PORTLAND—The Portland girls’ basketball team showed that it’s on the rise Friday night at the Portland Exposition Building, but with the game on the line, the Bulldogs had no answers for the South Portland Red Riots and their senior standout Danica Gleason.

Gleason was held to eight points in the first three quarters, but with South Portland leading just 40-38 at the start of the final stanza, she rattled off seven straight points to spark a 10-0 run which allowed the Red Riots to pull away.

Thanks to Gleason’s 15 points and a solid team effort from starters and bench players alike, South Portland went on to a 55-41 win, improved to 8-2 and dropped Portland to 3-8.

“I told (the girls) there were eight minutes left and it was anyone’s game,” said longtime Red Riots coach Mike Giordano. “Who wanted it the most and who did the little things the most would come out with a win. It’s a crosstown rival. (Portland’s) struggling with its record, but they’re athletic and dangerous. I’d seen them a couple times. I knew they possessed a bit of danger. I knew if they had a good shooting night they could beat us.”

Lone meeting

South Portland turned heads early in the season by winning its first six games: 48-27 at Windham, 53-38 over visiting Biddeford, 61-42 at Westbrook, 57-37 over visiting Thornton Academy, 47-27 at Kennebunk and 65-28 at Massabesic. The Red Riots fell from the unbeaten ranks New Year’s Eve with a 45-37 home loss to Deering, then opened 2013 with a 42-30 home loss to Scarborough. South Portland bounced back Tuesday with a clutch 68-63 overtime win at Sanford, tying the game in the final seconds of regulation after letting a lead slip away.

“It would have been tough to swallow after controlling the game the whole way, but the kids showed character and that gave us a boost,” Giordano said. “That’s a big win for us. (Sanford will) win a lot of games in York County. That win and Thornton will carry us a long way.”

Portland struggled early, but has come on of late. After falling at Marshwood (45-23), at home to Sanford (66-50), two-time defending state champion McAuley (74-25) and Cheverus (42-17), the Bulldogs won at Bonny Eagle, 54-45. After losses to visiting Scarborough (57-44) and at Gorham (72-40), Portland sandwiched wins over visiting Biddeford (34-32) and host Kennebunk (62-25) around a 55-43 home loss to Windham.

Entering the game, South Portland had won 16 of the past 21 meetings, dating back to the start of the 2001-02 season, including 13 of the last 14. In last year’s meeting, the host Red Riots defeated the Bulldogs, 49-30.

Friday, South Portland spent most of the night trying to shake Portland.

The Red Riots got off to a hot start when Gleason knocked down a 3 , but a runner from junior Brianna Holdren, a foul shot from sophomore Elizabeth Donato and a Holdren 3 gave the Bulldogs a 6-3 lead.

After a putback from South Portland freshman Meaghan Doyle, Donato scored on a putback, but Red Riots freshman Maddie Hasson tied the score with a 3 and hit a jumper to put her team back on top, 10-8.

Holdren buried a 3 to give the hosts the lead right back and a jumper from junior Pam Lobor made it 13-10. After South Portland senior Hope Owen made a free throw, Bulldogs senior Sydney Levesque hit a runner, but junior Brianne Maloney’s pullup jumper brought South Portland back within two, 15-13, after eight minutes.

Portland’s first period efforts were bolstered by a 14-9 advantage on the glass.

“Initially, they were ready to play and I don’t think we were,” Giordano said. “I got on (the girls) a little bit and talked about how we couldn’t give up offensive rebounds. We buckled down.”

The Bulldogs didn’t help themselves in the second quarter, turning the ball over eight times, and the Red Riots took advantage.

After Maloney tied the game with a jumper 35 seconds in, Owen put on a show, draining two free throws, scoring on a putback while being fouled, adding the free throw, then making a bank shot with 5:34 to go for a 22-15 lead.

“I just did what I had to do,” said Owen. “I just had to use what I had. My teammates gave me good passes and I just laid it in there.”

“We asked (Hope) to come off the bench and contribute and she did a heck of a job for us tonight,” Giordano said.

With 4:31 left, two Holdren foul shots ended the 11-0 run and a 3 minute, 43 second drought and Levesque added a layup after a steal, but Gleason banked home a 3 to push the lead back to six, 25-19.

Junior Haley Nelson scored on a putback for Portland, junior Mackenzie Bowring got a point back for South Portland at the line, but Levesque drained a 3 to make it a two-point game, 26-24.

After Donato was whistled for a dubious charge call after a steal, Owen scored on a putback and Hasson sank a free throw to give the Red Riots a 29-24 lead at the break.

South Portland almost put the game away in the third period, but the Bulldogs refused to buckle.

After Maloney drained a 3 and sophomore Holly Black made a floater to push the Red Riots’ lead to 34-24, Portland junior Mariana Angelo sank a 3, but Maloney made two free throws and Maloney set up Black for a layup with 5:33 left in the third to give the visitors a seemingly safe 38-27 advantage.

Angelo sank another 3 and after Gleason scored after a pretty spin move, Holdren scored on a finger roll, freshman Cierra Burnham drained a long jumper, senior Ella Purington made a free throw, Holdren scored on a floater and Purington made another foul shot to allow the Bulldogs to close the third on an 11-2 run and make it a 40-38 contest with eight minutes to go.

Enter Gleason.

A minute into the fourth, she sank a 3. The next time down the floor, she got an offensive rebound and went back up and scored. Then, with 4:51 to play, Gleason sank a jump shot to push the lead to 47-38.

“We just dug down and knew we had to step it up in the fourth quarter,” said Gleason. “They were sagging off me a little bit, not letting me drive, so I took the opportunity to shoot.”

“In crunch time, you want your best player taking shots,” said Giordano. “She did and made a few and that gave us some space.”

When Maloney made a layup 37 seconds later and Hasson hit a foul shot with 2:16 to go, the win was all but in the bag, as South Portland led, 50-38.

With 1:26 to play, Portland ended the 10-0 Red Riots’ run and a 6:56 drought when Donato made two free throws. Hasson answered with two of her own and after Burnham sank a foul shot for the Bulldogs’ final point, Black scored on a layup and Maloney hit a free throw to give South Portland the 55-41 win.

“It’s always tough (to beat Portland),” said Gleason. “They’re our rivals. Their court’s longer and they’re used to it. It’s always tough to come here and play. They’re really aggressive.”

“We played hard,” Owen said. “We wanted it. We played to win. (The Sanford game) made us not take anybody for granted. We had to keep playing hard and we pulled it out and that gave us a glimpse at tonight.”

Gleason led the way with 15 points, including three 3-pointers. Maloney added 12 points.

“Bri is becoming a consistent scorer, which gives us one more kid we can hang our hat on for points,” Giordano said.

Owen had 10 points, Hasson nine, Black six, Doyle two and Bowring one.

After their early struggles on the glass, the Red Riots battled back and finished in a (32-32) tie. Owen had a team-high seven, while Black collected five and Doyle and Maloney had four each.

South Portland turned the ball over 18 times and went 12-of-19 from the foul stripe.

Portland was paced by 14 points from Holdren. Levesque added seven points, Angelo had six, Donato five, Burnham three and Lobor, Nelson (seven rebounds) and Purington two apiece. Donato had four of the Bulldogs’ 12 steals. Portland turned the ball over 18 times and shot 8-of-12 from the line.

“You can’t score three points in the fourth quarter and expect to win,” lamented Bulldogs coach Jan Veinot. “We played good defense. We just don’t have an inside presence. They’re hitting the post and going back out. We can’t do it. I think we played hard, we played well, we played good defense. It’s gotten a lot better than the beginning of the year. They’re getting it.”

Stretch run

Portland (11th in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) can still make a run to the playoffs with a few key wins. The Bulldogs (who would be the final team in if the postseason started today) host Thornton Academy Thursday, go to Westbrook and Deering the following week, then host Noble before finishing at Massabesic, McAuley and Cheverus.

South Portland (fifth in the region) is at Marshwood Tuesday and hosts Gorham Friday. The Red Riots also have home games remaining against Bonny Eagle, Cheverus, McAuley and Noble and close at Deering and McAuley.

“I think we’re practicing harder,” Gleason said. “We want it that much more now. Our last five games are the toughest games of the season. We’ll let it all out then.”

“We have to keep working hard and stay together as a team,” Owen said. “I think we can do anything we want to do.”

“We have our cracks at the top four (teams),” Giordano added. “We play McAuley twice, Cheverus and we play Deering again. Some of our younger kids will have more experience behind them. We’ll see how we do the second time around. We’re getting better in the halfcourt. We transition well. Our defense has been consistent. We’re second in points, third in the league in defense. If we keep that up, we’ll be in every game.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Portland sophomore Elizabeth Donato drives on South Portland freshman Maddie Hasson.

Portland senior Sydney Levesque rises for a shot.

Portland junior Mariana Angelo lines up a 3-pointer.

South Portland freshman Maddie Hasson drives on Portland junior Brianna Holdren.

South Portland sophomore Holly Black drives to the basket.

Portland junior Brianna Holdren has her shot contested by South Portland sophomore Holly Black.

Sidebar Elements

South Portland senior Danica Gleason goes up for a shot, while Portland junior Mariana Angelo defends. Gleason had a game-high 15 points, including the first seven of the fourth quarter as the Red Riots pulled away for a 55-41 win.

More photos below.


South Portland 55 Portland 41

SP- 13 16 11 15- 55
P- 15 9 14 3- 41

SP- Gleason 6-0-15, Maloney 4-3-12, Owen 3-4-10, Hasson 2-4-9, Black 3-0-6, Doyle 1-0-2, Bowring 0-1-1

P- Holdren 5-2-14, Levesque 3-0-7, Angelo 2-0-6, Donato 1-3-5, Burnham 1-1-3, Lobor 1-0-2, Nelson 1-0-2, Purington 0-2-2

SP (5) Gleason 3, Hasson, Maloney 1
P (5) Angelo, Holdren 2, Levesque 1

SP (32) Owen 7, Black 5, Doyle, Maloney 4, Gleason, Gray, Hasson 3, Bowring 2, Larochelle 1
P (32) Nelson 7, Angelo, Burnham 5, Donato, Holdren 4, Levesque 3, Purington 2, Gaudet, Lobor 1

SP (5) Hasson 2, Gleason, Gray, Maloney 1
P (12) Donato 4, Angelo, Levesque 3, Holdren 2

Blocked shots:
SP (6) Black 2, Doyle, Gray, Maloney, Owen 1
P (1) Purington 1

SP- 18
P- 18

SP: 12-19
P: 8-12

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