SOUTH PORTLAND—Nobody boasts a front line like the South Portland boys’ basketball team and the Red Riots’ size and depth helped them remain near the top of the standings Friday night.
Hosting never-say-die Cheverus, South Portland shot to a quick lead behind a spectacular first quarter from unheralded junior Ruay Bol (9 points, 8 rebounds), as it went up, 21-9.
When senior Jaren Muller made a layup three minutes into the second period, the Red Riots enjoyed a 25-9 advantage and appeared on the brink of breaking away, but the Stags, behind strong inside play from senior Zordan Holman, hung tough.
Cheverus closed the first half on a 10-2 run, capped by two foul shots from junior Luca Napolitano, and suddenly South Portland’s lead was only six, 29-23.
Early in the third quarter, behind consecutive 3-pointers from sophomore sharpshooter Jack Casale, the Stags took the lead, but the Red Riots collected themselves and returned to what made them successful.
Pounding the ball inside.
An old-fashioned three-point play from Muller in the waning seconds of the third put South Portland on top to stay, 39-38, and in the fourth, junior Jack Fiorini erupted for 10 points, Bol, Muller and junior reserve Jordin Jackson all came up huge and if that wasn’t enough, senior Kam Harper put on a highlight reel display of passing which led to easy baskets as the Red Riots pulled away to prevail, 61-50.
Fiorini led the way with 18 points, Bol added 14 and Muller 12 as South Portland won its sixth game in a row and improved to 10-2, dropping Cheverus to 6-6 in the process.
“It’s a great character builder, this game,” said Red Riots coach Phil Conley. “I thought our pressure defense really jump-started us in both halves when we made runs. That’s a credit to the kids’ hustle and desire. (Cheverus) went up by two or three points, but our kids dug deep. They continue to show me that they’re not going to quit. That’s the sign of a great team to not get down on themselves and come back.”
Both Cheverus and South Portland came into the game having some impressive victories on their resume, but each knew that its toughest stretch was just beginning.
The Stags opened with a 63-55 home win over Windham and after falling at Bonny Eagle by two (41-39), beat host Thornton Academy (59-51) and visiting Massabesic (49-32). After rallying for a stirring 45-34 victory at Deering, Cheverus closed 2014 with a closer-than-the-final-score-indicated 57-45 home loss to defending Class A champion Portland. The new year began with a 55-44 home win over Noble, but the Stags then stumbled at Gorham (58-47) and at home versus Thornton Academy (52-40). Cheverus got back on track with a 53-28 home win over Sanford, but Tuesday, fell, 44-35, at Westbrook.
South Portland won its first four contests: 47-31 at Noble, 63-54 over visiting Sanford, 52-43 at Westbrook and 55-46 over visiting Thornton Academy. After falling at Portland at the horn, 45-43, the Red Riots lost at Bonny Eagle (64-57). South Portland got back on track with a 66-43 home win over Scarborough, then closed on a 21-4 run to stun host Deering, 64-58. After handling visiting Massabesic, 88-68, the Red Riots gave Conley his 100th career win, 60-54. Tuesday, South Portland dispatched visiting Biddeford, 69-53.
This century, Cheverus has dominated the rivalry. Heading into Friday’s tilt, since the start of the 2001-02 season, the Stags had won a whopping 24 of 27 encounters, including both last winter: 56-41 at home and 59-34 at South Portland.
Friday, Cheverus hoped to continue its hex, but instead, the Red Riots beat the Stags for the first time since Jan. 5, 2013 (67-44, in South Portland).
After Harper opened the scoring with two free throws, it quickly became apparent that it was going to be the Bol Show.
Driving the baseline, the junior threw home a dunk to get the large crowd on its feet and give the Red Riots an early 4-0 lead.
“I just took the ball to the hole and finished,” said Bol. “I just went out there and did what I had to do. A good start was important. Usually, we come out slow, but tonight, we came out and got it done.”
“Bol was phenomenal tonight,” said Fiorini. “That dunk is exactly like it was drawn up. We all knew he was special. He’s gotten better every day. Tonight we saw how much he’s improved.”
“That play when (Ruay) dunked it to start the game, that set the tone,” Conley added. “It was an athletic basketball play.”
In what would become a theme, the Stags roared right back, as first freshman Jesse Matthews, then Casale knocked down 3s and Napolitano hit a free throw for a 7-4 lead.
The hosts got a baseline jumper from Bol, but Matthews hit two free throws to make it 9-6 Cheverus.
Then, South Portland erupted, scoring the final 15 points of the quarter.
A leaner from Fiorini started the run. Junior Matt Pelletier then demonstrated his terrific range by draining a long 3 for the lead. The next time down, Pelletier was off on a 3, but was fouled on the play, then hit all three free throws. Bol added a leaner, then Bol scored on a putback while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the three-point play. Then, after a Bol steal, Pelletier made a layup and the Red Riots were seemingly in control, up, 21-9.
In the first eight minutes alone, Bol almost had a double-double (9 points, 8 boards).
“(Ruay’s) really coming along,” Conley said. “He’s got a lot of ability. With more game experience, he gets better and better. He’s a great kid, very coachable. He works hard and listens.”
After two-plus scoreless minutes to start the second period, Harper set up Jackson for a layup, then, after Stags coach Dan Costigan called a timeout, Harper fed Muller for a layup and South Portland had a commanding 25-9 lead.
But no one told Cheverus it was supposed to roll over and back came the visitors, who made it very much a game by halftime.
With 4:50 to go in the half, Casale hit a baseline jumper to end the 19-0 run and a 6 minute, 19 second drought.
Senior Derek Hammond added two free throws, but Fiorini answered with a layup making 27-13.
The Stags then rattled off six straight, as Holman, who battled foul trouble all night, scored on a putback, then took a pass from sophomore Austin Boudreau and made a layup. With 2:35 left before halftime, Boudreau set up Hammond for a layup, cutting the deficit to 27-19.
After Fiorini stemmed the tide with two foul shots, Boudreau made two free throws and with 4.7 seconds left, Napolitano did the same and Cheverus was only down six, 29-23, at the break.
Eleven first half South Portland turnovers helped keep the Stags in the game.
The visitors continued to surge early in the third quarter, as Casale set up Holman for a layup, Casale hit a 3, then, with 5:55 remaining in the frame, Casale made another 3 for a 31-29 lead, Cheverus’ first since 9-8.
“We got a little ovewhelmed, but we battled back and settled down,” Costigan said. “I was proud we battled.”
With 5:15 to go in the third, Harper fed Fiorini for a layup, tying the score at 31-31, ending the Stags’ 12-0 run and a 4:17 drought.
Cheverus went right back on top 40 seconds later, however, as Hammond made a layup after a steal, but Muller began to heat up with consecutive jumpers and Bol made a free throw after being fouled on a drive for a 36-33 Red Riots’ advantage.
That disappeared quickly when Casale made a 3 and with 43.5 seconds left in the quarter, Casale drove for a baseline jumper putting the Stags up, 38-36.
But that would prove to be Cheverus’ final lead.
Sixteen seconds later, the unstoppable Muller took a pass from Fiorini, finished with a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to put South Portland ahead, 39-38, heading for the final period.
Where the Red Riots would finally put it away once and for all.
Fiorini hinted at his big quarter to come with a putback 20 seconds in.
South Portland then poured it on, as Muller made a free throw, Jackson, after being fouled while grabbing an offensive rebound, added two and Harper set up Fiorini for consecutive hoops, a bank shot and fastbreak layup, opening up a 48-38 lead with 6:11 remaining.
Twelve seconds later, a Casale 3 ended the Red Riots’ 12-0 run. Matthews added a foul shot, but the Stags would draw no closer.
After Bol scored on a putback, Bol stole the ball, got it ahead to Harper and Harper fed Fiorini for a pretty reverse layup. Seconds after Holman received his fifth foul, Bol then scored on another putback for a 54-42 advantage.
“When Zordan came out, we pounded it inside,” Bol said.
“It wasn’t really a goal to get Zordan in foul trouble, but that made it that much easier for us to pound it inside,” Fiorini said. “Coach tells us every day that no one has our size or ability in the post. We want to work from the inside out.”
Casale answered with a baseline jumper, but there was no stopping South Portland’s onslaught, as Jackson fed Fiorini for a layup, Harper made a free throw, Harper hit two more, then, with 2:02 to go, Muller’s putback made it 61-44 and ended the Red Riots’ offensive production for the night.
Down the stretch, with both benches emptied, Matthews made a free throw, senior Dan O’Brion sank a 3 and junior Kenny Drelich hit two foul shots to account for the 61-50 final score.
“The team did what we had to do and we got the win,” said Bol.
“We kind of lost focus in the second quarter,” Fiorini said. “We weren’t looking at what we needed to do to finish. Coach told us we needed to step it up and that it was our game to win. That’s what we did. Even when we were down, we had a good feeling. We felt like we always had the advantage. That helped us come back and pull it out.”
“I thought our crowd was outstanding tonight,” Conley added. “We fed off their energy. To have 10 wins at this point of the season is great. Cheverus is well coached. They’ll win their share of games. I’m pleased with our effort.”
South Portland’s four-headed post monster produced nearly 80 percent of its points.
Fiorini had 18 points (to go with six rebounds and two blocks). Bol had his best game to date (14 points, 11 boards). Muller added 12 points and Jackson finished with four points, eight rebounds and two steals in another terrific relief appearance.
“Our strength is our bigs,” Conley said. “We look to utilize that in our zone offense or our man-to-man offense.”
Pelletier finished with eight points (five rebounds and three steals), while Harper added five (to go with eight assists and three steals).
“Our guards have really developed,” Conley said. “That was a question mark, but they hit some shots. Harper had some great steals and passes.”
South Portland overcame 21 turnovers with 16 of 20 foul shooting.
Cheverus was led by Casale’s game-high 21 points.
“(Jack) played hard,” Costigan said. “He didn’t start out very well, but he came on and battled. For a sophomore, that’s good stuff.”
Matthews had seven points, Hammond (six rebounds) and Holman (six boards, two steals) six apiece, Napolitano (five rebounds, two steals) and O’Brion three each and Boudreau (four assists, four rebounds, three steals) and Drelich two apiece.
The Stags committed 20 turnovers and made 13 of 22 foul shots.
“South Portland’s a really good team,” Costigan said. “They’re physical, they’re big. They’re good enough to take us out of what we do. They can just bang the boards. We got in trouble without Zordan. He had foul trouble in both halves, but that’s part of the game.”
The teams meet again in the regular season finale, Feb. 5, in Portland, but both teams have a series of tests first and both have ample opportunities to accumulate Heal Points.
Cheverus (now ninth in Western A) is home against Biddeford Monday and welcomes Mrashwood Friday. After playing at Scarborough and Portland the following week, the Stags close at home versus Deering and South Portland.
“We have to keep getting better,” Costigan said. “We have a bunch of young guys playing a lot of minutes. In the SMAA, that’s not what you want. They’re going to be good, but there are times when the youth hurts us. Live and learn. We’re better for having played this game. It’s something to build on.”
South Portland (third in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) goes to Marshwood Monday. Home games versus Windham, Deering and Portland and visits to Gorham and Cheverus also remain.
“We have a chance to go far and make a deep run in the playoffs,” Bol said.
“We have to keep coming to practice with a good attitude and work hard,” said Fiorini. “We have to have our heads on straight. That’s what gets us ‘W’s.'”
“We have to win at least four more to be in the top two or three, but who’s to say?” Conley added. “I’d rather play tough competition like we’re up against the next few weeks. That will get us battle tested for the tournament.”
Cheverus sophomore Jack Casale drains one of his five 3-point shots. Casale led all scorers with 21 points.
South Portland junior Jack Fiorini was unstoppable at the basket, as Cheverus junior Andrew Roberts looks on helplessly. Fiorini had a team-high 18 points.
Cheverus senior Derek Hammond tries to elude South Portland junior Jordin Jackson.
Cheverus senior Zordan Holman, who was hindered by foul trouble, goes up for two of his six points.
South Portland junior reserve extraordinaire Jordin Jackson grabs a rebound.
Cheverus freshman Jesse Matthews goes up in traffic.
South Portland senior Jaren Muller gets Cheverus junior Andrew Roberts to commit before going up to draw a foul.
Cheverus junior Luca Napolitano shoots over South Portland junior Matt Pelletier.
@ Cheverus 56 South Portland 41
Cheverus 59 @ South Portland 34
@ South Portland 67 Cheverus 44
@ Cheverus 56 South Portland 51
@ Cheverus 49 South Portland 33
Cheverus 45 @ South Portland 39
Cheverus 63 @ South Portland 46
@ Cheverus 50 South Portland 35
@ Cheverus 66 South Portland 44
@ South Portland 53 Cheverus 43
@ Cheverus 60 South Portland 41
Cheverus 52 @ South Portland 39
Cheverus 63 @ South Portland 61 (OT)
South Portland 68 @ Cheverus 47
@ Cheverus 59 South Portland 42
Cheverus 52 @ South Portland 45
Cheverus 85 @ South Portland 41
@ Cheverus 74 South Portland 48
Cheverus 61 @ South Portland 57
@ Cheverus 68 South Portland 60 (OT)
@ Cheverus 69 South Portland 61
Cheverus 60 South Portland 40
Western A quarterfinals
Cheverus 68 South Portland 48
Cheverus 62 @ South Portland 42
@ Cheverus 59 South Portland 34
@ Cheverus 64 South Portland 58
Cheverus 67 @ South Portland 65
South Portland junior Ruay Bol soars to the basket during Friday’s 61-50 home win over Cheverus. Bol posted a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) in the victory.
Jason Veilleux photos.
More photos below.
C- 9 14 15 12- 50
SP- 21 8 10 22- 61
C- Casale 8-0-21, Matthews 1-4-7, Hammond 2-2-6, Holman 3-0-6, Napolitano 0-3-3, O’Brion 1-0-3, Boudreau 0-2-2, Drelich 0-2-2
SP- Fiorini 8-2-18, Bol 6-2-14, Muller 5-2-12, Pelletier 2-3-8, Harper 0-5-5, Jackson 1-2-4
C (7) Casale 5, Matthews, O’Brion 1
SP (1) Pelletier 1