Lynne Hasson has always preached to her South Portland girls’ basketball players that the first few minutes of the third quarter can set the tone for what happens next.

Tuesday afternoon, the second-seeded Red Riots used those minutes to seize control of their Class AA South semifinal and then pulled away for a 43-27 victory over third-seeded Scarborough at Cross Insurance Arena.

The Red Riots forced four consecutive turnovers at the start of the third quarter and converted them into eight points to break open what was a three-point game at halftime. Then South Portland really clamped down, holding Scarborough scoreless in the fourth quarter to pull away for its 13th consecutive victory.

“We talked about that before the game,” said Hasson. “We really believe if we play our best defensive game, we’re tough to beat. And that’s what we did tonight.”

South Portland (17-2) will play top-ranked, undefeated and defending Class AA state champion Gorham in the regional final at 6 p.m. Friday. Gorham defeated the Red Riots 44-31 on Dec. 15.

The Red Storm, who defeated South Portland in the regular season, finished 16-4.

This was a defensive struggle for the most part, with each team working hard to shut down the other.

Scarborough pulled within 17-16 with 31 seconds left in the first half on a Sophie Glidden basket, but Meghan Graff hit a shot just before the halftime buzzer to make it 19-16.

Then, after the break, the Riots forced those four consecutive turnovers, leading to baskets by Eva Mazur (on a nice pass from Graff), Graff (on a nice pass from Mazur), Maggie Whitmore (on an offensive rebound) and Mazur again (on a short jumper).

“We always say coming out of the locker room at the half that the first three minutes of the second half are the most important minutes of the game,” said Graff, who led the Red Riots with 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists. “And we definitely made that obvious. We took over those first three minutes and it got us the momentum, it got us intensity on defense.”

Scarborough closed to within 32-27 with 1:21 left in the third quarter when Glidden (11 points, 15 rebounds) scored on an offensive rebound. But the Red Storm didn’t score again, missing their last 13 shots.

“They played really, really good defense,” said Scarborough Coach Mike Giordano. “We struggled to get any type of movement on the offensive end.”

The Red Riots forced 25 turnovers and held the Red Storm to 29 percent shooting (12 of 41) – 19 percent (5 of 26) in the second half.

“They just did a really nice job of making anything we wanted to do offensively uncomfortable all night,” said Giordano.

Whitmore added 11 points and six rebounds for the Red Riots, and Bela Cloutier scored seven points, hitting two big 3-pointers.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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