PORTLAND—For the first three games this winter, South Portland’s girls’ basketball team appeared unstoppable.
Then, the Red Riots stumbled with a loss at Thornton Academy Tuesday, but Thursday evening, they had a chance to respond and in a difficult setting, did just that.
Facing athletic, ascendant and dangerous Portland, South Portland led almost the whole way and relied on long range shooting, opportunistic play and dominance on the glass to prevail at the Portland Exposition Building.
Successive 3-pointers from freshman sensation Abby Cavallaro and junior standout Maddie Hasson put the Red Riots ahead to stay in the first period, as they opened up a 15-6 advantage.
While the Bulldogs, thanks to steady contributions from seniors Elizabeth Donato and Gabby Wagabaza stayed within 11 points at halftime, South Portland went on a 9-2 run to open the second half, capped by a layup from freshman Megan Graff, for a 40-22 lead.
To its credit, Portland never buckled and a fourth quarter rally cut the deficit to eight at one stretch, but the Red Riots put the finishing touches on a 65-55 triumph.
South Portland got 22 points from Cavallaro, 17 from Hasson and improved to 4-1 on the season, dropping the Bulldogs to 3-2 in the process.
“I think this was really important,” Hasson said. “After Tuesday we didn’t lose any confidence. We know we’re still one of the best teams. We were disappointed after Tuesday and knew we had to come back strong. We got back on track.”
No losing streak
Both teams came into Thursday’s contest seeking to avoid a second straight setback.
Portland had gotten off to a terrific 3-0 start under first-year coach Jay Lowery, winning at Massabesic (52-23) and Noble (67-27) and at home over Marshwood (52-48) before leading most of the way, only to lose a tough one at Gorham Tuesday, 51-47.
South Portland had dominated its first three foes: visiting Noble (79-26), host Sanford (55-26) and visiting Westbrook (74-29), before losing at preseason favorite Thornton Academy Tuesday, 50-33, in a game the Red Riots controlled in the first half.
Entering the game, South Portland had won 18 of the past 24 meetings (see sidebar, below) between the schools (dating to the 2001-02 season), including 15 of the last 17. Last year, the squads split, each winning on the road, as Portland eked out a 50-46 victory at South Portland before the Red Riots prevailed, 48-35, at Portland.
The Bulldogs were hoping for their first home victory over the Red Riots since Feb. 8, 2011 (60-52), but South Portland proved to be too much.
South Portland broke the scoring ice 71 seconds in when junior Meaghan Doyle was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound and made both free throws.
Portland’s first points came courtesy a pretty drive and finish courtesy Donato. A jumper from senior Sydney Frederick gave the Bulldogs their first lead, but a short jumper from Hasson tied it.
After not scoring for over four minutes, the Red Riots heated up from the outside, as first Cavallaro, then Hasson sank 3s in a 15-second span for a 10-4 lead.
With just under a minute to go in the first, Cavallaro hit her second 3. Two free throws from Portland junior Merritt Ryan ended a nearly five-minute drought, but as time wound down, freshman Grace Soucy stole the ball and fed Hasson for a layup and a 15-6 lead.
While Red Riots senior Holly Black didn’t score in the first period, she did collect seven rebounds.
Six Portland turnovers helped dig a hole.
South Portland pulled away in the second period.
A baseline jumper from senior Paige Carter pushed the lead to double digits. After Donato made a free throw, Hasson stole the ball and fed Cavallaro for a layup. Sophomore Lydia Henderson made a free throw, but Wagabaza came to life, twice finishing feeds from Donato, first with a short jumper, then with a layup. The next time down, Wagabaza threw in a runner off the glass, with the ball circling the rim before dropping, to cut the deficit to 20-13.
After Cavallaro ended the surge with a 3, Donato made two foul shots and sophomore Taylor Sargent sank a rare 3 to cut the deficit to five.
“Taylor is a very good shooter,” Lowery said. “She has the green light. If I see someone who can shoot it, I’ll let them shoot it.”
Black then managed to get a bank shot to roll in, Cavallaro took a pass from Hasson and made a layup and Hasson made a layup after a steal to push the lead to 29-18. A Ryan layup cut the deficit under double digits again, but with 38.7 seconds to go, Henderson set up Cavallaro for a breakaway layup and the Red Riots took a 31-20 lead to the break.
“I tried not to get nervous,” Cavallaro said. “I wanted to come out and help my team win. Whether it was defense or a spark on offense, I just tried to do that. I just got into it. (The transition’s) been really great. The upperclassmen make me feel comfortable out there.”
“I think it’s a team-wide agreement that (Abby’s) the best sixth man in the state,” said Hasson. “She’s aggressive and comes in and scores. She’ll come in and doesn’t have any regrets. She doesn’t play like a freshmen. She takes it to the hoop. She’s a great shooter.”
“Abby did a great job,” Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson added. “She’s very confident and competitive. She plays hard, she’s coachable. She’s a nice addition to the team.”
Fifteen points from Cavallaro and a 21-13 rebounding advantage proved to be the difference in the first half.
In the second half, Portland refused to buckle, but never made a serious run.
South Portland didn’t let up in the third period.
A putback from Doyle, a layup after a steal from Hasson and a long-range 3 from Graff pushed the lead to 38-20. Two Donato free throws were countered by a layup after a steal by Graff.
The Bulldogs hung tough as Wagabaza made a layup, Ryan scored on a putback, Ryan hit a free throw and sophomore Kate Johnson drained a jumper to make it 40-29, but South Portland got an old-fashioned three-point play from Black (putback, foul, free throw) and Cavallaro made a layup after a steal to restore a 16-point bulge. A Johnson layup was answered by a Cavallaro corner 3. Donato drove for a layup, but Hasson knocked down a 3. Ryan hit a short jumper for the Bulldogs, but a baseline jumper from junior Hailee Owen gave the Red Riots a commanding 53-35 advantage with eight minutes to go.
Portland tried to make a run to start the fourth quarter, as Wagabaza took an inbounds pass from Johnson and made a layup and Ryan hit two foul shots, but out of a timeout, freshman Grace Soucy canned a jumper.
Johnson made a baseline jump shot, Donato made a free throw and Ryan added two more, but the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize on several other opportunities to draw closer.
With 3:47 to play, Graff sank a free throw to make it 56-44. After Frederick set up junior Manuela Francis for a layup, a driving left-handed layup from Graff restored the 12-point lead.
With 2;13 left, Cavallaro made perhaps her most impressive basket of the night, a tough-angle leaner on the baseline, but still the hosts wouldn’t quit, as Wagabaza sank two free throws and after a Donato steal, Ryan made a layup to make it 60-50.
Hasson then raced down and made a layup of her own to push the lead back to 12. After a Donato foul shot, Hasson hit a free throw. A driving layup by Donato and a short jumper from Frederick pulled Portland within eight, 63-55, but only 40 seconds remained and a pair of Henderson free throws brought the curtain down on South Portland’s 65-55 triumph.
“We’re a lot deeper this year,” Maddie Hasson said. “Last year, our scoring wasn’t as spread out, but so far this season, it’s really spread out. Anyone can put up 15 on a given night. We’re really unselfish about that.”
“We talked about kind of regrouping and fixing some things,” Lynne Hasson said. “We didn’t run anything well offensively against TA. Too much dribbling, not enough setting screens and making each other better. Tonight, that’s what we focused on. Our first group and the first couple girls off the bench did a great job.”
Cavallaro led all scorers with 22 points, thanks in large part to a game-high four 3-pointers. Hasson finished with 17 points, six steals and five rebounds.
“Maddie is a steadying presence on the court,” Lynne Hasson said. “She has basketball IQ and the skills. Maddie is consistent. If you need someone to do something, she can do it. Whether it’s defending the other team’s top player or breaking the press.”
Graff had eight points (along with three assists, three rebounds and two steals), Black five (as well as a game-high 12 boards), Doyle four (to go with 11 rebounds), Henderson three (as well as four assists, four rebounds and two steals) and Carter, Owen and Soucy each two apiece.
South Portland enjoyed a 39-30 rebounding advantage, but did commit a way-too-many 25 turnovers and made 8 of 14 free throws, yet held on.
For Portland, Ryan led the way with 15 points. She also had four rebounds and three steals. Donato added 13 points, eight assists, four blocked shots and three steals. Wagabaza had 12 points, 12 boards, three blocks and three steals. Johnson finished with six points, Frederick had four (to go with seven rebounds and three steals), Sargent three and Francis two.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over 18 times and made 16 of 26 foul shots, but fell short.
“It wasn’t a very good first half, but the second half was better,” Lowery said. “We’re in the process of finding ourselves. We did things late in the game I didn’t think we could do this year.”
A fun sidebar to the victory was a Hasson Family Feud.
Lynne Hasson coached Maddie to victory against a Portland squad which features a junior varsity coach by the name of Abby Hasson, the oldest daughter in the family.
“Going into the holidays, I wanted the bragging rights,” Maddie Hasson said. “It’s always nice to beat Portland, whether (Abby’s) on the other bench or not.”
“That was fun,” Lynne Hasson said. “It’s nice for a basketball family. Abby won the JV game and I got to watch her coach a little bit.”
Abby Hasson was pragmatic.
“We play twice and we’ll be ready next time,” she said.”
Fun’s just beginning
Portland looks to snap its skid Tuesday, but it won’t come easily, as undefeated Thornton Academy pays a visit. The Bulldogs play their final game of 2014 on Dec. 30, when they welcome Cheverus.
“The girls think they can do it,” Lowery said. “We’re building the program. We outplayed and outscored one of the top teams in the league in the second half. The upside to this team is big. We’re fixing things as we go along. We’ll get our wins.”
South Portland is idle until Tuesday, when it hosts Bonny Eagle. The Red Riots close the 2014 portion of their schedule Dec. 30 when they play at Deering.
“I think we can be really good,” Cavallaro said. “We have a really deep bench. If someone isn’t playing well, we have others who can step in and get those points for us.”
“It’s comes down to execution,” Maddie Hasson said. “Running our offense will be really important.”
“We’re still inconsistent,” Lynne Hasson added. “There’s been some really great stuff out there and some really bad stuff. We have a long way to go. A lot of teams are competitive. We’ll see what happens.”
South Portland freshman Grace Soucy launches an outside shot.
Portland junior Merritt Ryan is fouled on a drive to the basket.
South Portland sophomore Lydia Henderson drives past Portland senior Gabby Wagabaza.
South Portland freshman Megan Graff shoots over Portland sophomore Kate Johnson.
Portland senior Elizabeth Donato drives past South Portland freshman Abby Cavallaro
Portland senior Gabby Wagabaza goes up for a shot in traffic.
Recent Portland-South Portland results
Portland 50 @ South Portland 46
South Portland 48 @ Portland 35
South Portland 55 @ Portland 41
@ South Portland 49 Portland 30
@ South Portland 63 Portland 54
@ Portland 60 South Portland 52
South Portland 58 @ Portland 56 (OT)
@ South Portland 46 Portland 38
South Portland 58 @ Portland 47
Western A preliminary round
@ South Portland 56 Portland 50
@ South Portland 56 Portland 35
South Portland 61 @ Portland 49
South Portland 40 @ Portland 28
@ South Portland 55 Portland 38
South Portland 46 @ Portland 33
@ South Portland 81 Portland 52
South Portland 36 @ Portland 35
@ Portland 62 South Portland 55
Portland 67 @ South Portland 62
South Portland 37 @ Portland 32
@ South Portland 65 Portland 47
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 57 South Portland 50
@ South Portland 55 Portland 47
Portland 56 South Portland 49
South Portland junior Maddie Hasson soars for a 3-pointer during the Red Riots’ 65-55 victory at Portland Thursday night. Hasson had 17 points.
South Portland 65 Portland 55
SP- 15 16 22 12- 65
P- 6 14 15 20- 55
SP- Cavallaro 9-0-22, Hasson 7-1-17, Graff 3-1-8 Black 2-1-5, Doyle 1-2-4, Henderson 0-3-3, Carter 1-0-2, Owen 1-0-2, Soucy 1-0-2
P- Ryan 4-7-15, Donato 3-7-13, Wagabaza 5-2-12, Johnson 3-0-6, Frederick 2-0-4, Sargent 1-0-3, Francis 1-0-2
SP (7) Cavallaro 4, Hasson 2, Graff 1
P (1) Sargent 1