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Portland freshman Elizabeth Yugu is blanketed by Oxford Hills junior Julia Colby during the Vikings’ 47-36 win in Wednesday’s Class AA North semifinal.
Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—Portland’s girls’ basketball team did its best to catch up to top-ranked Oxford Hills in Wednesday afternoon’s Class AA North semifinal at the Cross Insurance Arena, but ultimately the Bulldogs fell short and their season came to a close with a 47-36 defeat.
Portland finished the year 10-10, while the Vikings improved to 18-2 and set up a Class AA North Final date against the Cinderella No. 7 seed Deering (6-14) Friday at 2 p.m., at CIA.
“To the kids’ credit, we fought back twice to get it to five (points) and if we’d capitalized and made plays, it could have been different,” said Bulldogs coach Gerry Corcoran.
Portland had an up-and-down regular season, going 9-9, but the Bulldogs impressed in their playoff opener last Thursday, ending No. 5 Edward Little’s title reign, 48-43, in the quarterfinals.
Oxford Hills was a state finalist in 2017, losing to Gorham, and expected to return last winter, but was upset by Edward Little in the semifinals.
This winter, the Vikings were clearly the best team in the region, winning 16 of 18 contests, losing only to Class AA South top seed South Portland and defending Class A champion Greely. Oxford Hills closed the regular season on a seven-game win streak and in the quarterfinals, had no trouble with No. 8 Lewiston (77-26).
In the regular season meeting Dec. 15, the Vikings eked out a 40-38 overtime victory in Portland. The teams had no playoff history.
Wednesday, they went out and made some.
Sophomore Amanda Kabantu stared the game auspiciously for Portland, taking a pass from classmate Gemima Motema and making a 3, but junior Julia Colby hit a jumper and senior Bailey Whitney added a layup for a 4-3 Oxford Hills lead.
Kabantu hit a jumper with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter, but the next eight points went to the Vikings to put them ahead to stay.
Colby set up senior Bailey Whitney for a layup to start the run. After Colby made the first of two free throws and missed the second, Whitney put home the miss before junior Margaret Hartnett added a 3-pointer for a 12-5 lead.
Freshman Elizabeth Yugu’s foul shot got the Bulldogs back on the board, but junior Cecilia Dieterich drove for a layup and Colby drained a 3 for a 17-6 lead.
After senior Jill Joyce made a layup for Portland, Oxford Hills held for the last shot of the quarter, but turned the ball over and Motema made a layup to pull the Bulldogs within seven, 17-10, after eight minutes.
In the second period, the Vikings slightly extended their lead.
Sophomore Cassidy Dumont opened the frame with two foul shots and after Amanda Kabantu, who picked up two early fouls, returned the game and hit a bank shot on the run, junior Jade Smedberg scored on a putback and Hartnett set up a cutting Dieterich for a layup and a 23-12 advantage with 4:06 left in the half.
Dieterich added a layup on the break, but Motema countered with a layup after a steal. After Dieterich and Yugu traded free throws, Dieterich sank two more foul shots to make it 28-15, but Kabantu hit a long 3.
In the final minute, Motema hit a bank shot before a jumper from Dumont gave Oxford Hills a 30-20 halftime advantage.
Kabantu led all first half scorers with 10 points, but Dieterich paced the Vikings with nine points.
Portland then came out strong in the third period to get back in it.
A putback from sophomore Mia Kelly got things started and Motema drove for a layup to cut the deficit to six.
After Colby hit a leaner, Motema made a free throw and after a steal, Motema made a layup to make it 32-27 with 4:08 to go in the frame.
Oxford Hills responded, as Dieterich drove for a layup, Smedberg canned a 3-pointer and Dumont hit two foul shots, but after Motema drove to the basket and laid the ball in with her left hand, Kabantu hit a jump shot to make it 39-31 heading for the fourth period.
Where the Vikings finally salted it away.
First, Portland again crept within five, as sophomore Davina Kabantu, who returned to action Wednesday after missing several games with a concussion, made a free throw, then she banked in a runner to make it 39-34 with 7:14 to go.
Colby again answered with a driving layup and Dumont banked home a shot to push the lead back to nine.
“Their guard play is incredible and they had players step up and make big shots,” Corcoran said, about the Vikings. “We just couldn’t get over that hump.”
Davina Kabantu made a layup with 2:34 to go, but that proved to be the Bulldogs’ final points and after Colby made a foul shot with 1:45 remaining, Dumont sank two free throws with 54.7 seconds to play and one final Colby foul shot with 4.9 seconds on the clock gave Oxford Hills the 47-36 win.
“I have good guards who can put the ball in the basket,” said Vikings coach Nate Pelletier. “Overall, we talked about how long it would be until we could pull the ball out and it wasn’t until four minutes were left. (Portland’s) so athletic and explosive. We had to slow them down and taking 45 seconds off the clock slowed them down. We stressed in practice about rebounding and we did a pretty good job on the boards, especially in the first half. When they attack, you try to take a charge, but they’re so good at getting to the rim that it’s hard to take a charge.”
Colby led Oxford Hills with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Dieterich added 11 points, Dumont had 10 (to go with three assists), Whitney six, Smedberg five and Hartnett three.
The Vikings made 12 of 19 free throws and only turned the ball over six times.
Awaiting Oxford Hills Friday will be Deering, which was 1-13 at one point this year, before winning three of its final four regular season games, then upsetting No. 2 Windham in the quarterfinals and third-seeded Bangor in its semifinal Wednesday.
On Jan. 4, host Oxford Hills cruised to a 53-19 win over the Rams.
The teams have met five previous times in the postseason with the Vikings holding a 3-2 lead, including last year’s 55-40 victory in the quarterfinals.
Oxford Hills won’t pay much heed to Deering’s record and will look to neutralize Rams senior standout Delaney Haines and to put forth another solid 32 minute effort to reach the state game.
“You put Haines back on that team and it’s a totally different team,” Pelletier said. “Everyone else goes back to their roles. We’ll go back to the drawing board and see what we can do against them. We’ll be ready for their defense. It’s just tough defending Haines because she’s such a great player.”
Portland got 13 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks from Motema and 12 points and four rebounds from Amanda Kabantu.
“We challenged Gemima to step up for us,” Corcoran said. “She’s halfway through her season after missing nine games with injury. She’s just coming in to where she should be.
“Amanda gave us offense, but we couldn’t find another scorer.”
Davina Kabantu had five points in her return.
“It was nice to have Davina back,” Corcoran said. “I’m glad she got to play a little bit. She gave us everything she has.”
Joyce, Kelly and Yugu added two apiece.
The Bulldogs out-rebounded the Vikings 35-26, but only made 4 of 10 free throws and committed 14 turnovers.
“We’re a .500 team,” said Corcoran. “It’s a great description of who we are. When we play well, we play well and when we struggle, we struggle.”
Portland graduates Joyce, Amanda Moffo and Grace Stacey, but everyone else will return to what should be a talented squad in 2019-20.
“Grace put the bricks in the foundation and we have some talent coming back,” Corcoran said. “We’re excited about the future.”
Portland sophomore Davina Kabantu and Oxford Hills senior Bailey Whitney go to the floor to battle for the ball.
Portland sophomore Amanda Kabantu tries to dribble through a double team.
Portland sophomore Gemima Motema drives on Oxford Hills junior Cecilia Dieterich.