Rossie Lontine-Kearson looked at his Sanford High girls’ basketball team in the preseason and thought he had a pretty good team.

But the Spartans never quite got untracked, finishing the regular season with a 7-11 record and the No. 6 seed in the Class AA South tournament.

“Obviously it’s not how we pictured it,” said Lontine-Kearson, a former University of Maine player now in his third year as Sanford’s head coach. “But we got hot at the right time. And that’s when it matters most.”

Sure does. Sanford will be playing Saturday in a regional championship game for the first time since 2007. The Spartans dispatched No. 2 Scarborough 43-36 Thursday night at Cross Insurance Arena.

Sanford, which beat No. 3 Massabesic in the quarterfinals, will face top-seeded South Portland at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Red Riots defeated Gorham 45-30 in the other semifinal Thursday, as Maggie Whitmore scored 18 points. Coach Lynne Hasson is not concerned about the possibility of her players looking past the Spartans. South Portland entered the tournament ranked No. 1 the previous two years but was upset both times.

“They’re good,” Hasson said of Sanford. “These kids have been here too often and ended up on the wrong side of things to overlook anyone. They know they’re going to have to come to play.”

Perhaps the only people who anticipated Sanford’s run wear the red and white of the Spartans. They saw the improvement, even as the Spartans struggled to win games.

“Things finally clicked,” said junior guard Samya Santiague, who scored 16 points and hit four foul shots in the final 70 seconds to clinch the win. “We knew we had to play as a group of five. And everyone has had a part in it.”

Sanford beat Scarborough 55-46 on the road late in the regular season, and that was enough to plant the idea that another victory was possible.

Still, no one expected Sanford to jump out to a 31-13 lead in the first half. The Spartans hit four 3-pointers in the first half, and that opened things up for 6-foot-2 center Paige Cote, who had 13 of her 16 points before halftime and grabbed five offensive rebounds. The final basket of the first half gave the senior 1,000 career points.

“They shot the ball much better than I expected,” said Scarborough Coach Mike Giordano.

Sanford’s offense stalled in the second half, getting just one field goal. But its defense and foul shooting kept Scarborough at bay. The Red Storm got within three points three times in the fourth quarter, as Bella Dickinson and Lindsay Fiorillo heated up.

Sophomore Jaylyn Bartolome made two foul shots and Santiague hit four, however, to keep Sanford in the lead.

“Definitely nerve wracking,” said Cote. “But everyone kept their focus.”

And the Spartans are still playing.

“I think we definitely persevered through the regular season,” said Cote. “Now in the playoffs, we’re all really stepping up. And especially after this win, we now really feel we can play with anyone in our league.”

Lontine-Kearson said he understands why some may have overlooked the Spartans entering the tournament. But the regular season is now a distant memory.

“It is what it is,” he said. “But we’re where we want to be.”

Comments are not available on this story.