South Portland 58 Oxford Hills 44

OH- 10 13 4 17- 44
SP- 11 16 11 20- 58

OH- Pelletier 6-6-18, Pulkinnen 5-0-11, Dillingham 2-0-5, Soehren 2-0-5, Oufiero 1-0-3, Shaw 1-0-2

SP- Estrella 7-5-19, Maloney 5-3-15, Kim 2-6-10, Jackson 2-1-6, Hanlon 1-2-4, Galarraga 0-2-2, Smith 1-0-2

OH (4) Dillingham, Oufiero, Pulkinnen, Soehren 1
SP (3) Maloney 2, Jackson 1

OH- 13
SP- 12

OH: 6-7
SP: 19-23


PORTLAND—After three decades wandering in the championship wilderness, the South Portland boys’ basketball team is back on top.

And oh how sweet it is.

Saturday evening, in the Class AA state final at the Cross Insurance Arena, the Red Riots completed their season-long date with destiny, but a determined Oxford Hills squad didn’t allow the coronation to come easily.

A back-and-forth first quarter featured two ties and five lead changes, but two late free throws from sophomore Jayden Kim put South Portland ahead for good and gave it an 11-10 advantage after eight minutes.

The Red Riots, more specifically senior standout Owen Maloney, then threatened to run away and hide early in the second period, as Maloney scored eight points in just over a minute to stretch the lead to nine, but Maloney had to sit with two fouls and the Vikings roared back.

Senior Isaiah Oufiero banked home a 3-pointer and sophomore Teigan Pelletier, whose legend grows by the day, scored six quick points to pull his team within two.


South Portland was only ahead by four, 27-23, at the half, but as they did the week before in a regional final win over Thornton Academy, the Red Riots saved their best for the second half, scoring the first seven points, then taking a 38-27 lead to the fourth quarter, where Maloney scored five points and junior big man extraordinaire JP Estrella punctuated the victory with successive dunks as South Portland pulled away for a 58-44 victory.

Estrella had 19 points, Maloney added 15 and Kim contributed 10 off the bench as the Red Riots completed their sensational season at 21-1, ended Oxford Hills’ fine campaign at 18-4 and captured the state title for the 12th time and the first since 1992.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Maloney. “Tears of joy to finally do this. Living in SoPo my whole life and being around South Portland basketball, it’s great to finally bring it home after 30 years. We wanted to end the drought and we finally did it.”

A long wait ends

South Portland has knocked loudly at the championship door in recent seasons, taking favored Portland to double-overtime before losing in the inaugural Class AA state game in 2016, then getting back to the final but losing to the Bulldogs again the following year. In the last “normal” season, 2020, the Red Riots went undefeated through 20 games, but one step shy of states, lost to Thornton Academy, in overtime, in the Class AA South Final.

In a 2021 COVID-shortened, postseason-less campaign, South Portland went 8-2 and this winter, the Red Riots have been the team to beat, but this squad welcomed the bulls-eye and wore it well (see sidebar for links to previous stories).


South Portland started 10-0, which included wins over eventual Class A champion Falmouth and a narrow victory at Thornton Academy. On Jan. 18, however, the Red Riots lost at home to the Golden Trojans, 58-53, which in retrospect, probably wasn’t the worst result.

“I think early in the year we weren’t playing well,” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington. “We were winning because we were good, but we realized early on we had to focus. I said when TA beat us, ‘I don’t know if it’ll help us or not. Ask me after the state championship game.’ The verdict is it helped us. We had a game before that against Gorham, which was probably our worst game of the year. That was a turning point. We learned we’d better play better against everyone, not just TA.”

South Portland then closed the regular season with seven straight victories to earn the top seed in Class AA South. Along the way, the Red Riots’ 17 victories came by an average of nearly 21 points.

South Portland left no doubt it was the cream of the crop in its region, as it rolled past No. 8 Noble (83-33) in the quarterfinals, ousted No. 4 Bonny Eagle (50-32) in the semifinals, then slayed nemesis No. 2 Thornton Academy in impressive style in the regional final (56-39) to advance.

Oxford Hills, meanwhile, started with a one-point loss to reigning champion Edward Little, won seven straight, then suffered consecutive losses to Edward Little and Portland before closing the regular season with eight straight victories.

As the No. 2 seed, the Vikings would embark on a harrowing and ultimately exhilarating run through the Class AA North field. Oxford Hills’ title quest was almost derailed as quickly as it began, as it trailed No. 7 Bangor late in the quarterfinal round, but in his first display of wizardry, Pelletier’s late 3-pointer helped the Vikings survive, 43-42. After a comparatively easy 59-46 win over No. 6 Cheverus in the semifinals, Oxford Hills took top-ranked Edward Little to overtime and appeared bound for another frustrating loss to its rival before Pelletier made the shot of his life, a jumper with just 0.4 seconds to go, which produced a 48-47 victory.


Saturday, South Portland was taking part in its 22nd state final (see sidebar for previous results). The Red Riots had gone 10-11 in their previous games and they also are credited for winning a title in 1926, but the South Portland-Bangor state final was never played.

The famed five-overtime victory over Bangor in the 1992 Class A state final was fading farther and farther in the rearview mirror, however, so this year’s team knew the time was now.

“Every time we step into Beal Gym, we see that ’92 banner up there,” said Estrella. “I know it killed the seniors, especially Owen, to see that big drought every day. It was motivation for us to end that drought.”

Oxford Hills, meanwhile, reached the state game just once before, the 1990 Class A contest, which resulted in a loss to Lawrence.

Saturday, the Vikings hoped to win a championship for the first time, but instead, it was South Portland, 100 years after winning the inaugural Maine Principals’ Association-sponsored state title, finally returning to the pinnacle.

Oxford Hills opened the scoring 23 seconds in, as Pelletier made a layup, but Estrella’s first points, on a hook shot, tied it up 13 seconds later.


The Red Riots then took their first lead on a 3-pointer from star junior point guard Jaelen Jackson, but junior Eli Soehren buried a corner 3 at the other end to make it 5-5.

South Portland went on top again, as Estrella stole the ball, missed an initial shot, but tipped it in.

At the other end, senior big man Colby Dillingham knocked down a 3 to put the Vikings in front, but Maloney countered with a putback for his first points.

With 2:20 left in the frame, junior Cole Pulkinnen’s floater gave Oxford Hills what proved to be its final lead and 18 seconds later, in the game’s fifth and final lead change, Kim’s two foul shots put the Red Riots ahead, 11-10, a margin which held up going into the second period.

Maloney then put on a show to start the new quarter, taking a pass from Jackson after a turnover and draining a long 3, then stealing the ball, banking home a shot while being fouled and hitting the and-one free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play, forcing Vikings coach Scott Graffam to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as out of the timeout, Maloney got another look, this time stepping back for a 3-pointer, and again he drilled it and just like that, a one-point lead had ballooned to nine.


Pelletier ended the 10-0 run with a jumper, but Kim countered with two foul shots for a 21-12 advantage.

Oxford Hills then got right back in it, as Oufiero banked home a 3 and after sophomore Gabe Galarraga made two free throws for South Portland, Pelletier was fouled (by Maloney, his second) while shooting a 3 and made all three foul shots, then Pelletier completed a three-point play with 2:24 to go to make it a 23-21 contest.

Kim countered with a driving layup, then Jackson set up junior Ben Smith for a fastbreak layup to stretch the lead back to six before a late runner from Pelletier pulled the Vikings within four, 27-23, at the break.

“They hit a bank 3 and a couple fouls went against us and Owen went out,” Millington said. “He’s kind of our glue. He keeps us in the right frame of mind. They went on a run on us, but we still had the lead, so we still felt pretty good. We took a good shot from them, but we knew if we could push it to eight or nine, we could control the ball.”

In the first half, Pelletier led all scorers with 12 points. Maloney, despite having to sit the final 3:50 with two fouls, led the Red Riots with 10 points. Estrella only had four, but he would come to life offensively in the second half.

After more than two scoreless minutes to open the third quarter, Estrella took a pass from Jackson, made a layup while being fouled, then completed the three-point play with a free throw. Jackson then weaved through the defense for a layup and the lead was back to nine, forcing Graffam to call timeout again.


It didn’t help initially, as Estrella and Jackson each made one free throw, but Pelletier sank two free throws, then Pelletier got a fortuitous bounce on a jumper in the lane to cut the deficit to seven.

But South Portland closed the quarter strong, as Estrella put back a miss to give himself a double-double and junior Joey Hanlon weaved through the defense for a layup, giving the Red Riots a 38-27 advantage heading to the final stanza.

Where they put the finishing touches on their historic win.

Dillingham began the fourth period with a jumper, but Maloney countered with two free throws, Jackson dazzled with a between-the-legs dribble before feeding Estrella for a layup and with 4:36 to go, Kim’s putback made it 44-29.

Pulkinnen tried to rally the Vikings with a 3 and a jumper, but Maloney countered with a three-point play.

After Soehren made a leaner, Pelletier hit a shot in the lane with 2:46 on the clock to pull Oxford Hills within nine, 47-38


Estrella made a free throw, but with 1:59 remaining, Pulkinnen’s floater in the lane cut the gap to eight.

But that’s as close as the Vikings would get, as Hanlon made two free throws, Estrella hit two more, then with 1:24 left, Hanlon set up Estrella for a rousing dunk.

Twenty-one seconds later, Hanlon got the ball again to Estrella, who was behind the defense, and Estrella went up and emphatically slammed it home again to end all doubt and put the Red Riots on top, 56-40.

“Those dunks boosted everyone’s energy,” said Estrella, who produced no shortage of them this winter.

In the final minute, Pulkinnen made another shot in the lane and after Kim accounted for South Portland’s final points with two free throws, sophomore Holden Shaw banked home a shot for Oxford Hills.

At 10:14 p.m., the final horn sounded and the Red Riots rushed the floor to celebrate their 58-44 victory and wash away three decades worth of heartache and frustration.


“It’s the perfect storybook ending,” Maloney said. “We had the loss vs. TA sophomore year, COVID last year and no playoffs, now finally, a state championship. Dealing with the adversity makes this sweeter. I think we had our mindset on how we wanted to play. TA was a big revenge win for us, but we all knew that this was the game we wanted to win. We had a great game plan, finding the open guy. Our defense stepped up again. Once we pushed the fastbreak, we extended our lead. It was just our grit and grind. We knew it would be a dogfight, but defense, rebounding and being smart with the ball is what helped us.”

“It’s amazing,” Estrella said. “I was just on the baseline, counting down, ‘3, 2, 1.’ It’s an awesome accomplishment. It really hits home after 30 years. I’m just proud of my team right now. I thought it would be a tough game. We had a great second half. We did really well offensively and defensively.”

“It’s a dream come true,” said Jackson. “I looked up at that banner today and it still said 1992, so it’s nice to finally bring it back home. It’s fulfilling to win it for the seniors who had a really messed up season last year and the seniors my freshman year who got knocked off in the regional final. We were pretty focused. They gave us a tough first quarter. Owen came alive in the second quarter. Going into halftime, we were only up four, but we felt good. We pushed it in the third quarter and took over the game. We’re very well-coached and I think we executed well.”

“This feels really good,” added Millington, who played for South Portland but graduated in 1991, the year before the last title. “It’s just great for the community. I heard from a lot of people before the game and I have 100 texts right now and a good portion of them are from alumni dating back to the late-70s. I watched (former Red Riots star) Brett Brown and those guys play and that’s when I fell in love with basketball. I lived in their neighborhood. I saw the great teams in the 80s. I’m good friends with Coach (Bob) Brown and (Coach) Tony Hamlin and they’ve reached out. I know the history and it really matters. I probably heard from three-quarters of the 1992 team. A lot of those guys were my teammates. They were our biggest fans this week. They said it had been too long.

“We had a really good mindset all week and it almost made me nervous. We were pretty locked in on Oxford Hills. We had a lot of respect for them. They have five, six good players. I kept looking up at the time and I thought it would go down to the wire, but after JP’s dunks, I thought, ‘We might be alright now.’ It was a perfect ending.”

Estrella, who is receiving attention from big-time Division I schools, especially after growing another inch this winter from 6-foot-10 to 6-11, led all scorers with 19 points, including 15 after the half. Estrella also had 15 rebounds and blocked five shots.


“We wanted (Dillingham) to play behind (Estrella) and we were going to try to dig down when he put it on the floor,” Graffam said. “Colby held his own, but the bigger issue was trying to score on Estrella. He probably had five or six blocked shots. That hurt us.”

Maloney bowed out with 15 points, four rebounds and three steals.

“Owen’s my brother, I love him,” said Estrella. “He battled tonight. He had a ton of tips and deflections on the floor on defense and knocked down 3s.”

“Owen’s a poster boy for the program,” Millington said. “He’s SP through and through. He’s wanted to win since he stepped in as a freshman. He’s what you want your program to represent. He’s high-character. Every single kid on the team loves him. When he played well, we played well.”

Kim continued his strong tournament play with 10 points.

“I’d like to thank my coaches, my trainers, everyone who has gotten me to this point,” Kim said. “It’s a great feeling and I wouldn’t have gotten here without them. This was my career high and I’m so happy it happened at the right time.”


“Jayden really had a great tournament,” Millington said. “He takes so much pressure off Jaelen, having an extra ball-handler and he makes plays.”

Jackson finished with six points, five assists, five rebounds and a couple timely steals.

“Owen, JP and Jaelen are three perfect complements to each other,” Millington said. “If one’s struggling, another takes over.”

Hanlon had four points and two assists and Galarraga and Smith each added two points.

“You never know in a given game who will step up,” Millington said. “(Junior) Nolan Hobbs during the year. Gabe Galarraga, Ben Smith in the tournament.”

The Red Riots had a 32-29 advantage on the glass and shot 16-of-40 from the floor and 19-of-23 from the line while only committing 12 turnovers.


Oxford Hills was paced by Pelletier, who finished his tournament to remember with 18 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two assists.

Pulkinnen added 11 points and three rebounds, Dillingham (four rebounds) and Soehren (five rebounds, three assists) had five points apiece, Oufiero finished with three points and Shaw had two.

The Vikings shot just 18-of-55 from the floor (including 4-of-18 on 3-pointers), made 6-of-7 free throws and turned the ball over 13 times.

“They defended us really well and we couldn’t score in the second half and we didn’t shoot the ball well,” Graffam said. “In the beginning we had some jitters, but we settled down. It was a four-point game at half and we came out and didn’t score for five minutes. We just couldn’t make a basket and that’s because of their defense. I knew that would be a problem. I was concerned whether we could score. In that third, that’s what happened. We didn’t get as good of looks as we did in the first half and hiked up some 3s that were ill-advised.”

Shorter wait

Don’t expect South Portland’s next championship to come in 2052. While Maloney will be missed, the 2022-23 Red Riots will be led by Estrella, Jackson and Kim, with other players seeing bigger roles and some newcomers likely to step right in and make an impact.


Now that the drought is over, more bounty could be coming the Red Riots’ way.

“We’re already ready to move on to next year,” Jackson said. “I can’t wait.”

“I’d love to do it again,” Estrella said. “It’s going to be tough next year, but I know we can do it.”

Sun Journal staff writer Adam Robinson contributed to this story.

Michael Hoffer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Comments are not available on this story.