Short-handed Bulldogs down Bangor in quarterfinals

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Portland’s girls’ basketball team celebrates at the conclusion of Tuesday’s 62-39 home win over Bangor in a Class AA North quarterfinal. The Bulldogs advanced to the regional semifinals next week.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 62 Bangor 39

B- 13 6 14 6- 39
P- 19 6 15 22- 62

B- Sharrow 4-4-13, L. Fleming 4-2-10, Riley Andrews 1-4-7, Hollis 1-2-4, A. Houghton 1-0-2, Williams 1-0-2, Rowan Andrews 0-1-1

P- S. Eubanks 7-3-20, A. Kabantu 6-2-17, D. Kabantu 3-1-7, Walsh 2-2-6, K. Eubanks 2-1-5, Stacey 1-2-5, Tona 0-2-2

3-pointers:
B (2) Riley Andrews, Sharrow 1
P (7) A. Kabantu, S. Eubanks 3, Stacey 1

Turnovers:
B- 16
P- 18

Free throws
B: 13-20
P: 13-20

PORTLAND—Portland’s girls’ basketball team is no stranger to adversity, but Tuesday evening, in its Class AA North quarterfinal at the Portland Exposition Building, the Bulldogs not only had to take the floor with virtually no postseason experience against a Bangor team which defeated them earlier in the year, they also had to compete without sophomore standout Gemima Motema, who is sidelined for the postseason with a foot fracture.

Portland wasn’t about to let its resurgent season come to an abbreviated end, however, as it relied on strong performances from myriad sources to punch its ticket to the semifinals.

The second-seeded Bulldogs shot to a quick 7-2 lead, but the seventh-ranked Rams rallied to lead, 11-10, before an old-fashioned three-point play from senior Shayla Eubanks put Portland on top to stay.

Three-point shots from freshman Amanda Kabantu and junior Grace Stacey followed and the Bulldogs had a 19-13 advantage after one quarter.

Neither team could generate much offense in the second period and Portland retained its six-point lead, 25-19, at the break.

The Bulldogs threatened to pull away in the third quarter, as another Kabantu 3 made it 32-20, but Bangor pulled within seven, 40-33, when freshman Lily Fleming converted a three-point play in the waning seconds of the frame.

Portland finally ended all doubt in the fourth period, as Kabantu and her sister, Davina Kabantu, did Motema, their cousin, proud, by sparking a 15-2 run to end all doubt.

The Bulldogs never looked back from there and went on to a 62-39 victory.

Eubanks led all scorers with 20 points and Amanda Kabantu added 17 as Portland improved to 13-6, ended the Rams’ season at 4-15 and advanced to battle either No. 3 Edward Little (12-7) or sixth-ranked Lewiston (8-10) in the semifinals Wednesday of next week at the Cross Insurance Arena across town.

“It’s a big deal,” Eubanks said. “It’s my senior year, I really want to do this. It’s very different from the regular season. We knew we had to buckle down and pull through. We were focused on pulling out the win. It was a mental hurdle knowing they had defeated us. It was a great motivator. We knew it was time for revenge. We went out there and got it done.”

Never a dull moment

One thing Portland’s girls’ basketball team has never been this winter is boring. One year removed from a 3-15 campaign, the Bulldogs entered the season surrounded by a great deal of buzz after Motema and Amanda Kabantu and Davina Kabantu joined the team.

Portland then became a force on the hardwood, going 12-6 (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories), losing decisively only twice, at defending Class AA North champion Oxford Hills and Class AA South top seed South Portland. The Bulldogs’ up-tempo, swarming style flummoxed many foes, even the top teams, and they wound up with the No. 2 seed in Class AA North.

Unfortunately, a regular season-ending 42-36 win at Deering came at a steep price, as Motema was lost for the rest of the year with a broken foot.

Bangor went 4-14 in the regular season and its highlight was unquestionable a 44-41 home win over Portland back on Jan. 27. In that one, sophomore Rowan Andrews hit a late 3-pointer to provide the winning margin, negating 14 points from Eubanks.

Prior to this meeting, the teams had no playoff history.

Tuesday, the Bulldogs did what it took to extend their season.

Despite its lack of playoff experience, Portland came out strong and confident.

Just 10 seconds in, junior Nettie Walsh gave the Bulldogs the lead with a short jump shot.

Bangor junior Sarah Hollis tied it with a short jumper, but Eubanks hit a long jump shot and Amanda Kabantu converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul and free throw) for a 7-2 advantage just 68 seconds in.

Portland then went cold and the Rams rallied.

A short jumper from junior Abby Houghton, a free throw from Fleming and a Fleming putback tied it.

Then, with 3:46 left in the first quarter, junior Olivia Sharrow buried a 3 to give Bangor its first lead.

Portland tied it on a 3 from Amanda Kabantu and after a free throw from freshman Riley Andrews put the Rams back on top, Eubanks converted a three-point play after a nice putback and Amanda Kabantu added a 3.

As time wound down, Fleming hit a short jumper for the Rams, but at the other end, Stacey buried a 3 from the corner to make it 19-13 Bulldogs after eight minutes.

Amanda Kabantu led the way with nine points in the frame.

In the second quarter, neither team could find the basket for nearly five minutes before Hollis made two free throws after a steal to end a 4 minute, 52 second drought.

Portland then ended its 4:59 drought when Eubanks hit a 3.

After Sharrow drove for a layup, the Bulldogs stalled for over two minutes as Bangor wouldn’t come out of its zone.

Then, with 18.3 seconds left, Eubanks hit a 3.

Just before time expired, the Rams got a little momentum back, as Riley Andrews was fouled on a drive and hit both free throws to cut the deficit to 25-19 at halftime.

In the first half, Eubanks led all scorers with 11 points, while Amanda Kabantu added nine.

Five points apiece from Fleming and Sharrow paced Bangor.

In the third period, the Bulldogs got some breathing room, but couldn’t quite pull away.

Eubanks got the second half off to an auspicious beginning with a 3-pointer 18 seconds in and after a Bangor miss, Amanda Kabantu was fouled on an offensive rebound and made a free throw to give Portland its first double-digit lead, 29-19.

After a Riley Andrews free throw, Amanda Kabantu hit a clutch 3, but Andrews countered with one for the visitors and Fleming added a short jumper to cut the deficit to seven.

Back came the Bulldogs, as Davina Kabantu scored on a runner in the lane and Eubanks scored with her left hand in the lane to make it 36-25 with 3:32 left in the quarter.

After Sharrow converted a three-point play, Stacey hit two free throws, but Fleming scored on a leaner.

After Davina Kabantu hit a long jumper, Sharrow countered with a three-point play and after Riley Andrews missed two free throws in the final seconds, Portland took a 40-33 lead to the fourth quarter.

There, the Bulldogs finally salted it away.

Davina Kabantu started the fourth with a jumper in the lane after a nice fake 11 seconds in.

Then, on the fastbreak, Amanda Kabantu set up sophomore Kiera Eubanks for a layup and with 6:55 to go, Amanda Kabantu’s jumper stretched the lead to 46-33.

A free throw from Libby Fleming got a point back, but Walsh sank two free throws, Walsh took a pass on the fastbreak from Davina Kabantu and made a layup and with 4:43 to go, Amanda Kabantu stole the ball and raced in for a layup to make it 52-34.

Out of a timeout, Bangor got a free throw from Rowan Andrews, but Davina Kabantu was fouled and hit two free throws and with 3:29 left, two Shayla Eubanks foul shots gave the Bulldogs a 20-point lead.

Sharrow answered with two free throws, but Davina Kabantu broke the press and set up Kiera Eubanks for a layup and a 57-37 advantage.

Kiera Eubanks added a free throw, Shayla Eubanks got a jumper to rattle in and freshman Mireillle Toma added two foul shots for Portland’s final points.

A late bank shot from Rams freshman Ally Williams then accounted for the 62-39 final score.

“This is a huge step, huge for our program,” Portland coach Gerry Corcoran said. “I took this job to help this program start winning. There’s no reason the girls’ program can’t win like the boys have. We knew (Bangor) is a good, scrappy team that beat us on their floor and made shots. In the first half, they did a great job penetrating and making their shots. This was the girls’ first experience and everything was elevated. It came down to everything we’ve been working on, like poise. In my experience, the team with the most poise, who takes care of the ball and makes plays, will win.”

Following the win, Portland’s players stressed that they were thinking about Motema.

“I was really sad because (Gemima’s) a tough player and she helps us so much, but we made her proud,” said Davina Kabantu. “This game was for her. We listened to what Coach said. We had to make plays. We stepped up.”

“It was heartbreaking for the whole team because she’s been a crucial part of our season,” Shayla Eubanks said. “Everyone had to step up and do the things she normally does for us.”

“As a player, you hate to see a player go down, but I challenged the team and some girls stepped up,” Corcoran added. “For everything these girls have been through, they’ve seen more than a broken foot. They’ve shown amazing character.”

Eubanks had 20 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots to spark the victory.

“I expected Shayla to step up,” said Corcoran. “I try not to put pressure on her. She’s had a tremendous year-and-a-half with me. She hit big shots tonight.”

Amanda Kabantu had 17 points and seven boards.

“Amanda has been playing in Gemima’s shadow,” Corcoran said. “I was praying she’d step up and she did.”

Davina Kabantu finished with seven points, five boards and two steals, Walsh had six points (to go with four assists and four rebounds) Kiera Eubanks (four rebounds) and Stacey added five apiece and Tona had two.

“Kiera did a tremendous job and Grace hit a big 3 and came out with confidence,” Corcoran said. “She has the best attitude on the team, whether she plays or watches, she’s always ready. Nettie has been battling shin splints. I’m trying to get her in and out and that gave Davina more time.”

Portland outrebounded Bangor by a 2-1 margin (40-20), overcame 18 turnovers and made 13 of 20 foul shots.

The Rams got 13 points from Sharrow, 10 from Fleming, seven from Riley Andrews, four from Hollis, two apiece from Houghton and Williams and one from Rowan Andrews.

Bangor also made 13 of 20 free throws and turned the ball over 16 times.

Semifinal showdown

Portland will take part in a semifinal next week for just the second time in the past 14 years.

The Bulldogs beat visiting Edward Little, 57-42, on Jan. 6 and downed visiting Lewiston, 49-26, nine days later.

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.

Portland and Lewiston have met five previous times in the tournament with the Bulldogs prevailing on four occasions, but the most recent encounter went to the Blue Devils, 63-55, in the 1999 Western A Final.

A victory would send the Bulldogs to their first regional final since 1999.

“I’m so excited,” Davina Kabantu said. “I’ve never played (at Cross Insurance Arena) before. We wanted to get there.”

“Our end goal is to go all the way,” Shayla Eubanks said. “Coach has told us since the end of last season that we’re a championship team and I fully believe that. We need to focus on making smart plays, being patient on offense, playing pressure defense and coming together as a team.”

“We have to play from the beginning like we did in the fourth quarter tonight,” Corcoran added. “We have to be ready. It will be a big challenge.”

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

Portland freshman Amanda Kabantu, who had 17 points, shoots the ball.

Portland freshman Davina Kabantu shoots over Bangor freshman Riley Andrews.

Portland junior Grace Stacey and Bangor freshman Libby Fleming fight for a loose ball.

Portland senior Shayla Eubanks lines up a foul shot. Eubanks led all scorers with 20 points.

Portland sophomore Kiera Eubanks goes up for a shot.

Portland freshman Davina Kabantu handles the ball.

Portland junior Grace Stacey drives to the basket.

Portland sophomore Callie Watson shoots over Bangor freshman Julia Houghton.

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Scarborough 42 Portland 35

South Portland 71 Portland 35

Portland 42 Deering 36

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