South Portland 55 Gorham 40

G- 9 9 12 10- 40
SP- 14 13 14 14- 55

G- Bretton 6-0-14, Nadeau 2-3-9, Strout 4-0-9, Meader 2-1-5, Smith 1-0-3

SP- Owen 8-0-16, Baez 5-0-10, Boles 4-0-9, Carr 3-0-8, Pamba 2-1-6, Bialorucki 1-0-2, Jackson 1-0-2, Maloney 1-0-2

G (6) Bretton, Nadeau 2, Smith, Strout 1
SP (4) Carr 2, Boles, Pamba 1

G- 9
SP- 11

G: 4-5
SP: 1-5

SOUTH PORTLAND—Three days after an inspirational victory at rival Thornton Academy, South Portland’s boys’ basketball team could have been ripe for a letdown Friday evening when it hosted Gorham at Beal Gymnasium.

But these Red Riots don’t have letdowns.

Especially on Senior Night.

South Portland got six quick points from senior Geremi Baez to set the tone and held a 14-9 lead after one quarter.

The sharp-shooting Rams tried to rally in the second period and got within 3, but a pair of long 3-point shots from senior Cade Carr helped the Red Riots open up a 27-18 advantage at halftime.

Gorham hung around until deep in the third quarter when South Portland senior reserve Hunter Owen roared to life, scoring four quick points and assisting on another basket to end the frame to produce a 41-30 lead.

Owen continued his personal onslaught when the fourth period began, scoring the first eight points to help the Red Riots pull away and go on to a 55-40 victory.

Owen led the way with 16 points as South Portland won its 16th game without a loss this winter and in the process, dropped the Rams to 8-8.

“What the outside doesn’t know is the personalities of these guys,” said Red Riots’ coach Kevin Millington. “They practice the same way they play. Gorham’s good and it wasn’t easy.”

Chasing perfection

South Portland came into the season expecting to be good, but no one dreamed of an undefeated record on the final day of January.

That’s how it’s played out, however, as the Red Riots rolled at Gorham (62-39) in the opener, then defeated visiting 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. After holding off visiting Bonny Eagle, 66-65, in a playoff rematch, South Portland handled host Scarborough, 54-39, in the final game of 2019 and rallied to edge visiting Thornton Academy (68-65, in overtime) to start the new year. The Red Riots then defeated visiting Sanford (65-39), host Portland (48-31), host Bonny Eagle (43-34), visiting Scarborough (57-37), visiting Cheverus (61-47), host Massabesic (58-36), visiting Noble (63-35) and host Thornton Academy (60-50).

Gorham, meanwhile, started with five losses in six games, then turned things around before hitting a recent rough patch.

After falling at home to South Portland (62-39) in the opener, the Rams defeated visiting Oxford Hills (73-58). Losses at Bonny Eagle (55-46), at Edward Little (66-55), at home to Scarborough (53-44) and at Thornton Academy (72-64) followed. Gorham then got on track with victories at Massabesic (54-30), at home over Windham (52-32), at Sanford (61-55), at home over Thornton Academy (60-59), at Portland (49-40), at Scarborough (70-46) and at Noble (65-51). After a 69-68 home loss to Sanford, the Rams lost a close one at home to Bonny Eagle Tuesday, 58-55.

In the teams’ first meeting on Opening Night, Dec. 6, South Portland was up by 10 points at halftime and pulled away behind 18 points from Baez, 14 from Carr and 12 from senior Pamba Pamba. Senior Nick Strout led Gorham with nine points.

Friday, the Rams hoped to hand the Red Riots their first loss, but South Portland, after honoring its seven seniors and their families, extended its win streak to 16.

Baez was unstoppable in the game’s first two minutes, taking a pass from Carr and opening the scoring with a layup, then making another layup off a Carr feed before scoring on a putback for a quick 6-0 lead.

Gorham got on the board on a jump shot from Strout, but senior Ryan Boles sank a 3 from the corner.

Senior Jordan Bretton countered with a bank shot for the Rams, but with 3:56 left in the opening stanza, Pamba made a 3-point shot for a 12-4 Red Riots’ lead.

After Bretton made a jump shot, Owen scored his first points, on a layup, but a 3-pointer from junior Garrett Smith pulled Gorham within 14-9 heading for the second quarter.

There, sophomore Owen Maloney made a jump shot and Pamba added a free throw, but junior Grant Nadeau made a pair of free throws and Strout canned a 3 to pull the Rams within a field goal, 17-14.

Owen countered with a driving layup and Carr banked home a shot, but a Nadeau 3 made it 21-17 South Portland.

Carr stemmed the tide with a 3-pointer, then after Nadeau made one of two free throws, Carr buried a long 3 with just under a minute to go and the Red Riots took a 27-18 advantage to the break.

The Rams came out strong to start the second half, as junior Bode Meader scored on a leaner and Strout made a layup and after Boles made a layup after a steal, Meader’s old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) made it a four-point contest, 29-25, with 5:11 on the clock.

That’s as close as Gorham would get, as Boles scored on a putback and after a Baez block at one end, Maloney set up freshman Jaelen Jackson for a layup.

Bretton countered with a layup for the Rams to cut the deficit to 33-27, but after Baez fed Boles for a layup, Owen turned the tide, setting up Baez for a layup, making a reverse layup in traffic and after Nadeau sank a 3, Owen made another layup for a 41-30 South Portland advantage heading to the fourth period.

There, Owen took a feed from Carr and made a layup, then he made a reverse layup, scored on a putback and with 4:21 to play, Owen took a pass from Maloney and made another layup for a commanding 49-30 lead.

“Basketball’s a fun game to play,” said Owen, who has committed to playing baseball next year at Division I Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “I love playing it with my teammates. It’s easy on my part. All my teammates do the hard work, making plays. I’m just down there to do what I need to do in a team aspect. The guards got in there and made plays and gave me the ball. I just had to make the layups.”

“Hunter picked us up there in the third quarter,” said Millington. “He’s a great athlete. When he gets going, he’ll just get you for a couple minutes. He keeps everyone loose and focused in practices and games. I was committed at the beginning of the year of playing a rotation of three bigs with Cade and Geremi and Hunter. It’s easy to rotate them.”

The Rams tried to answer, as Strout made a layup to end the 10-0 run and a 4-minute, 26-second drought and Nadeau set up Bretton for a layup, but Baez scored on a putback.

After Bretton made a 3, Pamba set up senior Gerik Bialorucki for a layup and Baez fed Pamba for a layup and the Red Riots’ final points.

A late 3 from Bretton then accounted for the 55-40 final score.

“You can’t let us go on runs because it’s hard to come back against us since we defend well,” Millington said. “We knew Gorham could hit 3s. They went smaller than they did Opening Night. We knew for them to beat us, they’d have to get hot. We defended the 3, conceded a two once in awhile and got out on shooters.”

Owen led all scorers with 16 points and he also had 10 rebounds. Baez had a double-double as well, scoring 10 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.

Boles had nine points, Carr eight (to go with three assists), Pamba six and Bialorucki, Jackson and Maloney two apiece.

South Portland only made 1-of-5 free throws, but enjoyed a commanding 42-20 rebounding advantage and only turned the ball over 11 times.

Gorham was paced by 14 points from Bretton. Nadeau added nine (to go with five assists), Strout also had nine points, while Meader contributed five and Smith three.

The Rams made 4-of-5 foul shots and only committed nine turnovers.

“I thought we got close a couple times, but they’re a talented, athletic team,” said Gorham coach Mark Karter. “Baez is tough to keep off the glass and got big rebounds and the Owen kid made some really big baskets at important times for them. They’re a tough team to play catch-up with. We got shots, but we didn’t make as many as we normally do. I was encouraged how we moved on offense, but that’s a good team that’s well-coached.”

Almost tourney time

Gorham (now fifth in the Class AA South Heal Points standings) welcomes Noble Monday, then closes the regular season Thursday at home versus Massabesic.

“(South Portland’s) 16-0 in a tough league and they have all the pieces, so we’ll go back to work and hopefully, we can play them again,” Karter said. “We just need to get over that hump. We’ll keep working hard.”

South Portland will be the top seed in the region and has two road games to wrap up the regular season, at Sanford Tuesday and at Noble Thursday.

The Red Riots last navigated a regular season in perfect fashion in 1991-92, which just happens to be the last time they cut down the nets, and they know they will get everyone’s best effort the rest of the way.

They’re up for the challenge.

“We’re just playing basketball,” Owen said. “We’ll keep working hard and good things will happen. We’ll bring it in practice every single day.”

“Nothing’s guaranteed,” said Millington. “We know we could go 18-0 and lose. We’re not 2004 Portland, winning every game by 30 or 40 points. We’ve had to grind a lot. We’ve come from behind three times this year.

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing. You have to be able to execute on offense at the Civic Center. We have to continue to defend the 3. We’ll have to be focused. I think we have a good group for that. They haven’t talked about going undefeated. We won’t be complacent. We know we’ll get other teams’ best shots.”

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

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