SOUTH BERWICK—After Friday night’s tough home loss to Portland, the South Portland boys’ basketball team was in major need a victory Monday afternoon when it traveled south to take on the talented Marshwood Hawks.
The Red Riots needed a boost of confidence and got it, as well as some critical Heal Points, as they led most of the way, got clutch 3-point shooting, foul shooting and controlled the boards.
South Portland led by as many as 13 in the first half, but only by two at halftime. After six lead changes in the third quarter, the Red Riots went on top to stay on an old-fashioned three-point play from junior Conner MacVane, who was superb off the bench, and held on down the stretch to prevail, 66-60.
Senior Jordan Muller led South Portland with 16 points, junior Tanner Hyland added 15 and junior Jack Tolan finished with 11 as the Red Riots improved to 8-3 and dropped the Hawks to 6-5.
“That was a really big win for these kids,” said South Portland coach Phil Conley. “We came off a tough game Friday night where I thought we played a solid game until the last couple minutes. This is a big win since Marshwood’s a very good team that’s well coached and we’re battling with them for a top five spot. It’s always a tough place to play. I thought our kids really stepped up and hung tough late and that’s what I’m looking for. They’re really maturing. I’m so happy for these kids. They’ve worked so hard and I’m proud of them. It’s one of our biggest wins.”
South Portland and Marshwood are two of several Western Class A teams with legitimate title contending hopes this winter.
The Red Riots got off to a great start in 2011-12 with victories over host Windham (44-32), visiting Biddeford (65-53) and host Westbrook (57-51). After a 43-41 home loss to Thornton Academy, South Portland bounced back by winning at Kennebunk, 57-42, and after beating Lake Region (75-45) in the Portland High Holiday Tournament, handled host Massabesic (80-55) and visiting Scarborough (60-39). The Red Riots were then beaten at home by Deering (40-29), but won at Sanford, 54-46. Friday, South Portland couldn’t hold an early lead and fell at home to Portland, 61-57.
As for Marshwood, it won six of its first 10, but had to feel like it could have done even better. After opening with a tough 67-64 loss at Deering, the Hawks made a statement with a 55-52 home victory over Portland. Marshwood then downed host Scarborough, 60-51, visiting Sanford, 58-56, and visiting Windham, 69-57. After a 59-40 setback at Cheverus, the Hawks rolled over visiting Massabesic (78-35) and visiting Westbrook (72-59), then lost at Thornton Academy (57-37) and at home to Bonny Eagle (68-67) Friday.
Marshwood joined the Southern Maine Activities Association for the 2003-04 season and beat host South Portland in the teams’ first meeting, 68-62, in overtime. The Hawks also won the next two years with ease. The Red Riots first victory in the series came in 2006-07, 61-53. They won the next three as well, by an average of 21 points, but last winter, Marshwood returned serve, with a 57-40 triumph at home, evening the all-time series at 4-4.
Monday, not much separated the teams, but South Portland found a way to get out of town with a much needed ‘W.’
The Red Riots demonstrated good ball movement from the get go as senior Logan Gaddar fed Tolan for a layup to break the scoring ice. After Marshwood senior Jack Verrill tied the score with a jumper, Gaddar scored on a bank shot and Hyland converted a leaner. Two free throws from Hawks senior Matt Crosby made it a two-point game, but after a steal, Hyland fed Tolan for a layup and with 4:26 left in the eight-minute first quarter, Tolan scored on a putback for a 10-4 lead.
Fourteen seconds later, Marshwood junior Danny Veino made his presence felt for the first of many times when he banked home a 3-pointer. After Verrill (tops in the SMAA in assists and third in rebounds) and South Portland junior Ben Burkey both picked up their second fouls, Crosby cut the deficit to a point with a jumper, but the visitors closed on a 7-0 run.
After Muller made his first free throw of the night, MacVane announced his presence with a tough-angle leaner off the glass. Senior Matt DiBiase added a baseline jumper and MacVane made another leaner to give the Red Riots a 17-9 advantage after one quarter.
South Portland would threaten to pull away in the second period before the home team rallied.
A 3-ball from Muller opened the quarter. After Verrill made a layup to end the Red Riots’ 10-0 run, Muller hit another 3 to make it 23-11. Verrill answered with a hook shot, but at the other end, junior Calvin Carr got in on the long range fun, draining a 3 of his own and South Portland had its biggest lead, 26-13.
Marshwood would score 17 of the next 20 points.
Crosby started the rally with two free throws. After Veino made it a 26-18 game with a 3, Gaddar temporarily stemmed the tide with two foul shots, but at the other end, Veino chucked up another 3, which hit the rim, bounced high into the air, then nestled into the net to make it a 28-21 contest.
Tolan got a point back at the foul line, but in an 86-second span, the Hawks erupted for nine straight points and their first lead.
Crosby made a free throw and with 1:52 to go, Veino hit a 3 while being fouled and converted the free throw for the rare four-point play. After Veino made a foul shot, Crosby buried a 3 with 30.5 seconds remaining and Marshwood was on top, 30-29.
“(The Hawks) have such great shooters you’re going to give up a few, I don’t care how a good defense you play, and they made shots,” Conley said.
Just when it looked like the Hawks would take the lead and momentum into the locker room, Hyland wrested it back, coolly burying a 3 of his own with a second to go and the Red Riots were back on top, 32-30, at the break.
Hyland, who is second in the league in 3-pointers made and set a program record for made 3-pointers earlier in the season, felt he had to make up for lost time after spending time on the bench in foul trouble earlier in the quarter.
“I can’t get in foul trouble,” Hyland said. “I don’t like sitting at all. I get aggravated on the bench, but once I get back in there, everything’s fine. (That shot gave) us momentum going into the next quarter and coming out with momentum is big.”
The excitement increased in a back-and-forth third period.
Veino hit yet another 3 just 23 seconds into the second half to put Marshwood up, but Tolan answered with two free throws. A 3 from Crosby made it 36-34 Hawks, but Muller tied the score with a layup. After Crosby buried a long distance 3, MacVane made a free throw and Hyland tied the game, 39-39, with a jumper.
With 2:52 left in the quarter, sophomore Brady Innes sank two free throws for the hosts, but Hyland answered with a 3 to put South Portland ahead again. With 2:05 remaining, a layup by Innes gave Marshwood its final lead, 43-42.
The Red Riots closed the stanza on a 9-2 run.
With 1:54 left, MacVane made a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw to convert the old-fashioned three-point play and put South Portland ahead to stay. Gaddar added a foul shot and after senior Luke Fernandes made a layup for the Hawks, Hyland fed DiBiase for a layup and as time expired, Hyland bedeviled Marshwood again, firing a 3 that found nothing but net for a 51-45 advantage.
“That was another big shot by Tanner,” said Conley.
“We were confident,” Muller said. “We knew their two best players had fouls. We came out and went at them.”
In the final quarter, the Hawks never got closer than two, but the Red Riots couldn’t put it away either, never leading by more than eight.
It made for a palpitating finish.
A floater from Veino 31 seconds into the fourth cut the deficit to four, but a pullup jumper from Hyland restored the six-point lead. After sophomore Brady Dodge fed Fernandes for a layup, Gaddar made a pair of foul shots to make it 55-49. Junior Alex McLean made a baseline jumper for Marshwood and after Gaddar hit a free throw, Crosby converted a running bank shot and with 4:25 left, McLean made the second of two free throw attempts to cut South Portland’s lead to a slim 56-54.
With 3:47 to play, Tolan fed Gaddar for a layup and 26 seconds later, Tolan scored on a leaner over two defenders for a little breathing room and a 60-54 lead.
The next two-plus scoreless minutes saw Hyland miss two free throws, the Hawks commit an offensive foul, the Red Riots turn the ball over and Marshwood sophomore Jack Letellier miss on a 3-point attempt as Muller got the rebound and was fouled.
Muller, who a year ago made 16 foul shots in a double-overtime win at Thornton Academy, got the job done, making both for a 62-54 advantage with just 59.9 seconds remaining.
At the other end, a Letellier jumper cut the deficit to six, but with 39.2 seconds showing, Muller was fouled, went back to the charity stripe and hit two more attempts to make it 64-56.
With 34 seconds remaining, Crosby was fouled on a 3-point attempt, missed his first free throw, but made the second and third and it was a two-possession game again.
Things got even scarier for the visitors when Crosby stole the ball and was fouled with 20.2 seconds to play. He hit both free throws and suddenly, the lead was down to 64-60.
The Red Riots managed to get the ball inbounded to (who else?) Muller and he once again calmly sank both free throws.
“I just went out there and knew I’d hit them,” Muller said. “It’s just like the TA game last year.”
Letellier had a 3-pointer go in and out. Veino grabbed the rebound and passed to Crosby, but he missed a 3 and the ball went out of bounds to South Portland with time close to expiring. The Red Riots inbounded the ball, the clock hit zero and the visitors celebrated their hard fought and much needed 66-60 triumph.
“We hadn’t had a big win this year,” Muller said. “It’s nice to win a game on the road. It was a fun environment. The crowd was loud, but we made them quiet when we went on runs.”
“We just stayed together and played well in the fourth quarter,” said Hyland. “This is the first time all season we haven’t collapsed and let a lead go. We hit our free throws, we didn’t make stupid plays and played pretty good defense.”
“The past couple days we worked hard to get prepared for this game,” said Gaddar. “We lost to them last year in a tough game. They have some big players. It’s all about fighting for position play after play after play. You can’t let any play go. We kept our heads in the game. We knew we had to keep fighting. We’ve been in this position before and learned from it.”
Muller finished with two 3-pointers, just one two-point field goal and eight foul shots for 16 points. Hyland added 15 points, Tolan 11 (along with five rebounds and three blocked shots), Gaddar nine (along with a game-high 10 boards, MacVane eight (and six rebounds), DiBiase four and Carr three.
“It was a team effort,” Muller said. “When we get our post guys into the game, Tanner gets open 3s and he hits them.”
“It was difficult at times, but it was fun,” MacVane said. “Exciting. I was ready. We stuck together and had teamwork. We kept at it. We’re a good team when we stick together. We convert, score baskets and play defense.”
“We had guys really step up,” Conley added. “Credit Conner for holding their top scorer to not many easy looks. He played tremendous defense. That was great. We had balanced scoring that we need. We don’t know who will be a high scorer, but balanced scoring like that will win.”
South Portland finished with 25-18 advantage on the glass, turned the ball over 17 times and made 18 of 27 free throw attempts.
For Marshwood, Crosby led all scorers with 22 points. He also grabbed three rebounds. Veino’s five 3-pointers helped him finish with 19 points. Verrill, who was burdened with foul trouble most of the game, had six points (and four boards), Fernandes and Innes (five rebounds) added four apiece, McLean three and Letellier two.
The Hawks turned the ball over 14 times and made 14 of 18 from the charity stripe.
The two teams have vastly different roads the rest of the regular season, as the Hawks figure to be favored every time out, while the Red Riots will have their share of challenges.
Marshwood (fifth in the Western A Heal Points standings as of Monday night) is at Noble Friday and goes to Sanford Tuesday of next week. Home games with Biddeford, Kennebunk and Noble and trips to Gorham and Massabesic also await. The Hawks still project to be one of the top teams by tournament time.
As for South Portland (sixth in the Heals, prior to this game being recorded), it hosts Gorham Friday, then has to battle visiting Bonny Eagle the following Tuesday. The Red Riots still have to go to Cheverus, Deering and Portland and play the Stags at home in the regular season finale.
South Portland still has many stiff tests to pass.
“We just have to stick together and practice harder,” MacVane said.
“This is a big win and it makes us pretty confident for the rest of the season,” Muller said. “We have to play as a team like we did today. Play good defense and the offense will come.”
“We’re just as good or better than last year,” said Hyland. “Last year we fell apart at the end. If we stay together, I think we can go pretty far and maybe contend for states. Everyone’s doing their part. We’ll see where it goes.”
“We have to keep working every day and use experiences like these to push us,” Gaddar added. “We know every other team in the league will get better so we have to keep getting better.”
Conley echoed those themes.
“The rest of the season will be a battle,” he said. “This is a good character builder. We hadn’t closed out a top tier team and we did today. We have to continue every day in practice to work as hard as we can. I preach to these guys to practice how you play and they carry it into the game, so we’ll continue to practice hard.”
SP- 17 15 19 15- 66
M- 9 21 15 15- 60
SP- Muller 3-8-16, Hyland 6-0-15, Tolan 4-3-11, Gaddar 2-5-9, MacVane 3-2-8, DiBiase 2-0-4, Carr 1-0-3
M- Crosby 5-9-22, Veino 6-2-19, Verrill 3-0-6, Fernandes 2-0-4, Innes 1-2-4, McLean 1-1-3, Letellier 1-0-2
SP (6) Hyland 3, Muller 2, Carr 1
M (8) Veino 5, Crosby 3
SP (25) Gaddar 10, MacVane 6, Tolan 5, Hyland 2, Burkey, Muller 1
M (18) Innes 5, Verrill 4, Crosby 3, Dodge, Fernandes, Letellier, McLean, Pappas, Veino 1
SP (4) Muller 2, Hyland, MacVane 1
M (5) Crosby 2, Pappas, Veino, Verrill 1
SP (3) Tolan