The South Portland High boys’ basketball team showed Friday night it has more than size.

The fourth-seeded Red Riots matched athletic plays all the way with third-ranked Massabesic, and held on just long enough to win the Class AA South final 62-60 at the Cross Insurance Arena.

“We knew we could always play with them, it was just a matter of finishing it out,” said Ruay Bol, who led South Portland with 22 points.

Massabesic (16-5) had a chance to tie or win but Ryan Gullikson’s dribble-drive pass to Tyus Sprague-Ripley was a beat too late and the buzzer sounded before Sprague-Ripley got off a layup that went through.

The Red Riots (12-9) will meet Portland (19-1) in next Saturday’s 9 p.m. state championship game at the CIA.

“How fitting is that, Portland and South Portland in the first AA final,” South Portland Coach Kevin Millington said.

South Portland last appeared in a state final in 2013. Its last state championship came in 1992 – a five-overtime classic against Bangor.

 


A preseason favorite, the Red Riots slogged through a 9-9 regular season in Millington’s first season. Millington replaced Phil Conley, who resigned after being told his contract would not be renewed.

“We kept talking near the end of the season about, ‘fight, fight, fight,’ regardless of the score,” Millington said. “That’s been kind of our motto (lately) and that’s what they did, they just kept fighting because Massabesic is relentless.”

Bol didn’t score in the first half after getting two quick fouls. The halftime score was 25-25 with Jack Fiorini totaling 12 of his 18 points in the first half for South Portland.

“I think we completely fooled people because I think we matched their athleticism pretty well,” Fiorini said. “I think Ruay and I, that was our best game of the year, we were so in sync. The rest of the team played great. Jordin (Jackson) was there, and we matched their athleticism.”

Fiorini was named the most outstanding player of the regional tournament.

“They were doing their part and keeping us in the game,” Bol said. “I had to make up for what I missed, and come in and help them out.”

Bol’s dunk off a lob pass from Deandre White late in the third quarter emphasized South Portland could compete above the rim with Gullikson and Sprague-Ripley, who both scored 20 for the Mustangs.

“It got everybody hyped up and got us going, and that’s when we started going on a little run,” Bol said.

Actually, Massabesic answered Bol’s dunk with a 3-pointer from Gullikson and a buzzer-beating fallaway by Dan Amabile (11 points) to take a 44-43 lead after three quarters.

Two baskets by Bol and two more by Fiorini – all at the basket – provided the key 8-0 run that put South Portland ahead 56-51 with under three minutes to play.

“They made some key second- and third-chance shots,” Massabesic Coach Chris Binette said. “We got beat on the boards. That’s where we got beat. But we had a chance at the end. We still had a chance and these kids never stopped fighting.”

With 43 seconds left, South Portland led 61-55. But Massabesic, trying to win its first boys’ basketball title, responded with a backcourt steal and subsequent three-point play by Josh Daigle, and a Sprague-Ripley layup from Gullikson to cut the lead to 62-60.

With 7.2 seconds left, Riley Hasson – who had hit two big 3s in the first half – missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

Massabesic raced down the court but didn’t get off its shot in time.

“Half a second and we were at the rim. That’s tough. It just takes the wind out of you,” Binette said. “We ran our break out of a foul shot perfectly. Right until the last moment they followed directions and they executed to the last half-second of their season.”