South Portland 36

McCauley 28

Not many girls’ basketball teams can say they’ve enjoyed much success against McCauley.

South Portland can.

The Red Riots (6-2) defeated the previously undefeated Lions (7-1) at home, 36-28, Friday.

It was the fourth time in five games that South Portland bettered McCauley, a streak that includes a Western Maine semifinal win at the Cumber County Civic Center last season.

This one was different though. McCauley is among the favorites to win the Class A state title. South Portland on the other hand has been flying under the radar since star Jackie Rice tore her ACL prior to the season.

“I think a lot of people lost faith in us and what we can do as a team,” South Portland senior Christina Aceto said. “We don’t have a first-team all-SMAA player anymore. I think beating McCauley helped us regain the focus and determination that our goals are realistic. I think it helped our fans and people realize there is no reason to doubt us.

We are going to be successful. We are going to compete every game.”

Aceto led her team with 12 points, including two key free throws down the stretch that extended South Portland’s lead from two points to four with a 1 minute 30 seconds remaining.

“That was nerve-racking,” Aceto said. “We took a timeout right before that. We sat down and coach said ‘Christina is going to put these two free throws in.’ I am the last person on the team that wants to be on the line down the stretch.”

There is a reason head coach Mike Giordano has such faith in his point guard.

“She is a special kid,” he said. “That determination she brings onto the court and soccer field; I have been coaching 18 years and she is the most determined player I have ever seen. When she gets that look, she just won’t be denied.

Aceto had only two turnovers in the game and according to the coach she handled the ball close to 80 percent of the time.

The Red Riots shot eight for 11 from the line in the game.

After a two-point third quarter, South Portland trailed, 24-21, entering the fourth.

“We’ve struggled all year coming out of the break at halftime,” Giordano said. “We are getting shots and they aren’t falling. I don’t know what it is. As a staff we are shaking our heads.”

South Portland took the lead with about four minutes to play on a three-point play by Brianna Hawkins and didn’t look back. Libby King sank a pair of shots from beyond the arc during the comeback.

Hawkins finished with five points; King had six.

“I think we are starting to learn that not one person is going to do everything,” Aceto said. “Every little bit helps. I think the more every girl on the team realizes that, the better we will be.”

Playing without Rice has changed the game for Aceto and her teammates. The offense has been forced to slow down and work more from the half-court set.

South Portland’s defensive intensity has remained constant, however. With Hawkins fronting Ashley Cimino, in addition to King and Erin Stilphen providing help-side defense, the Red Riots limited the future Division I player to 12 points.

“We made her our focus,” Giordano said. “She is such a great player you aren’t going to completely shut her down. We made sure she had company when she got the ball.”

South Portland travels to face rival Portland (1-7) tonight.

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