Portland High had to do something to change the tenor of the Western Class A boys’ basketball championship game Saturday night. A three-quarter court press with big men Matt Talbot and Steve Alex out front did the trick.
The Bulldogs quickly erased an eight-point deficit early in the third quarter and went on to beat Bonny Eagle 70-60 to win the regional title before a large crowd at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Portland (21-0) will play Hampden Academy (21-0) for the state title at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Civic Center. Hampden, the defending champion, has won 43 straight games.
Portland captured its first regional title since 2004, when it went on to beat Brunswick in the state final at the Civic Center.
Dustin Cole put on a show in the first half, scoring 21 points to stake Bonny Eagle to a 33-28 lead. He added a long 3-pointer to open the second half but had only two more baskets the rest of the way.
“We wanted to get the ball out of Dustin’s hands in the second half,” said Portland Coach Joe Russo. “We put our two bigs at the head of the press.”
Cole had to work to get the ball across midcourt and found it difficult to pass to teammates. The press forced turnovers that the Bulldogs turned into baskets.
As quickly as they fell behind at the end of the first half, the Bulldogs assumed control even more quickly, going on a 12-0 run to take a 40-36 lead on a basket by Talbot.
Travis Godbout, who opened the game with three 3-pointers, started the run with another. Jayvon Pitts-Young of Portland added a basket, and Godbout scored again while being fouled and made the foul shot to tie it.
Amir Moss came off the bench and was outstanding while filling in for Pitts-Young, who was in foul trouble and eventually fouled out.
Moss hit a basket to give Portland a 38-36 lead. The game stayed tight the rest of the way but the Bulldogs never trailed again.
“We had to slow down Dustin Cole,” said Justin Zukowski, who won the Vinall Trophy as the tourney MVP. “It was a team effort.”
After getting outscored 20-10 in the second quarter, the Bulldogs outscored the Scots 19-8 in the third. It was a wide-open fourth quarter and the game was close until the final minute.
Bonny Eagle lost for the fourth straight time in the regional final.
“We’re tired of getting beat in this game,” said Bonny Eagle Coach Phil Bourassa, who cknowledged that Portland’s press turned the game around.
“We couldn’t get the ball in the middle of the court,” he said.
Cole finished with 28 points.
“What Dustin Cole did for Bonny Eagle basketball over the last four years is incredible,” said Russo.
Godbout led Portland with 17 points. Alex, who made some big baskets in the fourth quarter, scored 16 points before fouling out. Talbot was a defensive force, changing the release point of Bonny Eagle shooters who tried to go inside.
Zukowski finished with 10 points, eight in the fourth quarter.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: