BOX SCORE

South Portland 56 Cheverus 37

SP- 24 13 9 10- 56
C- 13 8 3 13- 37

SP- Owen 5-0-12, Whitmore 5-0-12, Aceto 4-0-10, Boothby-Akilo 4-0-8, Towle 3-2-8, Degifico 1-2-4, Trefsger 1-0-2

C- Lizotte 4-2-11, H. Jordan 2-1-6, Kelly 2-0-5, Storey 2-0-5, Bontatibus 2-0-4, L. Jordan 2-0-4, Hammond 1-0-2

3-pointers:
SP (6) Aceto, Owen, Whitmore 2
C (4) Jordan, Kelly, Lizotte, Storey 1

Turnovers:
SP- 23
C- 25

FTs
SP: 4-8
C: 3-11

PORTLAND—After losing two of three games last week on its home floor, South Portland’s girls’ basketball team was in dire need of a victory Tuesday evening when it traveled to face Cheverus at Keegan Gymnasium and thanks to a first quarter flourish from an unheralded source, the Red Riots earned that very thing.

After falling behind, 4-2, early, South Portland went on a 13-0 run and by the end of the opening stanza, had a 24-13 advantage, thanks in large part to a dozen points from sophomore Hylah Owen.

Senior Kaleisha Towle helped the Red Riots grow the lead in the second period, scoring six points, and by the halftime break, South Portland was in command, up, 37-21.

The Stags hoped to answer in the second half, but 10 third quarter turnovers ended any comeback hope and the Red Riots extended their advantage to 46-24 by period’s end, then rolled to a 56-37 victory

Owen and senior Maggie Whitmore each had 12 points to pace a balanced attack as South Portland improved to 9-3 on the season and in the process, dropped Cheverus to 8-4.

“Last week was really tough,” said Red Riots’ coach Lynne Hasson. “We made some mistakes. Key plays made the difference. We just didn’t take care of business. We talked a lot yesterday before practice about just playing and having fun. There are times we’re playing not to lose and we can’t do that. If we’re going to lose, we’ll lose, so be it. The sun will still come up the next day. It’s just a game.”

Fighting through adversity

Both Cheverus and South Portland had a lot of things go their way early, but the past couple of weeks have proven challenging.

The Red Riots started by downing host Gorham (60-44), host Deering (64-21) and visiting Massabesic (76-42). After a 48-47 home loss to two-time defending Class A champion Greely, South Portland bounced back with a 55-37 win at Bonny Eagle, a 45-33 victory at defending Class AA South champion Scarborough, a 53-40 win at Sanford and a 67-31 victory at Thornton Academy. The Red Riots then fell at home to Portland (50-42) and after downing visiting Bonny Eagle (66-26), lost at home to Scarborough Saturday, 46-44.

Cheverus opened with wins over host Lewiston (50-38), visiting Scarborough (48-44) and host Edward Little (54-31). After falling at home to reigning Class AA state champion Oxford Hills, 50-38, the Stags won, 47-39, at Massabesic. After a 64-39 home loss to Portland, Cheverus defeated host Deering (58-38), visiting Bangor (53-49) and  host Thornton Academy (53-35). The Stags were beaten at Windham last Thursday, 48-37, but bounced back Saturday for a 63-33 home win over Lewiston.

Last year, South Portland beat Cheverus twice, 58-42 in Portland and 58-24 at home. Tuesday, the Stags hoped for a statement victory and their first win over the Red Riots since a 61-42 victory in the 2014 Western A quarterfinals, but instead, South Portland made it 11 in a row in the series.

Cheverus started fast, as senior Lauren Jordan went coast to coast for a layup 21 seconds in and after Owen got the Red Riots on the board with a putback, Jordan drove for another layup and a 4-2 lead 53 seconds into the game.

And that would be as good as it got for the Stags.

After Whitmore tied the game with a transition jumper, senior Ashlee Aceto hit a 3 to put South Portland on top for good with 4:56 remaining in the first period.

The Red Riots continued to pour it on, as Owen made a layup after a steal, junior Maria Degifico set up Whitmore for a 3 in transition and after Cheverus coach Billy Goodman called timeout to no avail, Owen buried a 3 to make it 15-4.

With 3:16 to go in the frame, junior Madison Storey drove for a layup to end the 13-0 run and the Stags’ 3-minute, 51-second drought, but at the other end, Owen made another 3-point shot.

“Coach always tells me to shoot it when I’m open,” Owen said. “I took the shots and they fell. I’ve only played in this gym once. I guess I was just feeling it. I like to rebound. I think that’s my strong suit. And shooting.”

“Hylah’s a beast,” Towle said. “She’s awesome to play with. It’s nice to see her put in hard work and see her get rewarded in the game.”

When Aceto made a fastbreak layup and Owen hit a runner, South Portland had a 22-6 advantage and threatened to run away with it, but sophomore Emily Bontatibus countered with a layup and Storey hit a 3 to keep the Stags in it.

Down the stretch of the action-packed first quarter, sophomore Cora Boothby-Akilo made a layup for the Red Riots before a jump shot from junior Jillian Lizotte pulled Cheverus within 24-13 after eight minutes.

In the first period, Owen erupted for a dozen points, while Aceto and Whitmore added five apiece.

South Portland then kept the pressure on in the second period.

Towle opened the scoring with a putback and after Lizotte made a free throw, Whitmore made a 3-point shot to make it 29-14.

Sophomore Hayley Jordan countered with a 3 for the hosts, but Towle found Whitmore for a layup and after Lizotte drove for a layup, Towle hit a jumper in the lane, Degifico made two free throws and Towle added two more foul shots before a putback from sophomore Maeve Kelly just before the horn pulled Cheverus within 37-21 at halftime.

Owen (12 points) and Whitmore (10) scored in double figures in the first half.

South Portland only scored nine points in the third quarter, but the Stags couldn’t take advantage, scoring just three.

A jumper from Degifico and a 3-ball from Aceto allowed the Red Riots to double up Cheverus, 42-21.

The Stags, who turned the ball over on their first five possessions of the second half, broke through on a Lizotte layup, then got a Lizotte free throw, but Towle pulled up and hit a jumper and Whitmore found Aceto for a backdoor layup and a commanding 46-24 advantage heading to the final stanza.

Lizotte opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, but Boothby-Akilo answered with a layup, then took a pass from Degifico and made another layup for a 50-27 lead.

Kelly made a 3 for Cheverus and after Boothby-Akilo made another layup, Hayley Jordan made a layup while being fouled and hit the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play to cut the deficit to 52-33, but Whitmore made a short jumper and junior Abby Trefsger drove for a layup for South Portland’s final points.

Down the stretch, Bontatibus hit a jumper and senior Alex Hammond made a jump shot for the Stags to account for the 56-37 final score.

“It was super-important to start fast,” Owen said. “Scarborough was a tough loss, so it was big for us to bounce back.”

“I can’t say last week was my favorite week, but we learned some good lessons from it and it will help us down the road,” said Towle. “We just have to keep our composure. We always talk about coming out hard in the first quarter and especially the third quarter. It’s important to come out and get momentum going.”

Owen didn’t score after the first quarter, but still managed 12 points, to go with six rebounds.

Whitmore quietly had another strong game, scoring 12 points and adding five assists, four rebounds and four steals.

Aceto also scored in double-figures with 10 points (she added six rebounds).

Boothby-Akilo impressed off the bench with eight points, six rebounds and five blocked shots.

Towle had eight points, seven rebounds and five steals.

Degifico had four points, five assists and five rebounds and Trefsger added two points.

“We need to create offense where people get open shots because we have a lot of shooters,” Hasson said. “If we run our offense and create open looks, we can make shots.”

The Red Riots made just 4-of-8 free throws and turned the ball over 23 times, but enjoyed a 42-27 rebounding advantage.

Cheverus got a team-high 11 points from Lizotte. Hayley Jordan had six, Kelly and Storey five apiece, Bontatibus and Lauren Jordan four each and Hammond two.

The Stags made just 3-of-11 foul shots and were hindered by 25 turnovers (16 which came after halftime).

“We’re not ready to play these games yet,” Goodman lamented. “We didn’t handle the pressure, didn’t make good decisions and our defense wasn’t good. Turnovers are a problem. We really have to get back to basics so we don’t turn the ball over. We’re a different team in bigger games. We’ve played some good basketball this year, but a couple of our losses have been really bad. We’ve struggled with decision-making against the good teams.”

On the road

Cheverus looks to get back in the win column Friday, but it faces a daunting task, having to go to Oxford Hills. The Stags return home Jan. 24 to face Deering, then go to Portland the following afternoon for a makeup game.

“We have to figure it out,” Goodman said. “I have to do a better job teaching.”

South Portland travels to dangerous Massabesic Thursday, then has a week off before visiting Noble Jan. 24.

“I think this gets back on track,” Owen said.

“We’re trying to get back to everyone playing their role,” Towle said. “We just have to focus on the little things every day. We’ll build on the lessons we’ve learned.”

“We don’t have an easy game,” Hasson added. “That’s good for us. We just have to play for each other. If we can get to that mindset, we’ll be fine. Our record doesn’t matter. We just have to believe and stay positive.”

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

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