Gorham girls fight off Portland's upset bid

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Gorham senior Mackenzie Holmes drives past Portland senior Jill Joyce for two of her game-high 25 points during the Rams’ 49-43 victory Saturday morning.

Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Gorham 49 Portland 43

G- 11 15 9 14- 49
P- 11 6 6 20- 43

G- Holmes 9-6-25, Brent 3-2-9, Nadeau 2-3-7, S. Michaud 1-2-4, Fotter 0-2-2, Nelson 0-2-2

P- A. Kabantu 7-3-18, Eubanks 5-1-11, D. Kabantu 3-2-8, Yugu 2-0-5, Stacey 0-1-1

3-pointers:
G (2) Brent, Holmes 1
P (2) A. Kabantu, Yugu 1

Turnovers:
G- 22
P- 7

Free throws
G: 17-24
P: 7-13

PORTLAND—Last winter, Portland’s girls’ basketball team went to Gorham and upset the then-two-time defending Class AA state champion Rams.

Saturday morning at the Portland Exposition Building, the Bulldogs hoped to do it again and held Gorham senior standout Mackenzie Holmes to below her season scoring average, but despite a valiant effort and a late comeback, Portland fell short.

The Rams took a quick 9-3 lead, but the Bulldogs turned up their defensive pressure and behind junior Davina Kabantu and sophomore Amanda Kabantu, went on an 8-0 run to go on top before a Holmes basket tied the score, 11-11, after one period.

In the second quarter, Holmes got untracked offensively and her late 3-pointer gave Gorham a 26-17 advantage at halftime.

Portland drew within seven in the third period on a fastbreak layup from junior Kiera Eubanks, but two Holmes free throws, another from sophomore Adele Nadeau and a Holmes layup made it 35-23 heading for the fourth quarter.

There, Holmes made a reverse layup with 4:50 remaining for a 14-point lead, but the Bulldogs refused to quit and got as close as five points on an Amanda Kabantu layup with 45.7 seconds on the clock before the Rams held on to prevail, 49-43.

Holmes had 25 points, 17 rebounds and blocked five shots and Gorham also got key contributions from Nadeau and senior Courtney Brent as it improved to 5-1 on the year, dropping Portland to 4-3 in the process.

“It was a great game,” said Bulldogs coach Gerry Corcoran. “Our will to win and our fight is never questioned. We just have to get a little bit better and make a couple more plays.” 

Big stage showdown

Both teams expect to be in the thick of the Class AA title hunt all winter.

Gorham, the defending AA South champion, which dropped a one-point heartbreaker to Edward Little in last year’s state game, started the year by downing visiting Massabesic, 82-55, host Noble, 69-46 and host Deering (49-35) before losing at home to Scarborough (50-36). Thursday, the Rams got back on track with a 57-26 home victory over Sanford.

“We needed that loss to Scarborough for us to come out even stronger in games that will be tough,” Brent said. “That loss helped us.”

Portland started with a 48-29 home victory over Thornton Academy and after falling at Windham (55-46) and at home to Oxford Hills (40-38), the Bulldogs downed host Massabesic (39-33), visiting Bangor (54-52, in overtime) and visiting Deering (39-37, in overtime).

Last year, the Bulldogs went to Gorham and shocked the host Rams, 43-41.

Saturday, Gorham returned the favor, but Portland made the Rams work for it.

A floater from Nadeau opened the scoring. Portland got on the board on a free throw from Eubanks, but Holmes scored her first points on a left-handed putback to make it 4-1.

After Eubanks hit a jump shot, Nadeau made two free throws and Brent got a 3-pointer to rattle in for a 9-3 Rams’ advantage.

Back roared the Bulldogs with eight straight points to take the lead.

First, Davina Kabantu scored on a putback. Amanda Kabantu then stole the ball and made a layup. After another steal by Amanda Kabantu, she set up Davina Kabantu for the tying layup and with 2:31 left in the first, after another steal, Amanda Kabantu’s layup put Portland on top.

Holmes ended the run with a driving bank shot and the teams were tied, 11-11, after one quarter.

The Bulldogs’ fouls started adding up in the second period and Gorham opened up a lead.

Brent set up freshman Sophia Michaud for a layup to start the frame, but Amanda Kabantu drove past Holmes for a layup to tie the score, 13-13.

With 5:02 left in the half, two free throws from Michaud gave the Rams the lead for good.

Holmes then scored on a left-handed putback while being fouled and completed the old-fashioned three-point play with a free throw, then Holmes got two offensive rebounds and finished the second for a 20-13 lead with 3:48 to go before halftime.

Portland responded as Eubanks sank a jumper and after a steal from sophomore Mia Kelly, Amanda Kabantu made a layup to pull the hosts within three.

Gorham then got the final six points of the half, as Holmes made a free throw, sophomore Lauren Fotter sank two foul shots and Holmes stepped out and sank a contested 3-pointer while being fouled (she missed the subsequent free throw) to put Gorham up, 26-17, at halftime.

In the first half, Holmes had 13 points, 12 rebounds and a pair of blocks, but 12 Rams’ turnovers kept the Bulldogs, who got eight points, four rebounds and two steals from Amanda Kabantu, within hailing distance.

The first basket of the second half was a pretty sequence where Nadeau passed to Brent for a layup.

After Portland freshman Elizabeth Yugu countered with a long jumper, a Nadeau putback made it 30-19.

The hosts got a pair of free throws from Amanda Kabantu and Davina Kabantu set up Eubanks for a fastbreak layup to cut the deficit to seven.

Out of a timeout, Gorham responded, as Holmes made two free throws and after Amanda Kabantu picked up her fourth foul, Holmes hit another foul shot and Holmes drove for a layup just before the horn for a 35-23 lead heading to the fourth period.

There, the Rams held on.

Brent opened the frame with a long jumper, but Davina Kabantu answered with a driving layup.

Brent then set up Holmes for a layup and after Amanda Kabantu countered with a jumper, Holmes drove and finished a reverse layup with her left hand, an incredibly athletic play, for a 41-27 lead with 4:50 to go.

Nineteen seconds later, Amanda Kabantu sparked a rally as she hit a 3 while being fouled before adding the free throw for the rarely-seen four-point play.

After Holmes got a point back at the line, Eubanks made a layup, then Eubanks took a pass from Davina Kabantu and made a layup with 2:36 on the clock to cut the deficit to 42-35.

Fifteen seconds later, Holmes wrested momentum back by driving, hitting a short bank shot while being fouled and making the and-one free throw to stretch the lead back to 10.

Yugu countered with a 3, then Yugu got fouled and had a chance to bring the Bulldogs closer, but she missed both attempts and Brent got the rebound.

With 1:26 remaining, Brent was fouled and she calmly sank both attempts to make it 47-38.

“I think it’s all a mental game,” Brent said. “I’ve struggled with it a little bit in the past. I’ve learned the mentality of big games like this.”

Davina Kabantu countered with two free throws and after a steal by senior Grace Stacey, Amanda Kabantu’s layup pulled Portland within just five, 47-42.

Gorham refused to buckle, however, as it got a stop and with 33.9 seconds remaining, Nelson’s two free throws effectively iced it.

Stacey added a late free throw to account for the 49-43 final score.

“We knew Portland was athletic and we had to come out strong,” Brent said. “We just had to work hard all game.”

“(Portland’s) athletic and we tried to keep them out of the paint and off the backboard,” said Berthiaume. “We did a good job at times and they did a good job at times. If we can limit our turnovers and get the ball where we need to get it, we’ll be effective. When we don’t, like we did at times today, we struggle a bit.”

Holmes, who entered averaging 32 points a game, “only” managed 25 while being closely defended by Amanda Kabantu and senior Jill Joyce. Holmes also had 17 rebounds and five blocked shots and was on the court every single second of the game.

“It really is amazing playing with Mackenzie,” Brent said. “‘Kenzie’ scoring 25 is still huge for us. I wouldn’t say she had an off-game. The bar is set high for her, but she meets it every game.” 

“Mackenzie does a lot of little things and she’s so great that sometimes in a game like this, it doesn’t seem great (for her), but it would be great for anyone else,” Berthiaume said. “The other thing is she didn’t come off the floor today. I felt like even if she was a little bit out of gas, we were better with her on the floor instead of taking her out.”

“We asked a potential point guard to use her athleticism to defend (Holmes) and we had Jill watch her and body her,” Corcoran said. “We made her work for her points and she was under her average. Mackenzie can score inside and outside. To the credit of the other girls, they made some big shots at the end.”

Brent, a veteran of many big games during her time in a Gorham uniform, added nine points and five rebounds. Nadeau had seven points and five rebounds, Michaud finished with four and Fotter and Nelson had two apiece.

The Rams outrebounded the Bulldogs, 39-34, made 17 of 24 free throws and overcame 22 turnovers.

Gorham is playing without injured guards Olivia Michaud and Brittany Desjardin, but has managed to persevere.

“‘Liv’ and ‘Brit’ are huge for our team, so it’s hard, but the younger kids are coming up huge for us,” Brent said. “They’re bringing in energy off the bench. We’re figuring it out fitting into new roles, but do want them back.”

“Our starting backcourt is out, but I’m pleased with the kids who are playing,” Berthiaume said. “It gives us an opportunity to strengthen our bench. Hopefully when those kids come back healthy, they’ll be ready go and we’ll have a stronger team because of it.”

Portland was paced by Amanda Kabantu’s 18 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

Eubanks finished with 11 points.

“We need someone to be in the catch and shoot position and I think Kiera is the one,” said Corcoran.

Davina Kabantu had eight points (to go with eight boards, three assists and three steals), Yugu five and Stacey one (to go with four rebounds and three steals). 

The Bulldogs took good care of the ball, only turning it over seven times. They finished 7 of 13 from the foul line.

“We’re very young and we’re asking younger girls to make a difference who are sometimes ready for this level and sometimes they aren’t,” Corcoran said. “We missed some easy shots. In this game like today’s, you can’t give those away. We’ll miss shots, but we’ll keep shooting because odds are they’ll eventually fall.” 

Onwards and upwards

Gorham opens the 2019 portion of its schedule next Saturday when defending Class A champion Greely pays a visit.

“We just have to work on little things like ball pressure,” Brent said. “We’ll stay close as a team. We have great team chemistry.”

“Greely’s been one of the best teams around for years, so it should be exciting to watch,” said Berthiaume. “Two clashing styles. It should be fun. 

“We’re still a work in progress, as most teams are, but I like the direction we’re going.”

Portland, meanwhile, travels to defending Class AA champion Edward Little Friday.

“For what we are, light bench, very young, this is a fun team,” Corcoran said. “We’re going to be that team no one wants to play. We’re climbing.”

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

Portland junior Kiera Eubanks shoots over Gorham freshman Sophia Michaud.

Portland freshman Elizabeth Yugu goes to the court in an attempt to make a steal.

Gorham senior Mackenzie Holmes, sandwiched by Portland junior Jill Joyce, left, and junior Kiera Eubanks, watches the ball.

Portland sophomore Amanda Kabantu, left, and junior Kiera Eubanks try to the steal the ball.

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