SOUTH PORTLAND — Elizabeth Donato’s offense put her Portland High girls’ basketball team in a position to win Friday night.
Her defense helped seal a 50-46 triumph over South Portland.
Donato, a 5-foot-8 junior, capped an 18-point night by coming from behind and swatting away a layup attempt by South Portland’s 5-10 sophomore, Maddie Hasson (24 points) with 25 seconds remaining and Portland clinging to a three-point lead.
“It’s all about timing, I think,” said Donato. “I knew that she was coming in because they needed a comeback and she’s their go-to player. I had to do something about it.”
Portland, which did not make the playoffs last season, is now 5-0. South Portland is 3-2 after starting 3-0.
“We’ve got 10, 11 kids who can play. They know their roles and they do what they have to do to help us win. Our defense is better,” Portland Coach Jan Veinot said of the reasons for the improvement.
Portland senior Brianna Holdren (15 points) sealed the win with a free throw with 10 seconds to play.
The game ended with Mariana Angelo stealing an errant pass – the Red Riots’ 33rd turnover.
“Being a senior and going through these last few seasons of ‘Are we going to win? Are we going to playoffs?’ this year has been amazing,” Holdren said.
Both teams showed from the start they were committed to full-court pressure.
Portland’s superior quickness held sway early.
As the half wore on, however, South Portland’s Hasson was able to pick her way through overaggressive defense and get to the rim, where she met too-little, too-late resistance.
Hasson scored 16 points in the first half, converting three three-point plays, and the Red Riots led 26-21 at the break.
Holdren kept Portland from falling too far behind with nine points in the second quarter.
“At halftime we knew we were going to come back, but we knew we were going to have to fight for it. South Portland was not going to let us go. Our defense definitely came through,” Donato said.
For much of the third quarter Portland continued to struggle offensively, but Donato found just enough creases to slice to the basket for eight points, tying the game at 31-31.
Reserves Adi Ramirez and Sydney Frederick added late buckets to finish an 8-0 run for a 35-31 lead entering the fourth.
When Frederick’s 10-footer from the baseline rolled in early in the fourth, Portland had its largest lead of the game at 38-31.
Frederick was on the court primarily because Holdren had picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter.
South Portland went ice cold in the third quarter, making 1 of 14 shots from the floor and just 3 of 9 from the free-throw line.
“We missed a lot of shots. We missed a lot of free throws, so that hurt us,” South Portland Coach Lynne Hasson said. “We had too many turnovers. We knew what to expect coming in, but we didn’t handle their pressure well consistently. There were times when we did. I wasn’t disappointed with our defensive intensity. We played hard. It came down to a close game and we needed to make a few more foul shots.”
South Portland’s superior offensive rebounding helped it crawl back into the game, and a basket by Brianne Maloney cut the lead to 46-44 with under 90 seconds to play.
The Riots got a quick steal but missed a go-ahead 3-point attempt. Portland center Gabby Wagabaza (7 points) scored inside to push the lead back to four.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: