This time, the South Portland High boys’ basketball team finished the quest.

With contributions from many players, the Red Riots won the Class AA state championship on Saturday, beating Oxford Hills, 58-44, at Cross Insurance Arena. It was the first title for South Portland since 1992 and the first for Coach Kevin Millington, whose teams had come up short twice in the championship game (2016, 2017) and twice in the regional final (2018, 2020) in the five previous seasons of Class AA basketball.

“It feels great. I’ve lived here all my life and seen teams make it and not capitalize,” said senior Owen Maloney, who scored 15 points and was on the 2020 team. “It’s just a dream come true. Living in South Portland, going to the games, I remember sitting way up in the top of the stands and knowing that I wanted to be out there one day and bringing the Gold Ball home.”

South Portland (21-1) won its 12th large-school title. Oxford Hills (18-4) was attempting to win its first.

“For me personally, it’s more about South Portland and the community,” Millington said. “I’m from there. I was a little kid when Brett Brown was playing. He lived down the street from me and I fell in love with that 1979-80 team. I’ve loved basketball ever since. The little kid in me is excited.”

Leading by four at the half, the Red Riots gradually pulled away. The win was capped by consecutive breakaway dunks from 6-foot-11 center JP Estrella, who finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.

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“A ton of guys played well. Everyone has been stepping up this whole entire tournament, which is nice for us,” Estrella said.

Maloney had a nearly perfect shooting night, making 5 of 6 from the floor all three of his free throws. Jayden Kim scored 10 points off the bench.

“Coming into this game, we knew it was going to be a dogfight and every man had to show up for us to win,” Kim said.

Joey Hanlon, an unsung defense-first player, added four points, tenacious defense and two key free throws after Oxford Hills had trimmed a 13-point lead to eight with just under two minutes to play. Point guard Jaelen Jackson scored six points.

“When we’re playing as a team and we play good defense, I don’t think there’s a team better, honestly,” Hanlon said. “I’m not the greatest player out there, but I give it my heart.”

Oxford Hills sophomore Teigan Pelletier scored 18 points. Cole Pulkkinen added 11, nine coming in the fourth quarter. But overall, with Estrella commanding the paint and South Portland’s perimeter players contesting every inch of hardwood in the half court, the Vikings had difficulty scoring, particularly in the third quarter when they made one basket.

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“I was concerned about our ability to score, and in the third quarter that’s what happened,” said Oxford Hills Coach Scott Graffam. “We just couldn’t buy one and that’s a good team. They played well.”

South Portland held a 27-23 lead at the half. In the early part of the second quarter, Maloney heated up with two 3-pointers to sandwich his own steal and layup for a personal eight-point spree that gave the Red Riots a 19-10 lead.

Pelletier responded with 10 points of his own – including three free throws after Maloney was called for a foul while contesting a 3-pointer. Maloney sat down with his second personal foul.

Estrella was held in check in the first half with four points. After making his first shot on a smooth hook from about 6 feet, he had just one more basket. But at the defensive end, he had three blocked shots and eight rebounds.

“Second quarter, it wasn’t falling for me at all, really, and I just went into the third quarter (thinking) even if I don’t score, it’s fine. Just winning mentality right now,” Estrella said. “And we did. My shot started to fall in the third and fourth. Had two dunks, back-to-back, which was awesome, man. I dealt with it well, I thought. My teammates were doing a great job.”

South Portland opened the second half by scoring the first seven points – four from Estrella and three from Jackson, and led 40-29 after three quarters. Oxford Hills got the lead under 10 on multiple occasions in the fourth quarter, but South Portland always answered, including making 10 of 12 free throws in the final eight minutes and 19 of 23 overall.


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