BOX SCORE

South Portland 51 Sanford 42

S- 15 5 9 13- 42
SP- 11 15 15 10- 51

S- Hebler 4-4-14, McBarron 4-6-14, Alexander 2-1-6, Tarbox 2-1-5, Tovey 0-2-2, McLeod 0-1-1

SP- Brown 3-6-13, Boles 5-2-12, Dearborn 3-0-7, Owen 3-1-7, Bryant 2-1-5, Lawton 1-2-4, Fitzherbert 1-1-3

3-pointers:
S (3) Hebler 2, Alexander 1
SP (2) Brown, Dearborn 1

Turnovers:
S- 20
SP- 20

FTs
S: 15-25
SP: 13-20

SOUTH PORTLAND—Learning to win isn’t easy and even when victory seems in hand, nothing is certain.

That’s a lesson South Portland’s girls’ basketball team figured out just in time Tuesday evening at Beal Gymnasium.

Facing visiting Sanford, a team which rallied to beat the Red Riots earlier this winter, South Portland dug an early hole and trailed, 15-11, after one quarter, but sparked by senior Hylah Owen, South Portland won the second quarter 15-5 and took a 26-20 lead to the half.

The Red Riots then went ahead by as many as 17 points, 39-22, in the third period, but the Spartans answered with a 7-0 run and pulled within 12, 41-29, heading to the final quarter.

And there, Sanford forced multiple turnovers and when sophomore Julissa McBarron drove for a layup with 1:52 remaining, the deficit was just four, 45-41.

But South Portland refused to let it slip away and behind five clutch free throws down the stretch from junior Anna Brown, managed to put it away, 51-42.

Brown had 13 points, sophomore Ruth Boles added 12 and the Red Riots improved to 2-4, dropping the Spartans to 2-5 in the process.

“I think we needed this one really bad,” Brown said. “We’ve been struggling lately.”

Figuring it out

South Portland’s season began auspiciously with a 72-32 victory at Noble, but the Red Riots then lost at home to Windham (54-43), dropped a 49-42 decision at Sanford, then fell at home to Thornton Academy (68-61) and at Massabesic (41-33).

Sanford began its year with losses to Scarborough (57-37) and Gorham (48-27). After a 49-42 home victory South Portland, the Spartans dropped close decisions to Noble (50-48) and Massabesic (41-34) before handling Kennebunk, 62-31, last Wednesday.

In the teams’ first meeting, the Red Riots led by three at halftime before a second-half Sanford surge spelled the difference. Senior Tori Parker had a game-high 21 points for the Spartans, while Boles had 17 for South Portland.

Tuesday, Sanford looked to do it again, but instead, the Red Riots got back in the win column, beating the Spartans for the first time since the 2020 Class AA South Final.

Sanford junior Riley Hebler drives on South Portland junior Samantha Duffy during early action Tuesday. Hoffer photos.

Prior to the start of the game, a South Portland player wasn’t properly entered into the official scorebook, resulting in a technical foul, so before the contest officially started, Sanford was given two free throws, but junior Riley Hebler missed both.

The Spartans then got possession instead of a jump ball and it wasn’t long before they took the lead.

Two free throws from McBarron opened the scoring and senior Libby Alexander added a 3-point shot for a quick 5-0 lead.

The Red Riots go on the board when Brown set up junior Ava Bryant for a layup, but McBarron countered with an old-fashioned three-point play (putback, foul and free throw) to make it 8-2.

South Portland would counter, as Owen knocked down a jumper, then Owen stole the ball, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to cut the deficit to one.

After Sanford got a runner from McBarron, Brown scored her first points, on a baseline jumper, but Hebler drained a 3 and Alexander scored on a leaner.

Sophomore Megan Dearborn made a late jumper for the Red Riots, but that only cut the deficit to four, 15-11, after eight minutes.

South Portland then enjoyed a much better second period.

Brown got the fun started with a 3, then Owen made a layup after a steal 38 seconds into the frame to put the Red Riots ahead for the first time and for good, 16-15.

Brown added to the lead with a driving layup and after Hebler made two foul shots for the Spartans, sophomore Maddie Fitzherbert, who gave her team some big minutes off the bench, hit a free throw for the Red Riots and freshman Brooke Lawton, another key reserve, sank two foul shots, then Lawton drove for a layup and a 23-17 advantage.

With 2:50 left before the half, Hebler hit a 3 for Sanford, but that would be the last time the visitors would score for quite awhile.

Brown then made a free throw and Fitzherbert drove for a layup to put South Portland on top, 26-20, at halftime.

South Portland sophomore Ruth Boles defends Sanford sophomore Julissa McBarron.

The Red Riots then threatened to put it away in the third quarter, but couldn’t quite do so as they left the comeback door slightly ajar.

South Portland started fast in the second half, as Brown set up Boles for a layup, Bryant banked home a runner and Boles put home her own miss to make it 32-20 and force Spartans coach Rossie Kearson to call timeout.

With 3:29 remaining in the third, sophomore Hailey Tarbox fed McBarron for a layup, snapping a 7-minute, 21-second drought, but Boles drove and finished a leaner, Brown set up Dearborn for a 3 and with 2:33 on the clock, Brown’s runner in the lane produced a 39-22 advantage.

But Sanford refused to buckle and got seven quick points, as senior Taylor Tovey made two free throws, Hebler drove for a layup, then Tarbox converted a three-point play.

With 5.1 seconds left, a floater from Boles restored a little order and put the Red Riots ahead, 41-29, heading for the final period.

But closing out the win wouldn’t come easily.

Hebler started the fourth quarter with two free throws, then Alexander added another.

With 5:28 remaining, Boles’ leaner put South Portland up by 11, but McBarron made two free throws and after a technical foul was called on Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson, McBarron added another foul shot.

The Spartans kept possession and McBarron set up Tarbox for a layup.

Then, with 2:10 to go, Hebler drove, spun and scooped home a shot to make it a four-point game, 43-39.

But Brown went to the line 12 seconds later and after getting her front end of a one-and-one to rattle home, she sank her second to push the lead back to six.

“It was pretty stressful at the end, but I just knew I had to make those shots,” Brown said. “I try not to worry about the score or the time or anything and just do what I can do.”

But with 1:52 on the clock, McBarron drove a layup and again, Sanford was within four.

After Lawton missed the front end of a one-and-one, both Hebler and Alexander had looks at a 3 which could have made it very interesting, but both bids were off-target.

With 1:16 remaining, Brown went to the line and she got her first attempt to bounce around and drop, but missed the second.

Owen kept possession alive with an offensive rebound, but Boles missed two free throws to keep the Spartans alive.

Hebler took a 3 to attempt to make it a one-possession game, but it was no good and Owen got the rebound.

With 48.5 seconds left, Bryant made one free throw and after McBarron missed a 3, Boles got the rebound and with 30.5 seconds on the clock, Brown essentially ended it with two more foul shots.

“I don’t know if there’s a kid who loves the game more than Anna and I’m not sure there’s a kid who’s worked harder,” said Hasson.
“She loves basketball. We’ve worked with her on taking open shots and being confident. She’s worked hard to be a good shooter. There was no doubt in my mind she’d make those foul shots.”

After sophomore Shelby McLeod made a free throw for Sanford’s last point, Boles sank two foul shots to finish it off and South Portland was able to celebrate its 51-42 victory.

“We executed our offense well today and our foul shots at the end helped,” said Brown.

Brown paced the Red Riots with 13 points. She also had five rebounds, five steals and four assists.

Boles added a dozen points and eight rebounds, while Dearborn and Owen each finished with seven points. Owen also smothered Parker and held her without a single point.

“Our defense was a lot better tonight and Hylah did a great job,” Brown said.

“This game was won by Hylah,” Hasson said. “(Parker) had seven 3s (at Sanford) and I told Hylah at the start of the game, ‘Don’t leave her. She’s yours.’ You challenge Hylah like that and she stepped up. (Parker) didn’t get a basket and I don’t know that she got many touches. I couldn’t be more proud of Hylah. That’s a senior who came to play. She doesn’t necessarily spark us with scoring, but with her intensity, her level of play. She hustles and gives 100 percent all the time. We don’t have an old team. She’s really the lone player who’s seen varsity minutes in a real season. When it comes to leading by example, I’d take Hylah over anyone.”

Bryant had five points and seven rebounds, Lawton four points and Fitzherbert three points and seven rebounds.

South Portland out-rebounded Sanford, 35-30, made 13 of 20 free throws and overcame 20 turnovers (14 which came after halftime).

“We didn’t take care of the ball and we made some poor decisions, but I don’t think we panicked,” Hasson said. “We just made some bad passes.”

The Spartans got 14 points apiece from Hebler and McBarron (who also had seven rebounds and three assists). Alexander added six points, Tarbox had five, Tovey two and McLeod one.

Sanford hit 15 of 25 foul shots and turned the ball over 20 times.

Opportunities

While Sanford is idle until next Tuesday when it goes to Bonny Eagle, South Portland has three critical contests upcoming.

The Red Riots host Massabesic Thursday, go to Scarborough Saturday, then welcome powerhouse Gorham, which is currently unbeaten, Tuesday of next week.

“We just have to keep our intensity up and keep our defense going,” Brown said. “I think we can go on a run.”

“I hope we can put something together,” Hasson said. “We have the pieces. We just have to stay healthy.”

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

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