FALMOUTH—South Portland’s reigning Class AA champion boys’ basketball team might have a different look this winter, but the Red Riots still know how to win.

Even when they struggle.

Tuesday evening, South Portland visited defending Class A South champion Falmouth in a compelling early-season, interclass battle and in the blink of an eye, the Red Riots fell behind, 11-2, as senior Judd Armstrong scored five quick points and junior Chris Simonds, in his first action this season, drained a 3-point shot.

The Navigators held a 16-11 advantage after one quarter and went up by eight on an Armstrong 3 early in the second period, but South Portland, behind the heroics of junior Gabe Galarraga, roared back, scoring 13 consecutive points before taking a 24-21 lead to the half.

As it did to start the game, Falmouth came out hot in the second half and nine straight points, highlighted by consecutive Armstrong 3s, seemingly put it in control, but the Red Riots amped up their defense and got senior Jaelen Jackson’s offensive game going.

With the score tied, 30-30, at the start of the final stanza, Jackson scored a highlight-reel basket to put South Portland ahead to stay and while the Navigators were still within a point with five minutes to go, they made just one field goal in the fourth period and the Red Riots gradually pulled away to win, 52-39.


Galarraga led all scorers with 24 points, Jackson added 13 and South Portland improved to 4-0 on the young season and in the process, handed Falmouth its first loss in three outings.

“I think our experience from last year doesn’t let us get rattled easily,” Jackson said. “When we go down, I’m not really worried at all. I know we’ll adjust and pick it back up.”

Two of the elite

Falmouth and South Portland combined for 40 victories a year ago and advanced to their respective state final.

The Red Riots snapped a three-decade title drought by defeating Oxford Hills, 58-44, to finish 21-1.

The Navigators, meanwhile, ran into the unstoppable force known as Cooper Flagg and his Nokomis Warriors and fell in the Class A Final, 43-27, to wind up 19-3.


This winter, both squads are up to their usual tricks, as South Portland opened with victories over host Noble (76-60), visiting Windham (66-46) and host Sanford (77-68) and Falmouth defeated host Biddeford (63-38) and visiting Kennebunk (57-50).

Last December 21st, the host Red Riots defeated the Navigators, 58-41, tying the all-time series at four wins apiece (see sidebar)

Tuesday, Falmouth got off to great starts in each half, but South Portland never buckled and eventually found a way to extend its two-year win streak to 15 games.

South Portland senior Jaelen Jackson defends Falmouth senior Lucas Dilworth early in the Red Riots’ 52-39 victory Tuesday night. Hoffer photos.

The Navigators broke the ice 20 seconds in when senior Lucas Dilworth made a free throw. Simonds, playing his first game this season, then hit a 3 and sophomore Rocco DePatsy added a putback for a quick 6-0 lead.

With 6:39 to go in the opening quarter, Galarraga scored his first points on a putback, but Armstrong drained a long 3, then Armstrong scored on a floater for an 11-2 advantage, forcing Red Riots coach Kevin Millington to call timeout.

After Galarraga responded with two free throws, Dilworth hit one for Falmouth.


Jackson scored his first points on a drive-and-finish. Galarraga then scored on a learner before draining a 3 to cut the deficit to a mere point.

The Navigators closed strong, as Armstrong drove for a layup and Dilworth banked home a shot in traffic to make it 16-11 after eight minutes.

When Armstrong opened the second period with another 3-pointer 56 seconds in, Falmouth’s lead was eight, but it wouldn’t score again until just before the horn.

But not before South Portland ran off 13 consecutive points.

Galarraga got the run started by making a layup from Jackson in transition. Galarraga then stole the ball, raced in and slammed it home while being fouled and he added the and-one free throw.

Junior Jayden Kim drove for a layup to cut the deficit to just one, then with 2:38 on the first half clock, Galarraga scored on a putback and the Red Riots led for the first time, 20-19.


Longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan called timeout, but it didn’t help, as Jackson set up Galarraga for another fastbreak layup, this time with his left hand, and Kim scored on a putback.

Finally, with just 3.7 seconds to go, DePatsy converted a layup to end South Portland’s run and a 7 minute, 1 second drought, but the Red Riots took a 24-21 lead to the break.

Galarraga led all first half scorers with 18 points, while Armstrong paced the Navigators with 10.

Falmouth senior Paul Dilworth dribbles the ball as South Portland junior Gabe Galarraga defends.

Falmouth shot out of the gate in the second half and retook the lead.

Just 58 seconds in, Armstrong tied the score with a 3.

Then next time down the floor, Armstrong made another 3 and after Dilworth hit a free throw, Armstrong made a runner in the lane for a 30-24 advantage.


Again, back came South Portland, as Jackson inbounded to Galarraga for a leaner to end the 11-0 run and a 5:47 drought, Jackson set up promising junior reserve Nafees Padgett for a layup, then Jackson went coast-to-coast for a layup to send the game to the final stanza deadlocked at 30-30.

The Red Riots then closed strong to remain undefeated.

With 6:51 to play, Jackson stole the ball, then spun and hit a shot over Simonds to give South Portland the lead for good.

“I know I won’t make every shot, so I just took a deep breath at halftime and refocused,” Jackson said.

Senior Paul Dilworth got a point back at the line for the Navigators, ending the Red Riots’ 8-0 run and a 5:45 drought, but senior Ben Smith hit a bank shot for the visitors to make it 34-31.

After Armstrong set up DePatsy for a layup and what proved to be Falmouth’s lone field goal of the quarter, Kim banked home a runner, but with 5:02 to go, two Armstrong free throws pulled the Navigators within 36-35.


And then, South Portland gradually pulled away.

First, with 4:46 left, Galarraga set up Jackson for a left-handed layup and he was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to complete the three-point play.

Then, 22 seconds later, in transition, Smith set up Kim for a dagger 3-pointer to make it 42-35.

Jackson then set up Galarraga for a layup, but Falmouth had one final push.

First, Lucas Dilworth made two free throws. Then, with 3:06 left, Dilworth was fouled intentionally and made two more foul shots to cut the deficit to five.

The Navigators kept the ball and had a chance to draw even closer, but Armstrong missed a 3 and the Red Riots got the ball back.


With 2:05 left, Jackson set up Padgett for a layup.

The Navigators wouldn’t score again, as they turned the ball over twice and Lucas Dilworth missed a 3 and down the stretch, Kim set up Jackson for a layup, Jackson made two free throws, then Jackson fed Galarraga for a layup which brought the curtain down on South Portland’s 52-39 victory.

“We started trusting each other and we played for each other,” said Galarraga. “When we really try and don’t play one-on-one, we’re great. We just have to believe in ourselves. I don’t think we ever gave up. Even when we were slacking a little bit, we picked it back up and that says a lot for our team.”

“We started working our press and we were able to get easy layups and get to the free throw line,” Jackson said. “I like this group. It’s different. We play a lot faster. It’s a different feel to South Portland basketball.”

“I love these games,” Millington added. “I was disappointed with how we started each half, but they’re good. Judd is great and Simonds being back makes them a force. We didn’t have a lot of physical games last year because of the presence of J.P. (Estrella, now at Brewster Academy en route to the University of Tennessee). It’s a lot of fun to have to grind one out. These games make you tournament ready. They missed some 3s and we rebounded well when we had to. Maybe they got tired, but if they made a couple of those, it would have been a different game.

“It’s a big Heal Points win for us. It doesn’t really matter what seed you are in the tournament, but you want to play at home in the (quarterfinals) and beating Falmouth a big win.”


Galarraga, who played a supporting role last winter, continued to emerge as a top talent this winter with 24 points and six rebounds.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Galarraga said. “I got a glimpse of it last year, but now that I get to fully play this role, it’s been great.”

“Gabe has taken on his role of playing big,” Jackson said. “At the beginning of the season, he didn’t necessarily want to. If he’s looking for dump-offs and things like that, he’ll get 20 points a game. He’s been playing really well.”

“(Gabe’s) a really good player,” Millington added. “He’s learning how to play all-around. I think those in the basketball community knew he had a really good spring and summer. He’s come into his own athletically and he’s got a nice soft touch around the rim and he shoots it well.”

Jackson struggled to hit shots early, but he wound up doing a little of everything, scoring 13 points and adding eight assists and seven rebounds.

“Jaelen is a really good player,” Galarraga said. “Even when he’s not making shots, he still affects the game with his passes.”


“Jaelen is a leader on the floor,” Millington said. “He handles everything for us. He’s an elite defender. He rebounds like crazy. When you can go on the floor and impact the floor in all phases, that’s pretty special.”

Kim wound up with nine points and five rebounds, Padgett had four points (to go with three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot) and Smith finished with two.

Senior Joey Hanlon didn’t score, but had four steals and three rebounds.

The Red Riots made 6-of-9 foul shots and only turned the ball over six times.

Falmouth was paced by Armstrong, who not only had 20 points, but also had four rebounds, two assists and two steals.

“Judd is one of the better players around, but it’s a team sport,” said Halligan. “He can lead us in assists too. Judd delivers the ball. If guys get in the position they need to be, when (the defense leaves) to double him, he can give the ball up to them.”


Lucas Dilworth added nine points (and nine rebounds), DePatsy had six (to go with eight boards), Simonds three (as well as four rebounds and three blocks) and Paul Dilworth one (along with five assists).

The Navigators made 10-of-15 free throws, but turned the ball over 17 times and made just one field goal in the fourth quarter.

“I think we showed some flashes in the first quarter and at the beginning of the second half when we were fresh,” Halligan said. “Games like this are great. It’s hard-fought every single possession and you’ve got to work hard. We’re still learning our roles and some guys are still trying to do too much. That comes with experience and we got that experience in games like this. It’s a process. We got a little tired and some younger players had to step in. They got experience and they’ll be ready for it down the road. We can’t fault the effort. We just have to execute better.”

Each team grabbed 31 rebounds.

Back to class

Falmouth is back in action Thursday at Brunswick. The Navigators close the 2022 portion of their schedule Tuesday of next week when they host Mt. Ararat.


“We’re not 100 percent yet, but we’re getting there,” Halligan said. “It’s good to play again Thursday and get back on that horse. It’s a work in progress. Guys have to buy in to what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it.”

South Portland has its first of likely three showdowns versus rival Thornton Academy Thursday, when the Red Riots welcome the Golden Trojans to Beal Gymnasium. South Portland goes to Massabesic next Wednesday.

“We’re just focused on playing one game at a time,” said Galarraga. “If we keep going like that, I think we’ll have a really good shot again. I love playing TA. We just have to embrace it and play for each other.”

“TA is always fun,” Jackson said. “The gym is always packed. We love that competition and we’re ready to go.”

“You always plan on three (games against TA),” Millington added. “The first one, you play your heart out and give them everything you have and win or lose, you walk away and learn from it. You figure out what you might use in the tournament and make sure you don’t use it in the second game.

“This is a fun team to watch. I enjoy watching the guys get out and run. It won’t be easy this year. There’s a lot of good teams in the South. We’ll have more of a grind this year.”

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

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