Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Tom Chard email@example.com
PORTLAND — About a month ago, Portland was wondering if it would be in the Western Class A boys’ basketball tournament.
Vukasin Vignjevic of South Portland looks to penetrate against the heart of Portland’s defense as Justin Zukowski gets a hand on the ball.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
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The Bulldogs were 6-7 and mired in 10th place in the Heal point standings, with the top eight making the tourney.
Slowly they clawed back, not only making the top eight but reaching the No. 5 seed.
Now they’re headed to the semifinals.
Portland took control in the second quarter and dominated fourth-ranked South Portland for a 69-45 quarterfinal win Friday night at the Portland Expo.
It was the third victory this season for the Bulldogs (12-7) against the Red Riots (12-7).
This one didn’t match the excitement of their first meeting in January, an 80-71 triple-overtime thriller at the Expo. A few weeks later at South Portland the Bulldogs won again, 59-54.
This one wasn’t close after the opening quarter. Portland outscored the Riots 17-8 in the second quarter, closing with a 9-0 run to lead 34-20 at halftime.
Mike Herrick, who torched the Riots for 32 points in the first meeting, finished with 19 points, including eight in the second quarter.
Jayvon Pitts-Young, a freshman who has played sparingly, added 16 points for Portland, which will play top-ranked and undefeated Cheverus in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
In what could be a foreshadowing of the next three seasons for the Bulldogs, another freshman, point guard Justin Zukowski, fed a breaking Pitts-Young for a fast-break layup. It happened in the fourth quarter when the game had long been decided, but it sure looked pretty.
“Everyone picked each other up,” said Portland Coach Joe Russo. “Pete Donato didn’t have his usual game, but Nate Smart came off the bench and had a great game.”
The Riots were beaten off the boards and added to their woes with poor shooting. They missed several layups despite having inside position, and they were just 9 of 20 from the free-throw line.
“It was a tough loss,” said South Portland Coach Phil Conley. “Portland beat us in all aspects. We didn’t shoot well. We have four seniors and they’re really hurting.”
The Bulldogs opened the second half with a 10-2 run to expand their lead to 44-22. Herrick and Nick Volger had four points apiece, and Smart added a basket.
The Riots responded with seven straight points, but the Bulldogs countered with five in a row.
South Portland led early, as Jordan Muller hit a 3-pointer from the corner. The Bulldogs then went on a 7-0 run. Volger scored from the side, Matt McInnis added a 3-pointer and Herrick scored on a breakaway.
The Riots cut it to one point late in the first quarter, but Herrick and Zukowski closed the quarter with baskets, and Portland took off from there to earn its sixth straight win.
“We’re a lot different team now,” said McInnis, a senior who was strong on the boards while adding six points. “We’re peaking at the right time.”
Jordan Muller led the Riots with 12 points, and Vukasin Vignjevic added 11.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:
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Portland freshman Jayvon Pitts-Young, who finished with 16 points, scores on a layup in front of Logan Gaddar of South Portland during Portland's 69-45 victory Friday night at the Portland Expo.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer