By its own admission, Portland High School got off to a cold start Monday night. But the Bulldogs’ hot second half made up for that – though barely.

Cierra Burnham scored 12 of her 18 points in the latter 16 minutes, and Elizabeth Donato tallied all 10 of hers after intermission to lead the Bulldogs to a 62-60 win over city rival Cheverus at the Expo.

“We just played our game,” Portland Coach Jan Veinot said. “It’s not perfect, but sometimes it’s just enough.”

Burnham hit a jumper with 28 seconds left to give Portland the lead for good, 60-59, and Donato provided late insurance when she stole the ball, drew a foul and hit two free throws.

Junior center Gabby Wagabaza, a Cheverus transfer, hit an 18-foot jumper 40 seconds into the fourth quarter to tie it at 44. From there, the lead changed 11 times.

Burnham added 11 rebounds and Donato had five steals as the Bulldogs (6-1) forced Cheverus (4-2) into many of its 23 turnovers.

“This year, it’s a team effort,” Burnham said. “We’re working together really well.”

Jess Willerson led the Stags with 25 points and 15 rebounds before fouling out with 4:22 left and the Bulldogs leading 50-48. Jill Libby added 11 points and Sadie Lyons eight.

“In the first half we were OK, in the second half, I don’t think we played very well,” said Cheverus Coach Richie Ashley. “We had 23 turnovers, we got into foul trouble, we missed 15 free throws and we missed easy baskets. That’s not going to do it.”

Willerson had 14 points by halftime as the Stags led 35-25.

“We weren’t playing our help-side defense on Willerson on the post and they were going over the top to her,” Veinot said. “At the half, I told them we were tentative, and you’re not going to win by playing tentatively.”

Message received. The Bulldogs’ defense stepped it up on Willerson, holding her to three field goals and three free throws to account for all nine of the Stags’ third-quarter points. She added just two points in the fourth quarter before fouling out.

“Willerson’s a force,” Wagabaza said. “It’s really hard to stop her and all you can do is front her. Her fouling out was really key to our win.”

Portland, meanwhile, began heating up as Donato scored six and Burnham four to set up the fourth quarter with the Stags leading 44-42.

Part of the Stags’ success in the first quarter, during which they garnered a 17-11 lead, came from their half-court defense, a shift from their typical full-court press.

The Stags pressed early in the second quarter, which opened the game up a bit, allowing the Bulldogs to run. The Stags held the edge in the second quarter (18-14) and the half, 35-25.

“If someone wasn’t here, we wouldn’t have won this game,” Wagabaza said. “It was all of us, together.”

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