SP girls stifle Cheverus for ninth straight win

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South Portland junior Meghan Graff plays tight defense on Cheverus senior Kaylin Malmquist during the Red Riots’ 64-40 victory Wednesday. Graff had 21 points and South Portland forced 23 turnovers as it won its ninth straight game.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 64 Cheverus 40

SP- 13 15 13 23- 64
C- 15 7 5 13- 40

SP- Graff 9-2-21, M. Whitmore 6-3-15, Henderson 3-2-9, Mazur 2-2-6, Towles 2-2-6, B. Cloutier 2-0-4, O. Cloutier 1-0-2, K. Whitmore 0-1-1

C- Cavallaro 3-2-8, Poulin 2-2-8, Briggs 2-0-6, Dawson 1-2-5, Tillotson 2-0-5, Malmquist 1-0-3, McElman 1-0-3, Kane 1-0-2

3-pointers:
SP (2) Graff, Henderson 1
C (8) Briggs, Poulin 2, Dawson, Malmquist, McElman, Tillotson 1

Turnovers:
SP- 11
C- 23

Free throws
SP: 12-25
C: 6-8

PORTLAND—The offensive prowess of the South Portland girls’ basketball team is daunting enough.

But when the Red Riots are playing great defense as well, they can beat anyone.

The Cheverus Stags learned that the hard way Wednesday evening at Keegan Gymnasium, as South Portland put together its most complete effort of the season and rolled to a surprisingly easy victory.

The Stags got off to a strong start, leading, 15-13, after one period, and 22-18 early in the second quarter, but the rest of the game belonged to the Red Riots.

South Portland, sparked by 15 first half points from junior Meghan Graff, closed the second quarter on a 10-0 run to seize control.

In the third period, junior Eva Mazur sparked a smothering defensive effort that ultimately held Cheverus scoreless for nearly 13 minutes and a putback from Graff with 1:28 to go in the frame spelled a 38-22 lead, capping a whopping 20-0 run.

The Stags shot better in the fourth quarter, but never made a serious run and the Red Riots even got terrific efforts from their reserves as they went on to an emphatic 64-40 victory.

Graff led all scorers with 21 points, freshman Maggie Whitmore added 15 and Mazur had five assists and five steals as South Portland made it nine wins in a row, improved to 13-2 and dropped Cheverus to 10-5 in the process.

“This is the best I’ve seen a South Portland team play in a long, long time,” said Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson. “This is what we’ve been working toward. We looked like a championship-caliber team. Defense is what we do best.”

No strangers

Wednesday’s meeting was the teams’ second in five days.

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 at Lewiston, 43-41, but last Friday night, they held on for a dramatic 50-43 overtime home victory over Thornton Academy. Saturday, Cheverus fell at South Portland, but Tuesday, got back on track with a 71-44 home win over Massabesic.

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), host Falmouth (58-39), visiting Cheverus and Tuesday, host Windham (49-31).

Saturday, Cheverus erased a 10-point deficit and took a fourth quarter lead on a long 3-pointer from junior Emme Poulin, but South Portland scored the game’s final eight points (all by freshman Maggie Whitmore) to prevail, 51-44

Entering play Wednesday, South Portland had won seven straight in the series and held an 18-7 all-time edge (see sidebar, below).

This time around, the Red Riots won by a surprisingly large margin.

Action was fast and furious in the first quarter, as the lead changed hands six times.

Junior Abby Cavallaro got things started with a jumper, but Graff set up Whitmore for a layup to tie it.

After senior Brooke McElman sank a 3 to put the hosts on top, the next seven points went to the Red Riots, as Whitmore made a free throw, Graff tied it with a layup, Graff set up Whitmore for a layup and senior Lydia Henderson drove for a layup and a 9-5 lead.

Back came the Stags, as senior Kaylin Malmquist made a 3 and Cavallaro stole the ball and raced in for a layup to put the hosts back on top.

After Graff drove and banked home a shot, junior Kat Kane hit a baseline jumper for Cheverus.

South Portland retook the lead on a driving reverse layup from Whitmore, but with 6.1 seconds left, senior Alayna Briggs’ 3 gave the Stags a 15-13 lead after eight minutes.

The Red Riots then had the better of the play in the second period.

A free throw from sophomore Katie Whitmore started the frame and pulled the visitors within a point, but Poulin buried a long 3.

Graff then took over, tying the game with a putback and a bank shot, but Poulin made two free throws and with 5:48 to go in the half, Cavallaro did the same for a 22-18 Cheverus lead.

The Stags wouldn’t score again before halftime, however, and South Portland closed on a 10-0 run to seize control.

The surge started with a Mazur free throw. Graff then hit a pair of foul shots and drained a 3 to put the Red Riots on top.

Down the stretch, Henderson converted a leaner and Mazur set up Graff for a layup to make it 28-22 South Portland at halftime.

“I like to play defense and I like to set up Meghan,” said Mazur. “I trust her with the ball. She’s always active on offense and gets open.”

“Eva has great vision on the court,” Graff said. “She dishes off to me. We read each other really well. We played together when we were young and now we play on the same AAU team. I think she’s the best defender in the league. This year, she’s developed her offensive game.”

“(Eva and Meghan) really do it all,” Hasson said. “They’re interchangeable. They complement each other well. There’s a lot of good guards, but to have two guards that good, we’re fortunate. They can do it at both ends. They have fun playing together. They’re great athletes.”

If the end of the half wasn’t bad enough for Cheverus, Cavallaro was called for her third foul with just 2.4 seconds to go.

Graff led all first half scorers with 15 points and Whitmore added seven points and four rebounds.

The Stags got six points from Cavallaro, but committed 10 turnovers.

In the third quarter, Cheverus’ frustration continued and South Portland continued to open it up.

Mazur drove for a left-handed layup before Henderson set up Maggie Whitmore for a layup and Mazur, after a steal, set up Whitmore for another layup.

With 2:30 to go in the third, Mazur stole the ball and made another layup, forcing Cheverus coach Steve Huntington to call timeout.

“We had to step our defensive intensity,” Mazur said. “We picked it up as soon as they hit a couple shots.”

The Red Riots kept coming, however, as Graff scored on a putback to extend the run to 20-0.

Finally, with 1:05 remaining, senior Brooke Dawson knocked down a 3 for the Stags, ending an interminable 12 minute, 43 second drought.

After sophomore Bela Cloutier scored on a putback, Mazur made a free throw. Two Dawson free throws with 4.1 seconds showing, pulled Cheverus back to 41-27 heading for the final stanza.

The Stags hit some shots in the fourth period, but it was far too little, too late.

Henderson opened the frame with a 3-pointer. After Cavallaro made a jump shot, Graff banked home a shot and Cloutier sank a long jumper for a 48-29 advantage.

Cheverus senior Ally Tillotson made a layup, but Henderson fed Whitmore for a layup.

After Poulin drained a long 3, Graff drove for a layup and a 52-34 lead.

The Stags continued to try and rally, as Tillotson sank a 3-pointer, but Henderson hit two foul shots, then Whitmore did the same for a 19-point advantage.

After Briggs made a 3 for Cheverus’ final points, Red Riots freshman Olivia Cloutier sank a jumper, freshman Kaleisha Towle made a layup, Towle sank two free throws and as time wound down, Towle took a pass from sophomore Grace Rende and made a layup to put the exclamation point on the 64-40 victory.

“We’ve really been jelling,” Mazur said. “It’s good timing for us to figure it out. We have to keep up the intensity and work hard in practice and stay healthy.”

“Saturday, they shot the heck out of the ball, but today, we wanted to set the tone on defense and get our hands up so they couldn’t shoot,” Graff said. “We really got up on all their shooters. We set the tone with our defense. It was our main focus today. After the Scarborough loss, we were disappointed. Since then, we’ve told ourselves we can’t underestimate any team and we have to come out and play to our potential.”

“I’m so proud of the kids for their intensity,” Hasson added. “Not just the starting group, but I love the way the freshmen came off the bench at the end. Top to bottom, that was a great game for us. We played well. (Cheverus is) a very good team. They’re one of the better offensive teams around. We really came ready to play tonight.” 

Graff finished with a game-high 21 points. She also had seven rebounds, three assists and a steal.

Maggie Whitmore had 15 points and five rebounds.

Henderson finished with nine points.

“Lydia played like a senior on a mission,” Hasson said. “She knows this her last chance to compete for a championship. We never get anything less than her best effort. She’ll give everything she has.”

Mazur (six rebounds, five assists, five steals and a blocked shot) and Towle finished with six points apiece, Bela Cloutier had four, Olivia Cloutier two and Katie Whitmore one.

The Red Riots had a 28-15 rebounding advantage, registered 13 steals, only turned the ball over 11 times and overcame poor 12-of-25 foul shooting.

Cheverus was led by Cavallaro and Poulin with eight points apiece. Briggs had six points, Dawson and Tillotson five apiece, Malmquist and McElman (three rebounds, three blocks) three points each and Kane two.

The Stags made 6 of 8 free throws, but turned the ball over 23 times.

“It came down to being tough with the basketball,” Huntington said. “We had to be able to take body contact and put the ball in the basket, but we shied away from body contact. South Portland’s very aggressive. They body up on the perimeter and they move their feet well. It’s hard to get an angle. We didn’t get great shots and it all went downhill. Going into halftime, we turned the ball over and missed shots. That’s OK if you’re holding up your end of the bargain on the defensive end, but they hit shots. As well as we can shoot it and look good, sometimes it’s fool’s gold. The ball will go in, but the coaching staff will look at each other and know it wasn’t a good possession.”

Thinking playoffs

Now that the calendar has flipped to February, thoughts turn to the tournament, which is only a couple weeks away.

Both teams will be in the playoffs and both are seeking to solidify their standing.

Cheverus (third in Class AA North) has a brutal closing stretch, playing at Scarborough Saturday and at Gorham Tuesday before closing at home versus Maine Girls’ Academy next Thursday.

“We’re still 10-5, which is good,” Huntington said. “We’ll make the playoffs. We have to start putting things together to win a tough game. We’re not quite there yet. There’s still work to be done. It’s a tough schedule. We’re one of the few teams that plays a full AA schedule.”  

South Portland (second in Class AA South) has a big home test against Deering Friday. After playing at Bonny Eagle Tuesday, the Red Riots wrap up the regular year next Thursday at home versus Westbrook.

“We’ve worked hard and have gotten better and better,” Graff said. “Either being 2 or 3 (seed) would be fine. We’ll be confident either way.”

“I’m thrilled tonight, but we have to get ready for Deering,” Hasson said. “They’re a tough team. We can’t have a letdown. We’re vying for that No. 2 spot. We’ll keep getting better.”

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

South Portland junior Eva Mazur soars to the basket.

Cheverus junior Abby Cavallaro is guarded by South Portland sophomore Bela Cloutier.

South Portland freshman Maggie Whitmore goes up for a basket as Cheverus senior Brooke McElman defends.

South Portland sophomore Bela Cloutier goes up for a shot as Cheverus junior Emme Poulin defends.

South Portland junior Meghan Graff gets past three Cheverus defenders en route to the basket.

Previous Cheverus-South Portland results

2016-17
@ South Portland 51 Cheverus 44 

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.