Portland girls meet their match in semifinal loss to Edward Little

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Portland freshman Davina Kabantu shoots over Edward Little junior Jade Perry during the teams’ Class AA North semifinal Wednesday. The Red Eddies led almost the whole way and ended the Bulldogs’ season, 58-38.

Jason Gendron photos.

More photos below.


Edward Little 58 Portland 38

EL- 12 15 20 11- 58
P- 8 9 10 11- 38

EL- Fontaine 7-0-16, Ouellette 7-1-15, Chaput 3-6-12, Norcross 4-1-9, Perry 3-0-6

P- A. Kabantu 6-3-15, D. Kabantu 3-0-6, K. Eubanks 2-0-4, S. Eubanks 2-0-4, Walsh 0-3-3, Brown 1-0-2, Moffo 1-0-2, Toma 0-2-2 

EL (2) Fontaine 2

EL- 14
P- 15

Free throws
EL: 8-15
P: 8-10

PORTLAND—As expected, Wednesday afternoon’s Class AA North girls’ basketball semifinal between No. 2 seed Portland and third-ranked Edward Little at the Cross Insurance Arena featured an abundance of transition opportunities and drives to the basket.

But it wasn’t the Bulldogs, who made a habit of such things during the regular season, doing so, but the Red Eddies, who scored an abundance of easy hoops and as a result, Portland’s memorable season has come to a close.

After the Bulldogs scored the game’s first basket, Edward Little got the game’s next 12 points, capped by three straight layups from junior Grace Fontaine, to take control. 

Portland crept back to 12-8 after one quarter and twice trailed by three points in the second period, but by halftime, the Red Eddies had extended their advantage back to 10, 27-17.

The Bulldogs made a few shots early in the second half and got to within seven, 30-23, but the next 15 points went to Edward Little to essentially end the competitive phase of the contest.

The Red Eddies led, 47-27, after three quarters and went on to close the door on their 58-38 triumph.

Edward Little made 14 layups and it placed three players in double figures as it improved to 13-7, advanced to meet top-ranked Oxford Hills (17-3), the defending regional champion, in the AA North Final Friday at 2 p.m. in Portland and in the process, ended the Bulldogs’ season at 13-7.

“It’s feast or famine for us,” lamented Portland coach Gerry Corcoran. “We weren’t on today. They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect, they just executed their plays really well.” 

Big stage

Portland’s girls once had a regular appointment to play at the Cumberland County Civic Center, as the Cross Insurance Arena was previously known, but deep playoff runs have been few and far between in recent years.

After going 3-15 a year ago, the Bulldogs returned to contention in a big way this winter, going 12-6 against a tough schedule behind an entertaining style of play.

Portland finished with the No. 2 seed in Class AA North and avenged a regular season loss by beating No. 7 Bangor, 62-39, in the quarterfinals last week.

Edward Little opened the year by upsetting reigning regional champion Oxford Hills, but the Red Eddies struggled with consistency and went 11-7 and finished third in the region, thanks in part to a big win over South Portland.

In last week’s quarterfinal round, Edward Little barely held off No. 6 Lewiston, 49-48.

“The Lewiston game was a nailbiter,” said Edward Little coach Chris Cifelli. “We talked about it putting us on notice. We don’t want to go home.”

The Bulldogs beat visiting Edward Little, 57-42, on Jan. 6. Sophomore Gemima Motema (who missed the postseason with a broken foot) had 16 points and freshman Amanda Kabantu added 13.

Portland and Edward Little have met twice previously in the playoffs, with the Bulldogs taking both: 75-54 in the 1991 Western A Final and 62-57 in the 1992 Western A Final.

Wednesday, the Red Eddies took advantage of great looks to advance. 

Portland got the game’s first points, on a putback from Kabantu, but the next dozen went to the Red Eddies.

Junior Jade Perry got Edward Little on the board with a layup, sophomore Chantel Ouellette hit a bank shot, Perry made a jumper in the lane and Fontaine converted three straight layups for a 12-2 lead.

The Bulldogs then answered, as sophomore Kiera Eubanks snapped a 4 minute, 35 second drought with a leaner, Freshman Davina Kabantu drove for a layup and after being fouled while shooting a 3-pointer, Amanda Kabantu hit two of three foul shots to cut the deficit to 12-8 after one period.

Portland tried to rally in the second quarter, but ultimately trailed by an even larger margin at halftime.

After sophomore Hannah Chaput made a layup to end the 6-0 Bulldogs’ run, Portland got a three-point play (leaner, foul, free throw) from Amanda Kabantu to cut the deficit to three.

Ouellette made a leaner and Eubanks answered with a bank shot to make it 16-13, but Perry made a layup, Fontaine hit a bank shot and Chaput added a free throw for an eight-point advantage.

Amanda Kabantu scored on a runner, but Ouellette banked home a shot in the lane and Chaput made two free throws to push the lead back to 10 points, 25-15.

Late in the half, Amanda Kabantu made a long jump shot, but Fontaine set up Chaput for a layup and a 27-17 halftime lead.

In the first half, Amanda Kabantu led all scorers with 11 points, but Edward Little’s balanced attack, featuring eight points from Fontaine, seven from Chaput and six apiece from Ouellette and Perry gave it the lead.

Senior Shayla Eubanks, Portland’s most consistent scorer in the halfcourt set, couldn’t get untracked early.

“We gear off of Shayla early,” Corcoran said. “She wasn’t taking bad shots, she just missed. (Junior) Grace Stacey took good shots we’ve been working on. We just shot ourselves out of it.”

The Bulldogs tried to rally in the third period and got Eubanks going, but they couldn’t make a run.

Eubanks started the second half with a jump shot 15 seconds in, but at the other end, Fontaine buried a 3, the Red Eddies’ first of the game. Eubanks made another jumper and junior Reagan Brown scored on a putback to make it 30-23, but Ouelette raced through the defense and made a layup, senior Piper Norcross stole the ball, made a layup while being fouled (it was ruled an intentional foul) and after Norcross added the free throw, Ouellette drove for a layup to complete a five-point possession and stretch the lead to 37-23 with 4:19 to go in the third.

Edward Little wasn’t done yet, as Ouellette hit a runner, Norcross drove for a layup and Chaput capped the 15-0 run with two free throws.

Amanda Kabantu snapped a 5 minute drought with a bank shot, but Norcross banked home another shot before a late putback from Kabantu pulled Portland within 47-27 with eight minutes to play.

In the final stanza, the Red Eddies maintained the lead and finished it off.

Junoir Nettie Walsh started the fourth period with two free throws. 

After a 3 from Fontaine, Walsh and Ouellette traded foul shots.

Fontaine stole the ball and made a layup before Davina Kabantu countered with a jump shot.

After Norcross drove for a layup, Davina Kabantu hit another jumper and junior Amanda Moffo added a jumper to cut the deficit to 55-36.

Down the stretch, Chaput converted a three-point play for Edward Little before a pair of free throws from Portland freshman Mireille Tona accounted for the 58-38 final score.

“What we tried to get back to was fundamentals about what we wanted our offense to look like to be successful,” said Cifelli. “We emphasize multiple cutters and finding openings and get high percentage shots. It’s so hard to shoot (here). We wanted high percentage shots throughout the game.” 

The Red Eddies had a balanced attack, led by 16 points from Fontaine (who also had five steals), 15 from Ouellette (seven rebounds) and 12 from Chaput. Norcross added nine points and Perry had six (to go with eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals). 

Edward Little overcame 14 turnovers and made 8 of 15 free throws.

“Them losing Motema made a huge difference,” Cifelli said. “She’s an excellent player. We’ve seen their pressure and we were more prepared in the full and the halfcourt.”

The Red Eddies next meet an Oxford Hills squad they split with this regular season. In the opener, Dec. 8, Edward Little won, 49-42, in Oxford. In the rematch Jan. 25 in Auburn, the Vikings prevailed, 53-37.

What a ride

Portland was paced by 15 points and five rebounds from Amanda Kabantu. Davina Kabantu added six points and five boards, Kiera Eubanks and Shayla Eubanks (five rebounds) had four points apiece, Walsh finished with three and Brown, Moffo and Toma had two apiece.

The Bulldogs had a 33-32 rebounding advantage, turned the ball over 15 times and made 8 of 10 foul shots.

“We expected more shots from the outside, just the opposite of what they did to us,” Corcoran said. “It was a 10-point game at halftime, then we started making shots, but we needed defensive stops and they went on that run.

“Gemima was the crucial center-piece to our 2-1-2 press. The first time we played them, we did it and won by 15. With Gemima not here, on a bigger floor, we couldn’t do it. They have girls who handle pressure well.”

One of the Bulldogs’ best seasons this century is over, but it won’t be forgotten and it will be used as a building block for future success.

“Everything these girls did this year was awesome,” Corcoran said. “There’s nothing to hang our heads about. We’re such a young program. All the credit to Shayla for being our senior leader. 

“We have a lot of work to do. We have very good athletes. Now we have to work on becoming better basketball players because we play teams who have great basketball players.”

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

Portland senior Shayla Eubanks shoots over Edward Little senior Grace Beaudet.

Portland freshman Amanda Kabantu shoots a 3-pointer over Edward Little sophomore Hannah Chaput.

Portland junior Grace Stacey is defended by Edward Little junior Grace Fontaine.

Portland sophomore Kiera Eubanks blocks the shot of Edward Little sophomore Chantel Ouellette.

Portland junior Nettie Walsh drives on Edward Little junior Grace Fontaine.

Portland coach Gerry Corcoran talks to his team during a timeout.

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