South Portland senior Meghan Graff chases Windham junior Meghan Hoffses during the Red Riots’ 50-28 victory Monday evening. South Portland improved to 8-0 with the win.
Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.
More photos below.
WINDHAM—Entering its most challenging stretch of the season so far, South Portland’s highly touted girls’ basketball team made quick work of the dangerous Windham Eagles Monday evening.
Other than surrendering a layup off the opening tip, the visiting Red Riots controlled the first quarter, forcing eight turnovers and racing to a 13-5 lead behind six points and three steals from senior standout Meghan Graff.
The second period was more of the same as South Portland stretched its advantage to 17 before Windham junior Meghan Hoffses hit a late 3-pointer to make the score 26-12 at halftime.
The Red Riots then ended any doubt early in the third quarter, as sophomore Maggie Whitmore, junior Katie Whitmore and Graff all converted layups and South Portland went ahead by 25, 42-17.
In the fourth period, the Red Riots’ reserves were just as impressive as the starters and they put the finishing touches on an impressive and emphatic 50-28 victory.
Graff led a balanced attack with 18 points and 10 different players scored as South Portland improved to 8-0 and in the process, dropped Windham to 3-5.
“Our main goal is always to come out and get a good lead,” Graff said. “When we do that, we get into the game intensity-wise. We knew it would be a tough game coming up here. A lot of teams want to beat us this year and every game, we have to be ready to play.”
Grounding the Eagles
South Portland entered the 2017-18 season as the favorite in Class AA and the Red Riots haven’t disappointed. They opened with wins over visiting Bonny Eagle (61-41), Cheverus (49-31) and Greely (63-53), host Scarborough (40-32) and visiting Oxford Hills (49-32). South Portland then opened the new year by dispatching visiting Sanford (62-26) and winning at Massabesic (49-26).
Windham, meanwhile, has been up-and-down, but has been very competitive in the process. After starting with a 46-43 home win over Cheverus, the Eagles lost at Portland (49-40) and at home to Bangor (50-46). After downing host Noble (56-41) and visiting Massabesic (44-26), Windham dropped a 47-43 decision at Edward Little and Friday, fell at home to Maine Girls’ Academy (68-62).
Last year, South Portland won at Windham, 49-31.
Monday, the Eagles sought their first victory over the Red Riots since a 55-47 triumph Dec. 9, 2011 in South Portland, but instead, the Red Riots made it six straight in the series with relative ease.
Windham’s highlight came on the opening tip, as junior Tara Flanders set up Hoffses for a layup four seconds in.
The majority of the next 1,916 seconds then belonged to South Portland.
The visitors raced right down and tied the score when Graff set up senior Sarah Boles for a layup and with 6:26 to play in the first quarter, Graff’s first points, a pair of free throws, put the Red Riots ahead to stay.
After Graff spun and made a layup, Eagles coach Brody Artes called timeout, but it didn’t help, as Graff scored again, on a long jumper, for an 8-2 lead.
With 2:54 remaining in the frame, Windham snapped the 8-0 run and a 5-minute, 2-second drought when Hoffses sank a 3 from the corner, but Maggie Whitmore answered with a putback while being fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play. Then, with 2.5 seconds on the clock, Katie Whitmore set up junior Jena Leckie for a layup and a 13-5 advantage.
In the first eight minutes, the Eagles’ eight turnovers helped South Portland open up the lead.
“I thought that we ran really well in transition,” Red Riots coach Lynne Hasson said. “We made nice passes and got up and down the court. We scored a lot of points off turnovers. That set the tone early. That’s who we are. When we run, we’re pretty good.”
Senior Taylor Files started the second quarter with a free throw for the hosts, but Maggie Whitmore countered with a pair for the Red Riots. After Windham sophomore Emily Drummond kept play alive with an offensive rebound, Hoffses made a 3, but the next 11 points went to the visitors.
South Portland’s run started when senior Eva Mazur set up Graff for a fastbreak layup. Mazur added a 3, Graff hit a long jumper, Graff got a leaner to bounce around and in and with 47.2 seconds on the clock, Graff banked home a shot for a 17-point lead.
Hoffses sank a 3-ball with 13.1 seconds to go, but that only brought the Eagles within 26-12 at halftime.
In the first half, Graff had 14 points to lead the Red Riots, while Hoffses had 11 for Windham, but South Portland had eight more possessions due to 15 Eagles’ turnovers to their seven.
“Defense is always our main focus,” said Graff. “Eva is one of the top defenders around and Maggie is a big help in the post. Defense makes a big impact on the game.”
Early in the third quarter, Mazur fed Maggie Whitmore for a layup, Whitmore fed her sister, Katie Whitmore, for a layup and Bowles set up Graff for a layup and a 32-12 lead.
Windham stemmed the tide with a long jumper from junior Tara Flanders, but Graff made a bank shot. After a Flanders free throw, Bowles sank a 3. Hoffses banked home a runner, but sophomore Ashlee Aceto made a jumper for South Portland, Leckie sank a free throw and as time expired, Aceto made another jumper for a 42-17 advantage.
The fourth period saw a large dose of Red Riots reserves who comported themselves quite nicely.
After Hoffses scored on a leaner in the lane, sophomore Olivia Cloutier sank a long jumper for the visitors and sophomore Kaleisha Towle added a pair of foul shots to make it 46-19. Junior Kayla Gorman answered with a 3 for Windham and Files added a jumper, but Cloutier set up freshman Cora Boothby-Akilo for a layup. Sophomore Hannah Talon drove for a layup and Flanders set up Hoffses for a fastbreak layup for the Eagles’ final points before a layup after a steal by Towle in the final minute brought the curtain down on South Portland’s 50-28 victory.
Graff led all scorers with 18 points and also had four steals and three assists.
Maggie Whitmore was her usual prolific self, scoring seven points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Bowles had five points, Aceto (five rebounds, two steals) and Towle added four apiece, Leckie (five boards) and Mazur had three each and Boothby-Akilo, Cloutier and Katie Whitmore finished with two apiece. Junior Bela Cloutier and freshman Maria Degifico also saw time off the bench.
“All of our players are awesome,” said Graff. “It’s the same level of talent. (The reserves) push the starters to work harder and get better.”
“My goal is to get all the girls out there and get them comfortable,” Hasson said. “We have a big week coming up, so if the starters can get some rest, great. I trust the younger kids. Kaleisha is a good help defender and gets rebounds. Ashlee is steady and was great off the bench. Both Cloutiers play good defense. The freshmen are young, but everyone else has been around. We have a strong bench.”
The Red Riots won the rebound battle, 37-34, overcame 16 turnovers and shot 8 of 10 from the free throw line.
“We’ve made vast improvement in taking care of the ball,” Hasson said. “Limiting turnovers has been a key to us getting better.”
Windham got more than half its points from Hoffses, who had 17. Files, Flanders (six rebounds, four assists) and Gorman had three points apiece and Tolan finished with two (to go with seven rebounds). Drummond didn’t score, but had five rebounds and blocked two shots.
The Eagles turned the ball over 23 times and made 2 of 4 free throws.
“A lot of credit to South Portland and the pressure they put on us,” said Artes. “We didn’t handle it well or take care of the ball well enough. We didn’t get in the paint like we usually do and we missed a lot of shots too. A combination of those two things wasn’t good for us.
“Meghan had a good game and shot the ball well. She’s a competitor for sure. They did a really good job on Hannah. Tara had a couple fouls early. It was tough to get in an offensive flow. We rely on those three to drive together out there for us to have success.
“South Portland has grown since last year. They’re a little longer than they were. More so than anyone else in the league, they have more depth. When they go to the bench, they bring in either a really good athlete, a really good basketball player or both. That’s the difference between them and other teams.”
Windham looks to bounce back Thursday at Sanford. The Eagles then stay on the road Saturday at Scarborough and Monday at Bangor.
“This was a good test for where we’re at and we’re not quite where we want to be,” Artes said. “We’ve been in every game. We’re still trying to figure some things out. I like our mix. We just have to put it together and click at the right time. Anything can happen.”
South Portland, meanwhile, will only find that the road gets tougher. The Red Riots travel to dangerous Portland Thursday, then visit Maine Girls’ Academy Saturday. The weekend of Jan. 19-20, South Portland hosts Deering and Thornton Academy. Of course, a highly anticipated showdown at Gorham also looms on Feb. 2 in Gorham.
“It’s exciting, but we’re taking it one game at a time and we won’t look past anyone,” Graff said. “Thursday will be a good test for us. I’m happy, but I don’t think we’ve played at our full potential yet. I want us to play our best come tournament time. We’re having fun.”
“Portland is the most athletic team I’ve seen in awhile,” Hasson said. “We run and they run and if we take care of the ball, it will be a fun game. MGA is tough. Player for player, they have talent. They always play good defense. That’s a tough gym. It’s always a horrible place for us.
“The kids are having fun. They’re very unselfish. Sometimes to a fault. Once we figure out how to finish in the paint, we’ll be scary.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
South Portland junior Katie Whitmore goes up for a shot as Windham junior Tara Flanders defends.
South Portland sophomore Kaleisha Towle shoots over Windham junior Kayla Gorman.
South Portland senior Eva Mazur (4) and sophomore Maggie Whitmore battle Windham junior Mikayla Baiguy for the ball.
South Portland junior Jena Leckie guards Windham junior Alanna Joyce.
South Portland sophomore Maggie Whitmore makes a layup as Windham junior Tara Flanders defends.