As the awards presentation began after Saturday’s Class A girls basketball western Maine championship, Christina Aceto looked over at her teammates sitting on the bench at the Cumberland County Civic Center and she noticed that some of them had their heads down.

The South Portland junior, with a bag of ice wrapped tightly to one knee and probably a half-dozen other bumps and bruises making themselves known as the adrenaline from the game was starting to wear off, pulled herself up and limped over.

She consoled one girl, and then another. Soon all the heads of the Lady Riots were up and most of them had smiles.

South Portland (17-4) had just battled through their second high-intensity contest in 48 hours. They lost the regional crown to top-ranked Sanford (20-1), 45-29, but two days earlier the Riots had upset McAuley (18-2), the tournament’s second seeded team and a big rival, 39-29.

“It’s hard to come off an emotional win like that, but I think we did fine,” Aceto said. “And I don’t think any of us would have traded beating McAuley for anything.”

The scrappy point guard opened the regional semifinal against the Lions with a pair of hoops off drives to the basket and a nice assist to Brianna Hawkins. South Portland took a 9-0 lead and forced McAuley to play catch-up all night.

When the Lions closed the gap to four after three quarters, Aceto buried a three-pointer to start the fourth and her opponents never got any closer.

Beating Sanford was a much more difficult mission, but the Riots gave it their all.

Seven inside points from forward Kayla Parker and a pair of three-pointers by guard Coleen Kumka helped the Redskins to a 17-11 first-quarter lead.

“Right from the start we wanted to come out intense,” said Kumka. “We know their personnel and we didn’t want to underestimate them.”

After Kelsey Flaherty and Jackie Rice hit back-to-back threes in the second period to cut the margin to one, Karyn Plante dropped in one of her own and Sanford was up four at the half.

South Portland’s defense held their opponents to just four points in period two, preventing Parker from getting the ball down low and not giving open looks to Kumka from the outside.

Parker, a six-foot senior who averaged 16 points and nearly nine rebounds a game during the season, had only two baskets after the opening period, as Hawkins and Emily Haeuser took turns bodying her in the paint.

“She’s one of their biggest threats and that’s what we were focusing on,” Haeuser said. “It was a pretty physical game inside and we knew it would be.”

Beth Fredette had four points to start the second half for the Redskins, but Rice kept the Riots close. First she had assists on baskets by Haeuser and Hawkins, then – when Plante hit a three that gave Sanford a nine-point lead – burying a three-ball in response.

Rice sank a pair of free throws early in the fourth to make it 32-26. South Portland had managed to stay close up to that point by sheer will, but now, with Aceto on the bench after banging knees with an opponent, the Redskins’ defense – the best in the SMAA – tightened its’ grip.

“The name of the game tonight was defense and they really took us out of what we wanted to do,” said Riots coach Mike Giordano. “They really shut us down and smothered us with their defensive effort, and that’s a credit to what they’re about.”

Indeed, Giordano’s squad could only put up totals of six, seven and five points in the last three quarters. In addition, in the waning minutes, Sanford went 6-for-6 from the foul line.

“They had a great season,” Aceto said. “They just played a great game and they deserved it tonight.”

South Portland also had a season to be proud of, taking the top seed into the fourth quarter despite starting one senior, two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman. Losing Haeuser will hurt, but the rest of the squad will return next year.

“I have great respect for Mike Giordano and what he does over there,” said Sanford coach Kristy Parent.

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