BOX SCORE

South Portland 54 Scarborough 39

SP- 11 10 23 10- 54
S- 8 11 7 13- 39

SP- Baez 8-3-19, Carr 4-3-11, Bialorucki 3-0-6, Boles 3-0-6, Pamba 2-0-6, Jackson 1-2-4, Owen 1-0-2

S- Austin 8-2-21, Haskell 2-1-5, Lewis 2-0-5, Galarraga 2-0-4, McDonnell 1-0-2, Simonton 1-0-2

3-pointers:
SP (2) Pamba 2
S (4) Austin 3, Lewis 1

Turnovers:
SP- 8
S- 17

FTs
SP: 8-8
S: 3-5

SCARBOROUGH—South Portland boys’ basketball coach Kevin Millington doesn’t believe his team has played anywhere near its potential so far this winter.

And that’s a mighty scary thought for the rest of the state.

Considering the Red Riots have navigated their early gauntlet to the tune of six victories and no defeats.

Monday morning/afternoon at Alumni Gymnasium, South Portland squared off against Scarborough and the early start time (11:30 a.m.), combined with an emotional hangover from Friday’s palpitating one-point home win over Bonny Eagle, spelled a slow beginning for the Red Riots, but once they flipped the switch, there was no looking back.

South Portland held an 11-8 lead after one quarter, but the Red Storm battled back to take a momentary one-point advantage, 18-17, before the Red Riots went ahead to stay on a putback from senior Geremi Baez, which produced a 21-19 halftime lead.

South Portland then roared out of the second half gate, starting on a 14-2 run as it got to the hoop for easy baskets.

After scoring just 21 first half points, the Red Riots managed 23 in the third quarter alone and opened up a 44-26 advantage.

Scarborough tried to rally in the fourth period and got as close as 11, but South Portland put it away late and prevailed, 54-39.

Baez led the Red Riots with 19 points and senior Cade Carr added 11 as South Portland remained undefeated and in the process, dropped the Red Storm to 4-2.

“I don’t think we’ve played that well,” Millington said. “You know when you see the best version of yourself. We play like it for a few minutes, but we need to get to 32 (minutes).”

The South rises

This winter, it appears that the power in Class AA boys’ basketball is tilted toward the South and after a couple weeks of play, South Portland may be the best squad of all.

The Red Riots rolled at highly-touted Gorham (62-39) in the opener, then defeated visiting Class AA North favorite Deering (74-62) and Massabesic (77-52) before making a powerful statement by crushing host Greely, the three-time defending Class A champion, 81-43. Friday, South Portland let a 19-point third quarter lead slip away in a home game against Bonny Eagle, but the Red Riots did just enough down the stretch to prevail, 66-65, and gain a measure of revenge for last year’s playoff loss.

Scarborough, meanwhile, has enjoyed a strong start as well, downing host Massabesic (60-49) and visiting Cheverus (64-58) to begin. After falling at Sanford (72-66), the Red Storm held off visiting Portland (52-48) and Friday, they won at Gorham in a playoff rematch, 53-44.

Last year, South Portland won, 69-54, at Scarborough to make it nine out of 10 in the series.

Monday, the Red Storm hoped to turn the tide and continue their fast start, but the Red Riots were too tough.

South Portland opened the scoring 22 seconds in, when Baez took a feed from senior Pamba Pamba and made a layup.

Scarborough then got a fastbreak layup from senior Brian Austin (set up by senior Owen Cascio) and an Austin putback for a momentary lead, but the Red Riots drew even on a leaner from Carr, then went up by five on a Pamba 3-pointer and a layup from senior Gerik Bialorucki, after a Carr steal.

Making matters worse for the Red Storm, Cascio picked up his second foul and had to sit.

Scarborough got back within a point on a runner from senior Liam McDonnell and a jumper from senior Manny Galarraga, but with 3.1 seconds on the clock, Carr made two free throws to give South Portland an 11-8 advantage after one period.

There wouldn’t be much separation in the second quarter either.

Forty seconds in, promising freshman Jaelen Jackson gave the Red Riots a five-point lead with a runner, but freshman Zander Haskell drove for a bank shot for the hosts.

After a Baez layup made it 15-10 South Portland, junior Adam Lewis countered with a 3 for the Red Storm.

Baez made another layup, but Austin buried a jumper over a defender, then with 3:26 to go in the half, Austin drained a long 3 to give Scarborough an 18-17 advantage.

It didn’t last, as Baez hit a leaner in the lane.

After a Haskell free throw tied the game for the final time, Baez scored on a putback with 1:06 left and the Red Riots held a 21-19 lead at the break.

In the first half, Baez led all scorers with 10 points, while Austin paced the Red Storm with nine.

“We didn’t play very hard in the first half.,” Millington said “For an 11:30 a.m. game, you have to come out to play. We might have been emotionally drained from the other night and credit to (Scarborough). They were ready to play. It was more about Scarborough playing well in the first half.”

South Portland then put on a clinic in the third quarter to break it open.

Pamba got things started by hitting a 3-pointer 48 seconds in, but most of the Red Riots’ ensuing damage came at the rim.

After Haskell made a leaner for Scarborough to cut the deficit to 24-21, the next 11 points went to the visitors, as Bialorucki spun and made a layup, Carr drove and banked the ball home, senior Ryan Boles drove for a layup and after Red Storm coach Phil Conley called timeout to no avail, Baez took a pass from Pamba on the fast break, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play before Bialorucki capped the surge with a jumper in the lane which rattled home for a 35-21 advantage with 3:46 left in the quarter.

“It’s good to get some easy looks,” Baez said. “We can also make tough shots now and then. That makes us tough to defend. We’re just working hard as a team. We know on any given night, it can be any guy, 1 through 12. That makes it easier for everyone.”

“We didn’t transition well defensively in the third quarter and that was the game right there,” Conley lamented. “We did a really good job in the first half, but the third quarter hurt us. Against a very, very good team like South Portland, you can’t give up transition baskets.”

Austin ended Scarborough’s 3:34 drought with a 3-pointer, but Carr countered with a three-point play.

After Galarraga made a layup for the Red Storm, senior Hunter Owen scored on a putback, Carr drove for a layup and off a no-look pass from Jackson, Baez’s layup capped a superb quarter and gave South Portland a 44-26 lead with eight minutes to go.

Down the stretch, Scarborough fought hard, but couldn’t draw within single digits.

After Austin opened the final stanza with a free throw, Boles took a pass from sophomore Owen Maloney and made a layup. Sophomore Jack Simonton countered with a baseline jumper, but Boles’ driving layup put the Red Riots on top, 48-29.

The Red Storm then made things interesting, as Austin hit a 3-pointer, Austin converted a three-point play, then Austin finished a feed from Lewis and made a fastbreak layup to cut the deficit to 48-37 with 3;46 left.

Carr then set up Baez for a layup to turn momentum and while Lewis scored on a putback to make it an 11-point game again, Scarborough would get no closer and Jackson and Baez each made a pair of free throws to bring the curtain down on South Portland’s 54-39 victory.

“Coach’s halftime speech got us going,” said Baez. “He told us that it wasn’t going to be easy. It was a dogfight. We knew how good they are. At the end of the day, we know how good we are too. We just have to get that motor on and focus.”

Baez nearly had a double-double, as he grabbed nine rebounds to go with his 19 points. He also had three steals.

“Geremi was solid,” said Millington. “He’s playing on one leg, so he doesn’t have his usual explosion, but he’s just a warrior.”

Carr added 11 points, three blocked shots, two assists and two steals.

Bialorucki, Boles and Pamba (six rebounds) had six points apiece, while Jackson had four and Owen two.

The Red Riots only turned the ball over eight times and made all eight foul shots.

Scarborough was led by Austin, who had a game-high 21 points and seven rebounds, but South Portland’s defense prevented him from going off.

“Coach told us he’s the leading scorer in our league, so we were worried, but we did what we could against him,” Baez said.

Haskell and Lewis (six rebounds) had five points apiece, Galarraga added four and McDonnell and Simonton (five rebounds) had two points each.

The Red Storm held a 30-27 rebounding advantage, but turned the ball over 17 times and made 2-of-3 free throws.

“I’m proud of how my kids battled,” Conley said. “(South Portland’s) supposed to be the best team in the state and we’re a young team, so to cut it to 11, that’s good mental toughness.”

Growth potential

Scarborough has one more game on the 2019 portion of its schedule and its a doozy, at Bonny Eagle Monday of next week.

“I think things are going well,” said Conley. “I’m happy where we are right now. I think we’ll only get better with more experience. We’ll have a good Christmas vacation week of practice, then we take on Bonny Eagle. I know the character I have in our locker room and I know these kids will work.”

South Portland, meanwhile, is idle until Jan. 2 when it hosts Thornton Academy in another pivotal AA South showdown.

“We can still get better,” said Baez. “We haven’t played our best basketball for 32 minutes. We have to lock in. We can’t take possessions off. Once we get everything rolling, we’ll be a hard team to stop.”

“There are a lot of good teams and I hope we haven’t reached our peak,” Millington said. “We can’t play like we’ve been playing and beat good teams at the Civic Center.”

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

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