Yarmouth 30 South Portland 28

SP-4 9 10 5- 28
Y- 10 5 6 9- 30

SP- Degifico 2-3-7, Boles 3-0-6, Brown 2-0-6, Trefsger 2-0-5, Dearborn 1-0-2, Owen 1-0-2

Y- McGonagle 3-2-8, McNeil 3-0-8, D’Appolonia 3-1-7, Feeley 2-0-5, Keaney 1-0-2

SP (3) Brown 2, Trefsger 1
Y (3) McNeil 2, Feeley 1

SP- 24
Y- 15

SP: 3-4
Y: 3-5

YARMOUTH—Yarmouth’s girls’ basketball team believes it could have made a run at a Class B state title this winter.

The Clippers won’t get that chance in a season first delayed, then abbreviated, due to COVID-19 restrictions, but if they can’t win the biggest game, they’re going to try to win every game they are fortunate enough to play.

Friday evening, at John C. Stroud Gymnasium, Yarmouth’s quest to remain undefeated was in serious jeopardy when the visiting up-and-coming South Portland Red Riots took the Clippers to the brink, but Yarmouth’s experience and talent made the difference late and produced a nailbiting victory.

The Clippers scored the game’s first five points, led, 10-4, after one quarter, then went up by as many as seven points early in the second quarter when sophomore Ava Feeley made a 3-pointer, but the Red Riots gained confidence by the minute and when senior Abby Trefsger made a late 3, Yarmouth’s lead was a mere two points, 15-13, at halftime.

With senior Margaret McNeil sidelined the whole third period with foul trouble and the Clippers committing seven turnovers, South Portland took the lead for the first time on a pair of free throws from senior Maria Degifico and when freshman Ruth Boles scored on a putback with 5 seconds to go, the Red Riots were up, 23-21, heading for the fourth quarter.

There, South Portland took a 28-24 lead with 3:08 to go, on a Boles layup, but Yarmouth rose off the deck, got consecutive hoops from senior Calin McGonagle, then after forcing a turnover, the Clippers got the ball back and with 18.4 seconds to go, off an inbounds set, McNeil set up Feeley for the go-ahead layup.

Junior Katelyn D’Appolonia then stole the ball to stymie the Red Riots’ final chance and Yarmouth held on for the 30-28 victory.

The Clippers got eight points apiece from McGonagle and McNeil as they improved to 5-0 on the year, dropping South Portland to 2-3 in the process.

“It’s been a crazy season with scheduling and the like, but the kids are keeping it together,” said Yarmouth’s third-year coach David Cousins. “I’m very happy with the girls. From Day One, they came in with enthusiasm when it could have been tough, especially for the seniors. They’ve risen to the occasion.”

What might have been

South Portland and Yarmouth were two of the last teams standing a year ago.

The Red Riots won an elusive regional title, their first in 34 seasons, before losing to Oxford Hills, 45-35, in the Class AA state final, while the Clippers reached the Class B South Final for the first time in 15 years before being eliminated by Wells, 41-37.

While South Portland is in a rebuilding mode after graduating the likes of Maggie Whitmore, Ashlee Aceto and Kaleisha Towle, Yarmouth returned virtually everyone from a year ago and would have made a serious run at a championship had the postseason not been scrapped this season.

The Clippers are making the most of their limited opportunities this winter, however, as they opened with a pair of wins over Lake Region (46-29 at home and 42-35 in Naples), then swept Brunswick (49-34 at home and 51-34 away). Yarmouth was scheduled to face rival Freeport twice this week, but those games were postponed, and the Clippers were able to add South Portland to the slate.

The Red Riots, meanwhile, opened by sweeping Deering (42-39 at home and 38-32 in Portland). South Portland then lost twice to Portland (57-29 in Portland and 55-31 at home).

Friday’s meeting marked the first time South Portland and Yarmouth squared off in anything other than a preseason or holiday tournament game and the Clippers did just enough to prevail, allowing Cousins to enjoy a win over his alma mater and the school where he used to coach junior varsity boys’ basketball.

Both teams started slowly, as after D’Appolonia converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul and free throw) 59 seconds in, there was no more scoring for over four minutes until Feeley stole the ball, fed D’Appolonia and D’Appolonia passed to senior Kathryn Keaney for a layup.

The Red Riots got on the board with 1:58 left in the first period, as freshman Megan Dearborn hit a jump shot. Boles then scored on a putback to pull the visitors within a single point, but McNeil drained a 3 and in the final minute, after a McNeil steal, D’Appolonia’s layup made it 10-4 Yarmouth after one quarter.

The Clippers hoped to open up their lead in the second period, but instead, South Portland hung tough.

After junior Hylah Owen hit a jumper for the Red Riots to start the frame, Feeley got a long 3-point shot to bank off the backboard, off the rim, off the backboard again and in to make it 13-6.

The rest of the half then belonged to the Red Riots, as Trefsger first made her presence felt with a jumper and Degifico added a runner off the glass.

After D’Appolonia set up McNeil for a reverse layup, Trefsger sank a 3 and South Portland was only down by two, 15-13, at the break.

In the third quarter, the Red Riots continued to frustrate the Clippers and they opened up a lead.

After Degifico made one of two free throws 15 seconds into the second half, she was fouled again and with 6:40 to go in the third period, she sank both attempts and South Portland was in front for the first time.

Sophomore Anna Brown extended the lead with a 3, but freshman Neena Panozzo came off the bench to give Yarmouth a jolt, setting up D’Appolonia for a layup before McGonagle scored her first points on two free throws to tie the score, 19-19.

Boles set up Degifico for a layup to put the Red Riots back in the lead, but McGonagle’s jumper tied it again.

Then, with 5.1 seconds showing, Boles’ putback gave South Portland a 23-21 lead heading for the fourth quarter.

McNeil returned to action to start the final stanza and she took a pass from D’Appolonia and knocked down a 3 to put the Clippers back in front, 24-23, with 6:02 left.

“It didn’t help our cause with Margaret in foul trouble,” Cousins said. “It hurt us not having her on the floor.”

Brown then countered with a 3 with 4:04 remaining and the Red Riots had the lead back.

With 3:08 to go, Degifico set up Boles for a layup to put South Portland up by four and on the brink of a confidence-building upset, but the Red Riots wouldn’t score again.

McGonagle ensured that Yarmouth wouldn’t go down to defeat, as she first drove for a layup with 2:15 on the clock, then, with 1:24 remaining, she took a pass from junior Maya Panozzo and made another layup to tie it, 28-28.

South Portland had a chance to answer, but turned the ball over 14 seconds later.

The Clippers then milked the clock down under 20 seconds before the ball was knocked out of bounds with Yarmouth keeping possession. Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson then called timeout.

Which set up the game’s decisive sequence.

Out of the timeout, with McNeil inbounding just to the right of the basket, she spotted Feeley breaking wide open underneath, got Feeley the ball and Feeley made the winning layup with 18.4 seconds to go.

“At the end of the game, I thought we held our composure,” Cousins said. “I have to give the girls credit, they knew what to do. South Portland called timeout and went back to a different set and we got a bucket off it.”

Again, the Red Riots had a chance to answer, but D’Appolonia stole a pass and the Clippers were able to run out the clock and celebrate their 30-28 victory.

“We were trying to get a last shot and it didn’t exactly go the way we planned it, but Ava made the awesome shot and we knew we had to get back and play great defense and it worked out well for us,” said McGonagle. “Going in, we knew we had a height disadvantage. For the most part, what held us back was (South Portland’s) aggression every quarter. It was really good competition. The first half, I was getting used to their aggression. We had to get our heads in the game and we did that in the second half.”

“When we play defense, we’re good and we win,’ Cousins said. “Anytime a big school comes in, you don’t know what to expect. I knew we could play with them if we played with intensity, but they kept coming at us. They have a lot of promise. It was good to see Lynne. They’re South Portland, my alma mater, so I want them to do well.”

McGonagle finished with eight points, all in the second half, and also had six rebounds.

McNeil also scored eight points, had four rebounds and three steals.

D’Appolonia ran the offense, scored seven points while dishing out four assists and also had five rebounds and the game-clinching steal.

Feeley scored five points and had five steals and Keaney finished with two points and five rebounds.

Yarmouth made 3-of-5 free throws and overcame 15 turnovers.

South Portland’s leading scorer was Degifico, who had seven points, as well as three steals.

Boles (five rebounds) and Brown each added six points, while Trefsger had five and Dearborn and Owen finished with two apiece.

The Red Riots had a 33-32 rebounding advantage and made 3-of-4 free throws, but turned the ball over 24 times.

“We saw some good things from the young kids,” said Hasson. “Good intensity, kids taking open looks. We just made too many mistakes, like turnovers and getting beat at the end. We gave up some rebounds that hurt us. Still, it’s encouraging. We had our chances coming down the stretch.”

Limited time remaining

South Portland plays Cheverus twice next week, Wednesday in Portland and Friday at home, then closes with a pair of games versus Falmouth. The Red Riots are clearly getting better by the day and figure to benefit mightily next winter from this year’s gauntlet.

“We’re rebuilding and I really like the way our young kids are playing,” Hasson said. “We have four tough ones left. Cheverus and Falmouth are both good teams. It’s going to make us better.”

Yarmouth is idle until next Friday, then plays a flurry of five games in the season’s final seven days, going to Freeport and hosting the Falcons in a 24-hour span, then sandwiching games at Cape Elizabeth and Greely around a home game versus the Rangers.

“It’s amazing to be out here playing with the girls again,” said McGonagle. “It’s more than we even hoped for. We have some great younger girls. Yarmouth girls’ basketball is definitely on the rise. This group of girls is awesome. They’re all about team and working together. Every single day we think about and talk about what might have been, but we’ll take what we can get. We hope to go undefeated and show what could have been. I think we can do it.”

“We want to get in as many games as we can,” Cousins said. “We want to make it enjoyable and a good experience for the seniors. At the same time, we’re competitive and we want to win. I have a lot of younger kids and they’re learning from the older kids. That’s a positive.”

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

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