During the early part of the season, sophomore Raffael Salamone was alternating between Deering’s varsity and JV teams. But after scoring 13 points in the Rams’ first game against Portland on Jan. 15, he has been a mainstay on the varsity.

At 6-foot-4, Salamone is listed as Deering’s tallest player and has given the Rams a boost inside. He plays tight end and defensive end in football, and his strength comes in handy against the SMAA’s most physical teams.

Deering is regarded as an athletic team that likes to get up and down the floor. When the season began, the feeling was that if the Rams struggled, it would be against the taller teams.

“Raffael has given us the inside presence we’ve needed,” said Coach Todd Wing.

Salamone missed school because of illness Thursday and didn’t play in the regular-season finale against Portland. Until then, his minutes, points and rebounds had been steadily increasing. In his last nine games, Salamone is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds.

“Raffael has easily been our sixth man,” said Wing. “He’s earned his minutes and the opportunity to play in big situations. He’s a tough kid who doesn’t mind mixing it up.”

Wing said a key area where Salamone has improved in is his footwork. Wing credits assistant coach Mitch Ouellet with working with Salamone to improve his moves inside.

On Tuesday, Salamone scored 16 points in a 69-64 win at Cheverus. With time winding down, he scored on a tip that put the Rams up by five points with eight seconds left.

“Raffael played fantastic against Cheverus,” Wing said. “He was instrumental in the win. He has come a long way since the start of the season.”

SINCE LOSING its opener by four points at Thornton Academy, McAuley has won 17 straight after Thursday’s regular-season-ending 55-42 win against Cheverus. The four-time defending Class A champions are primed to once again be the No. 1 seed entering the Western A playoffs.

Gone are such stars as Allie Clement (at Marist College), Olivia Smith (Dartmouth), Jackie Welch (Bates) and Victoria Lux (transferred to Thornton).

In their place, the Lions have become a team that relies on defense and shows the ability to pull games out down the stretch instead of blowing teams out in the first eight minutes.

“I’m really proud of my team,” said Coach Bill Goodman. “We’re well aware there are a lot of good teams this year and we’re very humble about it and understand we have to keep getting better.”

Senior guard Olivia Dalphonse, a steady ballhandler and elite on-ball defender, is the only returning starter.

“The consistent part has been Olivia Dalphonse,” Goodman said. “I think the way she’s led our team has taught the younger girls and the new girls how to do it the right way.”

Three other returners have expanded their roles to solidify and lengthen the roster.

Ayla Tarte has evolved from a tough defender and rebounder off the bench into a starter who often leads the team in scoring. Ally Tillotson and Mary Furlong – who saw limited minutes in last year’s tournament run – are now key reserves who routinely play more than 10 minutes a game, Goodman said.

“I’ve learned you really have to develop your bench. I don’t want to risk my season on the flu or foul trouble,” Goodman said.

He pointed to the Lions’ recent win at Marshwood. Starting guard Sarah Clement was out due to sickness. Reserves Furlong, Brooke Howard and Mikayla Moran combined for 16 points while handling the Hawks’ full-court pressure defense.

“I put Mikayla Moran in and she handled the press and she played the whole second half,” Goodman said.

Adding junior center Jess Willerson has also been a big key. A transfer from Cheverus, Willerson needed some time to acclimate to her new team. In a nine-game stretch starting with her 14-point effort in a 29-25 win against then unbeaten Thornton, Willerson has averaged 15.8 points.

“There are a lot of good teams this year and in the beginning of the year we wanted to be in the mix,” Goodman said. “We’ve done that. We also acknowledge that the next game will be our toughest game the rest of the way.”

SOUTH PORTLAND’S 20-16 victory over Portland on Tuesday was the lowest-scoring game in the series between the two boys’ basketball programs in 86 years, according to records compiled by Portland High historian Peter Gribbin.

You’d have to go back to the 1928-29 season to find a lower-score between the two. Portland beat South Portland that season, 13-10.

Portland Coach Joe Russo insists his team wasn’t stalling Tuesday.

“It was a deliberate offense,” he said. “We were being selective on certain shots. We were still trying to score.”

Concerned about South Portland’s height, Portland slowed it down in hopes of pulling the Riots out of their zone. Since the Riots took the early lead, they only came out of their zone a couple times in the second half to double team the Bulldogs out front, on the sides and in the corners. Portland led 11-8 entering the fourth quarter.

Leaving Beal Gym, Russo said he heard some South Portland fans complaining about his tactics.

“I wanted to see how South Portland was going to react,” Russo said. “It had nothing with disrespecting the opponent or the integrity of the game, as some have suggested. I play within the confines of the rules and the rules enable you to try that style which I normally wouldn’t do.”

Russo said he thought the Bulldogs got a lot out of the game, despited the overtime loss. While the Bulldogs didn’t get the win, they may have planted some doubt in South Portland’s minds as to which style they will play should they meet the Red Riots in the tournament.

Ethan Winglass became the first Morse High boys’ basketball player since Derrick Hodge in 1987 to surpass 1,000 career points after scoring 25 Tuesday in a 68-40 win over Camden Hills.

Winglass is averaging 23.8 points this season for the Shipbuilders, ranked second in the Western B Heal points. Winglass reached his milestone in about three seasons as he scored only four points as freshman.

Hodge scored 1,209 career points over three seasons and went on to play at the University of Maine. Other former Morse players who reached 1,000 points are Joe Harrington, Katie Stailing and Jill Henricksen.

THE NOBLE GIRLS ended a 60-game losing streak Tuesday night with a 39-29 win over Massabesic. Katie Taylor, a senior forward, fueled the victory with 16 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots.

– Staff Writer Steve Craig contributed to this report.