PORTLAND – They weren’t playing South Portland’s first string. The game didn’t count in the Heal point standings. Chirping sneakers made more noise than the several dozen fans in attendance Tuesday morning at the Portland Expo.

And yet…

The score was close in the waning minutes. Mountain Valley played keep-away in an effort to maintain a slim lead. Don’t tell Falcons guard Cam Kaubris this was merely exhibition basketball.

“We can work on game situations all we want in practice,” Kaubris said. “There’s nothing like doing it in a game.”

Kaubris scored 25 points and Mountain Valley held off South Portland 46-45 on the weather-delayed opening day of the 25th annual High School Holiday Hoops Classic, giving Class B a second straight victory over a Class A foe.

Greely upended Scarborough 46-41 in the first of six basketball games at the Expo.

“I was really excited to play on this court,” said South Portland senior Vukasin Vignjevic, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. “Best court in the state, in my opinion.”

Vignjevic and 6-foot-7 teammate Matt Russell had to wait a little longer than the rest of their teammates. Coach Phil Conley opted to hold them out of the Mountain Valley game, and play four other regulars sparingly.

“We had a game plan,” Conley said. “We wanted to let the guys who haven’t seen a lot of time play the majority of the game. You can do that when there are no Heal points at stake.”

Besides, South Portland had another game Tuesday afternoon with no self-imposed restrictions.

Vignjevic drained five 3-pointers and scored 19 points — all in the first half — as South Portland thumped Greely, 68-37.

Russell finished with 10 points, the same as sophomore Tanner Hyland.

“I felt like we swung the ball really well and played very well defensively,” said Vignjevic, whose team will begin the new year with a 4-0 regular-season record.

In fact, Scarborough, Greely, Cheverus and Mountain Valley — all of whom played Tuesday — brought a combined record of 24-0 into the tournament.

“Some of these matchups are awesome,” said Portland High Coach Joe Russo, one of the tournament organizers. “If they were playing at night, this place would be packed.”

Instead, the Maine Red Claws had the day’s final slot, making up Sunday’s postponed game against Springfield. Even so, the pros took their pregame shoot-around to Southern Maine Community College in South Portland so the high school teams could fit in six games.

“It’s been a very cooperative partnership with Portland High School and the Red Claws,” Russo said. “If they had gone strictly by their league contract, they could have booted us out at 2 (p.m.).”

The Red Claws, a tourney sponsor and presenter of championship and all-star plaques Thursday and Friday, also will play a regularly scheduled game Thursday night at the Expo. With Monday’s white-out, Russo moved several games to Friday, scheduled one at Portland High on Thursday morning, and eliminated consolation and championship games.

“It’s been a logistical nightmare,” he said.

South Portland will play a final tournament game Thursday against Susan Wagner of Staten Island, one of the two New York teams who made the trip to Maine on Tuesday, a bit earlier than planned because of the schedule changes.

Across the parking lot in the Portland Ice Arena, the Maine Invitational High School Hockey Tournament finally was under way after the snowstorm wiped out 10 games Monday.

“It’s like a bad algebra problem,” said the organizer, Gary Prolman, who is juggling 20 in-state and 18 out-of-state teams through rinks in Portland, Saco, Gorham and Biddeford. “Everything’s a variable.”

North Broward Prep of Florida wasn’t able to travel north because of the snowstorm, which turned out to be a blessing for organizers. The Florida team, unencumbered by MPA regulations, had been scheduled to play six games.

“We could slide people in to take their slots,” Prolman said shortly after watching a team from the southern Connecticut communities of Brookfield, Bethel and Danbury hold off Kennebunk, 3-2.

He glanced out an arena window to see blue skies and sunshine.

“The sun’s out for me, too,” he said. “I feel fine.”


Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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