SOUTH PORTLAND—No one can turn a deficit into a lead in the blink of a eye like Gorham’s boys’ basketball team.

And once that happens, it’s good night for the opposition.

Friday evening at Beal Gymnasium, it was the host South Portland Red Riots who drew then unenviable task of trying to hold the potent Rams at bay and while the Red Riots were up the task for a half, they couldn’t do it for a full 32 minutes.

Two-time reigning Class AA state champion South Portland came out strong and led, 17-13, after one quarter and held a 31-27 advantage at halftime, thanks to 14 points from a secret weapon, junior reserve Tom Majoli.

When Majoli opened up the second half with a basket, the Red Riots were entertaining upset dreams, but Gorham dominated the rest of the third quarter by scoring 21 of the next 25 points to take a 48-37 advantage to the final stanza.

And there, South Portland never drew closer than nine and the Rams went on to a 63-51 victory.


Senior Ashton Leclerc led the way with 22 points, senior Gabe Michaud added 17 and sophomore Atticus Whitten finished with 11 as Gorham improved to 15-2 and in the process, dropped the Red Riots to 7-9.

“We’re a really good shooting team, but I think we can score in multiple ways,” said Rams first-year coach Ryan Deschenes. “If we can defend and rebound the way we need to, we’ll be the team we need to be on both sides of the ball.”

Stop us if you can

Gorham has been the team to beat all winter, while South Portland had to dig out of a hole to get back into contention.

The Red Riots opened with losses at Gorham (64-50), Cheverus (58-49) and Scarborough (55-52) before falling at home to Falmouth (59-50) and at home to Portland in a state game rematch (46-39). After closing the 2023 portion of the schedule with a 55-50 win at Edward Little, South Portland lost at home to Deering (57-47), then defeated host Thornton Academy (52-44), host Sanford in overtime (69-65) and host Bonny Eagle (47-35). The Red Riots then lost at home to Scarborough (54-49) and at Portland (67-43) before winning, 70-64, in overtime, over visiting Noble, downing visiting Thornton Academy (70-62) and host Deering (68-48).

Gorham, meanwhile, started by defeating South Portland in the opener, 64-50, before downing Greely (76-42), Falmouth (73-56), Edward Little (60-45), Westbrook (71-53), Thornton Academy (75-41), Sanford (84-55) and visiting Scarborough in a come-from-behind, 58-51 triumph. After a 51-37 setback at Cheverus, the Rams handled visiting Deering (79-59)) and Windham (67-40), but then were upset at Deering (62-61). Gorham then returned to its winning ways against Bonny Eagle (48-34), Thornton Academy (69-60), Sanford (69-57) and Bonny Eagle (62-48).


In the teams’ first meeting, back on Dec. 8, the host Rams blew it open with a 21-5 first quarter run and got 25 points from Leclerc and 20 from senior Caden Smith (who missed the rematch with injury). Junior Manny Hidalgo paced the Red Riots with 27 points and senior Gabe Galarraga had 15.

Friday, South Portland hoped to turn the tables, but despite a strong start, didn’t have enough firepower to keep up.

South Portland sophomore Darius Johnson defends Gorham sophomore Atticus Whitten during the Rams’ 63-51 victory Friday. Hoffer photos.

The teams went back-and-forth in an entertaining first period.

Gorham struck first, as Michaud made a layup, but senior Chris Keene countered with a 3-point shot for the Red Riots.

After Leclerc scored his first points on a driving bank shot, Galarraga’s leaner off the glass put South Portland back in front.

Michaud drove for a layup, but Galarraga countered with a layup.


After junior Griffin Gammon hit a corner 3-pointer for the Rams, two Galarraga free throws tied the score and after Leclerc hit a jumper, Maloji first made his presence felt with a 3, producing the game’s seventh lead change. Sophomore Darius Johnson then scored on a putback before a long 3-pointer from Hidalgo gave the Red Riots their biggest lead, 17-11.

A late Leclerc jumper pulled Gorham back within four heading to the second period.

There, South Portland continued to impress as it held its lead.

After Leclerc set up Michaud for a 3-ball to start the frame, Hidalgo set up Maloji for an athletic left-handed reverse layup.

Freshman Colton Jewett then tied the score with a 3-pointer from the corner, but Hidalgo put the Red Riots back in front with a 3.

The Rams then ran off eight straight points, as Leclerc hit a 3 to tie it up, Leclerc made a jumper, then Michaud set up Whitten for a 3 from the corner for a 27-22 advantage.


South Portland, more specifically Maljoi, then closed the half on a 9-0 run.

First, Maloji drove for a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.

Maloji then took a pass from sophomore Gabe Jackson and made a layup to tie the score.

After scoring on a putback to give the Red Riots the lead, Maloji’s driving layup sent his team to the locker room with a 31-27 advantage.

When the second half commenced, Gorham then reminded everyone why it’s on the short list of the elite teams in the state.

South Portland junior Tom Maloji works his way to the basket.

First, Maloji picked up where he left off, getting a leaner to bounce home to pus the lead to six.


Gorham then got a 3 from Whitten to snap the Red Riots’ 11-0 run and a 4 minute, 18 second scoring drought.

After Michaud and Galarraga traded layups, junior Jack Karlonas scored on a layup after a steal for the Rams before a Leclerc 3-ball with 4:23 remaining in the third quarter gave Gorham the lead for good, 37-35.

The Rams weren’t content, as they would score nine more points in succession for even more of a cushion.

First, Michaud sank two free throws. Whitten then got a 3 to bounce in, Leclerc drove for a layup and with 1:19 on the clock, Leclerc set up Michaud for a layup and a 46-35 lead.

Two free throws from Maloji 19 seconds later snapped the 14-0 run and a 4:06 drought, but Michaud got a leaner to drop with 36 seconds left to send Gorham to the final stanza with a 48-37 advantage.

There, Galarraga tried to spark a rally with a spinner and after Leclerc hit a jumper, Galarraga made two foul shots, but Karlonas got a pass in the corner from Michaud and sank a momentum-turning 3-pointer.


After Hidalgo made one free throw, Leclerc drained a long jumper and after Keene sank one foul shot, Michaud found Gammon for a dunk that threatened to spark a runaway.

South Portland fought hard to the end, but could never make a serious run.

After Galarraga scored on a leaner, Whitten made a layup off a feed from Michaud on an inbounds set. Keene then hit a 3, but Leclerc made a free throw to make it 60-48 with 1:25 to go.

Johnson gave the Red Riots hope with an old-fashioned three-point play (putback, foul, free throw), but Leclerc sank a free throw, then Michaud brought the curtain down with a driving layup and Gorham closed out its 63-51 victory.

“Coach came in at halftime and told us we were playing great, but we had to lock it in on defense,” Leclerc said.

“The first half, we just didn’t defend the way we needed to,” Deschenes said. “We were a little too worried about Manny and Gabe. Michaud and Karlonas did a great job one-on-one with them, so we guarded them better in the third quarter and got a lot of stops in a row. The first half, we made a little run, then they would and we couldn’t get those stops.”


Leclerc, who hit the 1,000 career point plateau earlier this week, led all scorers with 22 points. He also had three steals and two assists.

“I’m always trying to run around screens and get open, but if not, I’ll pass to my teammates and I trust them to make the shot,” Leclerc said.

“It’s unique to have someone score 1,000 points,” said Deschenes. “I’ve coached some great players over the years and Ashton just wants to be coached. He’s scored in multiple ways this year and he’s taken on more of a defensive role for us too, which is huge.”

Michaud had 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds, while Whitten also wound up in double figures with 11 points. Gammon had five points (to go with seven rebounds), Karlonas also had five points and seven rebounds and Jewett ended up with three points.

The Rams made nine 3-pointers to South Portland’s five, only turned the ball over eight times and overcame 4-of-13 foul shooting.

The Red Riots were paced by Maloji’s 18 points off the bench. He also had three rebounds and a pair of assists.


“Tom played great,” South Portland coach Kevin Millington said. “He was very active. He’s really a starter in a lot of ways.”

Galarraga added 14 points, Hidalgo had seven (to go with three rebounds, two assists and two steals), Keene seven and Johnson five (to go with a game-high 11 rebounds).

South Portland had a 27-25 advantage on the glass and made 10-of-12 free throws, but turned the ball over 15 times and couldn’t solve Gorham’s attack in the second half.

“(Gorham will) be hard to beat for anybody,” said Millington. “You just have to hope they have an off-night. We let other kids (besides Leclerc) shoot because we had to pick our poison. Tonight, they hit enough shots in the third quarter to give them the run and we couldn’t recover.”

The team to beat

Gorham projects to finish first in the Class AA South Heal Points standings regardless what happens in its season finale, at second-ranked Scarborough Thursday of next week.


After early playoff ousters in recent years, the Rams will earn a bye into the semifinals, then will set their sights on capturing a Gold Ball.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and hopefully, we can keep this up,” Leclerc said. “With our new coach, getting used to his ways, we’re pushing the ball now and getting out in transition and everything is clicking now. I think we expected to be good. I don’t know if we expected to dominate.

“We just have to play our roles and not get caught up in the hype. If we play defense and rebound, the offense will come. After the last two seasons of quarterfinal losses, we talked about it and it’s not happening again. We hope to go deeper this time.”

“We want to be healthy and playing well going into the tournament,” Deschenes said. “It’s nice to get a little rest. If we’re number one, it’s one less game to play. Anyone can beat anyone on any given night for sure. Obviously, we feel good where we’re at, but we feel our best is yet to come. The guys have practiced so hard and compete so hard, they’re ready for each moment.”

South Portland (currently ranked fourth in Class AA South) remains home to take on Bonny Eagle Tuesday before closing at home versus Sanford Thursday.

“We’re hoping for the three (seed),” Millington said. “We just have to take care of business. I suppose we’d rather be here, but it really hasn’t been a huge advantage for us. Whoever we play, Thornton Academy or Deering, it will be a tough quarterfinal. Even if it’s Bonny Eagle or Scarborough, there’s no guarantee. I think we’re playing a lot better than earlier in the year. We’re getting experience. It’s all about momentum and playing well. I’d like to think no one wants to play us.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

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