PORTLAND — It’s over. After a magical start that captivated the city, the Maine Red Claws’ season came to a sudden halt Saturday night at the Portland Expo.

Needing a win over a team they hadn’t lost to all season to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Red Claws, well, lost.

The Erie BayHawks, 0 for 6 against Maine coming into the season finale, built a 19-point lead behind the 3-point shooting of Blake Ahearn and held off a frantic fourth-quarter charge to beat the Red Claws, 105-97.

The Red Claws (27-23) seemed assured of a playoff berth just two weeks ago, but they lost their final six regular-season games and left the Expo Saturday night resigned to missing the playoffs.

Their only hope to get in — and it’s paper thin — is if Reno loses its last two games, a 10 p.m. game against Albuquerque Saturday (after beating Albuquerque by 22 on Friday) and today’s game against Tulsa.

“We just didn’t have the mental toughness needed down the stretch,” said Red Claws Coach Austin Ainge. “The whole last three weeks.”

The Red Claws didn’t just roll over. They trailed by 11 with 2:13 left, but pulled within four on two foul shots by Russell Robinson with 25.9 seconds left.

Ahearn, who finished with 32 points, converted four foul shots in the final 25 seconds to seal Erie’s victory.

“Yeah, we kept fighting,” said Ainge. “But we made so many mental mistakes that led to easy baskets, it’s hard to come back from that.”

Maine led only four times in the game, the last at 19-18 with 1:46 left in the first. Erie scored the final seven points of the quarter and was in charge the rest of the way. The BayHawks led by four at the half, then pushed the lead to 19 before settling for a 13-point advantage after three.

The Red Claws kept fighting back.

“All night we just seemed a step or so slow,” said Billy Thomas. “The pressure to win was heavy on our minds, and that might have affected us mentally.

“All night we seemed to be behind the eight ball, also understanding we had to win. We just didn’t make the right plays when we had to.”

Maine made just 7 of 25 3-pointers and missed 14 foul shots.

“We let it all out,” said Morris Almond, who led Maine with 33 points. “It just didn’t go our way.”

 

NOTES: Just about everyone agrees this was a successful first year for the Red Claws, including the president of the Development League and a Hall of Fame Celtic. Dan Reed, the D-League president, said the decision to put an expansion team in Portland was “a great choice We’re extremely pleased with the fan support, the community support and the business support. The fans here have gotten a real taste for what the NBA Development League is all about.” … Tommy Heinsohn, meanwhile, said: “I always knew Maine was a good basketball state. When I was a player we used to come up here a lot. I think we dedicated every new high school gym in Maine for 15 years.”

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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