(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared in the March, 8, 2007 edition of The Forecaster)

AUGUSTA—Players and coaches dream about saving the best performance for last.

Unfortunately for the Portland boys’ basketball team, it wasn’t able to go out in a blaze of glory in Saturday’s Class A state final at the Augusta Civic Center.

The Bulldogs saved their lowest offensive output of the season for the most inopportune time possible, as they were dominated on both ends of the floor in a surprisingly one-sided 56-39 loss to the Bangor Rams.

Portland led for a mere 17 seconds, suffered through a seven-minute scoring drought in the first half and never made a serious run at the Rams in the second half as its season came to an end at 20-2.

“We just couldn’t get going,” said Bulldogs’ standout senior Andrew Duncanson, who was held to 13 points on the night. “We got outplayed tonight. Bangor’s a great team, but we know we had an off-night.”

“I have to give Bangor credit,” Portland coach Joe Russo added. “We didn’t play very well, but they had a lot to do with that.”

A long time in coming

As was widely noted before the state final, Bangor and Portland, two of the most storied programs in state history, hadn’t played in a state game since 1936. The Bulldogs won that one 30-15, for the first of the school’s seven championships.

The Rams beat Portland back in 1923 for their first title (Saturday’s crown would be their 11th overall and seventh in 15 years).

The teams never meet in the regular season, but did square off in a preseason contest back in December (a tight game won by the Bulldogs). Portland thought it had all the pieces to match up with Bangor Saturday and win its first title since edging Brunswick in an overtime classic in 2004, but it didn’t take long for some disturbing signs to show.

Duncanson began the game by missing a jump shot. After Bangor junior Ryan Weston established that he’d be a force inside with the rebound, the Rams went ahead when Weston found senior standout Alex Gallant for a layup and a 2-0 lead. Duncanson answered with a leaner, and with 6 minutes to go in the period, Bulldogs junior Justin Powell converted a layup to give Portland a 4-2 edge.

The Bulldogs would enjoy that lead for all of 17 seconds.

Weston answered with a layup and with 5:19 to play in the quarter, Bangor senior Troy Jellison scored on a layup after a steal to put his team on top to stay. Gallant followed with a leaner and after a Portland timeout and a turnover, Gallant made a baseline jumper for a 10-4 advantage.

Duncanson stemmed the tide by hitting a tough jumper, but Gallant found junior Adam Bernstein for a layup and a 12-6 lead. The Bulldogs then scored the last five points of the period as junior Jake Longstaff converted an old-fashioned three-point play and Powell hit a bank shot, to make it 12-11 Bangor after one.

Powell’s jumper with 1:10 to go in the first put ’11’ under ‘Portland’ on the scoreboard.

Late in the first half, that number hadn’t changed.

The Rams opened the second quarter on a 10-0 run as the Bulldogs went cold.

Bernstein got it started with a long jumper. Gallant then hit a jump shot. Junior Lee Suvlu made two free throws, then, Gallant (who seemingly couldn’t miss in the first half), scored on a layup and buried a jumper for a 22-11 lead.

With 2:10 to play in the half, Portland finally responded, as senior Ryan Carmichael made a 3-pointer. Duncanson then added a foul shot and Carmichael hit another 3-ball to pull the Bulldogs within four, 22-18, at halftime.

“At halftime we were actually happy to be down four, we knew we hadn’t played well,” Duncanson said.

No answers

Bangor snapped a five-minute drought when Suvlu converted a layup and a foul shot at the 6:33 mark of the third period for a 25-18 lead. Duncanson responded with a long jumper to cut the deficit back to five points. Gallant, however, calmly made a jumper, then, after a free throw from Weston, Gallant scored on a layup after an offensive rebound to make it 30-20 Rams.

Portland crawled back within six, 30-24, on a rebound layup by Longstaff and a layup by junior Anthony Passmore (after a Duncanson steal), but Weston proved to be no match for Powell or Bulldogs senior Anthony Ciccarelli inside as he grabbed a Gallant miss and laid it home for a 32-24 lead.

“Powell and Ciccarelli couldn’t get in the flow and contribute,” Russo said. “When we did make a little run, their offensive rebounding pulled them out.”

Another long jumper from Duncanson made it 32-26, but Jellison made two foul shots, Weston hit a short jumper and Bernstein took a pass from Weston and made a layup for a 38-26 advantage. With time winding down in the third, Duncanson hit another jumper, but a free throw from Suvlu gave Bangor a 39-28 lead heading for the final period.

Powell started the fourth quarter scoring with a free throw, but Gallant made a jumper. After Powell hit a jump shot with 6:21 to go to pull Portland back within 10, 41-31, Suvlu made a leaner. Carmichael then made his third and final 3-pointer of the night, but Weston’s putback of a Suvlu miss gave the Rams a 45-34 lead.

With 3:22 to play, Duncanson scored on a driving layup to make it a three-possession game, 45-36, but Bangor soon put it away.

After Weston missed a shot and Suvlu grabbed the offensive rebound, Weston got another chance and buried a layup. Jellison then made two free throws, Gallant hit two more, Jellison hit one of two, and Gallant delivered the punctuation mark with a steal and an emphatic one-handed slam dunk with 58.9 seconds to play. A layup from Rams senior Gordon Webb and a 3-pointer by Passmore with time running out accounted for the 56-39 final score.

“Tonight, unfortunately, we didn’t play our best basketball,” Russo said. “(Bangor) really controlled the ball, offensively and defensively, and that was the game. We couldn’t get into a rhythm. We were always on our heels. We were out of our comfort zone. That’s the first time all year we were out of our comfort zone for so long.

“We knew (the Rams) were capable of what they did tonight. I expected them to play like they did. I didn’t think we’d be limited to one shot and not get rebounds. It’s emotionally demoralizing to only get one shot. Some of it was jitters, some of it was impatience and nerves. A lot had to do with Bangor’s composure.”

Gallant validated the claims of his backers that he should have been a Mr. Maine Basketball finalist by leading all scorers with 22 points. He got it done inside and out and in the end, the Bulldogs simply had no answer for him.

“Gallant’s a great player,” Duncanson said. “He deserves to be a Mr. Basketball finalist. We tried some things in the second half, but tonight just wasn’t our night.

“They?re a great team.”

Weston added 11 points for the Rams. Suvlu had eight, Jellison seven, Bernstein six and Webb two.

Portland was led by Duncanson, who culminated his short Bulldogs career with 13 points.

“It was a great switch,” said Duncanson, who transferred from Westbrook prior to his junior year. “I love my teammates and the Portland atmosphere. It was a great season. We’re like a family. We always stuck together. We won together and we’ll handle this loss together. We just couldn’t come out on top.”

Carmichael was next with nine points (on three 3s). Powell had seven points and Longstaff and Passmore both added five.

For the game, the Bulldogs shot just 33 percent, while Bangor made 48 percent of its shots. The Rams hit 12 of 16 free throws. Portland only took six foul shots and buried just three. The Bulldogs also had 10 turnovers to Bangor’s nine.

“They?re having a hard time with it,” Russo said, of his players. “They know what it feels like to achieve the milestones and cut down a net. They’re used to winning. That’s why this hurts.”

Portland will graduate seven players, most notably Carmichael, Ciccarelli and Duncanson, but this program always reloads and will be a factor again next year.

“The well’s not dry and that’s a good feeling,” Russo said. “The seniors are really feeling the pain. They felt like they didn’t play well, but I told them we wouldn’t be here tonight if it wasn’t for Duncanson, Ciccarelli and Carmichael. I want them to focus on the accomplishments this season and get rid of tonight’s unfortunate performance. The kids had a great year. I’m very proud of them.”

Sidebar Elements

Portland senior Andrew Duncanson did all he could to alter this shot by Bangor senior Troy Jellison during Saturday nights Class A state final in Augusta, but in a microcosm of the night, he couldn’t do so. The Bulldogs’ championship hopes were dashed by the Rams, 56-39.