By Eric Carson
PORTLAND — The Scarborough Red Storm girls’ basketball team, after squeaking by the South Portland Red Riots in the teams’ only regular season meeting, came out blasting at the Portland Expo Monday afternoon, opening up a 13-point halftime lead and coasting to a 53-26 victory in Western Class A quarterfinal action.
With the win, No. 2 Scarborough (17-2) advances to the regional semifinal to meet the third-ranked Biddeford Tigers (15-4) Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
The Red Storm handled Biddeford twice during the regular season, winning by nine on the road in late December, and by 10 at home in the regular season finale for both teams on Feb. 6. This will be the teams’ first playoff meeting.
Against seventh-ranked South Portland, junior Christy Manning led the way inside with a game-high 16-points on the night, but it was the sum of the Red Storm’s parts that proved the difference. In a total team effort, all five starters scored at least one basket in the first quarter, as the Red Storm jumped out to a 17-7 lead on their way to dismantling South Portland.
“We were able to get the tempo going in our favor tonight,” said Scarborough coach Jim Seavey. “We created more offense off our transition than we did when we played them the first time. Having Abby (Pelletier) back was huge for us. We’ll play as one and see if we can’t get it done.”
Scarborough senior guard Reegan Brackett got her team off and running to start the game, handing out a pair of sweet dishes in transition to junior Heather Carrier and Manning for easy buckets.
Junior guard Jenn Colpitts scored five of her 10 points during the Red Storm’s 11-0 run in the first quarter that pushed a 6-5 lead to a 12-point advantage at 17-5 before South Portland senior Brianna Hawkins closed out the quarter with a pair of free throws.
The Red Storm also enjoyed the presence of senior Abby Pelletier, who missed the regular season meeting with mononucleosis, but added 12 points on Monday to help balance the frontline scoring in the quarterfinal.
Pelletier added a basket down low in the early going, but the Red Riots countered with five points from junior Danielle McCusker to stay within a point at 6-5. McCusker sunk a 3-pointer and scored a layup on a gorgeous lead pass over the defense from junior guard Esther Palmieri.
But the Red Storm piled on 11-straight points after that on a basket by Carrier, five-straight from Colpitts on a scoop layup and a 3-pointer, a steal and layup from Brackett, and a pair of free throws from Pelletier to take command of the contest.
“We came out flat tonight,” said South Portland coach Mike Giordano. “I have no idea why. We struggled to get anything going on the offense. I was pleased with our defensive effort tonight. We wanted this game to be in the 40s and they wanted it to be in the 60s. We’re a young team but we don’t use excuses. This is South Portland girls’ basketball – we don’t make excuses. We feel we should be able to compete with the best teams every year.”
The second quarter was hardly pretty, as the Red Storm cooled off from the field and both teams struggled to score points. Scarborough won the quarter 7-4 and took a massive dose of momentum into the locker room at the half when Pelletier picked up a loose ball at half-court and banked home a miraculous 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded. Pelletier’s heave gave the Red Storm a 24-11 lead after two quarters, proving to be a fatal blow for a Red Riots team trying to claw back in the game and stay within 10 points at the start of the second half.
“We only beat South Portland by four points last time,” said Pelletier. “We expected this to be a close game. Fortunately it wasn’t. Coach has said all year that we want to play our best basketball at the end of the season. We’re playing well right now, and it’s the right time for that.”
Manning added three points in the second quarter and Pelletier accounted for the other four Red Storm points. Hawkins (nine points) hit another pair of foul shots, and McCusker chipped in with two of her team-high 12-points.
To start the third, Palmieri breathed some temporary hope into the Red Riots with a 3-pointer that helped erase the pain of Pelletier’s bomb to make it 24-14, but that would be as close as this one would get. South Portland could muster only two more points in the third, a pair of foul shots from McCusker, and watched their season slip away as the Red Storm pulled ahead by 19, 35-16, after three quarters.
Manning poured in eight of her 16-points in the fourth, scoring on a bevy of pretty inside moves before retiring for the night with three minutes left to play.
“South Portland is a good team,” said Manning. “We worked hard all week getting ready. We played good defense and our zone helped us slow the game down when we needed to. We’ve been good in the transition all year. We passed well and found open looks.”
South Portland finished the season at 12-8, and will graduate only two seniors, including captain Kelsi Conley.
Unfortunately, the other senior is Hawkins, a pivotal piece of the program for the last four seasons. Hawkins was the perfect fit for the Red Riots in her first two seasons, using her incredible athleticism to often defend the other teams’ top player. Her work defending former McCauley star Ashley Cimino, now on scholarship at Stanford University, will long be remembered by South Portland fans as part of her legacy. In her final two seasons, she slid perfectly into a leadership role and all her contributions will be missed.
“We have two seniors in there who are pretty emotional right now,” said Giordano. “They did a lot of things for this program, both in the classroom and on the court. We’ll miss them.”