SP girls hold off Cheverus for seventh straight win

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South Portland junior Eva Mazur goes up for a shot as Cheverus senior Brooke McElman (23) and junior Abby Cavallaro look on. The Red Riots scored the game’s final eight points to prevail, 51-44.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 51 Cheverus 44

C-  8 7 15 14- 44
SP- 7 12 16 16- 51

C- Cavallaro 5-0-13, B. Dawson 2-2-8, McElman 4-0-8, Poulin 2-0-6, Briggs 1-0-3, Jordan 1-0-2, Kane 1-0-2, Tillotson 1-0-2

SP- M. Whitmore 6-7-19, Mazur 4-0-10, Graff 3-0-7, Boles 2-0-6, Henderson 1-0-3, B. Cloutier 1-0-2, Leckie 1-0-2, K. Whitmore 1-0-2

3-pointers:
C (8) Cavallaro 3, B. Dawson, Poulin 2, Briggs 1
SP (6) Boles, Mazur 2, Graff, Henderson 1

Turnovers:
C- 16
SP- 14

Free throws
C: 2-4
SP: 7-10

SOUTH PORTLAND—The old adage suggests that the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.

South Portland freshman Maggie Whitmore is clearly an exception.

The youngest player on the floor proved to be the difference maker in Saturday afternoon’s home showdown against dangerous Cheverus in a back-and-forth affair.

Despite playing an overtime game less than 24 hours prior, the Stags managed to take an 8-7 lead after one quarter. 

The Red Riots came to life in the second period and took a 19-15 lead to halftime.

In the third period, a long 3-pointer from Cheverus junior Emme Poulin gave the visitors a momentary lead, 22-21, but South Portland rattled off a 14-3 run to go ahead, 35-25.

The Stags drew back within five points heading for the fourth quarter and when Poulin hit a 3 from beyond NBA range with 2:33 to go, they had a 44-43 lead.

But Whitmore and her teammates saved their best for last, as the Red Riots didn’t allow another point and Whitmore’s offense led the way to victory.

With 2:05 remaining, Whitmore took a pass from junior Eva Mazur and made a layup to put South Portland ahead to stay.

Down the stretch, Whitmore made two free throws, hit another layup, then added two more foul shots as the Red Riots went on to a 51-44 victory.

Whitmore led all scorers with 19 points as South Portland won its seventh game in succession, improved to 11-2 and dropped Cheverus to 9-4 in the process.

“Defense was the difference,” said Whitmore. “We all played team defense and caused turnovers. We’ve really come together and played good defense. That’s won all our games. We’re executing things well.”

Fight to the finish

Both teams have enjoyed a lot of triumph this season.

Cheverus opened with wins at Noble (53-38) and at home over Portland (63-32), then lost at home to Edward Little (37-34) and at Oxford Hills (52-44). The Stags returned to the win column, 61-39, at home over Sanford, then outlasted visiting Deering in an overtime thriller, 56-53. After a first-ever win at Maine Girls’ Academy (56-32), Cheverus won at Bangor (52-30) and Bonny Eagle (59-56) and at home over Windham (50-35). The Stags’ six-game streak was dashed Tuesday at Lewiston, 43-41, but Friday night, they held on for a dramatic 50-43 overtime home victory over Thornton Academy.

South Portland opened with a 58-29 home win over Maine Girls’ Academy, then won at Deering, 57-46. After a 44-31 loss at defending Class AA champion Gorham, the Red Riots beat visiting Massabesic (60-39) and host Sanford (51-40). South Portland opened the 2017 portion of its schedule with a 46-40 loss at Scarborough, then hit its stride and beat visiting Lewiston (53-38), host MGA (47-34), visiting Noble (50-37), visiting Portland (65-28), visiting Thornton Academy (58-40) and host Falmouth (58-39).

Entering play Saturday, South Portland held a 17-7 all-time lead in the series (see sidebar, below). The Red Riots won the first 11 meetings, the Stags took the next seven, then South Portland captured the past six.

This time around, Cheverus hoped to beat the Red Riots for the first time since the 2014 Western A quarterfinals (61-42), but South Portland got the job done again.

The Stags scored first, as senior Ally Tillotson knocked down a long jumper. Senior Brooke McElman added a baseline jumper for a 4-0 lead before the Red Riots got three successive offensive rebounds to keep possession, then got on the board on a 3-pointer from Mazur. 

After Cheverus junior Abby Cavallaro, who played for the Red Riots as a freshman, hit a pullup jumper, Mazur answered with a leaner.

Late in the quarter, junior Kat Kane scored on a putback for the visitors before Whitmore made a layup after a steal to pull South Portland within one, 8-7, after eight minutes.

In the second period, the Red Riots took the lead, thanks to a rare five-point possession.

Just nine seconds in, junior Sarah Boles sank a corner 3 and on the play, a foul was called on the Stags, allowing the hosts to keep the ball. Whitmore then scored on a putback for a 12-8 lead.

Cheverus got two points back on a bank shot from McElman, but junior Meghan Graff set up sophomore Jena Leckie for a layup.

After McElman made a long jumper for the Stags, senior Lydia Henderson buried a 3 for South Portland, but senior Brooke Dawson answered with one for Cheverus.

With just 3.3 seconds to go, Whitmore was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound and she sank both free throws to make it 19-15 Red Riots at halftime.

In the first half, McElman and Whitmore led their respective teams with six points apiece. Both squads turned the ball over nine times.

In the third quarter, the pace of play increased, as did South Portland’s lead.

The Stags started the second half strong, getting a layup from Cavallaro and a layup after a steal by McElman, but Whitmore put the Red Riots back on top with a layup after a nice move.

With 5:22 to go in the third, a long 3 from Poulin put Cheverus up, 22-21, its first lead since the start of the second quarter.

South Portland then rattled off 10 points in a row to regain control.

The run started with a 3 from Boles. After Graff drove for a layup after a steal, Mazur drained a 3 and with 2:12 to go in the third, sophomore Katie Whitmore’s layup made it 31-22 Red Riots.

Fourteen seconds later, Cavallaro rattled in a 3 to end the run, but Mazur banked home a shot after a nice move and sophomore Bela Cloutier made a jumper in the lane for South Portland’s biggest lead.

Cheverus didn’t buckle, however, and cut the 10-point deficit down to five by quarter’s end, as senior Alayna Briggs buried a 3 and junior Michaela Jordan scored on a putback to make it 35-30 with eight minutes left. 

Both teams hit key shots in the fourth period, but the Red Riots saved their best for last.

Cavallaro started the frame with a 3, but Graff answered with one of her own.

With 5:35 to play, Cavallaro buried another deep 3, but 58 seconds later, Graff made a jumper in traffic for a 40-36 lead.

Dawson made two foul shots, but at the other end, Maggie Whitmore grabbed an offensive rebound, somehow put it back in despite being fouled, then sank a free throw to make it 43-38.

The Stags kept coming, however, and after Dawson hit a 3, Poulin drained one from NBA range and with 2:33 left, Cheverus had a 44-43 lead.

But South Portland didn’t panic and answered.

With 2:05 left, Mazur passed to Maggie Whitmore on the low block and Whitmore made a layup to put the Red Riots ahead to stay, 45-44.

“Eva had a lot of faith in me,” said Whitmore. “She had a really good pass. I just had to finish it. It’s been fun this year. It’s good to go along for the ride.”

Cavallaro looked to put the Stags back on top, but she missed and Mazur got the rebound.

South Portland ran the clock down to 1:25 before Whitmore was fouled and calmly sank both attempts to stretch the lead to three.

Cheverus had a chance to answer, but turned the ball over.

With 47.2 seconds to go, off an inbounds set, Whitmore got the ball near the basket and drove for another layup and a 49-44 lead.

The Stags threw the ball away again and Graff was fouled. She missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Cheverus gave the ball right back.

With 18 seconds to play, Mazur missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Graff got the rebound and got the ball to Whitmore, who was fouled with 9.3 seconds showing.

Whitmore then hit two more free throws to ice it and South Portland ran out the clock on its 51-44 triumph.

“(Cheverus is) a good team,” said Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson. “They’re tough. They shoot the ball well and we knew that. We got out on them, but they made some big ones with our hands in their face down the stretch. Give them credit.

“We were a little shaky at the beginning. We needed to limit their second chances. When we play team defense, we limit teams to one shot. What I was most pleased about down the stretch was composure. There was never panic. Meghan and Eva and Lydia are confident with the ball in their hands. Having them out there at crunch time makes a difference.”

Whitmore led all scorers with 19 points. She also had six rebounds (all on offense) and a pair of steals.

“Maggie’s got all the skills,” Hasson said. “She’s smart. She’s a confident kid. As the season has gone on, she knows we need her to score. Everyone has a role on this team. We have four or five scorers. For us to be successful, we need to depend on Maggie to score and she’s been doing that.” 

Mazur added 10 points (to go with six boards and two steals), Graff seven (to go with eight rebounds, five assists and two steals), Boles six, Henderson three and Cloutier, Leckie and Katie Whitmore two apiece.

The Red Riots enjoyed a 27-20 rebounding advantage, made 7 of 10 free throws and overcame 14 turnovers.

Cheverus was led by Cavallaro’s 13 points. Dawson and McElman (four rebounds, two blocks) had eight apiece, Poulin added six (to go with four assists), Briggs three and Jordan, Kane and Tillotson two apiece.

The Stags took just four free throws (and made two) and turned the ball over 16 times.

“Defensively, we played hard and we rebounded fairly well,” said Cheverus coach Steve Huntington. “The fatigue may have been more from an offensive standpoint. We saw that at the end when we threw the ball away and couldn’t get a good shot. We got behind and once we picked up the pace, we were fine. I have tough girls. We go nine deep and they all battle. We have a lot of heart.

“We’re struggling on the offensive end and figuring out the tempo we want to play. There’s some hesitation on open looks whether or not it’s a good shot. We just have to shoot with confidence. We have some great shooters. Emme can shoot it deep. Abby’s as consistent a 3-point shooter as there is. Brooke Dawson can shoot it. We just have to get the right shots at the right time.”

Rematch

The teams play again Wednesday in Portland.

First, Cheverus (ranked third in the Class AA North Heal Points standings at press time) hosts Massabesic Tuesday. After playing South Portland for a second time, the Stags go to Scarborough and Gorham and close at home versus MGA.

“There isn’t a game on the schedule that’s easy,” Huntington said. “Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. We have five games in eight days. The good thing about it is that we’re deep and we can play a lot of bodies. We’ll bounce back and tweak some things. We’ll look for some consistency and move forward.” 

The Red Riots (now second in Class AA South, where the top two teams receive byes into the semifinals) are at Windham Tuesday and Cheverus Wednesday, then host Deering, visit Bonny Eagle and close at home versus Westbrook.

“It comes back to our defense,” Hasson said. “That’s why we had success last year. We communicate well. We’re athletic. We put good pressure on the ball. If we continue to win, it’ll be because of our defense. If we keep doing that and score points, we’ll be fine.

“We have a tough stretch upcoming. I have mixed feelings about the bye. You have a really long layoff, then have to play a team that had a chance to shake out the tournament jitters, but if we end up two, I’ll be happy.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cheverus junior Abby Cavallaro lines up a shot over South Portland sophomore Bela Cloutier.

South Portland junior Meghan Graff passes the ball into the post.

Cheverus senior Brooke McElman goes up for a layup.

Cheverus senior Ally Tillotson shoots over South Portland freshman Maggie Whitmore.

South Portland sophomore Katie Whitmore and Cheverus junior Abby Cavallaro fight for the ball.

South Portland sophomore Jena Leckie drives on Cheverus senior Brooke McElman.

Previous Cheverus-South Portland results

2015-16
South Portland 58 @ Cheverus 34
@ South Portland 55 Cheverus 29  

2014-15
@ South Portland 61 Cheverus 45 
South Portland 63 @ Cheverus 55

2013-14
South Portland 72 @ Cheverus 56
@ South Portland 49 Cheverus 46
Western A quarterfinals
Cheverus 61 South Portland 42

2012-13
Cheverus 43 @ South Portland 33

2011-12
@ Cheverus 58 South Portland 42

2010-11
@ Cheverus 52 South Portland 41
Cheverus 52 @ South Portland 41

2009-10
Cheverus 46 @ South Portland 42
@ Cheverus 48 South Portland 35

2008-09
@ South Portland 43 Cheverus 33

2007-08
South Portland 52 @ Cheverus 25

2006-07
@ South Portland 48 Cheverus 35
South Portland 58 @ Cheverus 28

2005-06
South Portland 57 @ Cheverus 28
@ South Portland 55 Cheverus 34

2004-05
South Portland 65 @ Cheverus 33
@ South Portland 78 Cheverus 36

2003-04
@ South Portland 53 Cheverus 28
South Portland 85 Cheverus 44

2002-03
@ South Portland 88 Cheverus 35

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.