New Portland girls’ basketball coach Gerry Corcoran talks with senior captains Kate Johnson (3) and Taylor Sargent during the Bulldogs’ 50-37 home loss to Sanford Tuesday afternoon.
S- 15 8 16 11- 50
P- 12 11 3 11- 37
S- Cote 4-7-15, Cyr 3-7-13, Allen 1-6-8, M. O’Connell 2-1-5, Ledue 2-0-4, K. O’Connell 0-3-3, Camire 0-2-2
P- Sargent 5-2-16, Eubanks 2-1-5, Lynch 2-1-5, Johnson 2-0-4, Walsh 1-1-3, Brown 1-0-2, Stacey 1-0-2
P (4) Sargent 4
PORTLAND—A tumultuous season now features a glimmer of hope for Portland’s girls’ basketball team.
Tuesday afternoon, four days after the sudden resignation of coach Jay Lowery, the Bulldogs welcomed a new coach, Gerry Corcoran, and after five decisive losses, played with great energy and emotion against visiting Sanford at the Portland Exposition Building.
Portland got off to a fast start behind senior sharpshooter Taylor Sargent, but the Spartans brought sophomore Julia Cyr off the bench and she provided a spark that helped the visitors take control. Sargent buried a long 3-pointer just before the horn, but Sanford still led, 15-12, after one quarter.
In the second period, the Bulldogs hung tough as well and even led twice before the Spartans pulled even at halftime, 23-23.
Portland ran out of gas in the second half and went cold from the floor and the free throw line as Sanford opened up a 39-26 advantage.
In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs continued to play hard, but couldn’t get any closer than 11 points and the Spartans went on to a 50-37 victory.
Portland got 16 points from Sargent and built some confidence going forward, but still fell to 0-6 on the year as Sanford, which got double-doubles from Cyr and freshman Paige Cote, evened its record at 3-3 in the process.
“It’s been challenging,” said Sargent, who is a team captain along with seniors Kate Johnson and Andrea Lynch and junior Shayla Eubanks. “We’ve had to come together as a team and keep going. It’s a new chapter. The captains just told everyone to stay positive and cheer everyone. We wanted it to be a new start with a new coach. We did some good things today.”
Portland went 9-11 in 2014-15, Lowery’s first season, which included a preliminary round upset at Cheverus and a close call against then four-time defending state champion McAuley in the quarterfinals.
Last winter, however, the Bulldogs only won two of 18 games.
Portland hoped for improvement coming into this season, but it opened with a 52-32 home loss to Deering, then fell at Cheverus (63-32), Oxford Hills (47-31) and Lewiston (67-49) and at home to Edward Little last Thursday (75-41).
The following afternoon, word broke that Lowery had resigned. In a text, Lowery told a reporter, “My decisions were made in best interest of the players.”
Enter Corcoran, who played at Northeastern, was a seventh-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics, played in Italy, Spain and Venezuela and later coached at Dean Junior College and for a short time at the professional level with the Cape Cod Frenzy of the American Basketball Association.
“I came in last week and ran a practice for them, trying to help them with my background, then, I got a call from (athletic director) Rob O’Leary telling me Jay resigned and asking me if I’d be interested and I said, ‘absolutely,'” Corcoran said. “I had jump through some hoops and I was approved to coach at 10:30 this morning.”
Sanford, a perennial contender, went just 5-13 last winter and missed the playoffs, but looks to bounce back this season. The Spartans opened with a 32-28 home loss to Windham, then beat host Biddeford (51-42) and after losses to visiting Scarborough (55-44) and at Deering (43-17), Sanford beat host Bonny Eagle (51-45) last week.
In last year’s meeting, Sanford won at home, 59-42.
Tuesday, as part of the Red Claws Christmas Showcase, Portland hoped to beat the Spartans for the first time since a 49-46 triumph Jan. 2, 2015 in Sanford, but instead, the Spartans made it two in a row in the series.
It was clear from the get-go that the Bulldogs were playing with a lot of energy and intensity.
The Spartans did score first, as off an inbounds set, senior Summer Camire set up freshman Cote for a layup, but sophomore Nettie Walsh made a free throw, Sargent hit a pair of foul shots and after a rebound, in transition, Walsh set up Johnson for a layup and a 5-2 Portland lead, forcing Sanford coach Kristy Parent to call timeout.
It helped, as Cote made two free throws and after Sargent rattled home a shot, Cote scored on a bank shot and Cyr added a free throw to tie the score, 7-7.
A jumper from Eubanks put the Bulldogs back on top, but Cyr made two foul shots and in transition, Cyr took a pass from junior Molly Boissonneault and made a layup for an 11-9 lead, forcing Corcoran to call timeout.
The Spartans continued to build their lead on two free throws from Cote and after blocking a shot at one end, Cyr took a pass from Boissonneault and made a layup at the other end for a six-point lead.
After going over three minutes without a point, Portland capped the frame with a flourish, as Lynch stole the ball and set up Sargent for a long 3 at the horn to cut the deficit to 15-12.
The second period would be tight throughout and the game would go to the break deadlocked.
After Lynch made a layup off a pass from Johnson, Sanford senior Annie Ledue scored on a hook shot, but Sargent countered with another 3 to tie the game, 17-17.
Cote put the Spartans back on top with a leaner, but Portland sophomore Grace Stacey scored on a runner in the lane to forge another tie.
A free throw from Cote put Sanford ahead, but Walsh’s putback gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the quarter, 21-20.
After sophomore Julia Allen tied the score with a free throw, Johnson stole the ball and made a layup for a Portland lead, but with 17.2 seconds to go, Spartans sophomore Megan O’Connell made a jump shot from the wing to tie the game again, 23-23, and that’s how it stayed going to the half.
In the first 16 minutes, Sargent led the way with 10 points for the Bulldogs, while Cote had 11 for Sanford. Portland forced 10 turnovers, but only made 3 of 8 free throws. The foul shooting problems would continue in the second half.
Neither team scored for nearly three minutes in the third period before Ledue knocked down a long jumper. Cyr added a free throw, then hit another and Allen drained a pair for a 29-23 lead.
With 2:18 left in the quarter, Lynch made a free throw to snap the 6:17 drought, but Allen made a layup and Cote sank two free throws.
With 1:05 remaining, Johnson fed sophomore Reagan Brown for a short jumper (Portland’s first field goal in 7:30), but Camire set up O’Connell for a layup and she was fouled on the play. O’Connell added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play, Allen made two more foul shots and after being fouled after a steal, senior Kristen O’Connell sank a free throw to give Sanford a commanding 39-26 advantage heading for the fourth quarter.
There, Sanford made its foul shots and put the win away.
A layup by Cyr opened the scoring in the final stanza. Cyr added two free throws before Sargent drained a long 3 and Eubanks converted a three-point play (putback, foul, free throw) to cut the deficit to 11, but two Kirsten O’Connell free throws restored order. Allen tacked on another, Cote scored on a putback and Camire sank two foul shots for a 50-32 lead.
In the waning seconds, Lynch made a layup and Sargent buried one more long-range 3 to account for the 50-37 final score.
“Today, we proved we can play with any team in the league and I think we’ll just go up from here,” Sargent said.
“It wasn’t easy, but just in a short two-and-a-half hour period I’ve been with the girls in practice, I’ve seen there’s a lot of talent and great basketball IQ,” said Corcoran. “Everything I love to coach. The best part of this is that we haven’t even practiced yet. The girls came out and played like I’ve known them for awhile. We preach effort and they brought it. We were right there in the first half. I told the team we’d run out of gas in the second half. We took a lot of shots that didn’t go in, but we’ll keep shooting. Every time Sanford’s two big girls touched the ball, they scored. That was the difference.”
The Spartans were led by Cote, who not only had 15 points, but also grabbed 11 rebounds. Cyr had 13 points, 13 boards and five blocked shots. Allen added eight points (and seven rebounds), Megan O’Connell had five, Ledue four, Kristen O’Connell three and Camire two (to go with five rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals). Boissonneault didn’t score, but she had six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Sanford enjoyed a 43-26 rebounding advantage, overcame 19 turnovers and made 26 of 37 free throws (as more than half of its points came from the charity stripe).
Portland was paced by Sargent, who sank four 3-pointers and had 16 points.
“Taylor proved she’s a heady point guard today and she can stroke the ball, which is awesome,” said Corcoran.
Eubanks and Lynch both had five points, Johnson added four, to go with four steals, four rebounds, three assists and a block.
“We give out a team Gatorade for Player of the Game and we gave it to Kate Johnson,” said Corcoran. “Everything she did impressed the heck out of me today. She was awesome in practice.”
Walsh had three points and Brown and Stacey each finished with two.
“I like our youth,” Corcoran said. “Nettie will be an awesome point guard. We have other nice pieces.”
Portland only turned the ball over 15 times, but was doomed by missing 21 of 26 free throws.
While Sanford is back in action Thursday at Cheverus, then returns home Jan. 3 to meet Thornton Academy, the Bulldogs play next on Thursday when defending Class A champion Gorham pays a visit. Bonny Eagle comes to the Expo Jan. 3.
Corcoran will coach the team for the remainder of the 2016-17 season.
“I’m thrilled to have someone with (Gerry’s) basketball knowledge and coaching resume as part of the Bulldog family,” said O’Leary.
Portland is looking for its first victory to turn things around.
“We believe we can go out and compete and I think (today) will be good for us the rest of the season,” Sargent said.
“We have to get in good shape, but I’m excited,” said Corcoran. “I’m planning on building this thing. I enjoy the purity of the girls’ game. I haven’t coached girls before. I’m open to any possibilities.”