Thornton Academy’s Braden Camire tries to get around South Portland’s Owen Maloney during a Jan. 18 game. Thornton won, 58-53, to hand South Portland its only loss of the season. The teams meet Saturday night at Cross Insurance Arena for the Class AA South title. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The South Portland High boys’ basketball team is the No. 1 seed, 19-1, and has been the clear leader in Class AA South all season.

But the way Coach Kevin Millington and his star junior center JP Estrella were talking after the Red Riots’ convincing 50-32 regional semifinal win against Bonny Eagle, you’d think South Portland will be a heavy underdog when they take on No. 2 Thornton Academy (13-6) at 8:45 p.m. Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena.

“They’ve outplayed us both games this year. We stole the first one,” Millington said.

“They’ve beaten us mentally, physically, both games,” Estrella said.

The South Portland-Thornton Academy game is the last of eight South regional finals spread across two venues in Portland on Saturday. It is also a rematch of the 2020 AA South final, won by Thornton in overtime. South Portland was the top seed and unbeaten that year.

Millington said comparing this season to 2020 is “apples and oranges.” But Estrella, who was a freshman at Scarborough High in 2020, does think that loss adds a bit more motivation, particularly for senior forward Owen Maloney and junior point guard Jaelen Jackson.


“I know especially Owen and Jay, because they were a big factor two years ago, they really want to beat these guys and I want to beat them just as bad,” Estrella said. “It gets (the winner) to the state final so it’s just another big game for us and we really want to take it out strong against them.”

South Portland won this season’s first meeting in Saco, 60-53. Thornton won the rematch, 58-53. South Portland has played only one other game decided by less than 10 points – a nine-point win against Massabesic.

“Some teams we’ve played, I hate to say it, but they kind of know they’re beat before the game starts. Thornton isn’t one of them,” Millington said.

South Portland center JP Estrella (34) skies for a rebound against Thornton Academy during their Jan. 18 game. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Thornton is 8-6 in games decided by less than 10 points, including Thursday’s 53-48 semifinal win against Massabesic.

Against the Mustangs, Thornton showed clutch characteristics. Junior scoring star William Davies scored 20 points and drained three jumpers to turn a two-point deficit into a four-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Then Thornton made all six free throws in three one-and-one situations over the final 32 seconds, with Anthony Jones making the first four and Aleesio Marcus getting the final two to clinch the win. Thornton made all 10 of its free throws in the game.

“Those guys made them and that tells you what type of kids they are,” said Thornton Coach Bob Davies. “A friend of mine told me once, the guy that makes a shot in the second quarter that’s a big shot, too. So don’t forget about those shots. A free throw is a free throw and these kids made them.”


Before South Portland and Thornton take the court, seven teams will have been crowned South region champions in Portland.

The Class A and B regional finals, originally scheduled for Friday at the CIA, will be at the Portland Expo. The Expo schedule starts at noon with No. 5 York (12-5) taking on No. 2 Oceanside (18-0) in the B girls’ final. At 2 p.m., the B boys’ game pits No. 4 Medomak Valley (17-4) against No. 2 Yarmouth (18-3). In Class A, the No. 2 Greely girls (15-4) take on No. 1 Brunswick (18-2) at 4 p.m., followed by No. 3 Marshwood (14-5) against No. 1 Falmouth (18-2) in the boys’ final at 6 p.m.

York players exit the floor through a canopy of fans after defeating Wells 60-52 in a Class B South girls’ semifinal on Tuesday. The Wildcats meet undefeated Oceanside for the regional final Saturday at noon at the Portland Expo. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The four Class AA regional finals will be at Cross Insurance Arena as originally scheduled. AA North has the afternoon games: No. 2 Cheverus girls (16-3) vs. No. 1 Oxford Hills (18-2) at 2 p.m., and the No. 2 Oxford Hills boys (17-3) vs. No. 1 Edward Little (18-2) at 3:45 p.m. The AA South girls’ final is No. 2 Scarborough girls (16-4) against No. 1 Gorham (17-3) at 7 p.m.

TEMPO WILL DICTATE the outcome in the Class B South girls’ final.

York, which upset top-seeded Wells in the semifinals, wants to make it a frenetic pace, pressing full-court to disrupt any offensive flow by its opponent. “They play best in chaos,” said York Coach Jess Stacy of her players. “And we always try to create it on our own as much as possible.”

Oceanside, sparked by the dynamic combination of junior guard Audrey Mackie and 6-foot-3 freshman center Bailey Breen (who combine for about 37 points a game), wants to make it a half-court game. “They’re good at chaos, we’re not,” said Oceanside Coach Matt Breen. “We want structure and to take advantage of the matchups. We try to break a team down that way.”


Oceanside has never played in a regional championship game. York last played in a regional final in 2016 when the Wildcats won the Class A state championship.

THE GREELY GIRLS have won in different ways so far in the Class A South tournament. They beat Marshwood with inside buckets then torched Falmouth from outside with 11 3-pointers – six from Chelsea Graiver and five from Sophia Ippolito. Graiver, who has scored 40 points total in the two wins, is intent on redemption from Greely’s upset loss in the 2020 South final to Marshwood.

Chelsea Graiver, right, of Greely High wants to play better on Saturday than she did during the 2020 Class A South regional final against Marshwood. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Every day I think about that regional final game,” Graiver said after Wednesday’s semifinal win over Falmouth. “I had one of my worst games and I just want to get back there and prove to everyone that I’m not the same player I was two years ago.”

Brunswick won the lone meeting between the teams this season, 54-40, on Dec. 20.

Logan Brown has scored 16 points with four 3-pointers in each of Brunswick’s wins at the Expo.

THE CLASS B boys’ final features similar, senior-led teams. Formerly a Class A North team, Medomak Valley is new to the Expo atmosphere this season. But speedy senior guard Patrick McKenney, who has committed to Franklin Pierce College, and 1,000-point scorer Trevor Brown have looked right at home in wins against Lisbon and Maranacook. They combined for 45 points in a 60-47 win against Lisbon and led a more diverse attack in a rout of Maranacook. In both games the Panthers jumped to big early leads.


Yarmouth also has a strong 1-2 punch in Bates College commit Peter Psyhogoes and Matt Waeldner, an extremely quick guard. Waeldner has scored 16 points in both Expo games against Oceanside and a tough York squad. Psyhogoes had 19 against York and a 13-point, 12-rebound effort against Oceanside.

This game could come down to which team finds a third scoring option. For Medomak Valley, Jake Bickmore or center Jacob Craig could be that person. Yarmouth’s Stevie Walsh is a good 3-pointer shooter when given space. Cole Snyder had 18 points inside against Oceanside.

THE MARSHWOOD BOYS are playing in their first regional final since a Class B loss to Greely in 1997. The Hawks have never played in a state championship game. Falmouth is a regular at this stage, playing in its fifth A South final in the six years of the five-class system. But the Navigators haven’t won since that first season in 2016 when they went on to wallop Oceanside in the state game.

Falmouth’s Brady Coyne brings the ball up the court while being defended by Marshwood’s Aidan Sullivan during a Dec. 17 game. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Falmouth is 16-0 against Class A teams, winning by an average of 25.75 points per game. That includes beating Marshwood, 64-46 at home and 57-49 on Jan. 24 in South Berwick. The latter is the only time a Class A team has stayed within 10 points of Falmouth.

“Marshwood’s legit. They’ve been probably the best team we’ve seen this year in our class,” said Falmouth Coach David Halligan. “They have great athletes. They have winners. They have bigs. They have guards. It should be a good game. The best team that night will become a champion. That’s the way it goes.”

FAMILIARITY IS THE the theme for the South AA finals. Each game will mark the third meeting between opponents. In the AA North boys’ matchup, Edward Little has beaten Oxford Hills in both games, 66-65 in the season opener in South Paris and 47-35 in mid-season in Auburn. Basically, Oxford Hills could not stop Eddies senior center John Shea, who scored 30 and 31 points in the two games.

On the girls’ side, two-time defending state champion Oxford Hills and Cheverus split two nail-biters in the regular season, both winning at home. Cheverus won the first game, 62-59. Oxford Hills took the second, 49-48, in overtime. Cheverus has never won a girls’ basketball regional title.

Southern finalists Gorham and Scarborough split two defensive struggles. Gorham won at home, 40-26, and led 11-0 after the first quarter in the rematch in Scarborough only to see the Red Storm rally for a 44-39 win, in what was Coach Mike Giordano’s 300th win.

Staff writer Mike Lowe contributed to this story.

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