PORTLAND—Playing on their homecourt wasn’t enough to save the Portland Bulldogs’ season Saturday night.
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs, who were devastated Friday when senior leader Joe Zukowski broke his ankle, had no answers for No. 2 Westbrook, its depth and the dominance of seniors Dominic Borelli and Nich Jobin. The Blue Blazes never trailed and ended Portland’s season 10-9 with a 65-34 decision in a Western Class A boys’ basketball quarterfinal at the Portland Exposition Building.
“Westbrook is just flat-out good,” said longtime Portland coach Joe Russo. “They have all the components that make for a quality team. But, I would be lying to you if I didn’t say I thought we could beat them. We had great week of practice, we were in full strength and we had a game plan I thought would limit their strength and focus on ours until Joey broke his ankle.”
Up and down
Portland never hit its stride this season, although it showed glimpses, most notably in a pair of wins over South Portland. The Bulldogs let a sure win slip away late in their finale at Deering and slipped to the No. 7 spot.
As expected, Westbrook was an elite squad this winter, losing only by two points at Cheverus way back on Dec. 8, en route to a 17-1 mark.
The teams’ lone regular season meeting came three days before Christmas, a 52-36 home triumph for the Blue Blazes. The Bulldogs beat Westbrook 55-43 in last year’s semifinals, the most recent playoff encounter. Since 1964, Portland is 4-5 against the Blue Blazes in the tournament, but the Bulldogs hadn’t lost to Westbrook on the big stage in a decade (57-49 in the 2000 regional final).
Saturday, Westbrook scored early and often and usually from in close as it took command.
A layup by senior point guard Jose Nouchanthavong just 11 seconds in set the tone. Borelli followed with a jumper and Nouchanthavong fed Jobin for a layup and a quick 6-0 lead. After the Bulldogs got on the board on a 3-pointer from senior Koang Thok and Thok followed that up with a free throw, Jobin made a layup. A short jumper from senior Lenny Cummings pulled Portland to within 8-6, but senior Andrew Beckwith scored on a layup and Borelli made a free throw after a technical foul was assessed on Cummings for hanging on the rim. Borelli then made a layup and capped a 7-0 run with a leaner for a 15-6 advantage. Thok ended the run with a layup, but Borelli answered with a layup. A Thok 3 in the final minute of the quarter, pulled Portland back to 17-11 after one.
Jobin got the scoring started in the second with a putback. After Thok made a layup after a steal, Borelli converted an old-fashioned three-point play and Beckwith scored on a putback to push it to 24-13. Cummings scored on a putback, but Nouchanthavong hit a floater and Jobin followed with a 3. After Thok hit a jump shot, two Beckwith foul shots made it 31-17. Senior Wally Stover got on the board at the 1:51 mark with a leaner, but Nouchanthavong made a layup. After sophomore Will Defanti made a layup for the Bulldogs, Borelli capped the first half scoring in fitting fashion with a layup for a commanding 35-21 lead.
“Losing Joey made all the difference in the world,” Russo lamented. “He was my most consistent player. We had nobody to stop Borelli. We gave up too many easy hoops.”
A Jobin dunk started things in fine fashion in the third. After Thok answered with a pair of foul shots, Borelli made two free throws, then converted three straight layups for a 45-23 lead. Freshman Nate Smart ended the run with a pair of foul shots, but Beckwith answered with a layup. After a 3 from Thok, Nouchanthavong scored on a layup after a steal and Jobin hit two free throws. A Smart foul shot got Portland back to 51-29 after three.
In the fourth, with most of the starters long one, the Blue Blazes steadily extended their lead and brought down the curtain on their 65-34 win.
Thok finished his fine Portland career with a team-high 18 points. Cummings and Stover had four apiece, Smart and sophomore Garang Ater finished with three each and Defanti had two.
“There’s a reason why were (10-9),” Russo said. “We showed why tonight. We never put it together this season. On paper, we have a senior team, but I played two freshmen and a sophomore a lot of minutes.”
For Westbrook, Borelli led the way with a game-high 24. Jobin added 13, Nouchanthavong had a dozen, Beckwith 10, Murphy, senior Torey Quigley and junior Edwin Grant two apiece. The Blue Blazes advanced to meet No. 3 South Portland (15-4) in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“(Westbrook) had balanced scoring,” Russo said. “All their seniors contributed.”
After its first quarterfinal round loss since 2002, Portland will turn its attention to improving next winter and returning to the top of the heap.
“After the game I told my players to hold their heads high, that we lost to a very good team,” Russo said. “We’ve been there and done that. It just wasn’t our year. I told the seniors to focus on what you have accomplished over the last four years, all the positives and good memories. I told the underclassmen to stay positive and attend the remaining games at the Civic Center and begin focusing on getting there in the future. The young kids saw the excitement of the tournament. Now they understand what it takes to get to this level. This time of the year is lot of fun.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com