With the game winding down and her team ahead by just two points, Jan Veinot had one message for her Portland High girls’ basketball players: Dig in on defense.
“And that’s what we got,’’ she said.
The fourth-seeded Bulldogs forced two turnovers and blocked two shots in the final 90 seconds to hold off No. 5 Gorham 47-42 in a Western Class A quarterfinal Monday night at the Portland Expo.
Portland was led down the stretch by inside players Brianna Holdren, Gabrielle Wagabaza and Cierra Burnham.
“We got here by our defense,’’ said Holdren, who scored seven of her 12 points in the fourth quarter. “We felt we all needed to step up.’’
Portland (14-5) will play the McAuley-Deering winner in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
The Bulldogs trailed only once, at 9-8 on an Emily Esposito bank shot with 6:44 left in the second quarter. But it was a close game throughout. Portland’s biggest lead was eight, which it didn’t hit until the final seconds.
Gorham, which was missing top shooter Abby Hamilton because of an injury, kept coming back and challenged the Bulldogs to the end. But for a team that had very little tournament experience, Portland kept its poise remarkably well.
Holdren twice gave Portland a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, the last at 41-34 on a foul-line leaner with 2:45 left. But Esposito scored on a three-point play inside, and the Rams forced a turnover on their press. That led to a short jumper by Jessica Rexrode, from Esposito, and it was suddenly 41-39 with 2:05 remaining.
After a Portland turnover, Burnham stepped up and knocked the ball away from Esposito, the talented freshman who led all scorers with 17 points. The Bulldogs then turned an inbounds play into a layup by Elizabeth Donato on a slick pass from Burnham with 55.4 seconds left.
Wagabaza, who also had 12 points, blocked a shot, and Mariana Angelo (11 points) made one free throw with 40.5 seconds left. Holdren then knocked the ball away from Esposito, and a free throw by Holdren extended the lead to 45-39. Holdren added a basket moments later to make it 47-39.
“I knew this was going to be tough,’’ said Veinot. “I knew coming in we didn’t have playoff experience. But the benefit we had was this is our court.
“All week I kept telling the girls, ‘Our court, our game.’ ’’
Gorham, meanwhile, played hard but had trouble matching the bigger Bulldogs inside and lost some composure in the second quarter, committing 10 turnovers.
“We were a step too fast,’’ said Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume. “I thought we needed to slow the game down. We made uncharacteristic errors. We needed to get more shots.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: