The two-time defending Class AA girls’ basketball state champions aren’t quite ready to give up their title.

For the second consecutive game, fifth-seeded Gorham jumped out to a huge early lead and went on to upset a higher-seeded opponent. Its victim Tuesday was the highest seed of all.

Gorham scored the game’s first 16 points and upset top-seeded South Portland 53-42 in a Class AA South semifinal at Cross Insurance Arena. The Rams closed out the victory by hitting 15 of 23 foul shots in the fourth quarter.

“It means we play again, that’s what it means,” said Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume. “That’s our goal. This one is nice, but this one wasn’t our goal. Our goal wasn’t to get to the semifinals, it was to keep going.”

Gorham (13-7) will play No. 2 Scarborough in the regional championship game at 3:45 p.m. Friday at CIA. Gorham defeated Scarborough 66-53 on Dec. 22.

The Red Riots (18-2) were visibly unsettled after the game, understandably so. They went into the season as state title favorites and had beaten Gorham 54-44 on Feb. 3.

But South Portland missed all 11 shots in the first quarter and committed four turnovers. It was a nightmarish start that was too much to overcome.

“We couldn’t get a shot to drop,” said South Portland Coach Lynne Hasson. “And with every miss, I feel like we got a little tighter. We had some good shots; we just couldn’t get them in.

“I wish I could figure it out. We had some good looks. Nothing dropped.”

Gorham, meanwhile, has its second fast start of the tournament. The Rams scored the first 15 points in their 63-37 quarterfinal win at Maine Girls’ Academy. Mackenzie Holmes, Gorham’s standout 6-foot-2 junior center, said the Rams had struggled early in games all season. Something obviously changed in the playoffs.

“The start is very important, obviously,” said Berthiaume. “It builds the kids’ confidence, it gets them into the game.

“We came out with a lot of energy. Defensively, we rebounded the basketball when they missed. I thought we pushed the ball and got some easy baskets. And when you look at the scoreboard and it’s 8-0, 10-0, it’s a confidence builder.”

Holmes (20 points, 12 rebounds, five blocked shots) had nine points in the first quarter, including a running left-hander with three seconds left to make it 16-0.

“We’ve really worked on coming out of the gates with intensity and getting a fast start,” said Holmes.

South Portland regained its footing behind Eva Mazur (16 points), Katie Whitmore (12 points) and Jena Leckie (six fourth-quarter points). But the Riots could never make up the deficit.

It was 24-11 at halftime and 33-21 heading into the fourth quarter. Whenever the Riots tried to get close, someone on Gorham responded.

First, Michelle Rowe hit a 3-pointer – her only basket – to make it 36-23 with 6:55 left. Then, after Leckie cut the deficit to 36-27 on an offensive rebound, Courtney Brent took a long pass from Holmes for a layup and two Holmes followed with two free throws.

The Riots were forced to foul, and the Rams didn’t miss often. Olivia Michaud hit 6 of 8 foul shots in the final 3:29. Holmes made 5 of 8, Brent was 2 for 3 and Brittany Desjardins was 2 for 4.

“We practice them every day,” said Michaud. “It came in handy, obviously, at the end.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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