PORTLAND—The Portland boys’ basketball team entered Friday’s contest against Westbrook seeking a dose of revenge after losing to the Blue Blazes by 31 points in last year’s quarterfinals.
Instead, the Bulldogs were never quite able to dig out of an early hole and fell two points short, 34-32.
Portland had the ball with time winding down with a chance to tie or win, but couldn’t get a good shot and sophomore Nick Volger’s last-second desperation heave was way off the mark as the Bulldogs fell to 2-4 on the season. Westbrook improved to 5-1.
“We had more than our chances tonight,” said Portland coach Joe Russo. “We were always one play away. To be that close, it’s tough to lose. I’m trying to get over it.”
Both Portland and Westbrook have an abundance of new faces this winter.
The schools have enjoyed a long hoops rivalry. Last year, Westbrook beat Portland at home in the regular season meeting, 52-36, then dominated the Bulldogs from start to finish in the Western A quarterfinals, 65-34.
Despite losing two standouts, Dominic Borelli and Nich Jobin, both of whom are now playing in college, to graduation, the Blue Blazes have impressed in 2010-11.
Westbrook, which lost to Cheverus in last year’s regional final, opened with a 45-25 victory at Kennebunk. After falling at home to defending Class A state champion Cheverus (52-35), the Blue Blazes downed host Windham (61-50), visiting Massabesic (61-27) and visiting Scarborough (32-31, in overtime).
Portland, a team with very little varsity experience, almost upset highly touted Thornton Academy in the opener, but fell, 57-53. The Bulldogs then won at Noble, 62-49, but lost to host Marshwood (60-36) and visiting Cheverus (49-28). Tuesday, in its first game after the holiday break, Portland downed host Gorham (49-24).
Friday, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on their first four possessions, spotted the Blue Blazes the game’s first 11 points and missed their first six first period free throw attempts as they dug a hole to deep from which to recover.
Westbrook broke the ice just 10 seconds in when senior Trevor Bates made a layup. He added another, junior Ian King hit two foul shots, Bates scored on a putback and senior Sean Murphy buried a long 3 for an 11-0 lead.
With 4:09 to go in the first, Portland finally got on the board when junior Mike Herrick scored on a leaner. Senior Matt McInnis followed with a 3, but Murphy made a layup. With 28.7 seconds left in the stanza, the hosts finally found their range from the line when McCinnis canned a pair of free throws, cutting the deficit to 13-7 after one.
The Bulldogs hung close in the second period.
A layup by McInnis made it 13-9. After sophomore Keenan Lowe buried a 3-ball for the Blue Blazes, freshman Jayvon Pitts-Young sank a free throw. Westbrook went up 18-12 on a layup from senior Zach Gardiner, but a bank shot from freshman Justin Zukowski pulled the hosts back within four. A free throw apiece from Gardiner and Murphy gave the Blue Blazes a 20-14 lead at the break.
Westbrook went up eight early in the third on a pair of Bates free throws. After junior Pete Donato made a jumper, Gardiner answered with a layup for the visitors. A 3-pointer from Herrick pulled the Bulldogs within five and they failed on a possession to draw closer before Gardiner made another layup for a 26-19 advantage.
Herrick then got hot and pulled his team within two with a leaner and a 3-ball. With 27.4 seconds left in the third, sophomore Kevin Grescoviak made a floater in the lane and Westbrook was up 28-24 with eight minutes to play.
Portland was never able to get over the hump in the fourth.
After Pitts-Young pulled the Bulldogs within two with a layup after a steal, Grescoviak drained a long 3. With 2:59 to go, sophomore Nate Smart banked home a shot in the lane while being fouled and hit the free throw. With 2:31 left, McInnis stole the ball and was fouled on a drive to the basket. He missed the first attempt, but made the second and it was a one-point game for the first time.
With 2:17 left, Westbrook barely avoided a turnover and got the ball down low to Bates who made a layup to make it 33-30. At the other end, Smart made a layup. After trading tunovers, the Blue Blazes gave it away again. As the clock crept under a minute to play, Portland couldn’t get a shot. With 30 seconds to go, Volger found himself open for a 3 up top, but it was short. Smart grabbed the rebound, but had his pass intercepted.
With 23.3 seconds to play, King was fouled. He calmly drained the first attempt, but missed the second. That gave the hosts one final opportunity to tie or win.
The Bulldogs were never able to get a good look and with 1.2 seconds left a desperation one-handed prayer by Volger was way off the mark.
“We wanted to get the ball to McInnis in the paint,” Russo said. “It was open down there. We figured he’s a senior playing pretty good and we’d get him the ball. It was like we never even tried it. We had options.”
Westbrook inbounded the ball and ran out the clock.
“The kids worked hard, but I’m disappointed on how we finished the game,” Russo said. “We have to play through our inexperience.”
The Blue Blazes were led by 10 points from Bates. Gardiner added seven, Murphy six, Grescoviak five and King and Lowe each had three.
Westbrook (third in the Western A Heals) hosts Biddeford Tuesday.
Portland was paced by Herrick’s 10 points. McInnis added eight, Smart finished with five, Pitts-Young three and Angelo, Goodman and Zukowski all added two.
The Bulldogs (11th in the region) are back in action Tuesday at home versus Windham.
“We’re slowly getting there,” Russo said. “They have to realize they can do it. We need to get some wins.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com