It was a tale of two halves Saturday night in Westbrook as the South Portland girls’ basketball team overcame a difficult first half to defeat Westbrook 45-40. The win was the sixth straight for the Riots.
The Blue Blazes got off to a good start, opening with an 8-2 run. South Portland rebounded a little in the first, but Westbrook held the lead through the first eight minutes, 12-7. Cynthia Wescott had six of her team-best 11 points in the first quarter alone.
The second quarter was another good one for the Blazes. They out-scored South Portland 14-13. The game was more back and forth in the second than it had been in the first. The Red Riot defense was getting more pressure on the Westbrook shooters and that allowed South Portland to stay close. At the end of the first half, Westbrook still held the advantage, 26-20.
“I told the kids before the game ‘the team that dictated the tempo was going to win,'” said South Portland coach Mike Giordano. “The tempo was theirs in the first half. They had the half court game going. They pounded into their big kids. In the second half I thought we got it up and down better and it was more to our liking.”
South Portland came out of the break ready to get back into the game. Westbrook added a basket to start the third quarter and take an eight-point lead. Libby King hit a three-pointer for the Riots followed by two from Brianna Hawkins. That got the Riots going. They began hitting their shots and making big defensive stops. Erin Stilphen was able to keep Westbrook’s inside players out of the paint.
“(Erin’s) a good kid,” said Giordano. “She’s a presence in their at 6′ 2″ with those hands. She’s intimidating. She’s done some nice things for us this year defensively and her offensive game continues to grow.”
After a Riot free throw from Kelsey Flaherty, Jessica Aceto hit a three to cut the lead to one. South Portland took the lead when Danielle McCusker hit a jumper. When all was said and done, the Riots scored 11 straight points and held a three-point lead.
“Things were going our way,” said Westbrook coach Mike Murphy. “It was very positive, we were playing hard. That’s the sign of a team who is not used to being in that situation. We’ve seen it a couple of times this year. We’ve come through on a few, but you can’t back down when things don’t go your way. We missed some easy lay-ups and shot poorly from the foul line. Against a team like South Portland you can’t do that and come out ahead.”
The Blazes tied the game on a three-pointer from Lauren Sawyer. Then a free throw from Audrey Shutts gave Westbrook the lead again. But the Riots took the lead for good when McCusker hit a shot from beyond the arc. South Portland clawed their way back mostly because of strong defense.
“We kind of clamped down a little bit defensively and really made them work hard,” said Giordano. “We put pressure on the ball. Their big kids are good inside and we tried to keep the ball out of their hands and just tightened it up a little bit.”
Over the course of the fourth quarter, the Red Riots did what they needed to do to win the game. If Westbrook made a basket, so did they. South Portland out-scored Westbrook 11-8 in the fourth to pull out to the five-point win.
“I’m pleased with the kids’ effort,” said Murphy. “But you’ve got to hit shots and knock down foul shots to beat a good squad. I don’t care what level you are. I like the shots we had, we just didn’t knock them down. I actually liked what we got in the low post, but you’ve got to convert. We scored 40 and they scored 45, so it wasn’t an offensive outburst by either team. You get the shots; you’ve got to knock them down.”
Kelsey Flaherty had 16 points for South Portland who is now 9-2 after a win against Scarborough Monday. They face Sanford Friday. Giordano says the league is so tough you can’t look past any opponent.
“The league is so strong this year,” he said. “It’s a game every night, which is good for the fans to come and watch and good to get the kids prepared for the tournament.”
Westbrook fell at Sanford, 53-34, Tuesday. Erin Murphy scored a team-high 16 points. The Blue Blazes host Marshwood Friday.
“This league is tough,” Murphy said. “We are pleased with our progress, but these games are no gimmies. It’s a tough league. You’ve got to come and play all 32 minutes. When we do that we are extra tough. Our effort is there, we’ve just got to execute.”