Local teams eyeing Gold Ball-Portland edition

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Deering’s Nicsoni Bushiri goes up over Portland’s Pedro Fonseca (5) and Terion Moss for a basket during the rivals’ regular season-ending showdown last week. The Bulldogs prevailed, 83-62.

Waynflete’s Lydia Giguere drives for a clinching layup during the Flyers’ 54-43 home win over rival North Yarmouth Academy last week. 

(Ed. Note: For the complete Deering-Portland and Portland-South Portland boys’ basketball and Deering-Portland, Portland-South Portland and Waynflete-North Yarmouth Academy girls’ basketball game stories, with box score and photos, see theforecaster.net)

While Portland’s two-time defending Class AA boys’ basketball state champion is once again the top seed, the Bulldogs aren’t alone among teams primed to make a run at a title this winter.

Every squad from the city of Portland qualified for the tournament and there will be no shortage of compelling story lines over the next couple weeks.

Favorites once more

The Portland boys are in the midst of the program’s golden age. The Bulldogs have won four straight regional titles and the past two Class AA crowns.

This winter, Portland excelled again, capping a 17-1 regular season with victories at rivals South Portland (74-62) and Deering (83-62). 

Against the Red Riots, Terion Moss had a game-high 26 points and Simon Chadbourne tied the program record with seven 3-pointers and 23 points as the Bulldogs consistently fended off South Portland’s comeback bid.

“Coach (Joe Russo) put me in the game and I hoped that they’d give me the ball so I can hit my shots,” said Chadbourne. “I try to keep shooting because that’s what they tell me to do.”

“It’s fun playing (South Portland), they’re a good program,” Russo said. “They give us a challenge. Fortunately for us, we’ve gotten the upper hand. That could change, but we don’t want it to.”

In the win over the Rams, the Bulldogs went on a 17-1 run in the fourth quarter to break it open. Moss led the way with 22 points, Griffin Foley had 18, Chadbourne and Trey Bellew each added 12 and Manny Yugu finished with 10.

 “We came out in the second half and talked more,” Moss said. “We came out (in the fourth quarter) and spread the floor, penetrated and got open shots.”

“We knew they’d come out and play hard,” Yugu said. “We kicked it into gear in the second half. We responded by trying to out-hustle them.”

 “(Deering) kept battling back, they played terrific,” Russo added. “We got caught up taking quick shots, then we got back to team-first (play), we made the extra pass, then we went on a roll.” 

Portland finished 17-1 and earned the top seed in Class AA North (the Bulldogs have finished first in their region five straight years). 

Portland hosts No. 8 Lewiston (2-16) in the quarterfinals Wednesday (this year, the Class AA playoffs feature the quarterfinal round being contested on home courts of the higher seeds). The Bulldogs downed the host Blue Devils, 80-48, back on Jan. 15. The teams last met in the playoffs way back in the 1970 Class LL West quarterfinals (a 73-60 Portland victory). Portland holds a 5-3 all-time edge in a series which dates all the way back to 1928.

“We started the year with some goals,” Russo said. “None of them really had to do with our record, more how we performed as a team and being competitive and improving individually. Now it’s one-and-done and if we can put our pieces together, we can take care of business. It won’t be an easy road this year, especially in the North division. We have to focus and play our best basketball if we want to continue to win.”

See theforecaster.net for game story.

Deering and Cheverus will have to win on the road in the quarterfinal round.

The Rams finished the regular season 8-10 following a 62-60 home win over Cheverus and an 83-62 home loss to Portland. In the victory, Ben Onek went off for 27 points, while Blaize Vail added 13 and Darryl Germain scored 12. Against the Bulldogs, Nicsoni Bushiri had a breakout game with 18 points, including a 3-pointer from midcourt at the third quarter buzzer which cut the deficit to four, but Deering ran out of gas in the fourth period and fell short. Onek had a team-high 20 points.

“I think the fans got what they were looking for tonight, a competitive back-and-forth game,” Rams coach Todd Wing said. “The score certainly doesn’t indicate that, but that’s a tribute to the explosiveness of Portland. Tonight, we played in a different gear.”  

Deering earned the No. 6 seed in Class AA North and visits No. 3 Oxford Hills (12-6) in the quarterfinal round Wednesday. On Jan. 5, the Rams dropped a close 40-37 decision in Oxford. Deering ousted the Vikings from the 2016 Class AA North semifinals, 73-67, in the teams’ most recent postseason encounter.

“I believe we’re a team ready to peak,” Wing said. “If we continue to play as hard as we did (against Portland), I think we’ll be a tough out in the tournament. Our record says we’re the underdog, but this team expects to make some noise. We expect to win. My staff and I will make sure (the guys) are prepared.”

Cheverus earned the No. 7 seed with a 6-12 mark following losses at Deering (62-60) and at home to South Portland (42-35). Against the Rams, Tobias Ephron had 20 points, while Patrick Foster added 14 and Will Shibles had 11. In the loss to the Red Riots, Matt Duchaine had a team-high nine points. 

“Our regular season was competitive, yet inconsistent with lots of close losses,” said Cheverus coach Ryan Soucie. “Seven of our 12 losses were by seven points or less. We were a consistently a strong defensive team, but struggled to score at times.”

The Stags went to No. 2 Edward Little (14-4) for the quarterfinals Tuesday. On Dec. 15, Cheverus lost to the Red Eddies, 64-54, in Auburn. The teams last met in the tournament two years ago in the quarterfinals, a 46-43 Edward Little victory.

“Our outlook for the tournament is we have a tough draw with EL in the quarterfinals at their place,” Soucie said. “I’m hoping our defense will continue to be our strength and hoping we’ll make timely shots offensively. Our ability to take care of the ball and rebound defensively are huge keys.”

Looking ahead, the Class AA North semifinals will be Tuesday of next week. The regional final is Friday, Feb. 23. The Class AA state final is Friday, March 2. All of those games will be contested at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

In Class C South, Waynflete capped another superb season by winning its final 12 games, capped by a 61-27 home victory over North Yarmouth Academy Thursday. Diraige Dahia and Alex Saade each had 15 points.

“We took our lumps early, but I liked the way the team competed,” said Waynflete coach Rich Henry. “t would be easy for a young team like this one to start to fold up, but they didn’t do that. We also found our identity as a team around that time. This is the deepest team we’ve had, ever, so playing up tempo suits our numbers and our athleticism.”

The Flyers, who went 4-3 against Class B South teams this year, finished 15-3 and earned the No. 3 seed in the Class C South field. Waynflete battles either No. 6 Boothbay (13-5) or No. 11 Carrabec (6-12) Monday, Feb. 19 in the quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center. The Flyers didn’t face either potential foe in the regular season. Waynflete split two prior postseason meetings with the Seagulls, with a 70-52 loss in the 2013 regional final the most recent. The Flyers and Cobras have never played in the playoffs.

“I think the tournament is going to be wide open,” Henry said. “(Top-ranked) Hall Dale has had a terrific season, (second-seeded) Winthrop has the experience of last year to draw on and you have perennial powers in Boothbay and Dirigo who are playing well and obviously very well coached. Richmond has a great player, so there are lots of compelling story lines. Our team will need to get over that initial impact of being on the floor in Augusta, but even with our youth, we have guys who have experience there to draw on. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Class C South semifinals are Thursday, Feb. 22. The regional final is Saturday, Feb. 24. The Class C state final is Saturday, March 3. All of those games will be held at the Augusta Civic Center.

Hopeful

On the girls’ side, several teams figure to make tournament noise.

Portland, which won just three games and missed the playoffs last winter, went 12-6 this year, closing with a 71-35 loss at South Portland and a 42-36 victory at Deering. The Bulldogs fell behind early at the Red Riots and never could make a run. Gemima Motema had a team-high 12 points.

“Credit to South Portland,” said Portland coach Gerry Corcoran. “They’re the best team in the state and when they’re on, they’re awesome. They didn’t miss. I’m a basketball nut and that was great basketball.”

In the victory, Davina Kabantu had 13 points, including a clutch late 3-pointer that banked in off the glass, Motema added 10 (but she suffered a foot injury that could sideline her for the tournament) and Reagan Brown had 14 rebounds, to go with four points.

“We’ve come really far,” Brown said. “Last year, we had a lot of bumps, but this year we’ve overcome. We wanted it. They’re our rival. That energized us.”

“We took care of our business and made the seniors proud and finished our season strong,” Davina Kabantu said. “It was fun.”

“This is huge for us to win on their floor in front of their crowd,” added Corcoran. “All great games have great runs and Deering made their run, but  I thought we controlled the game.”

Portland earned the No. 2 seed in the region (its highest ranking since the 2003-04 squad finished in the same spot) and hosts No. 7 Bangor (4-14) in the quarterfinals Wednesday night (see theforecaster.net for game story). On Jan. 27, the Bulldogs were upset, 44-41, at the Rams. They’ll have a chance to avenge that setback in the first-ever postseason encounter between the teams.

“It’s now a one-game season and we’re glad to get another shot at Bangor,” Corcoran said. “It’s a big deal to have a home playoff game. We’ve showed we can be the team no one wants to play.”

Cheverus finished 11-7 and fourth in Class AA North following a 45-37 home win over Deering and a 41-36 home loss to South Portland. In the victory, Lauren Jordan had 12 points and Abby Cavallaro and Emme Poulin both added 11. Against the Red Riots, Cavallaro had 12 points, Jordan 11 and Poulin 10.

“This first season at Cheverus has been a learning experience for me and for the players,” said Stags coach Gary Fifield. “I’ve had to adjust to the level of play and learn the different personalities and learning styles of the girls and they had to learn my teaching style, my organization and my expectations.”

The Stags host No. 5 Windham (9-9) in the quarterfinals Thursday. On Opening Night, way back on Dec. 8, the host Eagles pulled out a 46-43 victory. The teams have met just once before in the tournament, a 41-36 Windham triumph in the 2014 Western A semifinals.

“I feel our strong regular season schedule has helped prepare us well for the tournament,” Fifield said. “We are certainly a very different team now then we were at the beginning of the season as we have learned how we need to play to be successful as demonstrated by our play in our last three games against MGA, Deering and South Portland.”

Deering wound up eighth at 7-11 after a 45-37 loss at Cheverus and a 42-36 home loss to Portland. Against the Stags, Delaney Haines had a team-high 13 points. The Rams nearly beat the Bulldogs for the second time this winter, but fell just short despite 22 points from Haines.

“It was a great effort, a lot of fun,” Deering coach Mike Murphy said. “It was a great atmosphere and the people got their money’s worth. The kids played with purpose and intensity and it showed.”

The Rams go to top-ranked Oxford Hills (15-3), the defending regional champion Thursday in the quarterfinals. On Jan. 5, the visiting Vikings beat Deering, 50-35. The teams have split four prior playoff meetings, with Oxford Hills’ 46-41 overtime victory in last year’s thrilling Class AA North Final the most recent.

In Class AA South, Maine Girls’ Academy enjoyed a nice bounce-back season, finishing 13-5 after losses at Marshwood (50-28) and Scarborough (53-34). Catherine Reid had 14 points against the Hawks. In the loss to the Red Storm, Jill Joyce had a team-high 12 points.

The Lions finished fourth in the region and will host two-time defending state champion Gorham (11-7) in the quarterfinals Thursday (see theforecaster.net for game story). On Jan. 11, MGA won at Gorham, 50-41. The teams have played five previous times in the tournament with the Lions holding a 4-1 edge. Last year, the Rams prevailed, 53-23, in the semifinals.

In Class C South, Waynflete finished 6-12 after a 38-34 loss at St. Dom’s and a 54-43 home victory over NYA. Lydia Giguere had 12 points in the loss. Giguere then produced 21 points, 18 rebounds and seven steals against the Panthers, as the Flyers beat their rival for the 26th straight time.

“This is something to be proud of,” Giguere said. “Our goal was to keep our high standard against NYA. This is so big going into playoffs. Having upward momentum is very important.”

The Flyers finished 11th in the region and traveled to No. 6 Richmond (13-5) for a preliminary round game Tuesday. The teams didn’t meet this year and split six prior playoff meetings with the most recent a 50-36 Waynflete win in the 2003 Western D quarterfinals.

“The goal is to come out strong,” Giguere said. “It’s my dream to get back to Augusta.”

If the Flyers sprung a preliminary round upset, they’d battle third-ranked Old Orchard Beach (15-3) in the semifinals Tuesday of next week at the Augusta Civic Center. Waynflete lost twice this year to the Seagulls: 30-25 at home Jan. 11 and 54-26 in Old Orchard Beach Feb. 2. The teams have no playoff history.

Looking ahead, the Class AA North semifinals will be Tuesday of next week. The regional final is Friday, Feb. 23. The Class AA state final is Friday, March 2. All of those games will be contested at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

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

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