Portland boys look to repeat as basketball tourney begins

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Portland’s Terion Moss goes up for a shot as Cheverus’ Jesse Matthews defends during the teams’ regular season finale last week. The Bulldogs won, 69-46, and will defend their state title as the top seed for the Class AA North tournament. The Stags will be the No. 5 seed.

Maine Girls’ Academy’s Maddy Beaulieu is defended by Cheverus’ Alayna Briggs, left, and Brooke McElman during the Stags’ 49-26 victory in Friday’s regular season finale. Cheverus will be the No. 4 seed in Class AA North, while the Lions are the No. 4 seed in Class AA South.

(Ed. Note: For the complete Cheverus-Portland and Portland-South Portland boys’ basketball and Cheverus-MGA girls’ basketball game stories, with box scores and photos, see theforecaster.net)

Let the fun begin.

The 2017 basketball tournament is underway and city squads will be very much in the mix for a Gold Ball before all is said and done.

One more?

Portland’s boys’ basketball team won the Class A state championship in 2014, lost in the state game in 2015, then last year, held off South Portland in a double-overtime epic in the inaugural Class AA championship contest.

The Bulldogs will be the top seed for the Class AA North tournament, which gets underway Thursday, although Portland has a bye into the semifinal round, which won’t be contested until next Tuesday in Augusta.

The Bulldogs finished the regular season 16-2 after losing at home to South Portland (74-69) and downing visiting Cheverus (69-46). In the loss, Portland trailed almost the whole way and despite 25 points from Terion Moss, 13 from Griffin Foley and 10 apiece from Pedro Fonseca and Clay Hardy, couldn’t quite catch up.

“We just didn’t play very well tonight,” Bulldogs coach Joe Russo said. “They’re a very good team. You can’t spot them 15 points. This was a product of how we’ve been acting. We need something every once awhile like this. We almost came back and beat them, but that wouldn’t have been good. If we deserved to win, we would have won.”

In the victory, Moss had 25 points and Portland broke open a close game with a second half surge.

“The (South Portland) loss motivated us to come out and play with energy,” Moss said. “We came out slow against South Portland and now we know we can’t do that. Cheverus is very good. At halftime, Coach told us to play as a team and we did. We’ve had a good year this year. We came together. We have a special bond.”

“The kids should be proud of the effort they put forth this year,” said Russo, who earned his 398th victory with the program. “Usually after winning a championship, you’re depleted, but we came right back. Going 16-2 is impressive. We lost two close games to quality teams. We wanted to win tonight to earn first place and we did. Now, we have to move on.”

Portland will face either No. 4 Cheverus (11-7) or No. 5 Oxford Hills (12-6) in the semifinals next week.

In addition to their win in the finale, the Bulldogs also beat the Stags on the road, 47-43, back on Jan. 20. The teams have met 22 previous times in the postseason, with each prevailing on 11 occasions. The most recent came in the 2011 semifinals (a 45-41 Stags’ triumph).

Portland handled visiting Oxford Hills, 73-52, back on Dec. 15. The teams haven’t played in the postseason since the 1994 Western A preliminary round (a 66-50 Vikings’ triumph).

“The parity is in our region,” Russo said. “Every team has two or three good players. It’s not going to be easy. Two weeks off isn’t ideal for the kids or for basketball, but that’s out of my control. We’re playing well.”

Cheverus finished 11-7 and fourth in Class AA North after a 63-50 home win over Gorham and a 69-46 loss at Portland. In the victory, Jack Casale had 21 points and Jesse Matthews added 19. Against the Bulldogs, Casale had 18 points, but Matthews received two technical fouls late and was ejected, meaning he’ll have to miss the Stags’ first playoff game.

“It was a three-point game and then we had some breakdowns defensively,” lamented Stags’ coach Ryan Soucie. “Our rotations weren’t good. They’re tough to guard. We turned the ball over too much and they cranked up their pressure.”

Cheverus will meet Oxford Hills in the AA North quarterfinals Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center (see theforecaster.net for game story).

Cheverus beat visiting Oxford Hills, 54-44, back on Dec. 22. The teams have played three previous times in the tournament with the Stags winning two of them. The most recent came in the 2001 Western A second round (a 53-52 Vikings’ triumph).

“It’s a new season,” Soucie said. “Everyone’s 0-0 now and we have a week to prepare for Oxford Hills. It’s not ideal (being without Jesse). We don’t like it, but we have to move forward with what we have. I’m confident the other guys will step up and fill the void Jesse leaves for one game. Oxford Hills has improved. They’ve beaten Deering, Windham and EL. They’re tough, they’re well coached, they’re physical. We have to play our best basketball.”

Deering wound up 12-6 and third in Class AA North after an 83-52 home win over Scarborough and a 54-31 loss at South Portland. In the win, Ben Onek led the way with 15 points, Raffaele Salamone added 13 and Orey Dutton had 12.

The Rams will face No. 6 Windham (12-6) in the quarterfinals Thursday at 7 p.m. in Augusta (see theforecaster.net for game story). Deering opened the year with a 62-41 win at Windham, but the Eagles have played much better of late. The Rams took both prior playoff meetings, including a 70-53 victory in the 2001 Western A quarterfinals.

If Deering advances, it will battle No. 2 Edward Little (17-1) in the semifinals Tuesday of next week in Augusta. On Dec. 15, the Red Eddies came to Portland and beat the Rams, 62-54. The teams last met in the postseason in the 2002 Western A Final (a 75-55 Deering triumph).

Defending Class C South champion Waynflete finished 13-5 and seventh in the region after closing with wins at Traip Academy (59-29) and Sacopee Valley (61-40). Against the Rangers, Jack Meahl had 13 points, Christian Brooks added 12 and Alex Saade finished with 11. Saade had 15 points and Yai Deng added 10 against the Hawks.

“I’d divide our season into three parts, with the fourth starting with the preliminary game,” said Waynflete coach Rich Henry. “The first section of the season, say the first nine games or so, we were playing pretty well, but most importantly, we were healthy.  The second section, the start of January, we were dealing with the flu bug and some injuries. We wound up the regular season on a pretty good note, and have seem to have our overall health back, knock on wood. So we’re in the fourth and final stage. I like the way this team competes, even during the  period where we were battling illness and had to play without some of our starters, the players competed, which is something we can draw on in the tournament.”

The Flyers host No. 10 Old Orchard Beach (8-10) in the preliminary round Wednesday. Waynflete beat the Seagulls twice this year: 57-39 on the road Jan. 7 and 53-45 at home Jan. 31. The teams have met just once before in the tournament, a 63-42 OOB victory in the 2012 Western C semifinals.

“It’s a new season and we have to play that way,” Henry said. “We’re facing a scrappy, well coached OOB team and we can’t rest on what happened in the regular season. It’s win or go home now and I think the guys realize that.  If we play sound fundamental basketball, take care of the ball and force our opponent to make contested shots without fouling, I’ll take the outcome.”

If the Flyers advance to the quarterfinals, they will face second-ranked Richmond (16-1) Monday at 5:30 p.m. in Augusta. The teams didn’t play this year and have no playoff history.

Four hopefuls

On the girls’ side, four of five city teams qualified.

Deering had an up-and-down campaign, but closed strong and wound up 11-7 and third in Class AA North after winning at Scarborough (48-44, in overtime) and at home over Portland (64-42). Delaney Haines and Tasia Titherington had 16 points apiece and Abi Ramirez added 11 in the victory over the Red Storm. Against the Bulldogs, Haines led the way with 20 points and Titherington added 18.

The Rams will meet No. 6 Lewiston (9-9) in the quarterfinals Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Augusta. Deering won the regular season meeting, 58-42, at home, Dec. 22. The teams have played five prior times in the postseason with the Rams holding a 3-2 lead. The most recent playoff encounter came in the 2003 Western A semifinals (a 42-38 Blue Devils’ victory).

If Deering advances, it will meet No. 2 Edward Little (14-4) in the semifinals Tuesday of next week. The Rams won, 54-40, at the Red Eddies Dec. 15. The teams have no playoff history.

Cheverus finished 11-7 and fourth in Class AA North after a 63-50 loss at defending state champion Gorham and a 49-26 home victory over Maine Girls’ Academy. Abby Cavallaro had 15 points and Emme Poulin 14 in the setback. Against the Lions, on Senior Night, Alayna Briggs had 15 points and Brooke Dawson added 13.

“It’s sad that it was our last home game,” Briggs. “We’re such a close team. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve managed them. We had such a great game tonight. It was really important to get the lead and everyone contributed.”

“We made our shots,” Stags coach Steve Huntington said. “Our spacing was better tonight. We’ve found our groove. We had a rough go with the schedule for awhile and some sickness, but now we’re getting healthy.”

Cheverus will face No. 5 Bangor (8-10) in the quarterfinals Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Augusta. The Stags beat the host Rams, 52-30, back on Jan. 6. The teams have no postseason history.

“We beat them the first time around, but they’ve been playing better,” Huntington said. “We’ll get after it. The girls are excited and we’re looking forward to it.”

If Cheverus advances, it will battle No. 1 Oxford Hills (17-1), the reigning regional champion, in the semifinals Tuesday of next week. The Vikings won the regular season meeting, 52-44, at home, back on Dec. 22. The teams have no playoff history.

Portland wound up 3-15 and eighth in the region, but only six teams made the postseason. The Bulldogs did win three of their final four games. Last week, Portland enjoyed a 53-48 home victory over MGA and lost at Deering, 64-42, in the finale Friday. In the win, Shayla Eubanks and Taylor Sargent both had 15 points and Reagan Brown added 10. Kate Johnson had a team-high 10 points in the loss.

In Class AA South, MGA wound up fourth after a 7-11 regular season, which was capped by losses to visiting Portland (53-48) and at Cheverus (49-26). Jill Joyce had 16 points against the Bulldogs. In the loss to the Stags, Maddy Beaulieu had six points and 14 rebounds.

“We had no returning starters and no returning varsity players, so to do what we’ve done makes me very proud,” Lions coach Billy Goodman said. “We had no expectations and won seven games in a tough division. We had five comeback victories where we were losing by eight or more points. It’s been fun.”

MGA will face No. 5 Sanford (9-9) in the quarterfinals Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Portland Exposition Building (see theforecaster.net for game story). On Feb. 3, the Lions held on for a 43-41 victory at the Spartans. The teams have squared off six previous times in the playoffs, but the last encounter was a decade ago, when McAuley (as the school was formerly known) prevailed, 63-52, in the Western Class A Final.

“We’re very happy to be in the tournament,” Goodman said. “To finish fourth is incredible. Sanford is a good team and they’re well-coached. We have nothing to lose. We have heart, we’ll bring it for 32 minutes and we’ll see what happens.”

If MGA advances, it will battle No. 1 Gorham (18-0) in the semifinals Tuesday of next week at the Expo. The Rams won the regular season meeting, 70-42, at home Jan. 16. The Lions are 4-0 all-time against Gorham in the playoffs, including a 46-31 victory in the 2013 Western A quarterfinals, the most recent meeting.

In Class C South, Waynflete finished with the No. 6 seed after going 10-8. Last week, the Flyers handled visiting Traip Academy (42-33) and downed host Sacopee Valley (45-39, in overtime). Annika Brooks led the way with 19 points against the Rangers, while Lydia Giguere and LZ Olney both added 10. In the win over the Hawks, Brooks had 21 points and Giguere added 14.

Waynflete hosted No. 11 Traip Academy (6-12) in a preliminary round game Tuesday (see theforecaster.net for game story). In addition to last week’s win, the Flyers won, 37-32, at Traip Academy Jan. 4. The teams have no playoff history.

If Waynflete advanced, it would meet No. 3 Monmouth (15-3) in the quarterfinals Monday at 11:30 a.m. in Augusta. The teams don’t play in the regular season. Monmouth won two of the prior three playoffs meetings: 56-43 in the 1999 Western D quarterfinals and 46-41 in the 2008 Western C semifinals. The Flyers’ lone victory came in the 2001 Western D third round (57-55).

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.