Thornton Academy gets the better of South Portland in playoff rematch

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Thornton Academy’s boys’ basketball team celebrates at the final horn of Saturday’s 76-64 home win over South Portland.

BOX SCORE

Thornton Academy 76 South Portland 64

SP- 14 15 13 22- 64
TA- 14 16 26 20- 76

SP- Malone 11-2-26, Buckley 5-2-14, Hasson 3-4-11, Coyne 1-4-6, Lewis 2-0-4, Boles 0-2-2, Milton 0-1-1

TA- Mitchell 7-4-19, Bracamonte 5-2-15, Chapman 7-0-14, Jones 3-4-11, Pyzynski 3-1-7, Labreck 2-0-6, Hart 1-0-2, Lovejoy 1-0-2

3-pointers:
SP (5) Buckley, Malone 2, Hasson 1
TA (7) Bracamonte 3, Labreck 2, Jones, Mitchell 1

Turnovers:
SP- 9
TA- 18

Free throws
SP: 15-22
TA: 11-19

SACO—There was little buzz around the Thornton Academy boys’ basketball team when the 2017-18 season dawned, but the Golden Trojans can be overlooked no longer.

Saturday evening, Thornton Academy had a chance to earn a measure of revenge against the team which knocked it out of the past two postseasons, South Portland, and the Golden Trojans rose to the occasion in impressive fashion.

Thornton Academy twice jumped out to a six-point lead in the first quarter, but the Red Riots rallied to forge a 14-14 tie after eight minutes.

In the second period, the Golden Trojans again went up by six, but again, South Portland came back and behind a late 3-pointer from senior Riley Hasson, cut the deficit to 30-29 at halftime.

Thornton Academy then got separation in the third quarter, as it erupted on a 24-7 run to take a 56-42 lead to the final stanza.

There, the Red Riots got as close as six points, 58-52, on a bank shot from senior Noah Malone, but the Golden Trojans got three quick baskets to end all doubt and they went on to a 76-64 victory.

Thornton Academy won its third game in as many days, improved to 7-5 and dropped South Portland to 8-3 in the process.

“I never want to say losing’s good and it’s not, I won’t sleep tonight, but maybe we needed to be woken up a little bit,” said Red Riots coach Kevin Millington.

Saturday surprise

The Red Riots entered play Saturday having beaten Thornton Academy three straight times: 39-36 in the 2016 Class AA South semifinals, 68-58 last year in Saco in the regular season and 71-61, in overtime, in last year’s regional final epic.

This winter, the Red Riots won their opener, 69-59, over visiting Cheverus, lost at defending Class A champion Greely (66-60), then got on a roll, downing visiting Scarborough (60-46), host Oxford Hills (53-49), host Sanford (82-42), visiting Massabesic (62-33), visiting Deering (64-50) and visiting Windham (72-63). After a 62-53 loss at two-time defending Class AA state champion Portland, South Portland won at Deering Friday night, 54-42.

The Golden Trojans lost a lot of talent to graduation and standout David Keohan suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason and as a result, they weren’t talked about as a contender, but they’ve evolved into one.

Thornton Academy started strong with victories over visiting Massabesic (66-50), at Noble (85-39), at home over Sanford (61-58) and at home over Cheverus (45-44). The Golden Trojans then lost to visiting Windham (52-46), at Bangor (62-45), at Biddeford (56-53), at home to Bonny Eagle (47-44) and at home to Falmouth (45-41). Thursday, Thornton Academy snapped its skid with a 55-40 victory at Lewiston. Friday, the Golden Trojans handled host Gorham, 66-40. 

Saturday, both teams got up and down, but Thornton Academy made enough plays to earn a signature victory.

The Red Riots scored first on a Hasson free throw, but the hosts got on the board when freshman Payton Jones hit a 3. South Portland senior Connor Buckley countered with a 3, but Golden Trojans junior William Chapman made a layup, Chapman made another layup and with 4:24 to go in the first quarter, Jones banked home a runner for a 9-4 lead.

South Portland countered with two Buckley free throws, but Thornton Academy junior Anthony Bracamonte knocked down a 3 to make it 12-6.

Buckley answered with a floater, but a jump shot from sophomore Jack Pyzynski pushed the lead to six again.

Late in the first, the Red Riots answered, as junior Scott Lewis scored on a putback, Malone banked home a leaner and Malone made a layup to make it 14-14 after one quarter.

Thornton Academy continued to keep the Red Riots on their heels in the second period.

After Jones banked home a runner, Hasson made a free throw, but junior C.J. Labreck made a 3 for the hosts for a 19-15 Golden Trojans’ lead.

Again, South Portland rallied, as Lewis scored on a putback and after a dazzling head fake, Buckley knocked down a jumper to tie the game again.

Thornton Academy went back on top when Bracamonte set up sophomore Will Mitchell for a layup, then Mitchell got a leaner to roll in and Bracamonte made a layup after a steal for another six-point lead, 25-19.

After Buckley drained an NBA-range 3-pointer, Hasson blew through the defense with a behind the back move and made a layup to cut the deficit to one.

Pyzynski countered with a runner, but Buckley banked in a shot to cut the Golden Trojans’ lead to 27-26.

Down the stretch, Bracamonte and Hasson traded 3s and Thornton Academy held a tenuous 30-29 lead at halftime.

In the first 16 minutes, Buckley had 14 points, but the Golden Trojans got contributions from numerous sources.

Thornton Academy flipped the switch in third quarter and opened up a lead.

Forty-two seconds into the second half, Bracamonte made a jumper, but Malone tied the game for the last time with a 3-pointer.

With 6:16 remaining in the frame, Chapman put the Golden Trojans on top to stay and Labreck added a 3.

After senior Liam Coyne countered with two free throws for the Red Riots, Chapman drove for a layup and after Millington was whistled for a technical foul, Bracamonte sank two free throws, Mitchell buried a 3 and senior Adam Lovejoy made a layup to make it a 12-point game, 46-34.

Hasson ended the run with a free throw, but Chapman drove for a layup, then hit a leaner in transition for a 50-35 advantage.

Malone countered with a layup after a steal, but Bracamonte buried a 3 for a 16-point lead.

Malone made a finger roll, but with 1:31 left, Pyzynski made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and the biggest lead of the night, 56-39. 

South Portland drew back within 14 on a putback from Malone and a free throw from junior Jacob Milton.

In the fourth quarter, the Red Riots made an expected run, but the Golden Trojans fought it off.

Twenty seconds in, Malone made a layup. 

With 6:53 to play, he made another to cut the deficit to 10, 56-46.

Chapman countered with a putback, but Malone banked in a shot, Coyne made two free throws and with 5:02 to go, Malone’s bank shot pulled South Portland within 58-52.

That’s as close as it would get.

With 4:17 remaining, Mitchell hit a clutch leaner.

Eighteen seconds later, senior Andre Hart took a pass from Bracamonte and made a layup and with 3:41 on the clock, Bracamonte set up Mitchell for a layup and a 64-52 advantage.

Hasson tried to rally the Red Riots with a three-point play, but Mitchell made consecutive layups for a 68-55 lead with 2:35 to go.

After South Portland sophomore Ryan Boles made two free throws, Jones countered with two of his own.

Coyne hit a jumper, but Jones made two more free throws.

After Malone made a 3 with 1:05 to play, Milton stole the inbounds pass and got the ball to Malone, who made two foul shots with 48.4 seconds on the clock to cut the deficit to 72-64, but Mitchell made four more free throws in the waning seconds and Thornton Academy prevailed, 76-64.

“Defensively, we played really well as a team,” said Golden Trojans coach Bob Davies. “We rebounded the basketball better in the second half. They missed shots and that was the difference. It’s a new year and it’s kind of a new group of kids. We lost a lot and David got hurt, but that doesn’t mean the other kids can’t play basketball. They waited their turn, they got it and they’re slowly improving.”

Mitchell, best known as the Golden Trojans’ football quarterback, was huge off the bench with 19 points and five rebounds.

“When (Will’s) focused, he’s dynamite for us,” Davies said. “He’s physical and he rebounds. It’s important to have that coming off the bench.”

Bracamonte added 15 points (to go with nine assists, four rebounds and three steals).

Chapman had 14 points (six rebounds and two blocked shots), Jones 11, Pyzynski seven, Labreck six (along with seven boards) and Hart and Lovejoy two apiece.

Thornton Academy overcame 18 turnovers and made 11 of 19 free throws.

Both teams had 36 rebounds.

Lesson learned

For South Portland, Malone led all scorers with 26 points (22 in the second half). He also had six rebounds and two steals.

Buckley added 14 points, all in the first half, and eight rebounds.

Hasson had 11 points, six rebounds and two steals, Coyne six points, Lewis four (to go with five rebounds and two blocks), Boles two and Milton one.

The Red Riots turned the ball over nine times and made 15 of 22 foul shots.

“Thornton played a good game and we didn’t,” Millington said. “Tip your cap to them. They were better today. We didn’t keep our composure and we didn’t play very good defense. That’s not who we are, giving up 76 points. Their point guard is very quick and he’s tough to press. He got loose. They have some very talented players, but they’re young. They played like stars tonight.”

Wide open region

In the matter of a few hours Saturday, the whole complexion of AA South changed, as before Thornton Academy beat South Portland, Scarborough upset Portland.

That means that the postseason projects to be even more wide open than anticipated.

Thornton Academy (now third in the Class AA South Heal Points standings) returns to action Tuesday when Marshwood pays a visit. The Golden Trojans visit Portland Friday. Games at Edward Little, Deering and Scarborough and a home tilt versus Gorham wrap up the regular season.

“We’ll see how far we can go,” Davies said. “Everyone makes the tournament this year. That’s what we play for.”

South Portland (second behind Scarborough in AA South) looks to bounce back Tuesday when it hosts Noble. After games at Falmouth and Bonny Eagle next weekend, the Red Riots have home games against Edward Little, Gorham and Portland before closing at Cheverus.

“It’s become a good rivalry and maybe we’ll see (Thornton) again,” said Millington. “If you break down AA South, we’ve done well against AA North. There might be more parity. The tournament will be tough and we have to be prepared and this gives us a great opportunity to learn.”

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

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