When South Portland and reigning State Champions McAuley met in the regular season, the Lions pulled out a win that was closer on the court than its eight-point differential on the scoreboard would’ve suggested.

When they met again in Thursday night’s semifinals at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, McAuley grabbed an early lead they would hold tenaciously onto throughout the game, ultimately emerging the victors, 39-34.

“We struggled all night, offensively,” said South Portland head coach Lynne Hasson. “Credit to McAuley, they played great defense. I don’t think we were running our offense; we kind of panicked, dribbling too much, not having patience and waiting for it to run through and setting good screens.”

This despite a game-high, 14-point performance by the Riots’ Maddie Hasson, as well as eight by Lydia Henderson. No single Lion, as it turned out, broke double digits that night – but almost every one of them contributed something to the team’s tally (not to mention their seemingly impermeable defense).

6-foot-3 powerhouse Jess Willerson added nine, for instance, and Ayla Tartre eight. Sarah Clement and Olivia Dalphonse both dropped in six, while five other girls each notched a two. McAuley’s multifarious attack allowed them to build a lead that, early in the third, stretched all the way to 12, 26-14.

“We struggled even when we had good looks,” Lynne Hasson said. “We just couldn’t knock ’em down. I don’t think it was lack of effort; we just didn’t get some of the breaks we needed to get. Every time we created something, and it looked like we were going to get a break, we didn’t.”

The Riots fought valiantly back – they bolstered their defense, and Maddie Hasson and Holly Black delivered numerous key baskets – but even a gorgeous, Meghan Graff buzzer-beater to end the fourth only brought them within five.

“We changed things up in the second half,” Hasson said. “We played the first half with the defense that got us here, and then we had to switch it up, because we were behind. But the bottom line is, even when we started to play great defense, we couldn’t get our offense [going].”

South Portland’s season ascended to the big locker room in the sky at 15-6. McAuley’s jumped to 19-1, and continued into the A West Regional Finals, where they fell to rivals Thornton, 41-31.

South Portland freshman Abby Cavallaro drives around a McAuley defender in the teams’ semifinal matchup on Thursday night.The Riots’ Lydia Henderson escapes McAuley’s Sarah Clement.Riots senior captain Holly Black collides with towering McAuley defender Jess Willerson on Thusrday night. The Lions won the thrilling semifinal matchup by just five points.

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