SOUTH PORTLAND—Sometimes, basketball takes a backseat to real life.
That was the case Friday evening at Beal Gymnasium where the South Portland girls’ basketball program showed that it was not just good at basketball, but even better when it came time to pay tribute to two fallen members of its family.
On “Strike Out Cancer Night,” the Red Riots raised awareness of the disease which recently took the lives of Paul Black, the father of senior center Holly Black, and Martha Sauter, the mother of junior forward/center Meaghan Doyle.
T-shirts were sold to raise funds and tributes from both girls to their late parents were read in a poignant pregame ceremony.
Then, South Portland took the court against visiting Cheverus and reminded everyone that when it’s clicking on all cylinders, it has to be on the short list of title contenders.
Fittingly, Black scored the game’s first points, on a jumper 34 seconds in and the Red Riots would never trail.
In fact, South Portland put on a first quarter clinic, as junior standout Maddie Hasson had seven points, sophomore Lydia Henderson and freshman Abby Cavallaro knocked down long shots and midway through, Doyle took a pass from Black and got on the board as well.
It all spelled a 20-2 lead after eight minutes, but the short-handed Stags weren’t about to go down without a fight.
Down, 22-4, after a Cavallaro layup, Cheverus, behind the many talents of senior Laura Holman, began to chip away and when junior Anne Veroneau canned a 3-pointer, the Stags pulled within 11, 28-17, at halftime.
The Red Riots have struggled this winter putting teams away in the second half and despite quickly pushing the lead back to 15, 32-17, on a Black jumper, South Portland saw its advantage dwindle to a mere seven, when a pullup jumper from Cheverus freshman Deirdre Sanborn made the score 38-31.
On previous occasions this season, the Red Riots buckled under the pressure.
Not this time.
Not on such a special and emotional night, when only a ‘W’ could properly pay tribute.
Late in the third quarter, Hasson hit a clutch 3 and senior Paige Carter scored on a putback for a 45-31 lead.
South Portland opened the fourth period on a 9-1 run, highlighted by four points from Black and a Cavallaro 3 and that ended all doubt. The Red Riots then went on to a 61-45 triumph and ended the evening in style.
Black posted 14 points and 12 rebounds, registering a double-double on a most emotional night. Hasson also posted a double-double (14 points, 11 boards), Cavallaro added 11 points and Doyle finished with six points and six rebounds before leaving the game with an injury as South Portland improved to 9-3, dropping the Stags to 6-6 in the process.
“It was definitely a hard game for both Meaghan and me because we wished our parents were here with us, but I know my Dad was here,” Black said. “I think it took incredible strength for both of us to go out there. I’m so proud of Meg for going out and giving all she’s got.”
South Portland came into the season full of optimism, but the program was rocked by the deaths of Black and Sauter in November. While the Red Riots turned their attention to basketball, those two were never far from the hearts and minds of not only Black and Doyle, but their teammates as well.
On the court, there’s been plenty to hail.
South Portland 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. Tuesday, the Red Riots won down at Biddeford, 58-35.
Cheverus, under new coach Steve Huntington, won its first two: 63-50 at Windham and 66-48 at home over Bonny Eagle. After falling at home to Thornton Academy (50-28), the Stags won at Massabesic (66-28), then lost at home to Deering (59-43), to nemesis McAuley (57-46), despite a valiant effort, and to Portland (66-60). Cheverus got back on track with a 67-32 triumph at Noble, then, despite a strong start, lost to visiting Gorham (66-47). After a 45-33 win at Sanford, the Stags earned their most inspirational victory of the season Tuesday, when sophomore Brooke Dawson’s 3 at the horn gave them a 53-52 home victory over Westbrook.
South Portland beat Cheverus in the first 11 meetings between the schools (please see sidebar, below), most of them by decisive margins, but Cheverus took the next six. Last year, the Red Riots won both regular season encounters, 72-56 at Cheverus and 49-46 at home after a dramatic comeback from 18-points down. The Stags would have the last laugh, however, beating South Portland decisively (61-42) in the Western A quarterfinals.
Friday, the Red Riots program enjoyed one of its finest hours.
First came the ceremony which moved many to tears, including Black and Doyle, who were enveloped by their teammates and coaches in a giant group hug.
Players, cheerleaders, parents and students all were clad in gray T-shirts with purple lettering, which represented brain and pancreatic cancer.
Once the game began, the question remained how South Portland, especially Black and Doyle, would respond.
The answer was powerful and resounding.
Just 34 seconds in, Red Riots freshman Megan Graff got the ball to Black for a short jumper, which hit the rim, bounced off the backboard, then dropped through the basket for a quick 2-0 lead.
“I wanted to play well for my Dad,” Black said. “He loved basketball and he loved watching me play. That’s important to me every game. It was even more important tonight.”
Hasson then erupted for five points in 19 seconds.
First, she drove the baseline, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. Then, after grabbing an offensive rebound, she was fouled and hit both attempts to make the score 7-0, causing Huntington to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as the Stags, playing without injured senior leaders Jillian Libby and Casey Simpson, just couldn’t find the basket.
With 3:27 to go in the first period, Doyle got on the scoreboard, taking a pass from Black and making a layup.
“The talk before the game was that it was a lot more than just a basketball game tonight and the other stuff was more important,” South Portland coach Lynne Hasson said. “If we won, great. If we didn’t, it was still about Holly and Meaghan. We said it was their night and we wanted to get them in the flow. Win or lose, that’s what it was about.”
Eighteen seconds later, Cheverus finally broke through, as Holman made a layup, but Cavallaro hit a long jumper, Graff banked home a shot, Graff stole the ball, passed to Cavallaro and Cavallaro set up Maddie Hasson for a layup and after another Huntington timeout, Graff made a layup after a steal by sophomore Lydia Henderson and Henderson buried a 3 for a commanding 20-2 advantage after one period.
The second quarter would be much more competitive.
Holman ended South Portland’s 11-0 run and a 3 minute, 51 second drought with two foul shots, but Cavallaro made a layup after a steal for a 22-4 lead.
The visitors got two free throws from Dawson and a free throw from freshman Emme Poulin, but Black answered with a jumper.
A Holman 3 pulled Cheverus within 14, but a Black putback and a Black jumper pushed the Red Riots’ lead back to 18 points, 28-10.
The Stags would go on a 7-0 run to end the half, however, as Holman made two free throws, freshman Deirdre Sanborn hit a runner and Veroneau’s 3 made the score 28-17 at the half.
Black had eight points and six rebounds, while Hasson had seven points and six boards and Doyle added two points and four rebounds in the first half. South Portland forced 11 Cheverus turnovers, which helped limit the damage done by Holman (9 points, 7 boards).
The Stags crept even closer in the third period, but this time, the Red Riots, who struggled in the second half of all three losses, rose to the occasion.
A pair of Graff free throws and a baseline jumper from Black allowed South Portland to start the second half the way it did the first, but Dawson made two foul shots and Sanborn did the same, cutting the deficit to 32-21.
Doyle got two points back at the line for the hosts, but Poulin answered with a runner.
With 4:32 to play in the third, Doyle took a nice pass from freshman Grace Soucy and made an athletic play to bank home a shot, but as she landed, she hurt her knee. Doyle, who missed her sophomore season with an ACL injury, was tended to for several minutes by athletic trainer John Ryan before being helped off the court. She didn’t return.
Perhaps shaken by the injury, the Red Riots watched as Sanborn set up Dawson for a layup and Dawson hit a 3 which took a fortuitous bounce before tickling the twine, making the score, 36-28.
Graff countered with a long jumper, but Holman made a free throw and with 2:26 left, Sanborn pulled up and hit a jumper, cutting the deficit to 38-31.
Then, South Portland answered.
Hasson drove hard to the basket and was fouled. She hit one free throw. Henderson was then fouled and hit a free throw as well.
Inside the final minute, after Black grabbed an offensive rebound and Hasson did the same, Hasson found herself open for a 3, let it fly and buried it.
Then, as time wound down, Carter put home a miss and the Red Riots were again solidly in command, up, 45-31.
The Stags never seriously threatened down the stretch.
After Poulin made a free throw to start the final stanza, Cavallaro made two free throws, Cavallaro stole the ball and fed Black for a layup, Black made two foul shots and Henderson set up Cavallaro for a 3 which was essentially the dagger, making it 54-32, capping a 16-1 run.
With 4:26 left, Cheverus ended the run when Sanborn passed to Dawson for a layup. The next time down, Sanborn assisted on a Holman layup, but Hasson made two free throws.
In-between foul shots, Black was removed from the game to a big ovation from the crowd and hugs from her teammates and coaches.
“We’ve struggled when teams start to come back having someone step up and get the momentum back on our side,” Maddie Hasson said. “I think Holly did that for us tonight. She hit big shots and helped close it out for us.”
Hasson added another free throw before Holman countered with two. After Henderson made two foul shots, Poulin made two, sophomore Alayna Briggs canned a 3 and freshman Michaela Jordan made two free throws to finish the Stags’ scoring. A pair of Cavallaro foul shots then brought the curtain down on South Portland’s 61-45 victory.
“We had to put together a complete game,” Lynne Hasson said. “Four quarters. Two halves. I didn’t sense panic tonight. I was pleased. I think we can play pressure defense without fouling. You have to make up your mind to play hard but not leave your feet or reach.”
Black stole the show with 14 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, a blocked shot and an assist.
“I think our parents were there and were proud of us,” Black said. “It was a great game. We struggled a little on offense, but we played great. I’m not always the highest scorer on the team. The post players have to set screens and get rebounds. We’re really important, but our guards are so great. They knock everything down. We don’t even have to rebound that much.”
“Holly had that determination tonight,” Lynne Hasson said. “I was hoping for her sake she’d put it together.”
Doyle made the most of her minutes, posting six points and six rebounds.
“We knew it was a big night for (Holly and Meaghan),” Maddie Hasson said. “It was about remembering what great people their parents were. They’ve played incredible. It was incredible to watch. Holly’s Dad always came to her games as long as he could. After everything that’s happened, they came in with a special purpose and you could see that tonight.”
“Meaghan came in as a freshman and had a great freshman year, then lost all of last year with an injury,” Lynne Hasson said. “This year has been tougher coming back from an ACL injury. She’s a key piece for us. She loves basketball, but it’s been a struggle. To have that happen to her tonight was heartbreaking. We’re hoping for the best.”
Maddie Hasson quietly put together another solid performance, posting 14 points and 11 boards. Cavallaro had 11 points, to go with three assists, three steals and two blocks. Graff added eight points (and six boards), Henderson six (to go with four assists, four rebounds and two steals) and Carter two.
South Portland enjoyed a 43-25 rebounding advantage and overcame 25 turnovers with solid 18 of 24 foul shooting.
For Cheverus, Holman produced a solid line of 14 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.
“I thought Laura played great tonight,” said Huntington. “I couldn’t get her off the floor, She’s as tough as they come in this league and she’s so passionate about the game.”
Dawson had 11 points, Poulin (three assists, three rebounds, three steals) and Sanborn (three assists) six each, Briggs and Veroneau three apiece and Jordan two.
The Stags turned the ball over 20 times and made 19 of 29 free throws.
“I was very proud our girls for fighting back after the poor start,” Huntington said. “Missing two starters really hurt us tonight from a depth perspective. South Portland got off to a fast start and we had to extend our pressure. We had some success with our pressure, but couldn’t sustain the intensity needed to play at that pace.
“We’re so close in many aspects, that’s why games like this are frustrating. We’ve shown we can not only compete with some of the top teams, but be a threat. We have stretches where things are clicking. We get a great stop, our defensive rotations are on point, we force a tough shot, get the rebound and our running responsibilities and ball movement are great and so we convert, but we also have stretches where we get a great stop defensively, then turn the ball over on a lazy pass. It’s nearly impossible to play at the pace we want and not make mistakes. I’m OK with mistakes as long as it’s within the scope and structure of our philosophy, but the younger kids struggle with confidence after a mistake.”
Both teams play again Monday.
Cheverus (11th in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) plays at Biddeford, then goes to Marshwood Friday. Home games against Scarborough and South Portland and trips to Deering and McAuley also remain on the schedule.
This team has a bright future, but still believes it can make noise in the present.
“We’ve been pushing the envelope in practice from a defensive standpoint,” Huntington said. “We’re going over concepts that take years to understand and execute, but the girls have been focused and hungry to learn. Everyday we take steps.
“One of the things I asked our seniors to address in the locker after the game to our underclassman was what it takes to compete in the SMAA on a nightly basis. They came up with playing with toughness, trust, communication and competitiveness. Smart girls.”
South Portland (sixth in Western A) is home versus Marshwood Monday. Games at Windham, Cheverus and Scarborough and home tilts versus Gorham and Portland also remain.
The Red Riots know how good they can be. They just have to consistently put 32 strong minutes together.
“We have settle down and run an offense,” Maddie Hasson said. “I think we can play with all the teams and come tournament time, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
“I feel like we’re getting there,” Lynne Hasson said. “We’re a team that likes to run, but we have to run a settled offense. We’re good at that. We have enough offensive we can run. We just have to relax. We have big games to come. We need to continue to get better on fullcourt pressure defense. I think we’ll have to do that to win down the stretch. We’re better with an up-tempo game. We don’t want to settle in the halfcourt and we don’t want the other teams to. We have a lot of kids out there who are athletic and can rebound.”
South Portland junior Maddie Hasson soars for two of her 14 points.
South Portland senior Paige Carter reaches for a loose ball.
South Portland freshman Abby Cavallaro and Cheverus freshman Emma Poulin fight for possession.
Cheverus sophomore Brooke Dawson goes up over South Portland freshman Abby Cavallaro.
South Portland junior Maddie Hasson finds her path the basket blocked by Cheverus senior Laura Holman.
South Portland freshman Megan Graff faces the imposing specter of Cheverus sophomore Brooke McElman on a drive to the basket.
South Portland junior Meaghan Doyle defends Cheverus freshman Deirdre Sanborn.
Cheverus junior Anne Veroneau defends South Portland freshman Abby Cavallaro.
Cheverus 43 @ South Portland 33
@ Cheverus 52 South Portland 41
Cheverus 52 @ South Portland 41
Cheverus 46 @ South Portland 42
@ Cheverus 48 South Portland 35
@ South Portland 43 Cheverus 33
South Portland 52 @ Cheverus 25
@ South Portland 48 Cheverus 35
South Portland 58 @ Cheverus 28
South Portland 57 @ Cheverus 28
@ South Portland 55 Cheverus 34
South Portland 65 @ Cheverus 33
@ South Portland 78 Cheverus 36
@ South Portland 53 Cheverus 28
South Portland 85 Cheverus 44
@ South Portland 88 Cheverus 35
South Portland senior Holly Black lines up a shot during Friday’s 61-45 home win over Cheverus on “Strike Out Cancer Night.” Prior to the game, Black, along with junior Meaghan Doyle, took part in a ceremony honoring their late parents. Black finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds in an inspirational performance.
Jason Veilleux photos.
More photos below.
C- 2 15 14 14- 45
SP- 20 8 17 16- 61
C- Holman 3-7-14, Dawson 3-4-11, Poulin 1-4-6, Sanborn 2-2-6, Briggs 1-0-3, Veroneau 1-0-3, Jordan 0-2-2
SP- Black 7-0-14, Hasson 3-7-14, Cavallaro 3-4-11, Graff 3-2-8, Doyle 2-2-6, Henderson 1-3-6, Carter 1-0-2
C (4) Briggs, Dawson, Holman, Veroneau 1
SP (3) Cavallaro, Hasson, Henderson 1