SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s boys’ basketball team knows full well that a midseason loss can be a good thing.

Especially if you learn from it.

Last year, the Red Riots overcame a regular season home loss to Thornton Academy, went on a run and never lost again en route to their first state championship in 30 years.

This season, South Portland has a different look, but entertains the same goal, and after falling at home to Gorham Tuesday, the Red Riots responded in the affirmative Friday evening when Bonny Eagle visited Beal Gymnasium.

South Portland didn’t start well at either end of the court, as it dug a 15-8 deficit after eight minutes, but the Red Riots came to life in the second period, going on a 17-2 run, sparked in large part by the play off the bench of sophomore Manny Hidalgo, to take a 27-21 halftime advantage.

South Portland continued to lock down defensively in the second half, pushed its lead to 39-28 after three quarters and was never seriously tested in the fourth quarter either as it closed out a 50-33 victory.


Senior standout Jaelen Jackson continued to stuff the stat sheet as he led all scorers with 17 points, Hidalgo added 10 and the Red Riots improved to 9-2 on the season, dropping the Scots to 5-5 in the process.

“We always start pretty slow, but at the end of the first quarter we turned it around a little bit,” Jackson said. “Then, we played better defense and got organized and figured out the adjustments we needed to play better and it worked out for us.”

Steady growth

J.P. Estrella and Owen Maloney have departed, but the 2022-23 Red Riots remain a team capable of winning a state title.

South Portland opened with victories over host Noble (76-60), visiting Windham (66-46) and host Sanford (77-68). The Red Riots then enjoyed an impressive win at reigning Class A South champion Falmouth (52-39) before losing at home to Thornton Academy (69-60). South Portland then rattled off victories at Massabesic (66-26), at home over Sanford (78-41) and Massabesic (82-22) and at Scarborough (65-50), but Tuesday, the Red Riots fell at home to Gorham (65-55).

“We learned against Gorham we’ve got to play defense,” Jackson said. “Rebounding-wise, we struggled. Last year we lost around this time to TA, so it was a wakeup call.”


“This is more normal what we’re experiencing this year,” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington. “The last couple regular seasons were abnormal (going 18-0 in 2019-20 and 17-1 last season). Losing helps you grow. You hate doing it, but it does help refocus us.”

Bonny Eagle, meanwhile, started by beating Deering (60-49), then lost at Portland (42-28). After a 62-44 win over Scarborough, the Scots were beaten by Thornton Academy (65-55) and after downing Noble (69-56), they fell to Bonny Eagle (69-56). Wins over Westbrook (47-40) and Gorham (51-50) were followed by a 52-45 loss to Sanford Tuesday.

Last year, South Portland swept three meetings, winning 59-44 on the road and 56-47 at home during the regular season, then eliminating the Scots, 50-32, in the Class AA South semifinals.

Friday, Bonny Eagle hoped for a different result and looked to snap a five-game skid in the series (dating to a 55-50 win in the 2019 Class AA South semifinals), but instead, the Red Riots got back on track.

Although it took a little while.

South Portland junior Jayden Kim brings the ball up the floor as Bonny Eagle senior Hayden Campbell defends early in the Red Riots’ 50-33 victory Friday. Hoffer photos.

The Scots couldn’t have asked for a better start, as 6-foot-8 senior Elliot Bouchard won the opening tip directly to junior Terrell Edwards, who raced in for an uncontested layup just three seconds in.


South Portland got on the board when Jackson threaded a nice pass to junior Jayden Kim for a layup, but Edwards set up junior Brandt Abbott for a layup, then Edwards took a pass from senior Hayden Campbell and made another layup, forcing Millington to use an early timeout.

Out of the break, Bonny Eagle got another easy basket, as Campbell drove for a layup, but Jackson shot a floater over Bouchard and got it to bounce home before senior Joey Hanlon sank two free throws to make it 8-6 Scots.

After Bouchard fed Campbell for a backdoor layup, Red Riots junior Gabe Galarraga made a fadeaway jumper, but late in the frame, Edwards sank a 3-pointer from the corner, then junior Lucas Drinkwater drove for a layup giving the visitors a 15-8 advantage.

“The first quarter was uncharacteristically bad defense by us,” said Millington. “I think it was one of the worst stretches of defense we’d played in eight years and I told them that, but we got better, tightened up and communicated better.”

South Portland opened the second quarter with Jackson feeding junior Nafees Padgett for a layup, but sophomore C.J. Cooper countered with a 3 and Bonny Eagle had its biggest lead, 18-10.

The Red Riots then carried play the rest of the half.


And not coincidentally, the insertion of Hidalgo sparked the comeback.

With 5:53 to go before halftime, Hidalgo made a 3-pointer.

After Jackson banked home a spinner over Bouchard, Jackson made a layup after a steal and after Bouchard countered with a putback for his first points, senior Ben Smith made a jumper for South Portland and with 1:51 left in the half, Jackson fed a no-look pass to Smith for a layup and the Red Riots’ first lead, 21-20.

A lead they would never relinquish.

Thirty-three seconds later, Hidalgo added a second 3-ball.

“I just try to move the ball and play defense and talk on the floor,” said Hidalgo. “I took the opportunities my teammates gave me and made the best of it. I hit the first (3), then I thought I could make five in a row. The 3s I made got us motivated. It felt good. It feels good to be on varsity. I feel like part of a family. I can finally show what I can do.”


Jackson added a long 3-pointer and while Cooper got a point back at the free throw line, the Red Riots were up, 27-21, at the half.

Jackson had nine points and five assists in the first half and Hidalgo’s six points were huge as well, as was South Portland’s defensive effort, which forced 18 Scots’ turnovers.

South Portland then stretched its lead in the third period.

South Portland junior Gabe Galarraga defends Bonny Eagle senior big man Elliot Bouchard.

In the first 47 seconds, the Red Riots got a layup from Kim (after a Hanlon steal), a fastbreak layup from Smith (set up a by a nice no-look pass from Kim) and a fastbreak layup from Jackson (with the assist going to Galarraga) and Bonny Eagle coach John Trull called timeout with his squad suddenly down by a dozen.

The timeout worked, as the Scots got a putback from Campbell and a tip-in from Bouchard to make it 33-25, but they would draw no closer.

Jackson set up Kim for a layup, Jackson fed Hidalgo for another layup and after Edwards sank a free throw for the visitors, Hidalgo drove and made a layup with his left hand.


With time winding down, Bouchard scored on a dunk, but it only drew Bonny Eagle within 39-28 heading for the final stanza.

Where South Portland ended any lingering doubt.

Just 17 seconds into the fourth quarter, Jackson stole the ball and made a layup.

Smith then sank a 3.

After Cooper got two points back at the line, ending a 4 minute, 16 second drought, Bouchard missed a dunk and was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim and Jackson made both free throws.

Smith then set up Hanlon for a reverse layup and after Drinkwater made a foul shot, then converted a layup for the Scots’ final points, a Jackson layup with time winding down brought the curtain down on the Red Riots’ 50-33 triumph.


“We just made enough shots and played good enough defense to hold on,” Millington said. “It’s a tough league with a lot of good teams and everybody comes after us.”

Jackson not only led all scorers with 17 points, but he also had eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals.

“I try to be as all-around as I can,” Jackson said. “Scoring the ball is obviously important, but rebounds, assists and playing defense are just as important.”

“Jaelen this year has really impacted the game in all phases,” Millington said. “He has his moments where he’s over-aggressive, but he is a tremendous rebounder, he high up there in assists and steals. He makes calls out there before I do. You can see what a complete player he is.”

Hidalgo impressed with his 10 points off the bench.

“Manny brought a spark for sure,” Jackson said. “He hit those 3s and we pushed the lead and kept turning them over.”


“Manny can be a sparkplug,” said Millington. “He’s a really talented offensive player. He’s still young and green. On a given night, guys on the bench are who we need to go to and tonight, it was him. We have to rely on (the reserves) because you never know what happens.”

Smith had a solid game with nine points, four steals and three rebounds.

“Ben’s a very steady player,” said Millington. “He does a lot of things well. He rebounds, he plays defense, he can make shots. He’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades. He’s a senior and helps ground us.”

Kim added six points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals, Hanlon had four points (to go with five rebounds) and Padgett and Galarraga (four rebounds) finished with two apiece.

“Gabe’s a good shooter, but he didn’t hit his shots and got in foul trouble, but I told him after the game he did a great job defensively,” Millington said. “We limited (Bouchard’s) touches. It was a team effort and pressuring the pass into the post is important.”

The Red Riots made 4-of-5 free throws, but turned the ball over 26 times.


“It was just an ugly game all around,” Millington said. “We both had a lot of turnovers. A lot of them were unforced.”

For Bonny Eagle, Edwards led the way with eight points, five rebounds and three steals. Bouchard was held relatively in check, scoring six points, but grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking three shots and adding five steals and three assists. Cooper also had six points, Campbell contributed six as well (to go with three assists and three rebounds), Drinkwater finished with five and Abbott had two

The Scots turned the ball over 29 times and made 5-of-9 foul shots.

On to the next

Bonny Eagle’s next game is Monday at home versus Noble. The Scots are now fourth in the Class AA South Heal Points standings.

South Portland (ranked second in the region) has a showdown at top-ranked Thornton Academy Tuesday in what is likely act two of three this winter.


“I think we’re improving and we’re getting there,” Jackson said. “We have some stuff to clean up and we have to shoot the ball better. We’ll take (TA) seriously. It’s been a couple weeks since we last played them, so we’ll see where we line up with them. We want to know where we are going into the tournament.”

“We have a great opportunity this year,” said Hidalgo. “We just have to keep working hard.”

“We’re getting there,” Millington added. “We have to do a better job taking care of the ball. We can’t turn the ball over that many times and expect to win. People are settling into roles and we’re growing.

“We’ll go down (to TA) and try to win. It’s ultimately about the game we play at the Civic Center (in the tournament). Bonny Eagle, Noble and Gorham are all good and Scarborough is getting healthy, so there are no guarantees. It’s more balanced this year.”

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

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