South Portland guard Jaelen Jackson jumps while celebrating with teammates after the Red Riots beat Thornton Academy in the Class AA South championship game at Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

South Portland High boys’ basketball coach Kevin Millington is well aware of the historical significance hovering over Saturday’s Class AA championship game between his team and Oxford Hills.

A 1991 graduate of South Portland, Millington was just a year removed from high school when the Red Riots won their last basketball championship: a five-overtime thriller against Bangor in 1992.

“It was addition by subtraction,” Millington joked. “I’d been on the team the year before.”

In his seventh year as South Portland’s head coach, Millington has led the Riots to state finals in 2016 and 2017, falling short both times to Portland. His squads lost in the regional final in 2018 and 2020.

But history is the last thing he wants his talented 20-1 team thinking about Saturday night when it meets Oxford Hills (18-3) at Cross Insurance Arena. Tip off is scheduled for 9 p.m.

“That’s something that if we’re blessed enough to win, we can talk about after,” Millington said. “The first meeting I had with them this season, it was about that we didn’t even want to talk about a Gold Ball. It was always about being the best version of ourselves.”


Oxford Hills is trying to buck history as well. The school, founded in 1961, has never won a boys’ basketball title, losing to Lawrence in its only state championship game appearance in 1990. Scott Graffam was the Vikings’ coach that year, during the first of his two lengthy stints at Oxford Hills. Graffam was there from 1982-91. Then, after stops at Scarborough and Medomak Valley, he returned to the South Paris school in 1999 and has remained the head coach since.

South Portland does have a rich basketball history. It won the first state championship in 1922. Overall, South Portland is 11-11 in large-school boys’ championship games.

South Portland center JP Estrella reaches for a rebound against Thornton Academy during a Jan. 18 game. The junior averaged 20.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.1 blocks during the regular season. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

After beating rival Thornton Academy in the South final, the South Portland players were quickly focused on the next game.

“This one’s over. It’s on to next Saturday,” said senior forward Owen Maloney.

“It feels good to get this one out of the way, but then we have a tough one against Oxford Hills,” said JP Estrella, the Riots’ 6-foot-11 center (he’s grown an inch during the season) who averaged 20.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.1 blocks during the regular season. “It’s going to be a dogfight, going to be a great game, and we’re pumped for it already.”

South Portland and Oxford Hills did not face each other in the regular season. South Portland won a preseason meeting.


“They’re very good. They’re a good-sized team,” said South Portland junior point guard Jaelen Jackson, who averaged 14.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists during the regular season. “Teigan Pelletier is very good. We’re going to have to check out and play good defense, and I think otherwise we match up well with them. The game in the preseason went well for us. We’ll see how it goes.

Graffam said that early in the season, Pelletier, a 6-6 sophomore, tended to defer to his older teammates, like senior shooting guard Cole Pulkkinen (11.8 points), 6-10 center Colby Dillingham (13.5 points) and 6-3 junior point guard Eli Soehren.

“He’s figured out he has to score a lot for us to be successful,” Graffam said. “He embraced it and is our leading scorer and second-leading rebounder.”

Oxford Hills’ Teigan Pelletier makes the winning basket with 0.4 seconds left in overtime during the Class AA North championship game Saturday against Edward Little in Portland. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Pelletier, the son of Oxford Hills girls’ basketball coach Nate Pelletier, averaged 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in the regular season. He scored winning baskets against Bangor in the regional quarterfinals (a 3-pointer with five seconds to play) and in overtime with 0.4 seconds remaining in the Class AA North final against No. 1 Edward Little.

“Obviously they’ve been in huge games, and I think that matters a lot in not being willing to give up anything,” Graffam said. “We were down five to Bangor with 30 seconds to play and down five to EL with 17.7 seconds (left in overtime). There’s no quit in those guys, I can tell you that.”

Millington said, “I just hope if there’s a final shot, we have the ball. I don’t want Pelletier taking it.”


Both teams played their regional semifinal and final games at Cross Insurance Arena.

“I think a lot of the jitters of playing on this court are definitely out the window now,” Jackson said.

One difference is that Oxford Hills played in the afternoon. South Portland has had two 8:45 p.m. tournament starts this year.

“We’ve played this slot almost every game we’ve played in the tournament since AA was formed,” Millington said, though he was quick to add that “teenagers are up that late anyway,” and he doesn’t think familiarity with a 9 p.m. start gives his team any advantage.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.