BOX SCORE

South Portland 66 Bonny Eagle 65

BE- 10 13 22 20- 65
SP- 13 25 12 16- 66

BE- Gardner 6-0-16, Humphrey 6-1-16, Maturo 6-0-15, Ferris 2-4-8, Teel 2-0-4, Bouchard 1-0-2, Meredith 1-0-2, Walcott 1-0-2

SP- Carr 8-3-22, Pamba 5-1-15, Owen 5-0-12, Boles 3-1-7, Maloney 2-2-6, Baez 1-2-4

3-pointers:
BE (10) Gardner 4, Humphrey, Maturo 3
SP (9) Pamba 4, Carr 3, Owen 2

Turnovers:
BE- 15
SP- 20

FTs
BE: 5-10
SP: 9-16

SOUTH PORTLAND—After winning its first four games this winter with relative ease, South Portland’s boys’ basketball team appeared en route to a decisive fifth victory Friday evening at Beal Gymnasium against defending Class AA South champion Bonny Eagle.

Until suddenly, the Red Riots found themselves in a fight to the finish.

But unlike a year ago, when South Portland let a lead slip away and couldn’t rally against the Scots in the regional semifinals, this time around, the Red Riots did just enough to find an answer and prevail in a down-to-the-wire thriller.

South Portland got off to a fast start, went on top on a layup from senior Ryan Boles and held a 13-10 lead after one quarter.

Senior Pamba Pamba then started the second period with successive 3-point shots and with Bonny Eagle battling foul trouble and senior Hunter Owen burying a pair of late 3s, the Red Riots stretched their advantage to 38-23 at halftime.

But the Scots are never, ever out of a game and after South Portland got the first four points of the second half to go up by 19, the defending regional champions roared back with a vengeance.

A 3-point shot from junior Jacob Humphrey sparked the rally and Bonny Eagle scored 10 straight points to cut the deficit to 42-33.

The Red Riots then seemingly put it away behind an 8-0 run, which was sparked by a breathtaking behind-the-back pass from freshman Jaelen Jackson, but in a run which spanned the end of the third period and the start of the fourth, Bonny Eagle rattled off 18 straight points, capped by a 3-point bomb from senior Cam Gardner, to take an improbable 51-50 advantage.

The lead would change hands six times total in the fourth quarter, the last on a 3-ball from South Portland senior Cade Carr.

The Scots tied the game, 61-61, when senior standout Zach Maturo scored on a spinner in the lane with 2:03 left, but 58 seconds later, a Pamba 3 finally put the Red Riots ahead to stay.

South Portland did just enough to hold on from there and eked out a palpitating 66-65 victory.

The Red Riots got a game-high 22 points from Carr, 15 from Pamba and improved to 5-0 on the season, handing the Scots their first setback in four outings.

“I can’t say enough good things about (Bonny Eagle),” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington. “They’re just tough kids. They’re winners. Probably the worst thing we could do is beat Bonny Eagle in the regular season. It might have been better to lose.”

Two of the best

Bonny Eagle surprised many a year ago by going on a spirited run to the Class AA state final, which the Scots lost to Bangor, 58-48.

Along the way, Bonny Eagle rallied to upset South Portland, 55-50, in the Class AA South semifinals.

This winter, the Scots and Red Riots, along with Gorham, Thornton Academy and perhaps Scarborough, are in the midst of a multi-team race for top honors in a very deep region.

Bonny Eagle opened the 2019-20 campaign with victories at Noble (66-46) and at home over Biddeford (65-41) and Gorham (55-46). Tuesday’s highly-anticipated game at Deering was postponed by bad weather.

South Portland, meanwhile, rolled at Gorham (62-39) in the opener, then defeated visiting Deering (74-62) and Massabesic (77-52) before making a powerful statement Wednesday, crushing host Greely, the three-time defending Class A champion, 81-43.

Last winter, in addition to the playoff meeting, the host Red Riots rolled, 58-25, in the regular season.

Friday, in front of a vocal crowd, the Scots sought their first regular season win over South Portland in five years, but the Red Riots did just enough to make it six in a row.

South Portland broke the ice 82 seconds in when Pamba hit a long 3.

Bonny Eagle came back to tie, as senior Nate Ferris scored on a putback, then Ferris made a free throw, but a Boles layup, followed by a driving layup by senior Geremi Baez, made it 7-3 Red Riots.

After Maturo hit a 3 for the Scots, Boles made a jumper in the lane, but Maturo fed senior Jauwan Teel for a layup to pull the visitors within a point, 9-8.

Sophomore Owen Maloney then came off the bench for the hosts and grabbed an offensive rebound while being fouled, hit two free throws, then added a spinner in the lane.

With 27.6 seconds left, Humphrey found Teel for a backdoor layup to pull Bonny Eagle within three, 13-10.

South Portland then threatened to run away and hide in the second period.

Pamba put on a shooting clinic to start, draining a long 3, then hitting an even longer 3-ball, from NBA-range, to make the score 19-10.

A driving layup from Humphrey was countered by a driving layup from Pamba and a pair of Baez free throws for the Red Riots’ first double-digit advantage, 23-12, with 5:20 to go in the first half.

The Scots chipped away, as Humphrey drove for a layup and Gardner hit a runner on the baseline to cut the deficit to seven, but Maloney made a leaner and Carr banked home a shot while being fouled to again make it an 11-point contest, 27-16, with 3:13 remaining.

Humphrey tried to stem the tide with a 3-pointer, but Carr countered with a long 3, then Owen, who is best known for his golden left arm which earned him a baseball scholarship to Vanderbilt, came off the bench and hit a 3 from the corner for a 33-19 advantage.

After sophomore Aidan Wescott drove for a layup for the visitors, Carr scored on a putback, then Owen made another 3 before a driving layup from Bonny Eagle freshman Elliot Bouchard made the score 38-23 South Portland at the break.

“I was actually upset at halftime,” said Millington. “I thought we hit a lot of 3s that pushed the lead. It wasn’t because we were playing better than them. I thought we didn’t play well in the first half, we just hit shots.”

In the first half, Pamba led all scorers with 11 points, while Carr added seven and Maloney and Owen each had six.

Making matters worse for the Scots, Ferris, Gardner and Maturo were all saddled with two fouls.

The Red Riots entered the second half mindful that Bonny Eagle wouldn’t go quietly, but when Boles and Carr each drove for layups in the first 70 seconds, it appeared South Portland was on the brink of a runaway, up, 42-23.

Then, the expected Scots’ comeback began in earnest.

The rally began with a 3-ball from Humphrey. After Humphrey set up Ferris for a fastbreak layup, Ferris stole the ball and set up Humphrey for a layup, cutting the deficit to 42-30 and forcing Millington to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as Maturo drove and hit a runner with his left hand, then with 4:14 on the clock, Humphrey’s free throw capped a 10-0 run to make the score 42-33.

Bonny Eagle’s comeback was halted when Maturo was called for a charge, his third foul.

The Red Riots then rediscovered their offense and opened it up again.

With 3:15 remaining in the third, Jackson raced into the lane, drew the defense, then delivered a highlight-reel behind-the-back pass to Owen for an easy layup to end South Portland’s 3-minute, 35-second drought.

Owen then remained on center stage, scoring on successive putbacks.

Then, with 1:50 to go in the frame, a driving layup by Carr stretched the lead to 50-33, forcing Scots’ coach John Trull to call timeout.

Bonny Eagle would control the rest of the quarter, closing on a 12-0 run to make things very interesting again.

First, Maturo hit a 3.

Then, after a technical foul was called on Owen, Ferris hit two free throws.

In the final minute, Gardner drained a 3, Maturo delivered a no-look pass to senior Keegan Meredith for a layup and Gardner made a layup after a steal and just like that, a 17-point game had become a 50-45 contest with eight minutes still to play.

The fourth period would be a showcase of two proud teams fighting for every inch, as the lead changed hands multiple times and the contest came down to the final seconds.

Gardner pulled the Scots within two points when he opened the final stanza with a 3, then with 6:16 left, Gardner made another 3 to give Bonny Eagle its first lead of the contest, 51-50.

With 5:25 remaining, Carr made two free throws to snap the Scots’ 18-0 run and a 4:25 drought for a 52-51 Red Riots’ advantage.

Maturo put Bonny Eagle back on top with a 3, but with 4:17 to go, Carr made a layup on a drive while being fouled and he added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and a 55-54 lead.

Maturo again countered with a runner for the Scots’ final advantage, but with 3:58 left, Carr calmly buried a 3 to make it 58-56 South Portland.

Carr added another 3-pointer 26 seconds later, but still, the Red Riots couldn’t close it out, as Gardner got a long 3 to bank home and with 2:03 left, Maturo got in the lane, spun and got his shot to drop to tie it for the second and final time, 61-61.

After the teams traded turnovers, Pamba, who had spent several minutes on the bench before returning, got a pass from senior Gerik Bialorucki and from behind the arc, rose and sank his 3-point shot for a 64-61 lead with 1:05 to play.

“Mental toughness is all I can say about that,” said Pamba. “It was really just catch-and-shoot. Instinct. I do that all the time.”

“Pamba hit a big shot and we needed that,” Millington said. “He struggled for a moment and he had to regroup, but he’s a great offense player for sure.”

Bonny Eagle hoped to counter, but with 48.6 seconds showing, Ferris made just one of two free throws.

After a timeout, South Portland ran the clock down to 17.1 seconds before Boles was fouled.

Boles sank the first of two free throws, then missed the second, but Pamba got the rebound and was fouled with 15.7 seconds remaining.

Pamba also made his first attempt, but missed the second, making it 66-62 Red Riots.

Maturo then missed a 3 and Carr got the rebound to seemingly put it away, but Carr missed both of his free throw attempts.

The Scots then raced up the floor and got a 3 from Humphrey, but with it came the final horn and that shot was nothing more than window dressing as South Portland was able to exhale and celebrate its 66-65 triumph.

“When they went on that run, it was tough, but we showed our resiliency and came out with a win and that’s a great message,” Carr said. “Our strong senior presence is big this year. They’re a good team and they made a run, but we knew if we played our best, we were better, and we stepped it up.”

“Tonight, mental toughness was a big factor,” said Pamba. “Bonny Eagle can come back, but we closed it out.”

Carr set the tone with 22 points. He also had four rebounds and blocked three shots.

“Cade Carr carried us,” said Millington. “He’s been consistent all year.”

Pamba scored 15 points and had five boards.

Owen had 12 points and four rebounds off the bench, Boles finished with seven points, Maloney had six and Baez added four (to go with 10 rebounds and two blocks).

South Portland enjoyed a 32-26 rebounding advantage, overcame 20 turnovers and made 9-of-16 free throws.

Bonny Eagle hit 10 3-pointers and was paced by 16 points apiece from Gardner and Humphrey (four assists).

Maturo had 15 points and five assists, Ferris added eight points and nine rebounds, Teel had four points and Bouchard, Meredith and Walcott each added two.

The Scots committed 15 turnovers and hit 5-of-10 foul shots.

“A year ago, we lost by 33 here and it was the same feeling tonight at halftime,” said Trull. “I don’t really believe in moral victories, but I have no issues how we played in the second half and I’m really proud of the guys for how we played and executed. We have winners on our team. We have guys who refuse to lose. We’re never out of a game. They’re resilient and they play for each other and it’s a different guy every night. South Portland responded well when we took the lead. They hit some big 3s and got offensive rebounds. They did a great job too.

“I love my guys. I’m confident we’ll get better. We still have guys coming along. We’ll see these guys again (Jan. 9 in Standish), probably twice. This was probably the least important of the three. It’s tough to lose, but we’ll make adjustments.”

No rest for the weary

While Bonny Eagle looks to bounce back next Friday at Deering, then finishes the old year with a home game versus Scarborough on Dec. 30, South Portland has another test awaiting it Monday at Scarborough in the finale of the 2019 portion of the schedule.

“I knew we were pretty good in the preseason, but Bonny Eagle is a champion, both in football and basketball, TA has a ton of talent and Gorham will get it going at some point, so it’s a tough region,” Millington said. “You could go 18-0 and be really uncomfortable going into the tournament. It’s not like years past.”

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

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