Portland freshman Simon Chadbourne, left, and senior Amir Moss cut down the net following the Bulldogs’ emphatic 70-39 win over rival Deering in Friday’s Class AA North championship game. Portland will meet another ancient rival, South Portland, in the state final Saturday night at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
John McLaughlin photos.
More photos below.
D- 16 3 9 11- 39
P- 22 19 17 12- 70
D- Salamone 4-0-8, White 3-1-8, Lobor 2-2-6, Butera 2-0-5, Williams 1-3-5, Chabot 2-0-4, Buckley 0-2-2, Dutton 0-1-1
P- A. Moss 8-3-19, T. Moss 5-4-16, Esposito 4-3-12, Foley 4-2-11, Fonseca 2-2-6, Lyall 3-0-6
D (2) Butera, White 1
P (4) T. Moss 2, Esposito, Foley 1
AUGUSTA—At this point, it’s safe to say that the only thing that can stop the Portland boys’ basketball team is the Bulldogs themselves.
That’s because Friday evening at the Augusta Civic Center, the league’s second-best team couldn’t finish within 30 points of this juggernaut.
Battling Deering in a highly anticipated Class AA North showdown taking place some 60 miles north of home, top-ranked Portland once again produced an emphatic victory over its fiercest rival and as a result, the Bulldogs are 32 minutes from a coronation.
The Rams hoped to hang tough and make a game of it late and for a quarter, they were right there.
Deering led twice in the opening minute, but a basket from sophomore Griffin Foley put the Bulldogs ahead to stay and they went on an 18-5 run to open up a 20-9 lead late in the first quarter.
The Rams did close on a 7-2 run of their own and when senior Ben Williams made a layup just before the horn, Deering was within six, 22-16, after eight minutes of play.
Williams opened the second period with a free throw, but Deering would get no closer, as sophomore Terion Moss scored and fed his teammates with equal abandon (producing 14 points and seven assists in the first half alone).
Moss set up his older brother, senior Amir Moss, for a reverse layup to spark a 9-0 run and while the Rams went cold, going nearly five minutes without a point, the lead continued to grow.
When Terion Moss made a late layup, Portland’s advantage was an unthinkable and insurmountable 22 points, 41-19, heading to halftime.
The Bulldogs weren’t able to play with the same intensity in the third period, turning the ball over seven times, but instead of allowing Deering back in the game, Portland added eight points to its lead, thanks in large part to 11 points in the frame from Amir Moss.
While the Moss brothers did most of the scoring, senior Joe Esposito returned to top form, junior Charlie Lyall controlled the glass and Foley continued to hit big shots.
All the starters got to see the end of this one from the bench as the Bulldogs reserves closed it out and Portland went on to an utterly decisive 70-39 victory.
Amir Moss had a game-high 19 points, Terion Moss added 16 points and eight assists, Esposito (12 points) and Foley (11) also scored in double figures and Portland improved to 19-1, ended the Rams’ season at 17-3 and advanced to the first-ever Class AA state championship game where it will meet South Portland (12-9) Saturday, Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena back home in Portland.
“I was looking at the scoreboard and it was hard to believe,” said Bulldogs coach Joe Russo, after winning a regional championship for the third year in a row and sixth time since 1999. “I was confident we could beat them, but they’re a solid team. They beat everyone in the league but us. I sure didn’t expect this.”
There were many subplots at play when the teams took the floor Friday night.
For starters, it was 223rd all time meeting between the ancient rivals (dating to a 19-3 Portland win on Dec. 30, 1911) and possibly the first ever to be contested outside the city of Portland.
The teams were meeting for the 14th time in the postseason and for the third year in a row.
Deering took the first playoff encounter, a 45-27 first round victory, way back on March 14, 1930, when Herbert Hoover was in the White House and the Philadelphia Athletics were in the midst of winning consecutive World Series.
The Rams won the first three postseason showdowns in fact, including the first ever regional final affair (19-17 in 1937), but on March 7, 1942, in the early days of the United States’ involvement in World War II, Portland prevailed for the first time, 25-15, in the regional final.
Deering and Portland didn’t meet in the postseason for nearly a half century between 1956 and 2004, but began squaring off regularly again in 2005, when the Rams upset the Bulldogs, 57-54, in the Western A semifinals.
The next season, Deering held off Portland in a regional final thriller, 70-64, the last time the teams had played in this round, en route to the Rams’ first state championship.
The Bulldogs earned a quarterfinal victory in 2008, then beat the Rams in the 2014 semifinals (64-49) and again last year, in a down-to-the-wire thriller, 59-57, on Amir Moss’ late three-point play, to take an 8-5 postseason lead.
Those losses were the only blemishes on the Rams’ resume this winter, as they won their other 16 regular season games, then closed Tuesday’s semifinal against No. 3 Oxford Hills on a stirring 13-0 run to advance, 73-67.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, stumbled only once, at home to Gorham, and produced another stellar regular season record. Tuesday, Portland had a much easier time of it in the semifinals, rolling past No. 4 Edward Little, 70-43, to win a game on the Augusta Civic Center floor for the first time.
Friday, in front of a crowd that was half the size the teams would have performed for in their home city, the Bulldogs left no doubt that when they’re clicking on all cylinders, they have no peer, extending their win streak to 11 games, wrapping up the competitive phase of the contest by halftime.
Deering started fast, as senior Max Chabot hit a leaner five seconds in. After Amir Moss tied the score with a putback, Rams junior Raffaele Salamone made a layup while being fouled, but he missed the free throw.
That would prove to be the Rams’ high-water mark, however.
Terion Moss then drained a 3 from up top to give Portland its first lead. After an Amir Moss steal, Terion Moss fed Foley for a layup and a 7-4 advantage.
A long 3 from Rams senior Malik White tied the score, but the Bulldogs went ahead to stay with 4:29 to go in the opening frame when Terion Moss fed Foley for a layup. Terion Moss then drove for a layup and after a layup by Deering senior Anthony Lobor, Terion Moss hit two free throws, Foley hit a 3, Esposito hit a jumper and Lyall made a jumper to make it 20-9, capping a 13-2 surge.
Just when they appeared on the ropes, however, the Rams fought back, as White scored on a putback and after Amir Moss fed Lyall for a layup, Deering junior Jean Claude Butera knocked down a 3 and as time expired, Chabot set up Williams for a layup to cut the deficit to 22-16.
In the first period, Foley and Terion Moss led Portland with seven points apiece, while White paced the Rams with five.
The second quarter was all Bulldogs, who outscored Deering, 19-3.
Williams made a free throw 27 seconds in, but Terion Moss fed Amir Moss for a reverse layup and Esposito canned a 3 to restore a double digit lead, 27-17.
Terion Moss then had consecutive gorgeous assists which led to layups for Amir Moss and Foley and the lead was up to 14.
“I just let the game come to me,” Terion Moss said. “I saw open players and I just got them the ball.”
With 2:36 to play before halftime, Chabot drove for a layup and finished with his left hand to end a 9-0 Portland run and a 4 minute, 57 second drought, but Terion Moss answered with a layup and after an Esposito steal, Terion Moss fed Esposito for a layup, foul and free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play which stretched the lead to 36-19.
With just under a minute remaining, Terion Moss grabbed an offensive rebound and dribbled back behind the 3-point arc before swishing a shot to make it a 20-point game and after a Foley steal, Foley fed Terion Moss for a layup to give the Bulldogs a commanding 41-19 advantage at the break.
Terion Moss led the way with 14 points and seven assists.
“For a point guard to score 14 points and to get seven assists, he’s a special young man,” Russo said. “He looks for his teammates first, then looks to himself second. He ran the offense to a T.”
Foley added nine points.
In the third period, the Rams tried to make a run, but Portland instead increased the lead.
After Williams started the second half scoring with two free throws, Salamone made a layup, forcing Russo to call timeout.
It worked like a charm, as Lyall somehow banked in a tip from an impossible angle, after Lyall blocked a shot, Amir Moss raced in for a three-point play and after a steal, Amir Moss was fouled and hit two free throws to make it 48-23 with 5:02 to play in the quarter.
Junior Orey Dutton got a point back at the line for Deering, but Amir Moss scored on a putback.
After Lobor hit two foul shots, Amir Moss hit a leaner, Esposito made two free throws, then with 1:52 remaining, Terion Moss had a steal and set up Amir Moss for a layup and a 30-point lead.
“I just played hard and tried to build the lead as much as I could,” Amir Moss said.
White made a layup after a steal to stem the tide, but two Terion Moss free throws made it 58-28 after three.
“The third quarter was important,” Russo said. “We just came out and played. It took a little while to get going, then the kids were awesome.”
The fourth period saw both teams go to the bench and it wasn’t long until Portland was celebrating another regional championship.
White started the final stanza with a free throw, but Bulldogs freshman Pedro Fonseca scored on a leaner.
Lobor hit a leaner for Deering, but Esposito answered with a pullup jumper.
A Salamone layup was countered by Esposito setting up Amir Moss for a layup, his final points, and after Salamone drove for a layup, Fonseca drove for a layup and Foley added two foul shots with 3:38 remaining to make it 68-35.
Butera hit a jumper for the Rams before two Fonseca free throws produced Portland’s final points.
With 1:03 to go, Deering sophomore Connor Buckley hit two foul shots and produced the 70-39 final score.
“It’s feels really good,” Terion Moss said. “All week, Coach just told us to come out with intensity and energy and that’s what we did.”
“Getting used to the court Tuesday helped us,” Esposito said. “We were calm and confident. We wanted to compete. We matched their energy at the start, then pulled away.”
“After last year (a 70-50 state final loss to Hampden Academy in Augusta), we were very determined to get back to states,” Amir Moss said. “We played some tournament games here, so that got us used to this floor. We had a drive to win on this floor, especially after what happened last year. We just competed and kept our composure. To be honest, I thought it would be a closer game, but we knew we were capable of what we did tonight. Coach made sure once we had the lead to keep them down and we did. his feels great. All week, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened last year here. I just wanted to get back to states and it’s a great feeling.”
“We played a solid game,” Russo added. “We had such composure. We didn’t take bad shots. We dominated the boards. Once you’re down by eight, nine, you try things and if you don’t make shots, it goes from 10 to 20 fast. We were there last year against Hampden in the state final. I know how (the Rams) feel. It just snowballed. It wasn’t for a lack of trying on their part. Deering’s a very assertive and strong team. The scoreboard doesn’t indicate how good Deering is.”
Amir Moss finished with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds. He also had three steals and had a strong claim (as did Terion Moss) for being named the regional tournament’s Most Valuable Player, an honor that went to Oxford Hills standout Andrew Fleming, whose team didn’t even make it to the regional final.
“Amir got his shots and we worked to get him what he needed for us to be successful,” Esposito said. “He makes us go.”
“Amir made sure they didn’t come back,” Russo said.
Terion Moss dazzled with 16 points, eight assists and four rebounds.
“We really rely on Terion to get our chemistry going,” Esposito said. “He has great vision. He’ll attack and make plays. He and Amir get everyone else involved.”
“When Terion plays well, we all play well,” Amir Moss said. “He runs the offense. When he puts up numbers like that, it’s great to see, especially for me, as his older brother.”
Esposito bounced back with a 12-point, seven-rebound performance. He also had three assists and a steal.
“I just calmed down and got used to playing here,” Esposito said. “Really being a part of this (regional title) gives me a good feeling.”
“Amir and Joey played with composure and confidence,” Russo said. “They were just awesome. They were relaxed.”
Foley added 11 points, while Fonseca and Lyall had six points apiece. Lyall also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots.
“Charlie knew he had to rebound,” Russo said. “Tonight, he limited them to one shot and that set the tone down low. He played great defense and rebounded.”
Portland committed 15 turnovers, but 11 came after halftime when it was just trying to protect the lead against a swarming Rams’ defense. The Bulldogs were nearly perfect at the free throw line, making 14 of 15 attempts.
“This team surprises me every day in what they bring in terms of teamwork and unselfishness,” Russo said. “There are no real superstars. The team defense is awesome. I’m so proud of how they play together.”
Russo, who suffered through a 40-year stretch of futility in the Augusta Civic Center as a player and coach prior to this year, developed warm feelings for the building by the end of the regional tournament.
“I think this is an ideal venue for basketball,” Russo said. “The people here are friendly. It’s a great court. It’s not hard on us. We had a Custom Coach, so we were relaxed. It’s hard on the kids, who can’t get up here, and the Portland community, who support us so well.”
Deering came to Augusta Friday believing that it couldn’t just compete with Portland, but end the Bulldogs’ recent dominance in the rivalry in the process.
That wasn’t the case.
“You can’t take anything away from a team that beat us by 30,” Deering coach Todd Wing said. “They were clearly better. Their ball movement was better. They hit shots in the paint. They looked for each other. We just were stale. We couldn’t get a flow going offensively.”
Salamone (eight rebounds) and White (three steals) led Deering in scoring with eight points apiece. Lobor had six, Butera and Williams five apiece, Chabot four, Buckley two and Dutton one.
The Rams turned the ball over 13 times and made 9 of 14 free throws.
“We worked the past two weeks on transition defense and we were determined that we weren’t going to let Espo throw over the top of us,” Wing said. “We did better early on, but it wasn’t the fastbreak points. It was us keeping them out of the paint and our inability to score. We thought we dug a hole early on the first two games, so if we kept the transition points down, we’d keep it close. We could try to press to come back, but pressing Terion is a tall order. We tried to mix in a little 1-3-1 (zone) to keep the ball out of the high post, but they were able to exploit the back side. Whatever we tried wasn’t good enough. Offensively or defensively. They’re very good. We played poorly because of Portland and because of ourselves.”
Deering’s 17 victories marked a superb season. Only four other Rams teams this century have won more.
“Although it’s certainly not the ending we wanted, we’ve made progress each and every year,” Wing said. “Unfortunately, some quality seniors won’t be there to see the final product, but looking back, they’ll see it’s about being in the locker room, staying and shooting until 10:30 at night, those things they’ll remember. I had my high school coach here today. I didn’t win a lot in my high school years, but it meant a lot to have him here. That’s the kind of thing they’ll miss.”
Deering parts with Chabot, Lobor, White and Williams, along with Tiem Deng and Dominick Bernard, who missed most of the season with injury.
The 2016-17 Rams will build around juniors Butera, Dutton, Salamone, Manny Chikuta and James Sinclair. Several other players will have a chance to make an impact for a squad which should be right back in the AA North title hunt.
“We return talent,” Wing said. “We have talent in the system. The cupboard isn’t bare. There are a lot of question marks in the offseason. The guys have to work hard. We’re losing four starters, but if we dedicate ourselves, we’ll be right back here next year.”
Next Saturday evening, a Class AA champion will be crowned for the first time.
For Portland to garner the honor and win a championship for the second time in three seasons and for the ninth time overall, it has to beat the Red Riots for the third time this winter. The Bulldogs opened the year with a 75-56 home victory Dec. 4, then rolled at South Portland, 68-38, Feb. 2.
The Red Riots were just 9-9 in the regular season, but despite being ranked fourth in Class AA South, saved their best for last, eliminating fifth-ranked Sanford (62-44), top-ranked Thornton Academy (39-36) and Friday night, No. 3 Massabesic (62-60) to make it to the state final for the second time in four seasons. South Portland will be seeking its first crown since 1992.
The Red Riots have won 15 of the 28 previous playoff meetings, dating to 1923. South Portland won the most recent, 49-41, in the 2013 Western A semifinals.
The Bulldogs can’t overlook the Red Riots and there’s no reason to think they’ll do so.
“We have to play like we did tonight,” Terion Moss said. “Come out with a lot of intensity and energy. We just have to play our own basketball.”
“We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Amir Moss said. “We’ll get ready. I love the Civic Center. It’s going to be a great game.”
“I get one more game,” said Esposito, who despite being named football’s Fitzpatrick Trophy winner, lost in the football state game back in late November, 24-14, to Thornton Academy. “Hopefully we can finish it in basketball. We beat (South Portland) by a lot, but they’ve beaten great teams in the tournament. They’re doing something right. Being at the Civic Center for Portland-South Portland, there are going to be a lot of people.”
“I’m not surprised (South Portland’s) there,” Russo added. “We thought they could be there. They had hiccups during the year, but they’re a good team. I have to see how they’re doing it. If they’re doing it with the zone, we can shoot, if they’re doing it with pressure, we can get looks.
“We’ll be ready.”
Portland junior Charlie Lyall and Deering senior Anthony Lobor contest the opening tip.
Deering senior Malik White soars to the basket as Portland sophomore Griffin Foley arrives too late.
Portland junior Charlie Lyall swats away a shot from Deering junior Manny Chikuta.
Deering senior Ben Williams leans in for a shot.
Portland senior Joe Esposito arrives too late to contest this jumper from Deering senior Anthony Lobor.
In one of Deering’s prettier baskets of the night, senior Max Chabot beats Portland junior Charlie Lyall (32) and senior Joe Esposito and finishes with his left hand.
Portland senior Amir Moss goes up and under Deering junior Raffaele Salamone for two of his game-high 19 points.
Portland senior Joe Esposito, who had 12 points, shoots over Deering junior Raffaele Salamone as senior Ben Williams looks on.
Portland freshman Pedro Fonseca splits a pair of Deering defenders en route to the hoop.
Portland’s student section was fired up from start to finish Friday.
Longtime Portland coach Joe Russo, back row far left, and his team show off the regional championship plaque following the victory. The win was especially sweet for assistant coach Carmine Rumo, far right, who celebrated a birthday Friday.
2015 Western A semifinal
Portland 59 Deering 57
2014 Western A semifinal
Portland 64 Deering 49
2008 Western A quarterfinal
Portland 48 Deering 41
2006 Western A Final
Deering 70 Portland 64
2005 Western A semifinal
Deering 57 Portland 54
1955 Class L West quarterfinal
Portland 58 Deering 56
1949 Class L West quarterfinal
Portland 52 Deering 35
1945 regional final
Portland 28 Deering 22
1944 regional final
Portland 22 Deering 16
1942 regional final
Portland 25 Deering 15
1937 regional final
Deering 19 Portland 17
1935 second round
Deering 38 Portland 37
1930 first round
Deering 45 Portland 27