BOX SCORE

South Portland 53 North Yarmouth Academy 41

SP- 19 10 6 18- 53
NYA- 16 5 12 8- 41

SP- Owen 5-5-15, Ava Bryant 2-4-9, Boothby-Akilo 4-1-9, Dearborn 4-0-9, Duffy 3-0-9, Fitzherbert 1-0-2

NYA- Huntsman 6-1-16, Reid 4-2-10, Bila 3-1-7, Onorato 2-0-5, Jackson 1-0-2, Kenney 0-1-1

3-pointers:
SP (5) Duffy 3, Ava Bryant, Dearborn 1
NYA (4) Huntsman 3, Onorato 1

Turnovers:
SP- 19
NYA- 12

FTs
SP: 10-18
NYA: 5-14

YARMOUTH—The pesky Panthers kept coming, but South Portland’s girls’ basketball team wasn’t about leave North Yarmouth Academy’s tiny gymnasium without a much-needed victory Saturday afternoon.

In the first-ever meeting between the Red Riots, last year’s Class AA South champion, and the undefeated Panthers, who reside in Class C, NYA proved it has the talent and heart to play with anyone, but South Portland made the key plays when it mattered most.

The Red Riots, who flustered the Panthers with their size, with 6-foot-4 senior center Cora Boothy-Akilo leading the way, came out sizzling in the first quarter, making four 3-pointers to open up an eight-point lead before NYA’s superb sophomore point guard Angel Huntsman sparked a rally to cut South Portland’s advantage to 19-16 after eight minutes.

The Panthers momentarily drew even midway through the second period on a 3-pointer from sophomore Madilyn Onorato, but Onorato was hurt on the play and the Red Riots closed the first half on an 8-0 run, capped by a Boothby-Akilo layup, to take a 29-21 lead to the break.

When South Portland scored the first basket of the second half, it threatened to run away and hide, but NYA roared back with a 10-0 run of its own, highlighted by a Huntsman 3-point shot over Boothby-Akilo and capped by a layup from sophomore Erin Reid to tie the game again, 31-31.

The Panthers could never go on top, however, and the Red Riots clung to a 35-33 advantage when the fourth period started.

Reid made a free throw to cut the deficit to one, but finally, behind the determination and heroics of junior Hylah Owen, South Portland opened it up and when Boothby-Akilo scored seven late points, the Red Riots went on to a 53-41 victory.

Owen led the way with 15 points and Boothby-Akilo, who had a whopping 25 rebounds, was one of four Red Riots to finish with nine as South Portland snapped a five-game skid, improved to 3-5 and in the process, handed NYA its first loss in eight outings.

“The game benefited both of us,” said Panthers coach Tom Robinson. “We needed to get pushed and they needed a win. I give them respect for coming over here when a lot of other schools wouldn’t. It was a hard game. We got more out of this game than any other this year.”

Strangers

South Portland, which has long been among the biggest schools in the state, and tiny NYA don’t cross paths much when it comes to athletics.

There were hockey games back in the day, when NYA still played under the auspices of the Maine Principals’ Association, and the schools have squared off in volleyball and lacrosse, but never in a countable game on the hardwood.

Until Saturday.

The Panthers have enjoyed a tremendous season, opening by defeating visiting Sacopee Valley (72-22), then downing visiting Richmond (60-36), host Sacopee Valley (43-39) and Waynflete (53-24), visiting Morse (47-24), host Richmond (63-36) and Tuesday, beating visiting St. Dom’s (64-17).

The Red Riots, meanwhile, who have a lot of faces missing from last year’s regional championship run, 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), fell late at Yarmouth (30-28) and earlier this week, lost twice to talented Cheverus (78-24 in Portland and 74-34 Friday at home.

This unique meeting featured both teams showing glimpses of greatness, but the Red Riots saved their best for last.

South Portland sizzled from the perimeter in the first quarter, as freshman Megan Dearborn got things started with a long jumper and after freshman Graca Bila got NYA on the board with a free throw, Dearborn hit another jumper, Owen made a free throw for her first point, then sophomore Ava Bryant sank a 3 for a quick 8-1 lead.

But the Panthers weren’t going to make it easy for the Red Riots and they settled in, getting a jumper from Huntsman, a fastbreak layup by Bila (from Huntsman) and a layup after a steal from Bila to cut the deficit to 8-7.

Sophomore Sammy Duffy then came off the bench for South Portland and hit a 3.

After Owen made two free throws and Reid took a pass from Huntsman and countered with a layup, Dearborn sank a 3 from the corner to make it 16-9.

Oronato made a layup for NYA, but Duffy hit another 3 and the lead was eight.

“A good shooting start was important,” Owen said. “Our past couple games were low energy, so it was super-important to have a fast start.”

Late in the frame, Huntsman made a step-back 3 of her own, then Huntsman hit a runner in the lane to pull the Panthers back within three points, 19-16, after one period.

The second quarter didn’t feature anywhere near as much offense.

Owen began the frame with a driving layup, but Reid banked home a shot in traffic, then, with 4:05 remaining before the half, Huntsman found Oronato behind the 3-point mark and Oronato went up and sank her shot.

The problem was her landing.

She landed wrong and immediately was in distress. After lying prone for several minutes, Onorato was helped from the floor and it was later learned she’d suffered a serious ankle injury.

“Madilyn is our best 3-pointer shooter, but (Boothby-Akilo) was on her, so I told her, ‘If she doesn’t come out on you, step out and hit a 3,'” Robinson said. “She hit a 3 and look what happened.”

Bryant put South Portland back on top with a free throw, then Owen sank a pair. Bryant hit two free throws, then added one more before Boothby-Akilo’s layup with 23.1 seconds to go gave the Red Riots a 29-21 halftime lead.

South Portland wasn’t home free yet, however.

Dearborn opened the third quarter with a jumper to make it a 10-point game.

Then, NYA answered.

Again.

A free throw from senior Hannah Kenney ended a 4-minute, 54-second drought and was followed by a Reid layup and a Huntsman 3, which she shot over Boothby-Akilo’s outstretched arm.

Junior Lila Jackson added a layup after a steal and with 4:13 to go in the third quarter, Huntsman set up Reid for a layup which tied the score, 31-31.

Again, the Panthers couldn’t grab the lead and a Owen leaner in the lane put South Portland ahead to stay, ended the 10-0 NYA run, as well as the Red Riots’ 3:31 drought.

Reid answered with a free throw, but freshman Maddie Fitzherbert hit a jumper for the visitors before a Huntsman free throw made it a 35-33 game heading to the final stanza.

Where at last, South Portland was able to seize control for good.

Reid made one of two free throws to begin the fourth period, but Duffy made her third, and her biggest, 3-pointer.

Off an inbounds set, Bryant found Owen for a layup, then Owen made a jumper for an eight-point lead, 42-34, with 6:09 left.

Huntsman countered with a pullup jumper, but Bryant banked home a shot, then Owen made another layup for a 46-36 advantage with 5:31 on the clock.

NYA had erased a 10-point deficit earlier, but not this time.

Huntsman did produce a moment of hope with a 3-pointer, but Boothby-Akilo finished the game off in style.

First, she hit a free throw. Boothby-Akilo then made a layup and scored on a putback to make it 51-39.

The Panthers’ final points came on a leaner from Bila before another putback from Boothby-Akilo brought the curtain down on South Portland’s 53-41 victory.

“We’ve been struggling, so it was just another game for us to prove ourselves,” said Owen.

“We needed a win desperately,” Hasson said. “It’s been a different year for us. We’re definitely rebuilding and we were without two starters today. One of our goals today was the stay out of foul trouble and we did a great job hitting perimeter shots in the first half. Sammy shot well and Megan Dearborn shot the ball well too.”

Owen not only scored 15 points, she also had a dozen rebounds.

“I was just trying to do whatever I could to help the team, whether it was defense or offense,” Owen said.

“Hylah led us with her intensity,” Hasson said. “There were times we did a horrible job boxing out, but she saved us with the way she played.”

Speaking of stat sheet stuffing, Boothby-Akilo just missed out on a double-double with nine points and 25 rebounds. She also blocked three shots.

Bryant (six rebounds, four assists), Dearborn and Duffy all added nine points, while Fitzherbert wound up with two.

The Red Riots had a 55-40 rebounding advantage, overcame 19 turnovers and 10-of-18 foul shooting.

For NYA, Huntsman had another terrific game with 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals.

Huntsman’s play got the attention of her opponent.

“(Angel’s) amazing,” said Owen. “She created a lot of stuff, but we managed to play up to her level.”

“(Angel’s) quick as lightning,” said Hasson. “I don’t know if we’ve played anyone that fast. We had to play off f her and give up some perimeter shots because every time she’d dribble, she created something.”

Reid added 10 points, 12 rebounds and a pair of steals, Bila had seven points, eight rebounds and six steals, Onorato scored five points in her limited time, Jackson wound up with two and Kenney had one.

The Panthers only turned the ball over 12 times, but hurt themselves mightily at the foul line, making just 5-of-14 attempts.

“I thought (South Portland) shot really well and obviously, their size hurt us,” Robinson said. “We don’t usually play (man-to-man defense), but we had to play it for three quarters. We missed a lot of shots. Sometimes we play so fast that we miss layups.”

Longing for more

NYA has just two games left, Tuesday, when Waynflete pays a visit, and Thursday, when the Panthers go to Lisbon.

“We hope to go 9-1,” Robinson said. “That would be a great season, then we’ll get ready for summer. We’ll start from a good place next year.”

South Portland still has three games to look forward to, Monday at home versus Falmouth, Wednesday at Falmouth and next Saturday at home versus Gray-New Gloucester.

“It’s been an adjustment this year for sure, but it’s been a good learning experience for us, especially the younger kids,” said Owen. “This season will only help us.”

“We have three left and hopefully we can keep it going,” Hasson said. “We want continue to work on building confidence, regardless of what the score is.”

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

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