BOX SCORE

South Portland 59 Gorham 42

G- 12 14 11 5- 42
SP- 14 25 10 10- 59

G- Nadeau 5-3-16, S. Michaud 3-3-9, Nelson 1-2-5, Woodbury 2-0-4, Biamby 1-0-3, O. Michaud 1-1-3, Bishop 1-0-2

SP- Whitmore 13-8-36, Owen 2-3-8, Degifico 2-1-5, Boothby-Akilo 1-1-3, Towle 0-3-3, Aceto 1-0-2, Coyne 1-0-2

3-pointers:
G (5) Nadeau 3, Biamby, Nelson 1
SP (3) Whitmore 2, Owen 1

Turnovers:
G- 19
SP- 16

FTs
G: 9-14
SP: 16-22

SOUTH PORTLAND—Moments after setting a new career high for points in a game, South Portland senior Maggie Whitmore was told the number of points she scored, 36, and her reaction wasn’t what you might have expected.

“I guess that means I should have passed more,” Whitmore said.

No, Friday evening at Beal Gymnasium was Whitmore’s chance to shine as a scorer and did she ever, as the Red Riots ‘ girls’ basketball team led visiting Gorham from start to finish en route to a key late season victory.

Whitmore scored seven points in the first quarter, but South Portland only held a 14-12 lead after eight minutes.

She then erupted for 17 points in the second period and the Red Riots opened up a 39-26 halftime lead.

Whitmore had six points in the third quarter, as South Portland went ahead by as many as 18 before the Rams rallied within 12, 49-37, heading for the final stanza, where Whitmore put it away with six final points, including four from the line, as the Red Riots went on to a 59-42 victory.

Whitmore nearly matched Gorham’s points total and she had eight rebounds, five steals and a pair of assists for good measure as South Portland won its fifth game in a row, improved to 13-3 and in the process, snapped the Rams’ four-game win streak and dropped them to 9-7.

“This was a big game with a good crowd,” said Whitmore, who will play at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts next year. “We needed a win. Someone had to step up. On any given night it could be anybody, but I think tonight, things started to finally click for me and my teammates got me the ball. I can’t score that much if they don’t pass me the ball. Sometimes I miss a few shots and give up on myself, but tonight, I just kept going.”

More of the same

South Portland has been nearly flawless this winter, losing just three games by a total of 11 points.

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, 46-44. South Portland then got back on track with a 56-37 victory at Cheverus and followed that up with wins at Massabesic (52-30) and Noble (65-46) and at home over Thornton Academy Tuesday (51-17).

Gorham, meanwhile, in its post-Mackenzie Holmes life, has been up-and-down.

The Rams opened with losses to visiting South Portland (60-44) and host Oxford Hills (74-59). After downing visiting Bonny Eagle (66-27) and visiting Edward Little (65-48), Gorham fell at home to Scarborough, 52-35. After a 55-38 home win over Thornton Academy, the Rams lost on a buzzer-beater at Massabesic (59-58), then fell at Windham as well (47-30). After wins over visiting Sanford (58-44) and at Thornton Academy (60-40), Gorham was defeated, 52-31, by visiting Portland. After a 42-31 win at Scarborough, the Rams beat visiting Noble (58-50), host Sanford (52-43) and host Bonny Eagle (60-49).

In the teams’ first meeting, Dec. 6, Opening Night, South Portland overcame a slow start and dominated the middle quarters en route to a win at Gorham, as Whitmore had 23 points, senior Ashlee Aceto 13 and senior Kaleisha Towle 12 to negate junior Olivia Michaud’s 17 points for the Rams, who committed 23 turnovers.

Friday, Gorham looked to return the favor and beat the Red Riots for the first time since the 2018 Class AA South semifinals, but instead, South Portland made it three in a row over the Rams.

With Whitmore leading the way, as she left no doubt why she’s considered one of the state’s elite players.

The tone was set just 13 seconds in, when Whitmore drove for a layup, putting the Red Riots on top to stay.

Sophomore Hylah Owen added a 3 for the hosts before Gorham got on the board on a 3-point shot from junior Adele Nadeau.

After Towle made a free throw, she hit two more and Owen added a foul shot, but sophomore Sophia Michaud made a jumper, then Sophia Michaud made a layup to pull the Rams within two, 9-7.

Whitmore countered with a 3-point shot and after Nadeau scored on a putback, Whitmore went coast to coast for a layup.

Despite Whitmore’s heroics, Gorham pulled back within two points, 14-12, on a 3-point shot from junior Tatyanna Biamby, late in the period.

South Portland would open up a healthier lead in the second period, as Whitmore was close to unstoppable.

Whitmore opened the frame with a jumper and after Owen made two foul shots, Whitmore made a layup, then she sank a 3-pointer for a 23-12 advantage, forcing Rams’ coach Laughn Berthiaume to call timeout.

“It felt like we weren’t quick enough closing gaps and when (Maggie) got in the lane, we just didn’t help enough,” Berthiaume said. “She’s hard enough to guard one-and-one. We have to do a better job if we see them again.”

Gorham got a fastbreak layup from Nadeau, but Whitmore drove for a layup at the other end.

The Rams then got two free throws from Nadeau and two more from sophomore Anna Nelson, but Whitmore sank both ends of a one-and-one to make it 27-18.

After Nelson hit a 3 for Gorham, Sophia Michaud went to the line with a chance to bring the Rams closer, but she missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Red Riots took advantage.

First, Aceto scored on a putback. Whitmore then scored with her left hand after a spin move and sophomore Julianne Coyne drove and banked home a shot for a 33-21 lead.

Sophia Michaud got a point back at the line, but Whitmore hit a jumper in the lane, then capped her 17-point quarter with a driving layup.

“From the get-go, (Maggie) had that look in her eye,” said South Portland coach Lynne Hasson. “It was apparent she was going to be a senior leader and lead us to a big win.”

Gorham didn’t buckle, as sophomore Leah Woodbury made consecutive layups, but with 5.7 seconds on the clock, junior Maria Degifico drove for a layup to give the Red Riots a 39-26 halftime lead.

Whitmore led all players with 24 first half points and she had some basketball royalty in attendance, as her grandfather, Hall of Famer Dick Whitmore was joined by Hall of Fame coach Bob Brown, who has worked with Maggie Whitmore and is referred to by Dick Whitmore as the “guru.”

Whitmore picked right up where she left off as she took a pass from Towle and made a layup 26 seconds into the second half.

“I asked Maggie if she had enough in the tank at halftime and she said, ‘Are you kidding me?'” Hasson said. “She was determined to win a big game. That’s what being one of the best players in the state is all about.”

Olivia Michaud made a reverse layup for the Rams, but Whitmore sank two free throws and Degifico added another to make it 44-28.

After Nadeau made a 3, Whitmore hit a fadeaway jumper in the lane and junior Cora Boothby-Akilo converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) to give South Portland its biggest lead, 49-31.

Sophia Michaud countered with two free throws and a leaner and when sophomore Brylee Bishop added a jumper with 11 seconds to go, Gorham was still within hailing distance, down, 49-37, heading for the fourth quarter.

But there, the Red Riots put it away.

Early in the fourth, both Olivia Michaud and Nadeau made single free throws to cut the deficit to 10, but with 4:51 remaining, Whitmore took matters into her own hands, driving for a layup to end the 8-0 Rams’ run and a 5-minute, 14-second scoring drought.

Owen added a jumper and Whitmore set up Degifico for a layup and a 55-39 advantage with 3:11 to play.

Twenty seconds later, Gorham’s final points came on a Nadeau 3.

Whitmore then fittingly brought the curtain down with four free throws and South Portland prevailed, 59-42.

“Basketball’s a game of runs,” Whitmore said. “It’s learning how to stop them before they get too dramatic and getting a run of our own going. Gorham’s a good team and they’re hitting their stride at the right time. They play everybody and everybody can contribute. Coming in, we knew we had to key in on their shooters.”

“Gorham’s a good team who can beat anyone,” Hasson said. “They’ll be in the mix. They made their run, then we made a run of our own.”

In addition to Whitmore’s 36-point game for the ages, Owen had eight points and four rebounds, Degifico finished with five points, four assists and three rebounds, Boothby-Akilo and Towle (10 rebounds) each had three points and Aceto (four rebounds, two assists and two steals) and Coyne finished with two points apiece.

The Red Riots had a 39-27 rebounding advantage, overcame 16 turnovers and made 16 of 22 foul shots.

Gorham was paced by 16 points from Nadeau.

Sophia Michaud had a solid game off the bench, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds.

“Sophia gave us a spark,” Berthiaume said. “She had an injury early (in the season) and illness lately and had a hard time getting some traction, but she’s had some good practices and was ready to play today.”

Nelson (eight rebounds, four assists, three steals) added five points, Woodbury had four, Biamby and Olivia Michaud (six rebounds, three assists, two steals) three apiece and Bishop two.

The Rams made 9-of-14 free throws and turned the ball over on 19 occasions.

“I told the girls I’m happy with the way they competed,” said Berthiaume. “It wasn’t an energy or effort thing. (South Portland’s) a really good team. We have to do a better job attacking them and make them defend us better. We’ll take a look and seeing what we can do better next time and guarding Whitmore is one of them.”

Thinking tournament

Gorham (currently fifth in the Class AA South Heal Points standings) closes with two tough tests, at Noble Tuesday and at home versus Massabesic Thursday.

“I think we can finish anywhere from the two to the five (seed),” Berthiuame said. “We just have to keep moving the ball and trying to play with pace and make sure we’re rebounding defensively. If we keep teams to one shot, we can get out and go and that’s when we’re at our best. We play (Noble and Massabesic) to maybe play one of them again the following week, hopefully at our place.”

South Portland, which will be the No. 1 seed in the region for the third year in a row, has two home games to wrap up the regular season, Tuesday versus Sanford and Thursday against Noble.

The Red Riots will then make a run at an elusive trip to the state final.

“I think practice is key for us,” Whitmore said. “Everyone’s healthy and we’ve had high intensity. We push each other. I think there’s a little more trust in each other this year, not saying there wasn’t in previous years. On any given night, it can be someone new leading the way and that helps us with confidence.”

“We have a great senior group,” Hasson said. “They’re great leaders and teammates. They’re very unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes to win. We have great depth too. Cora’s played well, Julianne’s full of energy and plays great defense and (sophomore Eliese Perron) has been a big help too.

“We just need to stay healthy and keep working on little things like rebounding.”

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

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