The Deering High girls’ basketball team was unable to finish off an upset bid against once-beaten Portland on Friday night but showed continued signs of improvement – just like earlier in the week in a tough loss to Gorham.

“I think they’ll be a dangerous team in the playoffs,” Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume said of the Rams. “It starts with they’re well-coached and they have some good young talent.”

Deering is 5-7 and is ranked ninth in Western Class A Heal points. The Rams have one victory against a team that currently has a winning record – Marshwood (6-5).

“I’m really pleased overall. We had to replace three collegiate basketball players and two other kids who played significant minutes. That’s not always easy to do,” Deering Coach Mike Murphy said, referring to last year’s 17-3 squad.

Freshman point guard Tasia Titherington and freshman forward Amanda Brett (20 points) had strong second halves against Portland as the Rams rallied from an early 14-2 hole to take a lead with five minutes to play.

“The biggest thing is strength, and it shows up mostly on defense,” Murphy said. “When you’re a 14-year-old playing against 18-year-olds, that’s a mismatch. It just is. They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them.”

Brett had a 19-point, 17-rebound effort in a two-point loss to South Portland. Other games have been more of a struggle.

“Last year she was playing against King Middle School. Now she’s going against (future) scholarship players. She’ll be the strong kid one of these days,” Murphy said.

LeeAnn Downs is the lone senior who returned to the varsity. She missed a 38-22 loss to Windham because of an injury but otherwise has been the team’s glue.

“She rarely makes a mental error and she’s logging 32 minutes a game,” Murphy said.

PORTLAND COACH Jan Veinot said it is likely junior guard Elizabeth Donato is out for the rest of the season. Donato injured her knee with 3:25 to play Friday.

Donato has not yet visited her primary care physician or a sports medicine specialist, but “the trainer said 90 percent (likelihood) that it’s an ACL,” Veinot said Sunday. “Very sad (teammates) right now. Very sad coach.”

Portland improved to 11-1 with its win over Deering but will be hard-pressed to maintain that pace without the versatile Donato, the team’s second-leading scorer, a key ball-handler and someone with the defensive ability to match up against bigger forwards as well as guards.

DEERING HIGH has two new scoreboards in its gymnasium, thanks to the generosity of former standout Nik Caner-Medley.

A year ago, Caner-Medley reached out to his alma mater and asked how he could give back to the school that had provided so many great memories.

Caner-Medley, a professional basketball player in Spain, graduated from Deering in 2002 and went on to the University of Maryland, where he played for four years, scoring more than 1,000 points.

Caner-Medley is Deering’s all-time leading scorer with 1,641 points. He was selected the state’s Mr. Basketball after the 2001-02 season.

Deering recognized Caner-Medley’s donation prior to Friday’s game against Portland. His parents, Janet Caner and Joe Medley, represented their son at the ceremony.

HEADING INTO the final three weeks of the boys’ basketball regular season, there’s a clear separation in Western Class A between the top three teams and the rest of the pack.

Falmouth, Bonny Eagle and Portland have established themselves as the teams to beat in the regional tournament. That’s the order in which they’re ranked in the Heal point standings.

Portland (12-0) is unbeaten, while Falmouth (11-1) and Bonny Eagle (12-1) both have one loss. Portland beat Bonny Eagle 69-60 Tuesday, then followed up that win with a 72-44 victory over No. 4 Deering on Friday. Portland hosts 12th-ranked Scarborough on Tuesday night at the Portland Expo.

Falmouth is playing a Class B regular-season schedule before heading into the Class A tournament for the first time. The Yachtsmen won the Class B state title last year.

— Staff writers Steve Craig and Tom Chard contributed to this report.