Not this time.

After disheartening losses as the No. 1 seed in the regional tournament the last two years, South Portland’s girls’ basketball team was not about to let it happen again.

And despite another slow start, the Red Riots are going to a state championship game for the first time since 1986.

Senior forward Maggie Whitmore put on a dominating display, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, and top-seeded South Portland took control in the middle two quarters to beat No. 6 Sanford, 49-34, in the Class AA South championship game Saturday evening at Cross Insurance Arena.

South Portland (18-3) will face defending state champion Oxford Hills at 7 p.m. next Saturday at CIA. The teams did not play in the regular season.

“It’s a dream come true,” Whitmore said with a basketball net draped over her shoulders. “I think growing up in the South Portland community, we’ve always watched other teams do this and we’ve said, ‘Wow, we want that to be us one day.’

“And now that day is finally here and it’s a great feeling. I’m just so proud of everyone on this team, whether they played or not. They’ve all been huge contributors to this win.”

Whitmore, who also had four assists and three steals, was presented with the Edward “Red” McMann Award, given to the tournament’s outstanding player.

“(The award) means a lot, but I think the other one (the regional title) means a little bit more,” she said. “We work so hard as a team.”

Sanford, which beat the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds earlier in the regional, finished 9-12, with three losses to South Portland. The Spartans led 13-4 after one quarter, controlling the inside and slowing down the Red Riots.

Riots Coach Lynne Hasson wasn’t too concerned.

“I thought we were going to be fine, honestly,” she said. “I was a little frustrated. It did feel a little bit like deja vu. But I also felt like we were going to be OK. I felt the way we play defense, we can stop teams for a long period of time.”

And that’s what happened. Sanford scored only eight points in the middle two quarters as South Portland moved to a 30-21 lead entering the fourth.

The pivotal sequence came midway through the second quarter when the Red Riots forced three turnovers, two by Ashlee Aceto.

“Some of our shots weren’t falling, so we knew we had to pick it up on the defensive end,” said Aceto, also wearing a basketball net necklace. “We always say our defense keeps our offense going, so I just tried to do my part.”

It was 17-17 at halftime. South Portland scored the first six points of the third quarter, with Kaleisha Towle getting two baskets on fast breaks.

“That’s something they do and we tried to weather the storm,” said Sanford Coach Rossie Lontine-Kearson. “At halftime, it’s 17-17, and I said we can live with that. But in the second half, we ran into that buzzsaw of not being able to score.

“And when they start rolling, even though we were playing pretty good defense, that’s hard to overcome.”

Paige Cote, Sanford’s 6-foot-2 senior center who is bound for the University of New Hampshire, led the Spartans with 22 points and 15 rebounds. But even she could not help the Spartans overcome South Portland’s surge.

Whitmore scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, and 6-3 junior center Cora Boothby-Akilo scored four as the Riots kept pulling away.

“We just have confidence in our team and the grit we have,” said Aceto. “And we used our losses from past years to push through.”

 

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