Bulldogs bite back, avenge loss to EL with landmark regional final win

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Portland junior Terion Moss exults during the Bulldogs’ 66-53 win over Edward Little in Friday’s Class AA North Final. Moss was named the regional tournament’s most outstanding player as he helped Portland set up a rematch with South Portland in the state final next weekend.

Daryn Slover / Sun Journal photos.

More photos below.

AUGUSTA—Portland’s boys’ basketball team lost two games in the regular season.

Friday evening, in the regional final, the Bulldogs avenged one of them.

Next Saturday, Portland has an opportunity to avenge the other.

In yet another state final appearance.

In Friday’s Class AA North Final at the Augusta Civic Center, the top-ranked Bulldogs squared off against one-beaten, second-ranked Edward Little and for a half, the talented squads put on a dazzling show with almost no separation.

Then, in the second half, Portland flipped a switch and the Bulldogs came out and played like the champions they are and hope to soon be again.

The Red Eddies were red-hot to start the contest, as six quick points from senior Samatar Iman spelled a 13-7 lead, but late in the first quarter, Portland got a 3-pointer from junior standout Griffin Foley and a pair of 3s from a secret weapon, sophomore Simon Chadbourne, to grab a 16-13 lead after eight minutes.

The Bulldogs eventually capped an 11-0 run with a Foley layup, but Edward Little roared right back with eight straight points before Portland regrouped and clung to a 24-23 advantage at halftime.

Bulldogs senior Charlie Lyall began to assert himself in the second half and junior star Terion Moss, who had a quiet first half, heated up as well.

Portland led by just five points, 34-29, before closing the third quarter on an 8-2 run, highlighted two more Chadbourne 3-pointers, to make it an 11-point contest heading for the fourth quarter.

There, the Bulldogs’ defense slammed the door, never letting the Red Eddies draw closer than eight, and Portland pulled away to prevail, 66-53.

The Bulldogs got 14 points from Foley, 12 from Chadbourne and 11 from Lyall as they improved to 18-2, ended Edward Little’s fine season at 18-2, gave longtime coach Joe Russo his 400th victory with the program and advanced to the state game for the fourth year in a row where they’ll face South Portland (17-3) in a delicious rematch of last year’s epic in the Class AA Final Saturday, March 4 at 9:30 p.m., at the Augusta Civic Center.

“I told the kids to have pride in themselves for being in the regional final again,” said Russo. “It was a good team effort. All the guys stepped up tonight. It’s good to have depth. We bent a few times, but we didn’t break.”

Longtime foes

Portland won eight of its 10 previous playoff meetings against Edward Little, dating back to a 27-14 victory in the 1924 first round (see sidebar, below, for previous results).

Last year, in the AA North semifinals, the Bulldogs rolled to a 70-43 win, behind 18 points from Moss. Portland went on to win the inaugural Class AA state championship game, edging South Portland in a double-overtime epic, and the Bulldogs have been pretty impressive in 2016-17 as well.

Portland lost early at Edward Little, then won 11 straight before a late season home loss to South Portland. The Bulldogs’ 16-2 mark gave them the top seed in the region again and a bye into the semifinal round where Tuesday, they easily handled No. 5 Oxford Hills, 56-36.

Edward Little appeared to have the inside track on the top seed in the region when it won its first 13 games, but a setback at Windham derailed that quest and the Red Eddies wound up second in AA North. Tuesday, in its semifinal, Edward Little avenged its loss, eliminating No. 6 Windham, 55-44.

Back on Dec. 22, the Red Eddies held off the visiting Bulldogs, 76-70, in the teams’ lone regular season encounter. Junior Darby Shea led Edward Little with 25 points, while Moss paced Portland with 18 points.

In the rematch Friday, the Bulldogs got the job done as the Golden Era of Portland basketball continued.

Two free throws from senior Clay Hardy gave the Bulldogs the jump 25 seconds in, but senior Iman hit a free throw and senior Jarod Norcross Plourde, on a feed from senior CJ Jipson, made a layup for Edward Little’s first lead.

With 5:38 left in the frame, Bulldogs sophomore Pedro Fonseca drained a 3 from the corner, but the next seven points would go to the Red Eddies.

A 3 from Jipson put Edward Little ahead, Shea drove for a layup and with 2:46 to go, Iman’s leaner off the glass extended the lead to 10-5, forcing Russo to call timeout.

Out of the break, Lyall set up Foley for a layup, but Iman sank a 3 from up top.

Portland then roared back behind 3s from Foley and Chadbourne to tie the game. 

As time expired in the first quarter, Chadbourne made an even more impressive shot, taking a pass from Fonseca and knocking down a 3 from beyond the NBA 3-point range for a 16-13 advantage after eight very entertaining minutes.

The Bulldogs extended their run to 11-0 26 seconds in the second period, as junior Manny Yugu fed Foley for a layup, but Iman brought the Red Eddies back with a leaner and a 3 to make it 18-18 with 5:45 to play in the first half.

Another 3, this one from Darby, gave Edward Little the lead back, but Fonseca quickly countered with a 3-ball to end the Red Eddies’ 8-0 run and with 3:50 to go before halftime, Moss drove for a layup for his first points and the lead. 

Foley added a free throw, but a pair of foul shots from Norcross Plourde made it 24-23 Portland at halftime.

In the first half, Foley led the Bulldogs with eight points, while Chadbourne and Fonseca had six apiece. Iman led all scorers with 11.

In the third period, Portland started to pull away.

Just 16 seconds in to the second half, Lyall made a free throw. The next time down Lyall scored on a putback and with 6:05 left in the half, Moss converted an old-fashioned three-point play (driving layup, foul and free throw) to extend the Bulldogs’ advantage to 30-23.

After Jipson fed Norcross Plourde for a layup off an inbounds set, Hardy put back a missed shot. 

Edward Little sophomore Wol Maiwen soared for a layup, but with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter, Lyall got a leaner to bounce in for a 34-27 advantage.

Maiwen got two points back with a layup before Lyall missed two free throws, but he got the offensive rebound on the second miss and Moss went on to score on a drive to make it 36-29.

Then, with 2:16 left in the frame, Chadbourne came through again with a long 3 to stretch the lead to 10.

“I knew I’d get some minutes and I thought if I got open, I had to hit my shots,” Chadbourne said. “I was trying not to think about it. Just do what I do in practice. When I hit the first one, that always helps me throughout the game.”

“We knew Simon can shoot lights out,” Lyall said. “He shoots 300 shots or more a day for opportunities like this.”

“I see Simon every day and I know he can shoot,” Russo added. “I tell him that shooting is just part of the game. You also have to rebound and play defense. If teams play us zone, I put him in. His teammates found him and he didn’t miss.” 

After Norcross Plourde scored on a putback, Simon said, “Biggest Lead Yet” and canned a corner 3 to make it 42-31, which is how it remained going to the fourth quarter.

Where the Bulldogs salted away their fourth straight regional title.

A 3 from Iman gave the Red Eddies a little life to start the final stanza, but Foley countered with a leaner.

After Maiwen drove for a layup, Moss drew contact and somehow hit the shot while getting the foul called before completing the three-point play with a free throw.

After a Hardy steal, Moss fed Hardy for a layup.

“Coach told me to keep my head and don’t reach and it worked out fine,” Hardy said. “Everyone has a role. I know I’m a good defensive player and I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game tonight.”

After a Lyall block, Foley soared for a layup and a 51-36 advantage with 5:55 remaining.

Norcross Plourde got two points back with a layup, but Foley set up Lyall for a layup.

Norcross Plourde made two free throws and Maiwen made one, but Hardy countered with a foul shot and Yugu did same before Lyall scored on a putback with 3:25 left to extend the lead to 57-41.

After Shea scored on a leaner, Yugu made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw for the three-point with 3:09 to go, making it 60-43.

Iman canned a 3, but Lyall countered with a putback.

After Iman made a pair of free throws, Foley answered with a runner.

With 1:34 remaining, Iman made two foul shots and at that point, both coaches pulled their starters.

Down the stretch, Edward Little freshman Austin Brown drained a long 3 for his team’s final points and with 32.7 seconds to go, junior Quinn Clarke’s two free throws brought the curtain down on Portland’s 66-53 victory.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” Chadbourne said. “It’s exciting. It was nice getting revenge. We came out ready. We came out in the second half with energy and got some steals.”

“We keyed in on defense,” Hardy said. “Both games we lost this year, the game was high scoring. We know if we keep a team below or around 50 we should win.”

“There was a little redemption to it, but we just wanted to play our game,” Lyall said. “At the beginning of the season, we weren’t the team we are now and we feel like we didn’t execute last time. Coming into this game, we were ready. Last time, I don’t think we were. We played good defense. We held a team that scores a lot of points to 23 first half points. In the second half, we executed and did what we wanted to do.”

“We put together what we thought was a clear game plan,” Russo added. “We knew they had four quality players and some great role players. They came out and did what they do well. In the second half, we played solid defense and we rebounded. That was the difference. We tried to get the ball into Charlie and that left Simon open and he knocked down shots. 

“The biggest thing we learned from last game was the shooting range of Darby Shea. He killed us last time. Our goal tonight was to make sure he scored under 10 points. He had 25 last time. Samatar makes them run. He’s their emotional leader. We took Terion off their point guard and had him play behind Samatar and if he got past Manny or Pedro, he’d have to go through Terion too. Plourde is a tremendous athlete. We feel Clay is also a tremendous athlete. They mirror each other. They battled under the basket all night long.”

The Bulldogs, typically, had several key contributors. 

Foley led the team in points with 14 and also had four assists. Chadbourne made four shots, all of them from 3-point land, and finished with a dozen points. Lyall had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds. Moss finished with nine points, Hardy had eight (as well as five steals), Fonseca added six (and six rebounds), Yugu four and Clarke two.

Portland enjoyed a 25-20 rebounding advantage and overcame 16 turnovers and 11 of 24 foul shooting.

Russo, now in his 27th year coaching his alma mater, improved to 400-146 in his tenure, but after the game, he downplayed the milestone.

“If you stay in the job long enough, the wins add up,” Russo said. “It’s nice, but I’m fortunate to be around kids who want to play and are coachable. They worked hard and listened to me all year. I can be hard on them, but hopefully, they know I love them.”

Edward Little was led by 21 points from Iman. Norcross Plourde had 12 points (as well as six rebounds and two blocked shots), Maiwen and Shea seven apiece and Brown and Jipson three each.

The Red Eddies were 8 of 15 from the free throw line and turned the ball over 18 times.

“Our boys battled,” said Edward Little coach Mike Adams. “They executed our game plan. We defended well enough to win most games, but Portland is really, really good and we just didn’t do some things we needed to do.”

Time to repeat

Portland has never won consecutive state championships (although the Bulldogs did go back-to-back in 1942 and 1943 with the latter team being named champion as no tournament was held due to World War II). 

Saturday, Portland will get a chance to not only repeat as Class AA champion, but it could win three Gold Balls in four seasons.

The Bulldogs and Red Riots are well acquainted, not just producing a state game for the ages last year (Portland won, 52-50, in double OT), but also playing two close games this winter, with each squad winning on the road (the Bulldogs, 61-54, in South Portland, and the Red Riots, 74-69, in Portland).

South Portland holds a 15-14 all-time postseason edge. The teams first met in the playoffs way back in 1923.

Expect Saturday’s contest to be another thriller.

“We want to win states,” Chadbourne said. “We have to play good defense and start fast.”

“It’s going to be a tough matchup,” Hardy said. “It’ll probably come down to the wire. We have to play defense and execute our offense.”

“It’s a big deal to win four consecutive regional titles, but this isn’t the one we really want. We want next week,” Lyall said. “I’m hoping it’s not double overtime again. I’m not sure if my heart could handle that. I’m excited for a rematch. It’s always fun to play that crosstown rivalry. I’m a little bummed we’re playing in Augusta. We won’t have the same fan turnout we’d have in Portland. Anything can happen.” 

“I take a lot from that last game (we lost to South Portland),” Russo added. “I put a lot of that on my shoulders. I have a game plan in mind. I’m looking forward to it. I hope the place is packed. SP is a great team. Basketball fans couldn’t ask for a better matchup. We’ll do the best we can. I’m already excited.”

Sun Journal staff writer Randy Whitehouse contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Edward Little senior Samatar Iman is defended by Portland junior Manny Yugu (12) and senior Charlie Lyall.

Edward Little senior Samatar Iman passes the ball over Portland sophomore Pedro Fonseca.

Portland senior Charlie Lyall shows off the regional championship plaque following the win.

Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

Previous Portland stories

Season Preview

Portland 61 South Portland 54

Portland 63 Deering 44

Portland 68 Thornton Academy 64

Portland 67 Deering 47

South Portland 74 Portland 69

Portland 67 Cheverus 44

Previous Portland-Edward Little playoff results

2016 Class AA North semifinal
Portland 70 EL 43

2003 Western A semifinal
EL 65 Portland 60 

2000 Western A quarterfinal
Portland 46 EL 38 

1988 Western A semifinal 
Portland 62 EL 55 

1946 semifinal
EL 33 Portland 27

1935 first round
Portland 47 EL 30

1928 first round
Portland 31 EL 22

1927 first round
Portland 27 EL 16

1926 second round
Portland 26 EL 18

1924 first round
Portland 27 EL 14 

 

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.