Unbeaten Scarborough girls begin title quest; Cape Elizabeth, SP face prelim tests

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(Ed. Note: For the Cape Elizabeth-Falmouth game story, please visit theforecaster.net)

After the finest regular season in program history, the Scarborough girls’ basketball team is ready to chase the big prize.

Monday at 8:30 p.m., the 18-0 Red Storm will take the Portland Expo floor against either No. 8 Sanford or No. 9 South Portland in the quarterfinal round, the first step of what they hope is a first-ever regional and state title.

Scarborough’s the only local team guaranteed to make it to the Expo.

South Portland needed to win a Western A preliminary round game at Sanford, against a team the Red Riots defeated earlier this year, to make it to the big stage.

In Western B, Cape Elizabeth is just one win away from making the quarterfinals for the first time since 1996, but they had to win at Falmouth in a prelim.

Super Scarborough

After a superb season a year ago ended with a disappointing upset semifinal round loss to Biddeford, the Red Storm set their sights on going all the way this winter behind a strong returning cast. When Scarborough rallied from a double-digit deficit to defeat two-time defending state champion Deering 52-50 on Dec. 11, the Red Storm became the team to beat and to date, no one’s been able to do so. After surviving a scare from Thornton Academy last Tuesday, Scarborough closed with easy victories at Noble (62-21) and Kennebunk (64-31). Senior Christy Manning had a dozen points and classmate Brittany Ross added 10 against the Knights. Senior Jenn Colpitts finished with 16 in the win over the Rams as the Red Storm wound up 18-0.

“It’s a special group of kids,” said coach Jim Seavey. “They have some big-game experience in other sports and made a pact to take Scarborough girls’ basketball where it’s never been before. We have great senior leadership and someone different steps up every game. Going 18-0 doesn’t happen very often. We had things fall in the right place. We didn’t win by just stepping on the floor. We refused to lose.”

Scarborough, the top seed, had success against both of its potential playoff foes this season. On Jan. 5, the Red Storm easily handled visiting South Portland, 43-23. Ten days later, they cruised to a 57-30 home victory over Sanford.

Last year, in the quarterfinals, Scarborough beat the Red Riots, 53-26. The Red Storm’s lone previous matchup with Sanford resulted in a 38-37 preliminary round loss back in 2003.

“We’ll be ready for either team,” Seavey said. “Everyone’s 0-0 now. Just because we handled them in the regular season, doesn’t mean it will carry over. We have to bring our ‘A’ game. We want to take it to another level.”

If, as expected, Scarborough advances, it will be idle until next Friday when it faces No. 4 Cheverus (13-5) or No. 5 Biddeford (14-4) in the semifinals. The Red Storm held on for a 44-39 victory at the Tigers on Dec. 28 and won 56-40 at Cheverus on Jan. 9. Last year’s 32-29 semifinal round loss to Biddeford was Scarborough’s lone previous playoff meeting with either school.

“It should be a very exciting tournament from top to bottom,” Seavey said. “It’s (No. 2) Deering until someone beats them. (No. 3) McAuley’s healthy now. (No. 4) Cheverus is up-and-coming, (No. 5) Biddeford’s always dangerous and provides mathup issues and (No. 6) Gorham and (No. 7) Thornton Academy are playing well.”

Win and get in

South Portland has battled injuries and will go the rest of the way without senior Danielle McCusker who is no longer with the team. The Red Riots managed to go 10-8 this year and closed with a 48-35 loss at Cheverus Friday (despite 14 points from senior Tayla Genesio).

“I thought we’d fight for a middle spot and that’s where we are,” said coach Mike Giordano. “We had a couple games we could have won and could have avoided a prelim. I like how Tayla’s playing right now. (Sophomore) Libby Grant’s done a nice job. She’s a good perimeter defender. Having (junior) Abby Hasson back helps.”

On Dec. 15, South Portland held off visiting Sanford, 48-42, behind 11 points apiece from Genesio and junior Danielle DiBiase. The Red Riots have had their hearts broken by the Redskins in previous postseasons, losing 49-43 (in overtime) as an undefeated No. 1 seed in the 2005 semifinals and 45-29 in the 2006 regional final.

“We have a little rivalry,” Giordano said. “It should be a good game. It’s a toss-up. We’re evenly matched. The team that jumps out early will have an advantage. They’ll be prepared.”

If South Portland could win a prelim for the second year in a row, it would face Scarborough in the quarterfinals, a daunting challenge indeed.

“We’d go into that game with nothing to lose,” said Giordano. “We’d try a few different things, but they’re well-coached and prepared. They’re such a good team. The key would be how long could the No. 8 seed hang around?”

In Western B, Cape Elizabeth wasn’t able to secure a winning record for the first time since 1996, but had the chance to grab something better, a first trip to the quarterfinals since that same year, when it went to Falmouth for the second time in six days. Friday, the Capers finished 9-9 after losing 45-41 at the Yachtsmen (senior Morgan Pillsbury had 16 points in defeat).

“The good news from that game is that we made a run,” said coach Chris Roberts. “We came back. I think the kids are excited and hopeful and feel confident.

“Our schedule was a lot tougher this year. We added a second game with playoff teams Lake Region and Gray-New Gloucester. We don’t have a lot of depth, but proved we could make it through a season with six or seven kids.”

Cape Elizabeth won the first regular season meeting with Falmouth, 39-32 at home on Jan. 5. The teams have no prior playoff history.

“I think we’re pretty evenly matched in size, depth and style of play,” Roberts said. “They’re a good team that’s gotten better. For us, they key is execution. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but just go out and do what we do. I hope for the seniors’ sake, that they get to experience the Expo. They’ve worked so hard.”

If the Capers were able to win, they’d meet No. 1 York (18-0), the defending regional champion, in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. Cape Elizabeth lost twice this winter to the Wildcats, 38-27 at home on Jan. 12 and 56-38 at York on Jan. 29. The Capers’ last postseason meeting with the Wildcats came in the 1994 quarterfinals (a 61-57 York win).

“They’re a great team,” Roberts said.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net

Senior Christy Manning and the Scarborough girls’ basketball team has yet to lose in 2009-10. If that continues for four more games, the Red Storm would win the program’s first Gold Ball.

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