For many of the players on South Portland High’s girls’ basketball team, this one was personal.

A year ago, the Red Riots entered the Class AA South tournament as the top seed, only to be upset in the semifinals after they went scoreless in the first quarter.

This year, again as the top seed, they weren’t going to have any of that on Tuesday.

South Portland took the lead late in the first quarter and methodically pulled away, defeating fifth-seeded Bonny Eagle, 58-35, in the Class AA South semifinals at Cross Insurance Arena.

“They’re 19-1 for a reason,” said Bonny Eagle coach Scott Regan. “They just played well, did the little things they needed to do. They hit a ton of shots at big times.”

South Portland (19-1) will play No. 2 Scarborough in the regional finals at 3:45 p.m. Friday at CIA. The Red Riots, who have won 17 in a row, defeated the Red Storm 55-36 on Dec. 18. Bonny Eagle finished 13-7, its season beginning and ending with a loss to South Portland.

Standout junior forward Maggie Whitmore led the Riots with 16 points and South Portland’s defense never allowed Bonny Eagle – which had won 11 of its previous 13 games – to get into any rhythm.

Whitmore, who scored 10 of her points in the first quarter, said last year’s loss – especially the start when the Riots missed their first 11 shots – was a factor.

“Many of us took it personal,” she said. “I mean, we didn’t score a point in the first quarter last year so really getting a better start would help us. And I think we’re a little more confident this year because people step up when they need to. It’s not just one or two people, it’s everybody. And everybody plays a role.

“So I think everybody, in the back of their mind, knew we had some things to prove today.”

Whitmore took care of the first basket quickly, hitting a 3-pointer nine seconds into the game. But Bonny Eagle led 6-5 on a basket by Samantha Averill (15 points) before Bella Cloutier hit a 3-pointer to give the Riots the lead for good.

With South Portland ahead 20-13 in the second, the Riots went on a 12-2 run to take control. Kaleisha Towle (12 points) scored four points in the run while Jena Leckie (11 points) and Cloutier (eight) each hit a 3-pointer.

A 16-3 run in the third quarter expanded the South Portland lead to 48-26. South Portland’s defense was exceptional, eliminating any inside chances by the Scots and pressuring Bonny Eagle into 21 turnovers.

“I think that’s the difference this year,” said South Portland coach Lynne Hasson. “There’s no panic at any time.

“I think the kids are mentally tough. They have a steely determination.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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