PORTLAND—The debut season of the Deering/Portland Unified basketball team has been nothing short of a resounding success and even though it’s a first-year program, Deering/Portland ensured that its season continued with a victory in its first-ever playoff game Friday afternoon.
Unified basketball teams athletes with developmental disabilities with non-varsity partners without developmental disabilities. At least three athletes must be on the court at all times, and the partners may score no more than 25 percent of their team’s points.
Three of the four partners (seniors Gianna Gaudet, Erick Molina-Garcia and Isabel Stehli) are Portland High students, while sophomore Joe Pelletier goes to Deering. All of the athletes attend Deering.
After 17 teams competed in the first year of Maine Principals’ Association-sanctioned play last winter, 32 squads representing 34 schools are playing this year and Deering/Portland is one of the new squads.
Hosting Brunswick in a South Region first round tilt, Deering/Portland, building on a 4-4 regular season, led from start to finish.
Deering/Portland, ranked third, scored the game’s first six points, or more to the point, freshman Christian “The Man” Perez did so, to give his team the jump.
After the Dragons got on the board, senior Matthew “Maverick” Mikklesen added consecutive hoops for a 10-2 lead.
Brunswick, the No. 14 seed, three times drew within four points in the opening stanza, but a layup from freshman Nate Hall, who wears number 33 and is appropriately nicknamed, “Larry Bird,” made a late layup for a 16-10 advantage after eight minutes.
Baskets from Perez, Mikklesen and sophomore Joe “Ice” Pelletier opened up a 22-14 lead and after the Dragons answered with a basket, Hall made consecutive layups for a 10-point edge. After a Brunswick hoop, a layup from junior Jimmy “Defense” Dang made it 28-18 Deering/Portland at halftime.
Deering/Portland never let the Dragons make a serious run in the second half.
Mikklesen started the third period with consecutive layups for a 14-point advantage. Late in the quarter, after Brunswick got within eight, Perez made a layup and senior Camden “Bucket” Ryan brought the house down with a jumper for a 42-30 lead heading for the fourth period.
The Dragons scored the first hoop of the final stanza, but Mikklesen continued to impress with back-to-back baskets, freshman Samuel “The Wammy” Garcia Orellana added a layup and Dang scored another for a commanding 50-32 advantage with just 5:03 to play.
Brunswick never got closer than 14 points the rest of the way and Deering/Portland closed out its 58-44 victory.
“It was business as usual,” said Adam Perron, who co-coaches Deering/Portland, along with Chris Hazelton (Miles Bisher is an assistant coach/parent liaison). “What was great for the coaches to see is the things we’ve worked on all year, like set plays, work well. We had the highest point total we’ve had this year.”
Mikklesen had a team-high 16 points, while Garcia Orellana and Perez both had a dozen. Hall also finished in double figures with 10 points. Dang added four and Ryan and junior Malakai “The Pistol” Green each finished with two.
Perron, a longtime coach at the varsity level, can’t stress how much he’s loved his experience this winter.
“I’ve coached high school sports since 1997 and this is definitely the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done,” Perron said. “You have the entire student body involved with the partners and athletes. It’s just awesome. I did some research and wanted to check it out. Luckily, this spot opened up. (Athletic director) Melanie (Craig) gave me a shot. It’s one of the best things to happen to me.”
Deering/Portland (5-4) battled No. 6 Yarmouth (6-3), one of the state’s original Unified programs, in Tuesday’s semifinals at Portland High. The teams opened the season Jan. 29 in Yarmouth, where the Clippers prevailed, 39-34.
“Yarmouth is very good,” Perron said. “They have a year under their belt, so that will be a challenge.”
If Deering/Portland managed to keep its season going, it would play in a regional semifinal round contest Thursday. The regional final is Tuesday of next week and the state game is Thursday, March 17 at Lisbon High School.
Deering/Portland junior Malakai Green drives on a Brunswick defender during Friday’s first round South Region Unified basketball playoff game. Deering/Portland prevailed, 58-44, and advanced to meet Yarmouth in the quarterfinals.
Photos courtesy Gapangwa Landry.
Deering/Portland coach Adam Perron addresses the team in a timeout.