BOX SCORE

Thornton Academy 58 South Portland 53

TA- 18 14 8 18- 58
SP- 15 11 10 17- 53

TA- Davies 8-4-20, Camire 3-4-11, Jones 3-0-8, Ruff 3-0-6, Bowker 2-1-5, Marcus 2-0-4, Stinson 2-0-4

SP- Estrella 8-6-23, Jackson 3-5-11, Maloney 4-0-9, Hanlon 2-2-8, Kim 1-0-2

3-pointers:
TA (3) Jones 2, Camire 1
SP (4) Hanlon 2, Estrella, Maloney 1

Turnovers:
TA- 9
SP- 12

FTs
TA: 9-10
SP: 13-23

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SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s boys’ basketball team brings out the best in Thornton Academy.

Much to the Red Riots’ chagrin.

Tuesday evening, at a boisterous Beal Gymnasium, the Golden Trojans once again ended South Portland’s quest for an undefeated campaign.

But this time, both teams live to play another day.

The first quarter featured seven lead changes, but 12 points from junior Will Davies was just enough to nullify 11 points from South Portland junior standout JP Estrella, giving Thornton Academy an 18-15 advantage. The second quarter was one of runs, as an Estrella dunk capped an 8-0 surge and put South Portland up by four, but Estrella then was called for his second foul, had to sit the final four minutes of the half and the Golden Trojans closed on a 12-2 run, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers from junior Anthony Jones, for a 32-26 halftime advantage.

Thornton Academy led by as many as eight points in the third before the Red Riots rallied to tie it up on a layup from junior Jaelen Jackson, but in the final minute, Davies made a jumper and junior Braden Camire put home a miss at the horn to give the Golden Trojans a 40-36 lead heading to the fourth quarter.

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There, Thornton Academy went up by nine, 52-43, on a 3-point shot from Camire, but South Portland rallied one final time and made it 54-53 on two free throws from junior Joey Hanlon, but Davies and Camire each hit two foul shots in the waning seconds to clinch it and the Golden Trojans prevailed, 58-53.

Davies scored 20 points, Camire added 11 and Thornton Academy improved to 8-2, while the Red Riots, who got 23 points from Estrella, suffered their first setback in 11 outings.

“It was a good game,” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington. “(Thornton’s) a good team. South Portland-Thornton’s going to be a good game no matter what. I think they outplayed us both times (this year), but we got a few breaks down there. We didn’t get enough of them tonight.”

Measuring stick

South Portland’s excellence in recent seasons has brought out the best in Thornton Academy as well, most memorably when the Golden Trojans shook off two regular season losses to upset the undefeated Red Riots in the 2020 Class AA South Final.

The teams didn’t meet during the COVID-shortened 2021 campaign and appear on a collision course this winter.

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The Red Riots started with victories at home over Noble (76-32), at home over Windham (62-39) and at Sanford (66-34) before producing their most impressive win, 58-41, over visiting Falmouth. South Portland then went to Saco and held off the host Golden Trojans, 60-53. After the calendar flipped to 2022, the Red Riots defeated host Sanford (65-42) and Massabesic (54-45), visiting Scarborough (61-42), host Gorham (61-51) and Bonny Eagle (59-44).

Thornton Academy opened with a 56-47 win at Massabesic, then handled visiting Scarborough (58-28), host Noble (70-34) and host Bonny Eagle (67-61). After a 57-53 home loss to South Portland, the Golden Trojans beat host Gorham (69-48), visiting Windham (60-55) and host Scarborough (55-42), but in their last outing, last Tuesday, Thornton Academy lost at Portland (45-36).

In the teams’ first meeting, Dec. 23, senior Owen Maloney had 18 points, Estrella added 16 and Jackson finished with 15, including some big 3s down the stretch for South Portland, while the Golden Trojans were paced by 17 points from Davies.

Tuesday, amid a postseason environment, the Red Riots looked to make it four straight regular season wins over their rival, but Thornton Academy simply refused to buckle.

Thornton Academy’s Braden Camire passes the ball while guarded by South Portland’s Gabe Galarraga during Tuesday’s showdown. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald photos.

The first period featured seven lead changes, as both teams came out firing.

Just nine seconds in, Maloney spun and finished in the lane and we were off and running.

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Thornton Academy then posted eight straight points, as Davies took a pass from senior Cody Bowker off an inbounds set and made a layup, Camire set up senior Cody Ruff for a layup, Bowker found Ruff for a layup off an inbounds set and Davies was credited for a hoop when Estrella was called for goaltending, something almost never seen at the high school level.

South Portland roared back, as Estrella got a spinner to rattle home, Estrella scored on a putback and Maloney made a layup after a steal to tie it.

After Davies put Thornton Academy back on top with two free throws, Estrella buried a 3 from the corner, but Davies answered with a floater.

A putback from Estrella gave the Red Riots the lead again, but senior Nick Stinson put home a miss for the visitors.

After an Estrella hook shot rattled in, the final four points of the frame went to the Golden Trojans, as Davies sent a floater over Estrella and in, then Davies hit a jumper over Estrella to make it 18-15.

South Portland’s 6-foot10 junior center JP Estrella goes way up for a rebound.

The second period featured runs by both teams.

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After Estrella started the frame with a free throw, Jones drove for a layup for his first points, but the next eight went to South Portland, as sophomore Jayden Kim hit a leaner in the lane, Estrella made a free throw, then, after missing his second, got the rebound and fed Hanlon for a 3.

Then, with 4:35 remaining in the half, after a steal by Jackson, Estrella got the ball and raced in and finished with a one-handed slam to make it 24-20.

But that would be the Red Riots’ highwater mark as 24 seconds later, Estrella was called for his second foul and had to sit the remainder of the half.

And Thornton Academy took advantage.

After Stinson set up junior Aleesio Marcus for a layup to cut the deficit to two, Jones took a pass from Davies and canned a 3 with 3:20 left in the half to put the Golden Trojans ahead.

Twenty-two seconds later, the tandem connected again and Jones hit another 3, forcing Millington to call timeout.

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It didn’t help, as Davies put home his own miss and after Jackson banked home a contested shot, a Stinson layup with 32 seconds to go put Thornton Academy on top, 32-26, at halftime.

“We need to learn to play without (JP),” Millington said. “In that run, we were good for a couple minutes, then not so good for a couple minutes.”

In the first half, Estrella nearly had a double-double (15 points, nine rebounds), but Davies’ 14 points helped the Golden Trojans cling to a lead.

Thornton Academy’s Will Davies defends South Portland’s Owen Maloney.

The Red Riots then tried to rally in the second half and while they drew even once, the Golden Trojans wouldn’t leave town without a victory.

Estrella started the third period by making a free throw, but Ruff scored on a putback and Camire scored his first points, on a jumper, for a nine-point advantage.

After Estrella again made one of two foul shots, Maloney scored on a contested leaner, Estrella made one free throw, Maloney buried a 3 and with 2:41 left in the frame, Jackson drove for a contested layup to make it 36-36.

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But with 58.7 seconds remaining in the third, Davies’ contested jumper in the lane gave Thornton Academy the lead for good.

Then, just before the horn, Camire missed a 3, but chased down his rebound and threw up a prayer that rattled in for a 40-36 advantage.

“I missed and hoped there was enough time to get another one off, so I just shot it,” Camire said.

Estrella opened the final stanza with a putback, but Davies went coast-to-coast for a layup.

After Jackson made a free throw, senior Cody Bowker’s reverse layup with 5:17 on the clock made it 44-39.

After Jackson and Bowker traded free throws, Maloney stole the ball and had his shot blocked by Marcus, but Jackson put home the rebound to make it a one-possession game, 45-42.

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The Golden Trojans then turned the ball over, but Camire stole it back and set up Bowker for a critical layup.

With 2:01 on the clock, Marcus hit a short jumper and after Estrella again made one of two foul shots, Camire seemingly put it away with 1:39 left, taking a pass from Bowker and burying a 3 for a 52-43 advantage.

“I had been missing, but I knew at least one would go in eventually and that was the one,” said Camire.

“Braden is a unique player for us,” said Thornton Academy coach Bob Davies. ‘He can shoot the ball. He does a great job.”

But just when it appeared the Red Riots were done, they made one last push.

Estrella got things going with a putback and after Camire answered with two free throws, Jackson was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer and made all three subsequent free throws.

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After Marcus missed a dunk which could have ended it, Hanlon took a pass from Kim and hit a 3 from the corner with 30 seconds to go and suddenly, South Portland was back within three, 54-51.

Maloney then stole the ball and got it to Hanlon, who was fouled with 27.4 seconds left. Hanlon then hit both free throws and it appeared the Red Riots just might steal it.

But Will Davies was fouled two seconds later, then hit both free throws to restore order.

“My teammates always put pressure on me in practice to get me ready for that,” Davies said.

South Portland had a chance to tie it, but Jackson drove into the lane, then missed and Camire got the rebound and was fouled.

With 17.9 seconds left, Camire went to the charity stripe and iced it with two foul shots.

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“I was thinking we needed them to win the game and I made them,” Camire said.

After Hanlon missed a 3, Marcus got the rebound and that was that as Thornton Academy celebrated its 58-53 victory.

Thornton Academy players celebrate during Tuesday’s victory.

“I think it this is a game that we circle,” Camire said. “It’s always going to be competitive with (South Portland) no matter what and we get excited for it.”

“This means a lot,” Will Davies said. “We’ve been practicing hard and this was fun, but i’s just a regular season game. We played through it as a team. We had to keep our composure and that’s what we did.”

“They beat us at home and we beat them here,” Bob Davies added. “We’re two good teams. The intensity was great on both sides, but in the end, it’s just a regular season game. Both teams have talent and you’re going to have a dogfight. The boys made some good decisions and made some clutch shots.”

Will Davies paced Thornton Academy with 20 points and he also had seven rebounds.

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“Will is a superior, tremendous player,” Millington said.

Camire added 11 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals, Jones had eight points, Ruff six, Bowker five (to go with eight rebounds and three assists) and Marcus (10 rebounds) and Stinson four apiece.

The Golden Trojans enjoyed a 44-36 rebound advantage, only turned the ball over nine times and sank 9-of-10 free throws.

South Portland was paced by Estrella, who had a game-high 23 points, as well as 17 rebounds and four blocks. Jackson finished with 11 points, five rebounds and a pair of assists, Maloney had nine points and three steals, Hanlon eight points and Kim two.

The Red Riots made just 13-of-23 free throws and committed a dozen turnovers.

“The guys competed, so it’s only over when the buzzer sounds,” Millington said. “Two years ago, we had two overtime games out of the three, then two wars this year. If we play again, I won’t expect it to be any different. They have some tough kids and they won’t back down. They have a championship pedigree with their (state champion) football kids.”

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Just getting interesting

There’s a very good chance that South Portland and Thornton Academy will meet once more, with huge stakes, in the tournament next month, but both teams have plenty to contend with in the meantime.

The Golden Trojans are back in action Friday at home versus Gorham.

“We’re just moving on to the next one,’ said Will Davies. “We want to try and beat Gorham. They’re a good team.”

“We have to keep playing hard and keep playing our game,” Camire said.

“We need to cut down on our turnovers and do a better job boxing out and be strong with the basketball,” Coach Davies added. “Hopefully, we’ll see (South Portland) again.”

The Red Riots visit dangerous Deering Friday, then welcome Massabesic in a makeup contest Saturday.

“We have to play better,” Millington said. “We really haven’t played well. We haven’t gotten in the rhythm we need to get into. We need to find it. I think we’ve made some strides and there were glimmers tonight, but we need to keep pushing. It’s all about playing our best basketball in the tournament. If we improve because this lit a little fire, it’s worth it. We’ll see how the guys respond.”

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

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