Portland senior Shayla Eubanks scores two of her game-high 18 points during the Bulldogs’ 47-37 win at Cheverus Friday.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
P- 14 7 16 10- 47
C- 9 8 8 12- 37
P- S. Eubanks 7-4-18, A. Kabantu 3-4-12, Motema 3-0-7, Brown 3-0-6, Stacey 1-0-2, D. Kabantu 0-1-1, Walsh 0-1-1
C- Poulin 4-1-11, Kelly 0-8-8, M. Jordan 1-5-7, Cavallaro 1-3-6, L. Jordan 2-1-5
P (3) A. Kabantu 2, Motema 1
C (3) Poulin 2, Cavallaro 1
PORTLAND—Much has been made of the three new arrivals to the Portland girls’ basketball team, but the Bulldogs’ veterans have played a big role in the program’s resurgence as well.
Friday evening, new and old both made their mark as Portland continued to surge and earned a Heal Points-rich victory at rival Cheverus in a Class AA North showdown.
The Bulldogs turned up their pressure defense, were sparked on offense by senior Shayla Eubanks and along the way, Portland got contributions from many other sources as it wore Cheverus down.
The Bulldogs forced 15 Stags’ turnovers in the first half and led almost the whole way, going on top to stay when freshman Amanda Kabantu hit a 3-pointer midway late in the first quarter.
Portland held a 14-9 advantage after one quarter and was up, 21-17, at halftime.
The Bulldogs then gained some separation in the third period, thanks to a 12-2 run, and held a 37-25 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
There, Cheverus tried to rally, but never drew closer than seven points as Portland went on to a 47-37 victory.
Eubanks stole the show with 18 points and 14 rebounds and the Bulldogs improved to 9-3, dropping the Stags to 8-5 in the process.
“We’ve had Cheverus in our sights most of the season,” Eubanks said. “We didn’t play all week, so we focused all week on this. This is a big win for our team.”
Portland and Cheverus are both in the midst of strong seasons and are only getting better as the year has progressed.
The Bulldogs opened with a 39-30 win at Thornton Academy, then downed visiting Windham, 49-40. After falling, 57-38, at Oxford Hills, Portland responded with a 48-32 home win over Massabesic. After a 48-43 home loss to rival Deering, the Bulldogs took the next step with a last-second, 43-41 victory at two-time defending Class AA champion Gorham, then rattled off wins over visiting Edward Little (57-42) and host Sanford (48-36). After falling just short at home against South Portland (47-38), Portland defeated visiting Lewiston (49-26) and Maine Girls’ Academy (42-39).
The Stags, coached this year by former University of Southern Maine legend Gary Fifield, opened with losses at Windham (46-43) and South Portland (49-31). After a 57-45 home victory over Edward Little and a 47-44 home win over Bonny Eagle, the Stags fell at Lewiston, 32-26, before bouncing back to defeat host Bangor (48-35) and visiting Thornton Academy (58-43). After losing at home to Scarborough (50-48), Cheverus upset visiting Gorham (52-50), won at Deering (32-20), at home over Sanford (55-43) and at Massabesic (49-37).
Entering play Friday, Portland had won 12 of 20 all-time meetings, but last year, the Stags rolled at home, 63-32.
This time, Portland returned the favor.
Bulldogs junior Reagan Brown opened the scoring with a basket before Stags senior Emme Poulin sank a 3 and sophomore Lauren Jordan added a free throw to give Cheverus a 4-2 lead.
Back came Portland, as Kabantu drove for a layup and Eubanks knocked down a jump shot.
Another Poulin 3 gave the Stags a 7-6 advantage, but it didn’t last, as Kabantu hit a 3, Brown banked home a shot and after Cheverus senior Abby Cavallaro set up Jordan for a layup, Kabantu hit another 3 to put the Bulldogs on top, 14-9, after eight minutes.
Portland’s defense continued to stymie Cheverus in the second period, but the Stags hung tough.
Just six seconds in, Cavallaro set up Poulin for a layup and she was fouled on the play. Poulin then added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play, cutting the deficit to two.
The Bulldogs then got the next seven points to open it back up, as Eubanks pulled up and hit a jumper, sophomore Gemima Motema hit a jump shot, then Motema buried a 3-ball for a 21-12 lead with 3:20 to go in the half.
Portland wouldn’t score again before the break, and the Stags got a free throw from Cavallaro, two more foul shots from Cavallaro and two free throws from junior Meg Kelly to pull within 21-17 at halftime.
Cheverus committed 15 first half turnovers, but stayed within hailing distance behind Poulin’s nine points. Kabantu paced the Bulldogs with eight points.
Portland then extended its lead in the third quarter, as it remained relentless.
A runner from Poulin cut the deficit to two just 23 seconds into the second half, but in a game-altering play, Bulldogs junior Grace Stacey grabbed an offensive rebound under the basket and facing away from the hoop, she tossed up a prayer over her head and when it came down, it didn’t quite bring rain, but it did produce two points.
Eubanks added to the lead with a driving layup and after senior Michaela Jordan made two free throws for Cheverus, Eubanks made consecutive jumpers, Kabantu hit two free throws and with 1:23 to play in the quarter, Eubanks capped the 12-2 run with a jump, giving herself a double-double in the process, to make it 33-21.
“My shots went in-and-out at the beginning, but Coach (Gerry Corcoran) told me to keep shooting,” Eubanks said. “I did and eventually, they fell.”
Kelly ended the surge with two foul shots, but Motema scored on a putback and Eubanks sank two free throws before a layup from Lauren Jordan pulled the Stags within a dozen, 37-25, heading for the fourth quarter.
There, the Bulldogs never let the Stags make a serious run.
After Michaela Jordan opened the frame with a layup, Eubanks finished a feed from senior Nettie Walsh and made a layup.
Cavallaro cut the lead to nine with a 3-pointer, but Kabantu made two free throws and Brown hit a floater for a 43-30 advantage with 4:18 remaining.
After Michaela Jordan hit a free throw, Kelly made two foul shots and Jordan added two more free throws with 1:28 left to make it 43-35.
Freshman Davina Kabantu made a free throw for the visitors before Kelly hit two with 1:09 remaining to cut the deficit to 44-37, but that’s as close as Cheverus would get.
Walsh made a free throw and Eubanks, fittingly, hit two more to make it official as Portland went on to a 47-37 victory.
“We focused on playing our game,” Eubanks said. “The comparison of where we were last year when we played them to where we are now, it’s awesome to see. I’m proud of our team. We’ve shown a lot. We’ve had challenges, but we’ve bonded and gotten better.”
“Cheverus is a great team, unbelievably coached,” Corcoran said. “They do a great job of ball movement. Our game plan was to wear them down, wear their shooters down. Our press wasn’t the defining factor tonight. Our halfcourt defense was. It’s been awesome. The nice part of it is that the talent of the three newcomers has expanded to the others. I don’t know if I could have gotten them to this level without their talent pushing them.”
Eubanks had a superb effort from start to finish, leading all players with 18 points and 14 rebounds.
“I’m making sure I’m hitting the boards and boxing out,” Eubanks said.
“Shayla did a phenomenal job,” Corcoran said. “The message down the stretch is for her to put this team on her back. I told her this is her game. She made it happen.”
Amanda Kabantu also wound up in double figures with a dozen points (she also had six rebounds and two steals). Motema had seven points, seven rebounds and three steals, Brown added six points (and six rebounds), Stacey had two and Davina Kabantu (three steals) and Walsh (five steals, five rebounds) had one apiece.
Portland had a commanding 48-27 rebounding advantage, overcame 21 turnovers and hit 10 of 13 free throws.
Cheverus was led by 11 points from Poulin. Kelly added eight, Michaela Jordan had seven (to go with 10 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots), Cavallaro (four rebounds, three assists, three steals) six and Lauren Jordan five.
The Stags hit 18 of 24 foul shots and were done in by 25 turnovers.
“We’ve been sick, but that’s not an excuse because (Portland’s) good,” Fifield said. “They’re so athletic and deep and we’re not athletic and we’re not deep. They wore us down. They get out and put pressure on us. That was a really tough matchup. I thought we’d handle it better. We got physically and mentally tired. I don’t know anyone, other than South Portland, who has the depth they’ve got. They generally don’t hit the 3s they hit tonight. (Amanda Kabantu) and (Motema) hit 3s in the first half that we expected them to miss.”
The teams could meet again in the Class AA North playoffs, but there’s a lot yet to be determined in regards to the standings.
Cheverus (third in the Class AA North Heal Points standings) plays at Noble Tuesday, Oxford Hills Wednesday and MGA Thursday, then closes with home games versus Deering and South Portland.
“We have a lot of tough games to come,” Fifield said. “We haven’t had any easy games. We have all AA schools. Next week, we have to go to Noble, to Oxford Hills and to MGA. Then, we’ve got Deering and South Portland. Tell me who would want to play that. It’s not an easy road, that’s for sure.”
Portland (first in the region) is back in action Saturday at Bangor. After hosting Bonny Eagle Tuesday, the Bulldogs then visit Noble, host Scarborough, go to South Portland and finish the regular season at Deering.
“We’re trying to not get too excited,” Eubanks said. “We have some great competition coming up. We haven’t been in this position for a long time.”
“We’re playing as a team and we get better each game,” Corcoran said. “We still have big games to come. Teams will pack the middle and keep us shooting from the outside, but now we’re starting to make shots.”
Portland sophomore Gemima Motema steals the ball from Cheverus senior Emme Poulin.
Portland junior Nettie Walsh races up the court.
Cheverus senior Kat Kane is defended by Portland freshman Amanda Kabantu.
Cheverus sophomore Lauren Jordan gets past the Portland press.
Portland junior Grace Stacey looks for a shot.
Cheverus senior Abby Cavallaro drives on Portland sophomore Gemima Motema, left, sophomore Kiera Eubanks and freshman Amanda Kabantu.
@ Cheverus 63 Portland 32
Cheverus 56 @ Portland 45
@ Portland 66 Cheverus 60
Western A prelim
Portland 67 @ Cheverus 63
@ Portland 62 Cheverus 60
Cheverus 42 @ Portland 17
@ Cheverus 61 Portland 28
Cheverus 56 @ Portland 40
@ Cheverus 62 Portland 41
Cheverus 59 @ Portland 21
@ Cheverus 73 Portland 56
Cheverus 50 @ Portland 48
Portland 47 @ Cheverus 46
@ Cheverus 43 Portland 38 (OT)
Cheverus 54 @ Portland 48
Cheverus 50 @ Portland 32
Portland 49 @ Cheverus 45
Portland 68 @ Cheverus 41
@ Portland 63 Portland 40