period, it appeared the Red Storm, despite playing without their one true big man, ailing 6-7 junior Jake Gardner, might have an advantage, but South Portland turned to 6-4 junior reserve Jordin Jackson and his strong play, combined with a couple 3-pointers from junior Matt Pelletier, who oh-by-the-way stands 6-4, helped the Red Riots open up a 30-21 halftime advantage.
Scarborough was still very much in it, down, 36-25, when Muller got his fourth foul with 6:37 left in the third quarter, but again South Portland rose to the occasion, going on a 17-3 run to break it open. A long 3 from senior Kam Harper at the third period horn proved to be an exclamation point, pushing the lead to 56-30, and the Red Riots went on to put the finishing touches on a 66-43 victory.
Fiorini led the way with 16 points, Pelletier added 11 and Jackson had a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) as South Portland bounced back from a pair of tough losses, improved to 5-2 and dropped the Red Storm to 5-2 in the process.
“It was a very impressive showing,” said Red Riots coach Phil Conley. “It was a team win. If you look at the scoring, that’s the way we need to play, with balanced scoring, everyone sharing the ball.”
South Portland got off to a hot start, winning its first four contests: 47-31 at Noble, 63-54 over visiting Sanford, 52-43 at Westbrook and 55-46 over visiting Thornton Academy Tuesday. After falling at defending Class A champion Portland at the horn, 45-43, the Red Riots lost at Bonny Eagle (64-57) Tuesday.
“Both (losses) were demoralizing,” Fiorini said. “Two different kinds of losses. The buzzer beater against Portland gave us a sick feeling in the pit of our stomach. We felt sorry for ourselves going into the Bonny Eagle game. We came out with no confidence.”
Scarborough, meanwhile, handled host Biddeford in the opener, 74-46, then beat visiting Westbrook, 55-47. After falling at Windham, 66-59, the Red Storm beat host Noble (47-29), visiting Massabesic (69-44) and outlasted visiting Gorham in an overtime thriller, 74-70.
Entering Saturday’s battle, South Portland had beaten Scarborough in 11 of 14 all-time meetings (see sidebar, below), but in the most recent, last Febuary, the Red Storm prevailed at home, 61-44.
This time around, Scarborough was seeking its first victory at Beal Gymnasium since Jan. 5, 2008, but the Red Riots got back on track.
Just eight seconds in, South Portland took the lead when Muller made two free throws. After the Red Storm couldn’t get the ball inbounded and senior Ian Corey was whistled for his second foul, Fiorini took an inbounds pass from junior Sam DePaolo and made a layup for a quick 4-0 advantage.
Scarborough got on the board when senior standout Milani Hicks banked home a 3, but Fiorini took a pass from Harper and made a layup for a 6-3 lead.
After Hicks drove for a layup and Hicks fed senior Nate Wessel for a layup, the Red Storm were on top for the first time, but DePaolo made two foul shots to put South Portland ahead, 8-7.
With 2:12 left in the opening quarter, a Hicks jumper gave Scarborough its final lead.
Twenty seconds later, Muller put the hosts on top to stay with a putback and Muller added a leaner. After Wessel answered with a leaner, Pelletier knocked down his first 3 and the Red Riots had a 15-11 advantage after one quarter.
Early in the second period, Fiorini drove for a dunk, but it was waved off.
He then got another chance and drove the baseline before slamming it home to push the lead to six.
“I was itching for that,” Fiorini said.
The hosts appeared in trouble seconds later, however, as Muller picked up his second foul, but Jackson was about to make his presence felt.
After Pelletier canned a 3 to cap an 8-0 run, Scarborough got a hook shot from Wessel to snap a 4 minute, 40 second drought. After a Wessel steal, senior Sam Freeman made a layup to cut the deficit to 20-15, but the Red Riots responded quickly.
First Jackson scored on a putback. Then, Jackson made a jump shot. Jackson stole the ball on the next Red Storm possession and fed 6-5 junior Ruay Bol for a layup and just like that, a 6-0 run pushed the lead to 26-15.
“We do have one of the best big men in the league in Jaren, but when I get my chance, I do what I can to help the team,” Jackson said. “We got up early this morning, had a nice breakfast at Uncle Andy’s and got prepared. I’m pretty confident in my shot lately. I have great teammates to set me up.”
“We have three or four really good big men who can play at any time,” Fiorini said. “We have a very steady group. We’re very balanced.”
Scarborough got a tip-in from Hicks, but Harper hit a jumper in the lane. After Hicks made two free throws, Fiorini countered with a pair. As time expired, junior Andrew Porada made a jump shot, but the Red Storm still trailed by nine, 30-21, at the break.
In the first half, South Portland got eight points from Fiorini, six each from Muller and Pelletier and forced 11 Scarborough turnovers.
As well as the Red Riots played in the first two quarters, they upped the ante even higher in the third period.
Just 12 seconds into the second half, Pelletier canned a 3. Hicks answered with two free throws, but DePaolo set up Fiorini for a layup and Muller made a foul shot for a 36-23 lead.
Seconds after Wessel cut the deficit to 11 with a layup, Muller picked up his fourth foul, but instead of that sparking a Scarborough comeback, South Portland put it all together and iced the win.
Jackson immediately got involved again, taking a pass from Fiorini and making a layup. After a Wessel free throw, Fiorini took a pass from Harper and made a layup. Wessel made a layup after a steal, but Jackson sank a baseline jumper, Harper hit two foul shots, Harper took a pass from Jackson and made a layup after a steal, Bol scored on a putback, Bol made a free throw and after he missed the second, with 1:07 left in the quarter, Fiorini put it back to cap a 13-0 surge for a commanding 53-28 advantage.
Individual free throws from Wessel and Porada ended the run, but as time expired in the third, Harper sank a long 3 for a 56-30 lead.
The Red Storm continued to battle in the fourth quarter, but never made a serious run.
After Muller made a layup to start the frame, Wessel converted a pass from Hicks and made a layup, Hicks made a foul shot, Wessel hit two free throws, Hicks made a jumper and Wessel converted an old-fashioned three-point play (leaner, foul, free throw) with 4:32 to go, but that only pulled Scarborough within 18, 58-40.
A minute later, Harper scored on a putback to end a 4:00 drought. Pelletier added two free throws, senior Max Baker came off the bench and hit a 3 and a free throw from senior Matt Beecher accounted for South Portland’s final point. After freshman Jaquan Seme made a free throw for the Red Storm, a putback from Scarborough senior Nick Frizzle brought the curtain down on the Red Riots’ 66-43 triumph.
“It was good for us to bounce back and get confidence,” Jackson said. “We got beat by two good teams, but (those games showed) how good we are.”
“Coach told us it was a very important game and that our first half wasn’t good enough,” Fiorini said. “We couldn’t afford to come out lackadaisical in the second half. We had to go full throttle out there and put our foot on their throats.
“Last season, we struggled. This year, it’s pretty much a whole new team. We’re really close. We knew if we worked together, it would be a good season. We do the best we can in practice. That’s the key.”
“This was huge,” Conley added. “Scarborough’s a very good team. They were coming off a big victory over Gorham. We were coming off two tough losses. The Portland game was a tough ending for us. We started out slowly at Bonny Eagle. The way the Heal Points work and with the SMAA being so tough, this was a crucial game. We addressed that in practice. The kids came through.”
Fiorini led a balanced attack with 16 points. He also grabbed five rebounds and had a steal. Harper (three rebounds and three assists) and Pelletier (four boards) each had 11 points. Jordan really impressed off the bench with 10 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and four steals.
“It’s always tough when Jaren gets in foul trouble, but Jordin came through,” Conley said. “He had some rebounds. I’m glad for him because he works so hard in practice. When his number was called, he came through.”
Muller finished with seven points in limited action, Bol (eight boards and a blocked shot) added five, Baker had three, DePaolo (eight assists) had two and Beecher finished with one.
“Sam is always good with the ball,” Fiorini said. “A lot of people questioned our guard play coming into the season. We knew that Sam and Kam would do well and they’ve proved we have good guard play.”
“Sam DePaolo was outstanding,” Conley said. “He broke their press. He got us into our offense with great looks. He probably played 30 minutes. He’s a kid who improves each and every game.”
South Portland had a 39-29 rebounding advantage, forced 22 turnovers (while committing 19) and made 11 of 13 free throws.
For Scarborough, Wessel had a game-high 19 points (he also grabbed four rebounds, had two steals and a block), while Hicks (who averaged nearly 25 points per game in the first six outings) finished with 16 points and seven boards.
“We had two guys score 35 of our 43 points and they struggled,” DiBiase said. “Nate is coming back from a bad knee sprain. He’s rounding into shape. He gutted it out. For Milani’s ability, he struggled. He missed wide open shots.”
Porada (five rebounds) had three points, Freeman (four boards, three assists) and Frizzle added two each and Seme finished with one.
The Red Storm made 12 of their 18 free throw opportunities, but ultimately were done in by poor shooting from the floor.
“We couldn’t shoot,” DiBiase said. “We were 15-for-49. I don’t think it was really their size or the 2-3 zone bothering us, we just had open looks and didn’t make them. Jake has been playing pretty well. We had to adjust what we had to do without him. We hung in there as long as we could, but they have so many big guys. If you look at us without Gardner, we’re all under 6-feet. We’ll struggle if we can’t make shots. It’s strange because we played really, really well against Gorham, which is an excellent basketball team. It’s weird to see us not shoot well and struggle.”
Scarborough will host South Portland Jan. 6, but both teams have tests first.
The Red Storm are back in action Tuesday when they host Biddeford. A trip to Thornton Academy follows Friday.
“We get (South Portland) again in two weeks,” DiBiase said. “Hopefully, we’ll be healthy. It’s usually about us. How we play. We have to make shots.”
As for the Red Riots, they’ll be tested at Deering Friday. They host Massabesic next Saturday.
“We’ve come a long, long way,” Jackson said. “This year is very different. i feel like we’ll be right in the running at the end of the year.”
“From the get go, I felt this team could do some very good things if we worked hard, played hard and stayed together and we’re doing that,” Conley said.” I see this team improving. We haven’t reached our peak yet.”
Scarborough senior Ian Corey battles for a loose ball under the basket.
Scarborough senior Milani Hicks collects the ball and gets past a South Portland defender.
South Portland junior Jordin Jackson, who provided huge minutes off the bench, wrests a rebound away from Scarborough junior Andrew Porada.
Scarborough senior Nate Wessel goes up for a shot as South Portland junior Jordin Jackson defends.
@ Scarborough 61 South Portland 44
@ South Portland 66 Scarborough 53
South Portland 76 @ Scarborough 55
@ South Portland 60 Scarborough 39
South Portland 48 @ Scarborough 33
@ South Portland 62 Scarborough 45
South Portland 54 @ Scarborough 40
Scarborough 47 @ South Portland 41
@ South Portland 53 Scarborough 42
@ Scarborough 59 South Portland 48
@ South Portland 55 Scarborough 31
South Portland 55 @ Scarborough 35
South Portland 55 @ Scarborough 41
@ South Portland 54 Scarborough 33
South Portland junior Jack Fiorini roars with delight after a second period slam dunk during the Red Riots’ 66-43 home win over Scarborough Saturday afternoon.
Joe Carpine photos.
More photos below.
S- 11 10 9 13- 43
SP-15 15 26 10- 66
S- Wessel 7-5-19, Hicks 5-5-16, Porada 1-1-3, Freeman 1-0-2, Frizzle 1-0-2, Seme 0-1-1
SP- Fiorini 7-2-16, Harper 4-2-11, Pelletier 4-0-11, Jackson 5-0-10, Muller 2-3-7, Bol 2-1-5, Baker 1-0-3, DePaolo 0-2-2, Beecher 0-1-1
S (1) Hicks 1
SP (5) Pelletier 3, Baker, Harper 1