South Portland junior Owen Maloney goes up for two points during the Red Riots’ 80-55 home win over Cape Elizabeth Saturday night.


South Portland 80 Cape Elizabeth 55

CE- 15 12 16 12- 55
SP- 31 17 20 12- 80

CE- Swift 10-0-30, Mullen 4-0-10, Thornton 1-1-4, Cloutier 1-0-3, Lombardo 1-0-3, Dell’Aquila 1-0-2, Tighe 1-0-2, Bowe 0-1-1

SP- Ayuel 8-1-19, Estrella 8-1-17, Jackson 5-0-11, Maloney 3-2-9, Vose 3-0-9, Bitjoka 3-0-7, Borelli 1-2-4, Mulima 2-0-4

CE (15) Swift 10, Mullen 2, Cloutier, Lombardo, Thornton 1
SP (8) Vose 3, Ayuel 2, Bitjoka, Jackson, Maloney 1

CE- 11
SP- 10

CE: 2-6
SP: 6-10

SOUTH PORTLAND—Allowing an opposing player to make a program-record 10 3-pointers doesn’t usually result in an easy victory, but nothing was going to stop the South Portland Express in a season-ending boys’ basketball game Saturday evening at Beal Gymnasium.

Hosting neighbor and fellow perennial contender Cape Elizabeth, the Red Riots took a 2-0 lead before the clock started, went up, 4-0, before the Capers ever possessed the ball and raced to a commanding 21-3 advantage midway through the first quarter on a 3-pointer from senior T.J. Vose.

And the fun was just beginning.

While South Portland scored on nearly every first quarter possession, Cape Elizabeth refused to fold, not with senior sharpshooter Dylan Swift coming off the bench and heating up from 3-point land.

Swift made three 3s in the first period, but the Red Riots were up, 31-15, after eight minutes.

Swift sank two more 3s in the second quarter, but the Capers never drew closer than 13 and behind an unstoppable, balanced offensive attack, South Portland was up comfortably, 48-27, at halftime.

Swift made three more 3s in the third period, but Cape Elizabeth could never make a run and the Red Riots extended their lead to 68-43 heading for the fourth.

There, Swift made a ninth 3, then a 10th to set a school benchmark, but South Portland was able to put the finishing touches on its 80-55 victory.

The Red Riots got 19 points from junior Mayen Ayuel, 17 from sophomore J.P. Estrella and 11 from sophomore Jaelen Jackson as they finished the season 8-2 and in the process, ended the Capers’ year at 6-6.

“We just came out shooting the ball well,” Jackson said. “We played good defense and turned them over and converted.”

Not the first time

Saturday wasn’t the first time the Capers and Red Riots played a countable game.

That actually happened in the 1974 Western A quarterfinals, which resulted in a 60-58 overtime victory for South Portland.

Fast forward 47 years and both teams enjoyed strong seasons.

Cape Elizabeth, under new coach Jeff Mitchell, who replaced longtime coach Jim Ray in the offseason, started by splitting a pair of games against Waynflete, falling at the Flyers, 51-46, then winning at home, 44-40. After a 48-41 home loss to Deering, the Capers beat visiting Freeport (44-40) and Greely (56-50, in overtime), then lost at Greely (70-60) before beating host Westbrook, 65-47, and host Freeport (52-49). After a pair of losses to Yarmouth (42-40, in overtime, at home, and 57-47 in Yarmouth), Cape Elizabeth got back on track Friday with a 56-45 home win over Lake Region.

South Portland, meanwhile, started by sweeping Deering, 52-47 at home and 65-54 in Portland. Next came a sweep of Portland, 67-47 in South Portland and 56-46 at the Bulldogs. After the Red Riots beat Cheverus twice, 68-36 at home and 58-46 in Portland, they dropped a pair of very close games to Falmouth at the start of the week, 62-60 on the road and 52-48 at home. Friday, South Portland got back in the win column, 79-58, at Gray-New Gloucester.

Saturday, the Red Riots put on another offensive show as a team, which was more than enough to eclipse the Capers’ jawdropping individual performance.

When the game began, South Portland junior Owen Maloney went to the free throw line and made two free throws to give the Red Riots the lead for good.

The reason for that was that Cape Elizabeth was assessed a technical foul for touching the rim during warmups.

An inauspicious beginning then rapidly descended into a downright nightmare start for the Capers.

When normal play began, Jackson drove for a layup and after senior Nate Mullen made a layup for Cape Elizabeth, Ayuel sank a long jumper, Jackson set up Ayuel for a layup, Ayuel fed Estrella for a layup, Jackson banked home a 3-pointer and with 5:47 to go in the first period, Vose hit a 3 in transition and South Portland was firmly in control, up, 16-2.

The Capers ended the 12-0 run with a free throw from junior Will Bowe, but Estrella scored on a putback and Vose added a 3 to make it 21-3.

Enter Swift.

The senior came off the bench and quickly made his presence felt with a 3-pointer.

After Estrella scored on a short hook shot and senior Mekhi Bitjoka banked home a 3, Swift hit another 3 to make it 26-9.

Ayuel countered with a long 3, but Swift answered with one from the corner.

Senior Nic Borelli made two free throws for South Portland before Mullen hit a 3 to pull Cape Elizabeth within 31-15 after one quarter.

“We have players who can score and we don’t really guard anybody, but we score enough to win,” said Red Riots coach Kevin Millington. “It was a very good first quarter. That was just good players being players and making baskets and doing it easily too.”

Little changed in the second period.

Borelli fed Estrella for a layup to start the frame and after Swift hit a 3, Maloney drove for a layup and after a Jackson steal, senior David Mulima made a layup to put the Red Riots on top, 37-18.

Swift and Mullen then hit consecutive 3s to make things interesting, but the Capers would draw no closer.

After Jackson banked home a shot while closely guarded, he stole the ball, drove in and made a reverse layup.

Sophomore Sam Lombardo countered with a 3 for Cape Elizabeth, but South Portland closed the half on a 7-0 run, as Maloney sank a 3, Maloney drove and finished with his left hand and after a Jackson steal, Bitjoka made a layup for a 48-27 halftime advantage.

Swift made five first half 3s, but the Red Riots had six players with at least five points.

Swift’s 3-point barrage continued in the third quarter, but South Portland wasn’t fazed in the least and opened up its lead even further.

Ayuel started the second half with a 3-ball.

After senior Will Thornton made a 3 and sophomore Antonio Dell’Aquila scored on a putback for the Capers, Ayuel answered with a layup.

Swift hit a 3, but again, the Red Riots countered, as Estrella scored on a putback, then Estrella soared for an offensive rebound and slammed it home. Jackson then scored on a leaner off the glass, Estrella converted a hook shot and with 2:06 left in the third, Mulima set up Ayuel for a dunk and South Portland’s biggest lead to that point, 63-35.

Swift tried to spark a rally with consecutive 3s, giving him eight for the night, but Jackson set up Estrella for a layup, Ayuel made a free throw and after sophomore Owen Tighe scored on a putback for Cape Elizabeth, Borelli answered with a putback and the Red Riots took a 68-43 lead to the fourth period.

There, Bitjoka drove and banked home a shot, Mulima banked home a runner and Estrella hit a free throw for South Portland’s biggest lead of the night, 73-43.

Capers senior Chris Cloutier made a 3, but Vose countered with one of his own.

After Mullen scored on a leaner with his left hand, Swift hit a 3, then with 2:42 to go, Swift made one more.

His 10th.

“I came into the gym and when you feel good, you know it,” Swift said. “I’m a shooter and I was able to get open and exploit their zone and kept it rolling from there.”

Thornton added a foul shot for Cape Elizabeth’s final point before a pair of Ayuel putbacks brought the curtain down on South Portland’s 80-55 victory.

“I don’t know how to interpret wins and losses this year,” Millington said. “It’s always more fun to win, but I feel like as a coach, I’m not doing anything.

“It was a weird year. I’m very happy we could get in the gym and play. It was great to be around the guys and see other coaches. It was a little normalcy.”

Ayuel paced the Red Riots with 19 points. He also had seven rebounds and three assists.

Estrella had his usual dominant game in the paint, scoring 17 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking four shots.

Jackson finished with 11 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and four steals.

“It was definitely a different season,” Jackson said. “Last year, we got to play 20 games. This year was better than nothing, but it would have been nice to have a normal season.”

Maloney (five rebounds) and Vose each added nine points, Bitjoka had seven and Borelli and Mulima finished with four apiece.

South Portland enjoyed a 55-35 advantage on the glass, made 6-of-10 free throws and overcame 10 turnovers.

Swift stole the show for Cape Elizabeth, scoring 30 points, all on 3-pointers.

“Dylan had over 50 percent of our points and kept us in the game,” Mitchell said. “I knew he could shoot like that. He has the green light any time he has space.”

Mullen scored 10 points, had eight rebounds and four assists in his swan song, while Thornton added four points (as well as nine rebounds and five assists), Cloutier and Lombardo had three apiece, Dell’Aquila and Tighe two each and Bowe (four assists and four rebounds) one.

The Capers made 15 3-pointers, but hit just 2-of-6 free throws and turned the ball over 11 times.

“We were behind the whole way,” Swift said. “We knew coming in it would be a tough matchup, but the seniors wanted to extend our year one more game. It was a great game to play in. You look forward to senior year all the way through. This year was better than nothing. We didn’t take it for granted and we played as hard as we could. At the beginning of the year, it was hard to adapt to a new system. Filling Coach Ray’s shoes was tough, but I think Coach Mitchell did a great job. We got better and better.”

“South Portland’s a great team and we knew that,” Mitchell said. “This game wasn’t supposed to be played. I asked the seniors when we found out South Portland was looking for a game. The seniors and captains didn’t bat an eye. They wanted to play and I’m glad we were able to do it.

“I feel like (the season) went great. These guys all love the game and love playing basketball for Cape. I couldn’t have picked a better group of guys for my first season. The leadership was something that made it easy to transition into. Nate and Will, as captains, did a great job helping me out. I’m very pleased with the way things went this year. Other than this game, we were close. Our schedule wasn’t easy and every game was a battle.”

On to next year

For Cape Elizabeth, this was a season like no other for many reasons, but after having no time to transition into the job, Mitchell figures to be starting from a much better place next winter and while losing the production of Mullen and Swift, as well as the contributions of Cloutier and Thornton, the Capers do return plenty of talent.

You can expect them to be in the hunt for a Class B South title again.

“I have all my trust that my returning teammates will do a great job in the future and hopefully raise a (championship) banner for Cape Elizabeth,” Swift said.

“I feel great about our future,” Mitchell said. “We have special players on the JV team too. The thing about Cape basketball is we have the athletes. It’s just getting them to play as much basketball as possible in the offseason. Now that I have a year under my belt, I feel like next year should be an easier adjustment.”

As for South Portland, six players depart, but Ayuel, Estrella, Jackson and Maloney lead the list of returners. The Red Riots will be on the short list of championship favorites in 2021-22.

“I think we have a good shot next year to be very, very good,” Jackson said. “Me and J.P. are sophomores and Mayen and Owen are juniors. We’ll have a big four and try to win a state championship.”

“We haven’t played South Portland defense this year and we’ll have to get back to that this summer,” Millington said. “That was frustrating for me to watch. Offensively, we’ll be pretty good again. What’s hard is you just don’t know about other teams, but I’m looking forward to next year.”

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

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