Bonny Eagle junior Zach Maturo gets caught between South Portland junior Pamba Pamba, left, and senior Scott Lewis during the teams’ Class AA South semifinal Tuesday night. Maturo had a game-high 26 points to help the Scots rally for a 55-50 victory.

Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—South Portland’s boys’ basketball team appeared to have its coveted berth in the regional final all but wrapped up early in the fourth quarter of Tuesday evening’s Class AA South semifinal at the Cross Insurance Arena, but Bonny Eagle ripped it away and ended the Red Riots’ season in agony.

Third-ranked South Portland led the second-seeded Scots most of the night, but Bonny Eagle junior standout Zach Maturo took over with the game on the line and sparked a 14-0 run to put the Scots on top to stay and lead them to a 55-50 victory.

Bonny Eagle improved to 17-3, advanced to meet top-ranked Thornton Academy (16-4) in the Class AA South Final Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena and in the process, brought a stunning end to the Red Riots’ season at 11-9.

“The difference in the game was Maturo,” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington. “He had four points in our first game. We did a good job on the rest of the guys. When you’re a great player you make shots like that. If he didn’t have a great game, we would have won.”

Won, then lost

South Portland struggled finding consistency in the regular season, never winning or losing more than three games in a row en route to a 10-8 mark. In last Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, the Red Riots eliminated sixth-ranked Sanford with surprising ease, 65-39.

Bonny Eagle snuck up on a lot of people this winter and posted a stellar 15-3 record, marred only by losses to Cheverus, Thornton Academy and South Portland. The Scots won their final eight contests, including several thrillers, and wound up second behind Thornton Academy in the region.

In the regular season meeting Jan. 12, the Red Riots rolled at home, 58-25, behind big surges in the second and fourth quarters.

South Portland won just one of the three prior playoff meetings, as Bonny Eagle prevailed in the 2007 Western A quarterfinals (57-51) and the 2012 Western A semifinals (54-39), while the Red Riots took the 2013 Western A Final (56-52).

Tuesday, South Portland led most of the game, until it mattered most.

South Portland fell behind 44 seconds in when senior Will Hendrix made a layup for the Scots. After a bank shot from senior Scott Lewis, a layup after a steal by senior Tyree Bitjoka put South Portland ahead.

After a Lewis steal, Bitjoka made a layup and after Maturo made a contested leaner for Bonny Eagle, junior Geremi Baez got a leaner to rattle in, junior Pamba Pamba scored on a putback and Baez banked in a shot for a 12-4 advantage.

After sophomore Jacob Humphrey hit a 3 for the Scots, Baez scored on a turnaround jumper.

Maturo made a jump shot, but senior Jacob Milton gave the Red Riots an eight-point lead with a 3-ball.

Junior Cameron Gardner countered with a 3 for Bonny Eagle, but with 5.5 seconds to go, Bitjoka got into the lane and scored on a finger roll for a 19-12 advantage.

The scoring pace slowed down in the second period, but South Portland was able to maintain its lead.

After Humphrey hit a jumper nine seconds into the frame, neither team scored for four minutes before Lewis hit a leaner.

Pamba then fed Baez for a backdoor layup, but Maturo banked home a contested shot, then spun to fake out a defender and scored again to cut the deficit to 23-18.

After Baez made a foul shot and Bitjoka sank a pair, Maturo banked home a shot just before the horn to pull the Scots within six, 26-20, at halftime.

Maturo led all first half scorers with 10 points, while Baez and Bitjoka paced the Red Riots with nine and eight respectively.

In the third period, Bonny Eagle nearly took the lead, but South Portland held on for the time being.

Humphrey opened the second half scoring with a 3-pointer, but Lewis countered with a leaner.

Humphrey then made another 3 to make it a two-point game, but Pamba answered with a 3-ball of his own.

After Maturo scored on a bank shot, junior Cade Carr made a 3 for the Red Riots, but Maturo set up junior Chase Graves for a layup, then Maturo drove for a layup to make it 34-32 South Portland.

After Baez made a layup and banked home a shot, the lead was back to six, but Hendrix answered with two free throws.

The Red Riots would finish the quarter strong, as Pamba scored on a floater and Lewis made a pair of free throws for a 42-34 advantage.

After Maturo’s layup to start the fourth period was countered by a Baez layup, South Portland had an eight-point lead with less than six minutes remaining, but as it turned out, Bonny Eagle had the Red Riots right where it wanted them and a staggering, game-turning 14-0 run ensued.

Maturo started the comeback with 5:17 on the clock, as his leaner rolled around the rim and in.

After Humphrey made a layup after a steal, Millington called timeout, but it didn’t help, as Maturo scored on a floater and with 3:50 on the clock, Humphrey made a layup after a steal to tie the game for the first time since 2-2.

After a Lewis miss, Maturo put the Scots on top, 46-44, with a leaner with 3:08 to go.

After another South Portland miss, junior Nate Ferris grabbed the rebound and fed Humphrey for a layup and with 2:21 remaining, after another steal, Humphrey’s layup made it 50-44 Bonny Eagle.

With 2:02 left, a Baez bank shot ended the surge and with 1:24 to go, a Carr 3 pulled the Red Riots within one, but they couldn’t retake the lead.

First, the Scots twice barely avoided turnovers, then with 30.2 seconds to play, Maturo was fouled and made both ends of a one-and-one opportunity.

After Carr missed a 3 which could have tied the score, Maturo went back to the line and made two more foul shots with 13.8 seconds remaining.

With 7.2 seconds left, Baez made one free throw for South Portland, but Ferris hit one three seconds later and that made Bonny Eagle’s 55-50 victory official.

“We never thought we were out of it,” said Scots coach John Trull. “The guys did a good job responding. We had a great week of practice. These guys love to practice. It showed tonight because we didn’t have tired legs. We’ve never been so excited to practice again tomorrow. It’s awesome for our program. We lost in this round pretty bad (to Scarborough) last year.”

Maturo excelled with 26 points and three assists.

“Zach’s our guy,” Trull said. “It’s tough to stop guards in the tournament. In order for us to be good, he has to score and he did tonight. He’s our leader.”

Humphrey added 19 points, five rebounds and three steals.

Hendrix had four points, Gardner three, Graves two and Ferris one.

The Scots only turned the ball over nine times and made 7 of 9 free throws.

Bonny Eagle now has a chance to reach the state final for the first time since legendary coach Bob Brown led it there in 1995, but Thornton Academy, which handled defending regional champion Scarborough with ease, 67-40, in its semifinal Tuesday, will pose a daunting challenge.

Bonny Eagle lost, 70-62, at home to the Golden Trojans Jan. 10.

“We had goals at the beginning of the season to win the state championship and I don’t know if anyone believes it other than us,” said Trull, who oh by the way, played on a championship team at Thornton Academy 10 years ago that was and still is coached by Bob Davies. “We hope we’re the underdogs every time and teams continue to overlook us.”

Looking ahead

As for South Portland, it was paced Tuesday by Baez with 18 points. Bitjoka (three assists) and Lewis (six rebounds) each had eight points, Pamba added seven, Carr had six and Milton three.

The Red Riots out-rebounded the Scots, 22-19, but made just 4 of 8 free throws and committed six of their nine turnovers in the fourth period.

“Even when we beat them (in the regular season), they did a good job with on-the-ball defense and we didn’t take care of the ball at key times tonight,” Millington said. “They needed a great player to have a great game and (Maturo) did. I thought we battled defensively and offensively, we were as good as we were all year. South Portland kids never lay down and quit. If a couple breaks went our way, maybe we’d have a shot. We didn’t play like we were complacent. The tank was empty on what we could run.

“We don’t play for semis. It was a tough year because we had so many guys who could play. We graduated 80 percent of our offense and we had the toughest schedule in the league, so I think we had a good season. We thought we had a chance to win it. It’s one of the finest groups of leaders I’ve ever had. Having a lot of unhappy kids on a given night, you need leadership to keep the locker room and they did a great job.

“We’ll do the best we can next year.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

South Portland senior Tyree Bitjoka shoots over Bonny Eagle senior Jackson Bean.

Bonny Eagle junior Zach Maturo brings the ball up the floor.

South Portland junior Geremi Baez drives on Bonny Eagle senior Jackson Bean.

The Bonny Eagle bench erupts late in the victory.

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