The South Portland girls’ basketball team didn’t appear in danger of losing its undefeated status in the first half of Thursday night’s game against Portland at the Portland Expo.

The Red Riots had a 24-7 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter before a 14-point run put Portland back into the game. Portland got within a point of tying the score midway through the fourth quarter, but South Portland managed to hold on for a 47-38 victory.

“At one point, they had all the momentum,” South Portland Coach Lynne Hasson said. “The crowd was going nuts, they hit a couple shots, made a couple steals, and we could have paid. We got a little panicked, but we didn’t cave.”

Maggie Whitmore and Meghan Graff each had 15 points to lead the Red Riots (9-0).

Gemima Motema scored 11 points for the Bulldogs (6-3), while Amanda Kabantu contributed 10.

The Bulldogs’ defensive pressure led to their second-half success as they forced several turnovers until they cut South Portland’s lead to 34-33 with 41/2 minutes remaining.

“We got out of playing timid,” Portland Coach Gerry Corcoran said. “With our athleticism, we wear teams down. As tired as we were, they were exhausted.”

After watching the Red Riots’ lead dwindle from 17 points to one, South Portland senior Eva Mazur said she told her teammates to “pretend its zero-zero.”

“Just delete the whole game,” said Mazur, who finished with 10 points. “This game, we definitely got more stressed than in other games.

“They’re stupid quick and athletic – it’s really hard to play against it.”

But South Portland made the shots when it counted, outscoring Portland 13-5 the remainder of the game. Whitmore accounted for seven of those points, including five free throws in the final two minutes.

“In big games, you’ve got to hit them if you want to win,” Whitmore said. “They went on a big run and that kind of slowed us down – we got jumbled. But finishing off the game is key.”

The shots just wouldn’t fall for the Bulldogs during the first half – they only scored two points in the first quarter. They finally got going in late in the second quarter, scoring seven of their 14 first-half points in the final three minutes. Kabantu accounted for five of those with two free throws and a 3-pointer to conclude the half.

That momentum stayed with the Bulldogs into the third quarter as they continued their 14-0 run that cut South Portland’s lead to 26-23. Two of those field goals were a result of steals by Davina Kabantu, who fed the ball to Nattie Walsh and then Motema for baskets.

With less than four minutes remaining in the third, Whitmore finally scored to end South Portland’s drought, followed by two free throws by Graff to give the Red Riots a 30-23 lead with three minutes left in the quarter.

Motema answered back for Portland a minute and a half later by intercepting a pass and taking it down for an easy layup.

South Portland led 34-26 when Portland went on another run – 7-0 – capped by Motema’s layup following a Walsh steal.

“We lost our composure for a while – we didn’t necessarily handle some of their pressure well,” Hasson said. “But championship teams don’t fold. They keep playing tough, and they work through adversity. In the end, I think our kids stepped up and finished.”

Taylor Vortherms can be contacted at 791-6417 or:

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