With Portland’s athletic, tenacious defense holding Mackenzie Holmes under her season average, the Gorham girls’ basketball team turned to less-heralded players and big-game experience to score a 49-43 victory Saturday at the Portland Expo.

The Rams opened a nine-point halftime lead and were ahead by as many as 14 in the fourth quarter before Portland came back to make things interesting.

Holmes, who played all 32 minutes, finished with 25 points, 17 rebounds and five blocked shots, and the Rams (5-1) also got key performances from veterans Courtney Brent and Adele Nadeau.

“(Portland’s) athletic and we tried to keep them out of the paint and off the backboard,” said Gorham Coach Laughn Berthiaume. “We did a good job at times and they did a good job at times.”

The Bulldogs (4-3) defended the 6-foot-2 Holmes with Amanda Kabantu, who gave up a good 8 or 9 inches, but Portland’s scrappy nature and ability to create offense off its defense erased an early 9-3 deficit and forced an 11-11 tie after one quarter.

A pair of free throws from Sophia Michaud put the Rams on top to stay three minutes into the second period and then a late 3-pointer from Holmes made it 26-17 at halftime.

The Bulldogs got within 30-23 in the third quarter, but two Holmes foul shots, a Nadeau free throw and a driving layup from Holmes put Gorham up by a dozen heading to the fourth period.

There, a ridiculously athletic Holmes reverse layup with her left hand made it 41-27, but Portland kept competing, and back-to-back baskets from Kiera Eubanks cut the deficit to 42-35 with 2:36 to play.

Holmes answered with a three-point play and after Eubanks made a 3-pointer, Brent converted two clutch foul shots.

“I think it’s all a mental game,” said Brent. “I’ve struggled with it a little bit in the past, but I’ve learned the mentality of playing in big games like this.”

With 45 seconds remaining, a layup by Kabantu pulled the Bulldogs within five, but Anna Nelson’s two free throws clinched it.

“We’re still a work in progress, as most teams are, but I like the direction we’re going,” said Berthiaume.

In addition to Holmes’ production, Brent added nine points and five rebounds, and Nadeau finished with seven points.

Gorham is managing to persevere without two injured guards, Brittany Desjardin and Olivia Michaud.

“(Michaud) and (Desjardin) are huge for our team, so it’s hard, but the younger kids are coming in huge for us,” said Brent. “They’re bringing in energy off the bench. We’re figuring it out fitting into new roles, but do want them back.”

Portland got 18 points from Kabantu and 11 from Eubanks.

“For what we are, light bench, very young, this is a fun team,” said Bulldogs Coach Gerry Corcoran. “We just have to get a little bit better and make a couple more plays.

“We’re going to be the team that no one wants to play. We’re climbing.”