South Portland faced an uphill battle against the undefeated Gorham Rams in the AA South Final on Friday night, Feb. 19 – and narrowly failed to make the climb. Maddie Hasson led the Riots’ offense with a game-high 15, but the combined Gorham attack simply proved too much. 37-30 in the end.

Gorham head coach Laughn Berthiaume praised the Riots: “Especially in that first half, they took us out of what we really wanted to do.”

Gorham jumped to a quick 5-0 lead on 6-foot-2 freshman Mackenzie Holmes’s work inside and at the line. Riots Kathryn Whitmore and Maddie Hasson then added two apiece to keep things close – to give the first hints that this would be a tug-of-war.

It was also a defensive battle: Neither team allowed the other many good looks, and the score stayed relatively low throughout. Ram standout Emily Esposito managed five points and Hasson added a three-point play for the Riots, but the board still only read 11-7 at the end of the first.

“Our main job,” said Esposito of the Rams’ defensive plan for the bout, “was to have someone shut Maddie Hasson down, and play textbook D everywhere else. If Hasson gets out in transition, she can score easily. She did that really well, and got some fouls on us. We had to adjust to that.”

The second belonged largely to SoPo, who eked ahead in the stretch. Esposito pushed her girls out further to begin it, dropping in a two for 13-7, but then Hasson visited the line three times, hitting four of her six attempts, and added another basket on a late drive. Twos by Meghan Graff and Sarah Boles gave the Riots a slim advantage, 17-16 at the half.

The lead changed hands three times to start the third – Holmes, then Graff, then Holmes again scored to pass it back and forth. Gorhamite Danasia Fennie next hit a two and two frees, giving her girls a bit of breathing room, and Esposito followed her up with a buzzer-beater for 26-19 heading into the home stretch.

“We regrouped at halftime, and played a much better second half,” said Berthiaume. “We were getting better possessions offensively. We forced some tough shots in the first half; we were getting higher-percentage shots, and we got to the foul line a few more times in the second half.”

Hasson drew a block and nailed both frees at the start of the fourth, slashing the Riots’ deficit to five, and midway through the quarter, Lydia Henderson drained a big three to push the Riots closer still – 34-30 – but they would ultimately draw no nearer to a W. With time winding down, they needed to foul in hopes of regaining possessions, but the strategy didn’t work out. 37-30 the final.

In addition to Hasson’s 15, Graff added six, Katie Whitmore four, Henderson three and Boles two.

Beyond Holmes’s 12 and Esposito’s 10, Kaylea Lundin had eight for Gorham, Fennie five, and Kristen Curley and Michelle Rowe one apiece.

The Riots earned the tournament three-seed by going 15-3 in the regular season. They bumped off No. 6 Scarborough in the quarters, 49-41, and No. 2 McAuley 39-36 in OT in the semis.

The Rams entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in AA South, at 18-0. That earned them a bye through the quarters and into the semis, where they essentially smashed Bonny Eagle into their elementary particles, 60-28.

When Gorham and South Portland met in the regular season, way back on Dec. 12, the Rams escaped with their perfect record intact – but just barely, 40-38. It was Gorham’s closest call all season, and only South Portland’s battle with Thornton ended was decided by fewer points.

Gorham will battle Edward Little, winners in the North, on Saturday the 27th at the Cross Insurance Arena for the State crown. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.

South Portland’s Maddie Hasson led all scorers with 15 on Friday night, but opponents Gorham still emerged victorious.Jena Leckie of South Portland leads into an inside shot against Gorham Friday night.The Lady Riots sit dejected after their loss to Gorham in the AA South Regional Final on Friday.

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