Portland caps late season surge with win over Deering
PORTLAND — Officially, it was Senior Night for the Portland Bulldogs boys’ basketball team.
Unofficially, it was junior Mike Herrick Night.
Herrick’s game-high 25 points sparked the Bulldogs to a 52-39 win over Deering Thursday night in the regular-season finale for both teams at the Portland Expo.
A mere 13 days earlier, Deering routed the Bulldogs 65-42 on the Rams’ home court. That loss remained fresh in the minds of the Portland players.
“It was really motivating for us because we never like losing to Deering, them being our city rival,” said Herrick, who made four 3-pointers in the second quarter to turn an 8-8 tie after the first quarter into a 23-12 Bulldogs advantage at halftime.
Herrick scored 17 straight Portland points during an eight-minute stretch spanning the second and third quarters. Portland’s lead grew from 11-10 to 28-21 during that stretch and that was even with a 9-0 Deering run sprinkled in as Herrick was on the bench for 1:39 early in the third after he picked up a flagrant foul. Deering closed to within four at 25-21 on a layup by senior Jamie Ross, but Herrick reentered seconds later and converted a three-point play to halt the run.
The Rams were again within four at the end of the third quarter, as a 3 by junior Nick DiBiase in the final seconds made it 34-30, but Portland began the fourth with a 14-2 run to put the game away.
It was the fifth straight win for the Bulldogs, who lost to Cheverus by 27 a day after the 23-point loss to Deering, but haven’t lost since. Portland, which entered the game in seventh place in the Western Maine Class A Heal Point Standings, improved to 11-7 and could move up to fifth or sixth in the final accounting (the final Heals are due Sunday).
“This team has come so far. So far,” said Herrick. “At the beginning of the season, we were going to be lucky to win six or seven games. Now we end the regular season and we’re 11-7. We stepped up. A lot of the underclassmen stepped up. They matured quickly.”
The tournament quarterfinals kick off next Friday at the Portland Expo.
Deering (10-8) also must wait to learn its tournament seeding and opponent. The Rams were fifth entering the game, but will slide (possibly to seventh) after the loss. They’re just 1-4 since beating Portland on Jan. 28.
“The nice thing about coaching our team is that in 15 minutes, they’ve already forgotten about it,” said Deering coach Dan LeGage. “It’s everybody else that stews about it. It’s not the kids. They’re over it. My message to them is that we need to win one game to accomplish the goal of getting to the Civic Center. Once you get down there, it’s a whole different ball game.”
In the first meeting between Portland and Deering, the Rams used a huge second quarter to open up a 20-point lead at halftime. The Bulldogs were determined not to let that happen again.
“It was actually just a couple simple things,” said Portland coach Joe Russo. “Last game, Deering beat us down the court almost every play, and they dominated the boards, so we worked on getting back on defense and checking out. We just wanted to slow them down.”
Portland held Deering junior Jon Amabile to eight points (six of those coming in the first quarter and all eight before halftime) and sophomore Labson Abwoch to six. The two combined for 46 points in the first game as Amabile led the transition attack and Abwoch feasted on putbacks.
Herrick, who managed just 10 in the first game, had 14 at the half in this one.
“We let their best player get wide open and that got them rolling, which was the difference from the last time we played them,” LeGage said. “It’s pretty simple. We didn’t cover him as well as we did last time. He got wide-open shots and was knocking them down.”
A 3 by Portland senior Dylan Goodman made it 11-10 in favor of the Bulldogs in the second quarter and began a 3-point onslaught for Portland. Herrick followed with four in a row from beyond the arc as Portland outscored Deering 15-4 in the period.
Herrick scored to start the third and pushed the Portland lead to 25-12, but was whistled for a flagrant foul away from the ball on Portland’s next possession. Russo took Herrick out and Deering began its run. Senior Jackson Frey made the two free throws following the foul and then hit a 3 on the ensuing possession. Back-to-back Portland turnovers led to an Abwoch dunk and a Ross layup to get Deering within four at 25-21, but Herrick reentered and put a stop to the Deering momentum. Sophomore Nate Smart followed Herrick’s three-point play with one of his own to push the lead back to 10.
Herrick and Smart both scored six points in the fourth quarter and sophomore Nick Volger made all four of his free throws as Portland opened up a 48-32 lead with a strong start to the final quarter.
Smart finished with 10 points, all coming in the second half. Volger and junior Pete Donato each chipped in four for the Bulldogs.
Frey added seven for Deering, while Eddie Flaherty came off the bench to contribute five.