W- 6 10 8 5- 29
SP- 17 19 14 8- 58
W- Baiguy 4-0-8, Talon 2-1-5, Hoffses 1-2-4, A. Drummond 1-0-3, Flanders 1-1-3, E. Drummond 0-2-2, Hodgkins 1-0-2, Joyce 1-0-2
SP- M. Whitmore 8-5-22, Towle 3-6-12, Aceto 4-0-8, Degifico 2-0-4, Leckie 1-1-3, Boothby-Akilo 1-0-2, Owen 1-0-2, Stawarz 1-0-2, K. Whitmore 1-0-2, B. Cloutier 0-1-1
W (1) A. Drummond 1
SP (1) M. Whitmore 1
SOUTH PORTLAND—The sign taped to the locker room door of the South Portland girls’ basketball team is simple and its meaning is unambiguous.
A year after an expected championship run was derailed by Gorham in the Class AA South semifinals, the Red Riots are looking to complete what that team started and reach the pinnacle for the first time in 33 years and at the midway point of the 2018-19 season, they have the look of a squad capable of doing something special.
Monday evening at Beal Gymnasium, South Portland extended its win streak to six games when it made quick work of a reeling Windham squad that entered the contest unbeaten, but without junior standout Sarah Talon, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Eagles’ last outing.
The Red Riots never trailed, got eight points from junior Kaleisha Towle to go up, 17-6, after one period, then thanks to an effort from everyone on the roster, gradually pulled away.
South Portland extended its advantage to 36-16 at halftime, 50-24 after three quarters and went on to a 58-29 victory.
Junior Maggie Whitmore led the way with 22 points, Towle added a dozen and the Red Riots improved to 8-1 on the year, dropping Windham to 7-1 in the process.
“I just think the girls want so badly to win a Gold Ball,” said South Portland coach Lynne Hasson. “Every kid in the state of Maine wants to win one. That’s particularly relevant for us because we’ve been so close. We’re in the mix and that’s all we can ask.”
Both teams are very much in the hunt this winter.
South Portland enjoyed a 59-28 victory at Bonny Eagle Opening Night, then downed host Cheverus, 58-42. After a 66-50 setback at defending Class A champion Greely, the Red Riots defeated visiting Scarborough (55-36), host Thornton Academy (52-23), host Oxford Hills (62-56), host Sanford (56-22) and visiting Massabesic (47-18).
Windham opened with a 38-36 win at Cheverus, then closed out the 2018 portion of the schedule with victories over visiting Portland (55-46), host Bangor (44-40), visiting Noble (56-43), visiting defending Class AA champion Edward Little (54-40), host Bonny Eagle (46-43) and visiting Massabesic (38-34), in the game that Talon suffered her knee injury.
“It’s obviously a big loss,” said Eagles coach Brody Artes. “(Hannah) did a lot for us and made everyone around her better. It’s going to be an adjustment. We’ve always preached that we’re never just one player, we’re a team. We have good pieces who can come together. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Last year, South Portland won at Windham, 50-28.
Monday, the Eagles sought their first victory over the Red Riots since a 55-47 triumph Dec. 9, 2011 in South Portland, but instead, the Red Riots took control early and made it seven straight in the series.
Off the opening tip, the ball came to senior Jena Leckie, who passed to classmate Katie Whitmore for a layup and the hosts never looked back.
Maggie Whitmore added a free throw for her first point and after the Eagles got on the board on a runner from freshman Sarah Talon, which rattled in, Towle was fouled after an offensive rebound and made two free throws.
With 5:28 to go in the first quarter, junior Emily Drummond made two foul shots for the visitors, but the next dozen points went to the Red Riots.
Leckie started the run with a free throw, then hit a leaner. After Maggie Whitmore took a pass from junior Ashlee Aceto and converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw), Towle made two free throws, hit a jumper and sank two more foul shots for a 17-4 lead.
“Kaleisha is able to randomly take over games,” said Maggie Whitmore. “Today, she was on and it was key for us to get her the ball.”
“Kaleisha is just really confident and she looks to score,” Hasson said. “She has a nice jump shot and she’s a good captain of our defense.”
A layup from senior Mikayla Baiguy just before the horn ended a 5-minute, 24-second drought and pulled Windham within 11 after eight minutes.
South Portland never let the Eagles entertain comeback hopes in the second quarter, as Aceto got things started with a leaner and Towle added a jumper to make it 21-6.
After Baiguy made a layup, Katie Whitmore set up Maggie Whitmore for a layup.
Baiguy made a jump shot, but Aceto hit a jumper and Aceto made a layup after a steal by senior Bela Cloutier for a 27-10 lead.
After senior Alanna Joyce made a layup for the visitors, Maggie Whitmore hit a 3-pointer, Towle set up Aceto for a layup and Maggie Whitmore passed to Towle for a layup and a commanding 34-12 advantage.
Two free throws from senior Meghan Hoffses and a Baiguy layup, sandwiched around a Maggie Whitmore driving layup, cut Windham’s deficit to 36-16 at the break.
In the first half, Towle led all scorers with a dozen points, while Maggie Whitmore had 11 and Aceto eight. Baiguy had half of the Eagles’ points.
The third period was more of the same.
Maggie Whitmore opened the second half with a jumper, but Talon converted a three-point play.
After Cloutier made a free throw, senior Tara Flanders made a layup to pull Windham within 18.
Maggie Whitmore countered with two free throws, but Flanders hit one and Hoffses drove for a layup to make the score 41-24.
South Portland then closed the frame on a 9-0 run.
Maggie Whitmore did most of the damage, draining a free throw, going coast-to-coast for a layup, driving for a layup and after sophomore Cora Boothby-Akilo scored on a putback, Whitmore took a pass from Aceto and made another layup for a 50-24 lead heading for the final stanza.
Where the Red Riots played several reserves and finished off their victory.
The Eagles scored first in the fourth period, as junior Molly Hodgkins made a jumper, but South Portland sophomore Fiona Stawarz countered with a jump shot and sophomore Maria Degifico added a pair of layups for a 56-26 lead.
Junior Anna Drummond drained a long 3-pointer for Windham’s final points and with 1:49 to go, Degifico set up freshman Hylah Owen for a layup and the Red Riots closed out their 58-29 win.
“I think we had something to prove tonight,” Maggie Whitmore said. “Obviously (Talon’s injury) is terrible, but they’re still top-notch. Getting out and running is always a goal. Keeping turnovers low and keeping it fast-paced is always a goal for us.”
“I think we’re doing a lot of things well,” said Hasson. “Windham’s a really good team that’s well-coached, but they were short-handed. I liked our intensity tonight.”
Maggie Whitmore led the way with 22 points, four rebounds and a pair of steals.
Towle cooled off after her fast start, but scored 12 points and also had four rebounds.
Aceto had eight points, three assists and two steals off the bench.
Degifico added four points (to go with three rebounds, two assists and two steals), Leckie had three (and a game-high nine rebounds), Boothby-Akilo, Owen, Stawarz and Katie Whitmore two apiece and Cloutier one.
“We know we have the potential to go so deep,” Maggie Whitmore said. “Every player has a role on this team.”
“I like that kids came off the bench and really contributed,” Hasson said. “Developing depth is huge. That allows us to do some of our fullcourt stuff because kids can step in and give the starters a break.”
The Red Riots had a 34-27 edge on the glass, made 13 of 17 free throws and only committed 11 turnovers.
Windham was paced by Baiguy’s eight points. Sarah Talon added five, Hoffses had four, Anna Drummond and Flanders (five rebounds) three apiece and Emily Drummond, Hodgkins and Joyce two each.
The Eagles committed 17 turnovers and made 6 of 8 foul shots.
“(South Portland’s) a very, very good team, one of the top teams in the state,” Artes said. “They’re a tough matchup overall. They’re talented and deep and they go to their bench and pick up right where they left off. Everyone contributes.”
Windham will look to return to the win column Thursday at Sanford. The Eagles then host Scarborough Saturday and welcome Bangor Tuesday of next week.
“Roles are starting to shift a little bit, so we’re going to have to figure out how to piece things together,” Artes said. “I don’t anticipate it happening overnight. We were fortunate to have some good wins early on that will carry us as far as Heal Points are concerned. We just need to make sure we constantly are focused on getting better each day.
“Sanford on Thursday is a good opportunity to bounce back and get back in the win column. We’ll have to play well against Scarborough because they’re playing well.”
South Portland welcomes Portland Thursday, then is idle until Jan. 18, when it plays at Deering.
“I think we’ve worked hard on things since (the Greely loss) and we’ve been improving,” Maggie Whitmore said. “We’ve got big goals ahead of us. We’ll take it game-by-game, but our final goal is always in the back of our minds. We still have to play some top teams. Those will be good games. We have to take care of the ball.”
“Staying healthy is the key,” Hasson said. “We get an opportunity to get a rest next week. Hopefully that will allow us to regroup a little bit. We still have huge games to come. The fun is just beginning. We don’t need to be at our best yet. We need to be there at the end.”