SP staggers McAuley, continues surge

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South Portland senior Maddie Hasson (33) and sophomore Meghan Graff are all smiles at the final horn of the Red Riots’ 57-45 home win over McAuley Tuesday night. Hasson had 22 points and 16 rebounds and Graff added 17 points as South Portland ended an 11-game skid at the hands of the Lions, beating them for the first time since 2008.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 57 McAuley 45

M- 5 10 21 9- 45
SP- 16 19 17 5- 57

M- Reid 5-0-12, Weisser 5-0-11, Willerson 4-2-10, Howard 3-3-9, Rairdon 1-0-2, Mazur 0-1-1

SP- Hasson 6-10-22, Graff 7-2-17, Whitmore 4-1-9, Boles 2-0-5, Henderson 2-0-4

3-pointers:
M (3) Reid 2, Weisser 1
SP (2) Boles, Graff 1

Turnovers:
M- 14
SP-19

FTs
M: 6-14
SP: 13-15

SOUTH PORTLAND—Taming the Lions is never easy.

For South Portland’s girls’ basketball team, it had been downright impossible, in the regular season and postseason, for nearly eight years.

But Tuesday evening at Beal Gymnasium, the Red Riots discovered that a fast start and a superb teamwide effort on both ends of the floor can lead to a long overdue celebration.

South Portland entered the contest having lost 11 straight to the state’s flagship program, as offensive inefficiencies usually spelled doom, but on this occasion, the Red Riots raced to a 16-5 lead after one quarter, forcing seven McAuley turnovers while getting nine points from an improbable source, freshman Katie Whitmore.

With the table set, the best player on the floor and one of the finest in the whole state, senior Maddie Hasson, ensured South Portland would protect and extend that lead, as Hasson went for a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) in the first half alone, helping the Red Riots go up by a stunning 20-point margin, 35-15, at the break.

From there, South Portland weathered several Lions’ surges, turned to sophomore Meghan Graff to make some key shots and help run out the clock after Hasson fouled out and for the first time since Feb. 1, 2008, the Red Riots got to celebrate a win over McAuley, 57-45.

Hasson had a monster game with 22 points and 16 boards, Graff added 17 points and Whitmore finished with nine as South Portland made it seven consecutive victories overall, improved to 8-2 and handed the Lions their first setback in 10 games this winter in the process.

“I’m really excited,” Hasson said. “The past four years, we’ve come really close against McAuley. (Thornton Academy) has been the team to beat them, but I felt like we were the next team right there. We lost every time, but we knew tonight we could get over the hump and we did.”

Breakthrough

If the second half of the 2015-16 season follows the script of the first, both teams will be happy.

McAuley opened with a 46-37 home victory over South Portland, then won at Massabesic (48-34), Bonny Eagle (59-38) and Noble (71-29), avenged last year’s playoff loss by downing Thornton Academy, 41-31, then closed 2015 with a 63-44 victory at Scarborough. The Lions kicked off 2016 by rallying to beat host Cheverus, 56-44, then downed host Marshwood (49-41) and visiting Windham (61-52).

South Portland dropped a 46-37 decision at McAuley in the opener, then edged visiting Deering (40-37). After a 40-38 home loss to Gorham, the Red Riots took off, downing host Cheverus (58-34), host Massabesic (41-15), visiting Sanford (55-31), visiting Scarborough (42-25), host Lewiston (55-35), visiting Cheverus (55-29) and host Noble (71-13).

McAuley’s win on Dec. 4 was its 11th straight in the series.

There wouldn’t be a 12th, as South Portland beat the Lions for the first time since George W. Bush was still in the White House and New England Patriots fans were some 48 hours away from the worst defeat in franchise history in Super Bowl 42.

The tone was set just 20 seconds in when Whitmore scored on a leaner while being fouled and she added a free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and a 3-0 lead.

After senior Jess Willerson hit a jumper to get McAuley on the board, Graff hit a leaner, Whitmore drove for a left-handed layup and Hasson set up Whitmore for a transition layup and a 9-2 lead with 2:41 to play in the opening quarter.

Lions coach Billy Goodman called timeout, but it didn’t help, as Hasson stole the ball and fed Graff for a layup and with 1:38 left, Whitmore drove once more for a layup and a 13-2 advantage.

Whitmore wouldn’t score again, but did she ever provide the Red Riots a spark.

“It was amazing,” Whitmore said. “I got more confident. I was a little bit nervous, but I was more excited than anything. I’ve learned so much, especially in practice. (My teammates) put 110 percent into everything they do and make everybody better.” 

“(Katie) was unbelievable,” said South Portland coach Lynne Hasson. “She’s a kid who has been around basketball her whole life. She loves the game. For a freshman, even at the beginning of the season, she was comfortable. She was huge tonight. To start the game that way was great.”

With 1:10 left in the first, freshman Catherine Reid, who had a promising debut in the teams’ Opening Night meeting, got a 3-point shot to rattle home to pull the Lions within 13-5, snapping a 5 minute, 5 second drought and the Red Riots’ 10-0 run.

But in the final minute of the quarter, Hasson stole the ball, made a layup and was fouled on the play and hit the free throw for a three-point play to put South Portland firmly in control after eight minutes, 16-5.

In that first quarter, Hasson had just three points, but she stuffed the stat sheet elsewhere with six rebounds, two steals, two blocked shots and an assist.

Hasson was held to four points in the teams’ first meeting and was bound and determined for it to be different this time.

“Since we walked out of McAuley, I had January 12th marked on the calendar,” Hasson said. “I was excited to redeem myself.”

The Red Riots didn’t rest on their laurels and extended their lead going into halftime.

After Reid started the second quarter scoring with a jumper from just inside the 3-point line, Hasson scored on a putback while being fouled and hit the free throw and Hasson added two foul shots after being fouled on another offensive rebound to push the lead to 21-7.

After Willerson got a point back for the Lions at the charity stripe, Hasson made a free throw, then Hasson took a pass from junior Lydia Henderson in transition, made a layup while being fouled then completed yet another three-point play to make it 25-8.

After Reid answered with a 3, South Portland sophomore Sarah Boles knocked down a jumper and Hasson set up Graff for a layup and a 29-11 lead.

Senior Chelsea Rairdon made a layup for McAuley, but Graff fed Henderson for a fastbreak layup, Hasson scored on a putback, then Hasson made two free throws for a commanding 22-point lead. Reid hit a runner from just inside the 3-point line as time expired, but South Portland took a 35-15 advantage to halftime.

In the first 16 minutes, Hasson had 16 points and 12 rebounds, Whitmore added nine points and Graff had six. Only 10 points from Reid (two-thirds of her team’s total) gave the Lions any semblance of an offense.

At the break. Lynne Hasson stressed the importance of not letting up.

“The message at halftime was remember that we had a big lead against Gorham and lost by two,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a tale of two halves. You can’t go in at halftime thinking you’ve won the game. We had to play the second half the same way we played the first half.”

Any fear of a letdown was alleviated when Graff hit a leaner, then sank two free throws to give South Portland its biggest lead, 39-15.

Willerson made a layup after a steal, but Graff countered with a leaner. McAuley sophomore Emily Weisser made a hook shot, but Hasson weaved through several defenders before finishing with a layup to make it 43-19.

The visitors tried to make a run, as Willerson made a layup and Weisser knocked down a 3, forcing Hasson to call timeout, but Graff kissed a runner off the glass and in and after a Graff steal, Henderson made a layup for a 47-24 advantage.

McAuley, more accurately, Howard, then went on a 6-0 run, making two free throws, then twice taking passes from sophomore Eva Mazur after a Mazur steal and making layups to cut the deficit to 47-30, but out of another timeout, the Red Riots got a pullup jumper from Hasson.

The Lions kept the pressure on as twice Howard fed Weisser for layups and Reid hit a runner to cut the deficit to 13, but as time wound down in the third quarter, Boles calmly buried a 3 to give South Portland a 52-36 lead with eight minutes to go.

Down the stretch, McAuley would make things interesting, but the Lions never truly got close enough to make a serious run.

Just 58 seconds into the final stanza, Mazur picked up her fourth foul.

The hosts then added to their lead, as Hasson sank two free throws and Graff hit a 3 to make it 57-36 with 6:15 to play, but they wouldn’t score again.

With 4:49 remaining, Hasson was whistled for her fourth foul and 28 seconds later, Hasson fouled Rairdon and had to leave the game.

“It was obviously frustrating,” Hasson said. “I kept thinking I’d go back in the game, but I knew I couldn’t.”

The Lions tried to take advantage, as Weisser hit a hook shot, Mazur made a free throw after a steal, Weisser set up Willerson for a layup, Howard converted a three-point play and Willerson sank a foul shot, but it was too little, too late, and Graff and company managed to run out the clock and at 7:43 p.m., Whitmore cradled the ball as the final horn sounded on South Portland’s 57-45 victory.

“I felt so overjoyed,” Whitmore said. “I just felt so determined and I really wanted to beat them.”

“We’ve been building up to this game for a long time,” said Graff. “I never doubted we could beat them. I thought we were fully capable.”

“(McAuley’s a) really good team and for the majority of the game, we did a really good job on them,” Maddie Hasson said. “Good teams make runs, but we kept our composure. I thought the freshmen stepped up and Meghan took control and took care of the ball.”

“These kids believe they can beat anyone,” Lynne Hasson added. “I’m so proud and happy for them, especially for the seniors. It could have been their last opportunity (to beat McAuley). 

“I think it’s a turning point. Now they don’t just believe, they know that if they play well then they can win. They know they can battle with anyone and contend and be in the mix with the top teams. After we lost here to Gorham, we made a vow that we weren’t going to lose again at Beal Gym.”

Maddie Hasson cemented her status as one of the state’s premier standouts, not only scoring 22 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, but also dishing out four assists, collecting three steals and blocking two shots while leading a stellar defensive effort.

“For me, honestly, it wasn’t about Maddie’s points and rebounds, but a goal tonight was for her to play really good defense on Jess,” Lynne Hasson said, about her daughter. “I thought it was our best matchup and I thought it was a huge key in the game. She did a great job. It starts with our defense. We’ve developed a tough defensive game. The kids worked hard for it.”

Graff continued her strong season with 17 points, five rebounds and four steals. She also showed strong ballhandling skills to help the Red Riots hold on down the stretch.

“Coach wanted me to step up and I tried my best,” Graff said. “I tried to be smart and recognize where I was on the court and be strong with the ball.”

“Meghan is a terrific basketball player,” Lynne Hasson said. “She’s skilled and athletic and coachable. She played like one of the top players in the league. She does it all. She shoots, handles the ball, makes good passes. She had a good freshman year and she’s having a great sophomore year. She plays with a lot more confidence.”

Whitmore had nine points, all the first period, grabbed three rebounds, had two assists and a steal.

“Fittingly, the ball ended up in her hands at the end, which was nice,” said Lynne Hasson. “She’s a hard worker. I’m so happy for her.”

Boles added five key points and Henderson had four.

South Portland had a 26-20 rebounding advantage and overcame 19 turnovers with 13 of 15 foul shooting.

Humbling

McAuley was paced by Reid’s 12 points. Weisser had 11 points (to go with three rebounds and three steals), Willerson 10, Howard (four rebounds, three assists) nine, Rairdon (four rebounds) two and Mazur (eight steals) one. Senior Sarah Clement had four assists and three rebounds, but was kept off the score sheet.

“Coach wanted me to step up on Sarah, because she’s a good outside shooter,” Graff said. “It would have changed the game if she knocked down outside shots. I tried my best to not let her get many shots off.”

The Lions had 14 turnovers and missed eight of 14 free throw attempts.

“South Portland played great,” said Goodman. “They have a lot of great players who stepped up tonight. We’ve managed to win games, but we’ve been struggling for awhile. Offensively and defensively, we’re not playing good basketball.”

McAuley last lost a game by more than 10 points way back on Dec. 22, 2009 (58-40 to eventual state champion Scarborough), 133 games ago.

The Lions last surrendered 57 points Dec. 13, 2013 (in a 65-59 win at Gorham).

One positive that came out of the loss was McAuley’s strong finish.

“The girls didn’t quit,” Goodman said. “They gave me all they had until the end.”

Busy week

The Lions’ next test will be their biggest, as they host undefeated, top-ranked Gorham Thursday in a game that will go a long way toward determining the top seed in the region. After hosting Portland Saturday, McAuley welcomes Massabesic Monday.

The Lions (now second behind Gorham in the Class AA South Heal Points standings) will quickly lick their wounds and hope to return to form.

“We’ll have to make some changes,” Goodman said. “I don’t know how we’ll do it in less than 48 hours, but we’ll try. We’ll have a good effort Thursday.” 

South Portland (third in Class AA South) hopes to avoid a letdown when it goes to Portland Thursday, The Red Riots host Thornton Academy Saturday and welcome Falmouth Monday.

After this breakthrough win, the sky’s the limit for the Red Riots.

“Getting this one was important to start the second half of our season,” Maddie Hasson said. “Now we’re working toward February. You can see how far we’ve come. Beating a top team shows we have the ability to compete for a championship.”

“We’ll take tonight to celebrate, because this is a big deal for us, then we’ll worry about what we need to work on and what we need to do better,” Lynne Hasson said. “We’ve got huge games down the road. We want to be at our best in February.”

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

South Portland freshman Katie Whitmore brings the ball up the court against the defensive pressure of McAuley sophomore Emily Weisser. Whitmore had nine first quarter points to get the Red Riots off to a fast start.

McAuley sophomore Eva Mazur dives to the floor for one of her eight steals.

South Portland junior Lydia Henderson drives on McAuley freshman Catherine Reid.

McAuley senior Jess Willerson and South Portland senior Maddie Hasson fight for a loose ball.

McAuley senior Brooke Howard goes up for an easy basket in the second half.

McAuley freshman Catherine Reid goes up for two of her team-high 12 points.

South Portland senior Maddie Hasson goes up for a shot over McAuley senior Chelsea Rairdon.

Recent McAuley-South Portland results

2015-16
@ McAuley 46 South Portland 37 

2014-15
McAuley 45 @ South Portland 36
Western A semifinal
McAuley 39 South Portland 34 

2013-14
@ McAuley 41 South Portland 36

2012-13
McAuley 75 @ South Portland 48
@ McAuley 53 South Portland 11

2011-12
McAuley 43 @ South Portland 39
Western A quarterfinals
McAuley 52 South Portland 27

2010-11
@ McAuley 55 South Portland 24
McAuley 51 @ South Portland 32

2009-10
@ McAuley 47 South Portland 31

2008-09
McAuley 51 @ South Portland 45
South Portland 41 @ McAuley 37 (OT)

2007-08
South Portland 42 @ McAuley 26
@ South Portland 48 McAuley 41

2006-07
@ South Portland 36 McAuley 28

2005-06
@ McAuley 44 South Portland 38
Western A semifinals
South Portland 39 McAuley 29

2004-05
@ South Portland 55 McAuley 47

2003-04
South Portland 68 @ McAuley 56

2002-03
@ McAuley 61 South Portland 46
McAuley 65 @ South Portland 28

2001-02
McAuley 47 @ South Portland 37
@ McAuley 73 South Portland 42

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