PORTLAND—All season, the South Portland girls’ basketball team was close.
Close to the top teams.
Close to earning a statement victory.
Monday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, the young Red Riots arrived.
Facing No. 4 Deering in a Western Class A quarterfinal, fifth-ranked South Portland produced a terrific first quarter, forcing seven Rams’ turnovers, getting seven points from junior standout Maddie Hasson and a spark off the bench from senior Paige Carter to lead, 14-8.
Deering then took over in the second period, outscoring the Red Riots, 13-4, to take a 21-18 advantage to halftime.
Most of the year, the Red Riots struggled in the second halves of games against the league’s elite squads, but not Monday.
After Rams sophomore Tasia Titherington started the third quarter with a layup, South Portland went on a 15-5 run to seize control.
A jumper from freshman Megan Graff put the Red Riots ahead to stay and 3-point shots in the final minute from Graff and Hasson made it 33-25.
While many expected Deering to rally in the fourth period, it wasn’t to be, as South Portland capped off a tremendous defensive effort, hit its foul shots and went on to a surprisingly decisive 49-37 decision.
Hasson had 22 points, Graff added 18 and the Red Riots improved to 15-5, ended the Rams’ season at 15-4 and advanced to set up a semifinal round showdown against four-time defending state champion McAuley (18-1) Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena (formerly the Cumberland County Civic Center).
“It’s huge,” said South Portland coach Lynne Hasson, who earned her first playoff victory as head coach. “We’re a very good basketball team. We’ve struggled all year to get over the hump. This gets us over the hump. The girls believed at the beginning of the year, then they questioned it, now they believe again. These kids got knocked out in the quarterfinals last year and didn’t want it to happen again.”
The 4-5 quarterfinal is usually compelling and both Deering and South Portland entered the contest featuring as much talent as the top seeds. Both teams stumbled a few times in the regular season and as a result, finished a little lower than hoped.
South Portland, which swept Cheverus in the regular season a year ago before losing decisively to the Stags in the quarterfinals, got off to a fast start this winter as it handled its first three opponents: visiting Noble (79-26), host Sanford (55-26) and visiting Westbrook (74-29), before losing at Thornton Academy, 50-33. The Red Riots then bounced back to beat host Portland (65-55) and visiting Bonny Eagle (62-38) before letting a 20-point halftime lead slip away in a 59-52 overtime loss at Deering. After enjoying wins at Massabesic (63-33) and at home over Scarborough (60-52), South Portland fell at home to McAuley, 45-36. The Red Riots then won at Biddeford, 58-35, at home over Cheverus (61-45), at home over Marshwood (68-50) and at Windham (76-60), before losing an overtime heartbreaker to visiting Gorham (65-56). South Portland then beat visiting Portland (63-48) and host Cheverus (63-55) before being upset at Scarborough in the finale (46-43). As the No. 5 seed, the Red Riots had to host No. 12 Westbrook in a preliminary round game Wednesday and they barely survived, 52-45, to reach the quarterfinals for the 14th time in 15 seasons.
Deering, a quarterfinalist in 2014-15, had high hopes this winter and began with a 56-52 victory at Bonny Eagle, then was decimated by the flu, which sidelined several players and helped produce a 42-22 home loss to Thornton Academy. After a 45-20 win at Noble, Deering dropped a 49-48 home heartbreaker to McAuley, but the Rams then hit their stride by downing host Cheverus (59-43) and visiting Westbrook (49-35). The good times really began with a rally from 20-points down in a 59-52 overtime home win over South Portland Dec. 30 and Deering kept winning, downing host Marshwood (57-42), visiting Windham (52-39) and Massabesic (60-21), host Gorham (44-43), visiting Portland (58-39) and Sanford (48-30), host Scarborough (42-35) and Biddeford (52-29) and visiting Cheverus (58-25). The good times finally ended with a 49-40 loss at McAuley, but the Rams closed with a 53-47 win at Portland to wind up fourth and earn a bye into the quarterfinals.
The teams split four prior playoff encounters with Deering taking the most recent (50-30 in the 2007 quarterfinals).
Monday, South Portland had its breakthrough.
Both teams started fast.
On the game’s first possession, Graff set up Hasson for a layup.
At the other end, Rams junior Lodia Ismail took a pass from sophomore Amanda Brett (who lit South Portland up in the overtime comeback back in December) and made a layup. Titherington added two foul shots before Graff answered with a pair for the Red Riots.
South Portland took its first lead on a runner from Graff, but Ismail tied the game with a jumper.
Hasson and freshman Abby Cavallaro then made back-to-back 3s to give the Red Riots a little breathing room. Sophomore Abi Ramirez countered with a layup for the Rams, but a Hasson leaner made it 14-8 after one period.
In the first quarter, Deering turned the ball over seven times.
The second period,however, featured a fast start by the Rams.
Junior Cierra Burnham got it going by somehow steering a leaner home with her off-hand. Burnham then put home her own miss and senior Mary Tadsse drove for a bank shot which made it 14-14.
Out of a timeout, Graff took a pass from sophomore Lydia Henderson and knocked down a 3, but Titherington made two free throws and Ismail drove for a layup and the lead. After Hasson made an athletic play to save the ball, then was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound, she made one foul shot to tie it.
With time winding down, Ismail took a pass from Burnham and sank a 3 for a 21-18 lead at the break.
Neither team scored the first two minutes of the second half, then Titherington and Hasson traded driving layups. Graff then made a layup off the fastbreak (from Henderson) and with 4:52 remaining in the third period, Black set up Graff for a baseline jumper and the lead. Henderson added a long jumper to make it 26-23.
“We struggled in the second half a lot this year, so we told ourselves we had to come out like we did in the first quarter,” Graff said. “We relaxed and it worked. “
After Ramirez got two points back with a leaner, Hasson made a free throw, Graff took a pass from Hasson and hit a 3 and with time winding down, Graff saved the ball to Cavallaro, who passed to Black, who set up Hasson for a 3 at the horn and a 33-25 lead.
South Portland won the third quarter, 15-4.
Henderson extended the lead to 10 with a jumper 12 seconds into the fourth period.
Deering looked to rally as Ismail made a foul shot, but Black set up Graff for a layup. After Titherington made two free throws, Hasson scored on an off-balance leaner and with 3:02 remaining, Hasson hit both ends of a 1-and-1 for a 41-28 lead.
A Tadsse 3 kept the Rams’ faint hopes alive, but Henderson countered with two foul shots.
After Titherington scored on a leaner, Hasson hit two free throws with 1:33 to play and 21 seconds later, made two more for a 47-33 advantage.
Deering got a layup from senior Kate Howard before two Graff foul shots capped South Portland’s scoring. Two late free throws from Rams junior Micary Verville accounted for the 49-37 final score.
“We’ve come together so well,” Graff said. “At some point, we were bound to peak. This game was the perfect time. We wanted to finish what we didn’t finish last time we played them. We wanted to leave it all on the court. This is so great. I’m even more happy to do it as a freshman. We’ve been through so much. It’s amazing.”
“After losing to Cheverus last year when we were the higher seed and should have won, we’ve remembered that feeling and wanted to get back,” Maddie Hasson said. “We weren’t going to let that happen again. We’ve played all the top teams tough all season. We let up in the second half this year, but we weren’t going to let that happen again.”
“Our defense was different tonight,” Lynne Hasson added. “We made foul shots when we had to. We were patient on offense. We played together as a team. It keeps coming back to defense. It wasn’t individuals. It was help defense. The matchups were perfect. Their great players got shut down by our defensive players. Lydia Henderson is one of the best defenders in our league. She stuck to Titherington like glue.”
Maddie Hasson had another terrific game, scoring 22 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Graff made a name for herself with 18 points.
“At first, I was very nervous, but I tend to get my nerves out quickly,” said Graff. “Coach always tells me to be more aggressive and take it to the hoop. That’s what I tried to do this game.”
“Megan’s a leader on the court,” Maddie Hasson said. “She doesn’t play like a freshman. She gave us a lift.”
“Megan’s such an athletic kid, a skilled basketball player,” Lynne Hasson added. “It’s hard for her as a freshman to feel like she can be aggressive offensively. I tell her to take it to the rim. She’s a phenomenal athlete. We just have a lot of weapons. On a given night, it might be Maddie, it might be Lydia, it might be Megan, like it was tonight.”
Henderson added six points (and three assists) and Cavallaro had three.
Black didn’t score, but had six rebounds and three assists, while Carter finished with three boards, two steals and a blocked shot in limited, but critical action.
South Portland had a 27-21 rebounding advantage, overcame 11 turnovers and hit 14 of 18 free throws.
Deering was paced by 10 points apiece from Ismail (four rebounds, two steals) and Titherington (five boards). Tadsse had five points, Burnham (five rebounds) and Ramirez four apiece and Howard and Verville two each.
Brett didn’t score a single point.
“Our two senior leaders did an unbelievable job on Amanda Brett,” Maddie Hasson said. “She was a big reason why we lost last time. We knew we had to stop her. Holly did a great job and when she got in foul trouble, Paige gave us a huge lift off the bench.”
“How do you hold Amanda Brett to no points?” said Lynne Hasson. “We talked about it in practice and watched film. Holly played phenomenal defensively, then Paige was amazing. Those two girls won us the game with their defense.”
“She didn’t get touches,” Deering coach Mike Murphy said. “They doubled down on her and did a good job, but she had to touch it more. We didn’t execute and get her the ball.
“We just didn’t play well in the second half. The frozen looks on their faces said it all to me. Everything was hesitation. The last 30 seconds of the third quarter, they picked up six quick points when we had the ball. That was a dagger. It opened it up.”
The Rams turned the ball over 13 times and made 9 of 11 foul shots.
Deering’s promising season was over just like that.
“It’s disappointing,” said Murphy. “We expected to go further. You have to perform. If you don’t perform, you won’t go anywhere. We had 70-plus dates together and this was how we go out. When it’s time to play, you’ve got to play. You can’t play afraid. That’s why you play all those extra games to go out and show what you have on the big stage.”
McAuley (which downed No. 9 Portland in its quarterfinal, 52-41) is the four-time defending champion, but these Lions are, in theory anyway, more mortal than the past few seasons.
South Portland sure hopes so.
The Red Riots hung tough against the Lions in January, but fell short. The teams have met in the playoffs four previous times with McAuley winning just once, taking a 52-27 decision in the 2011 quarterfinals, the most recent encounter.
South Portland is up for the challenge.
“This shows that making the playoffs isn’t enough,” Maddie Hasson said. “We’re not satisfied with a quarterfinal win. We want more. We’re looking forward to that matchup.”
“I think we have a good chance,” Graff said. “I think we have to work on our defense and how we guard their post players.”
“This was our goal, to get to the Civic Center, and we’re not done yet,” Lynne Hasson added. “Right now, the girls believe they can take on the world. We have good, young kids. I think it’s the confidence factor. If we play defense and shoot well and get to the offensive glass, we’ve showed we can compete. We can’t wait.””
South Portland freshman Abby Cavallaro defends Deering junior Lodia Ismail.
Deering sophomore Tasia Titherington drives on South Portland sophomore Lydia Henderson.
Deering sophomore Amanda Brett defends South Portland freshman Megan Graff.
Deering junior Cierra Burnham runs the offense.
South Portland senior Paige Carter soars to get her hand on a rebound. Carter played some big minutes in the first half.
South Portland freshman Abby Cavallaro defends an inbounds pass.
Deering junior Lodia Ismail drives to the basket.
Deering senior Mary Tadsse looks to pass over South Portland freshman Megan Graff.
Deering sophomore Tasia Titherington leans in for a shot.
South Portland’s girls’ basketball team is all smiles after upsetting Deering, 49-37, in a Western Class A quarterfinal Monday night.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
SP- 14 4 15 16- 49
D- 8 13 4 12- 37
SP- Hasson 6-8-22, Graff 6-4-18, Henderson 2-2-6, Cavallaro 1-0-3
D- Ismail 4-1-10, Titherington 2-6-10, Tadsse 2-0-5, Burnham 2-0-4, Ramirez 2-0-4, Howard 1-0-2, Verville 0-2-2
SP (5) Graff, Hasson 2, Cavallaro 1
D (2) Ismail, Tadsse 1
2007 Western A quarterfinals
Deering 50 South Portland 30
1988 Western A quarterfinals
Deering 62 South Portland 49
1986 Western A semifinals
South Portland 64 Deering 37
1979 Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 48 Deering 31