SACO — Thornton Academy so thoroughly dominated in a 54-23 victory Friday night that Joe Russo, the 29-year Portland coach, was left apologizing for a decision.

After the Bulldogs were held to 11 points in the first half, trailing, 27-11, Russo opted to sit four of his five senior starters – Pedro Fonseca, Lewis Gaddas, Jeremiah Alado and Simon Chadbourne – for the rest of the game.

The fifth starter, center Trey Ballew, played the entire second half. Russo said that wasn’t a reward but simply a function of not having another player with size to put in.

“I didn’t feel as if my starters did anything I wanted them to do. Run an offense. Play defense,” Russo said. “This has to be the worst showing in any game I coached in my entire life. If they were just missing shots, that’s fine. But you really should never have a night where you’re not running what you’ve been asked to run. … It’s now up to them how they respond to this.”

Russo added, “I feel bad for the fans that came out tonight. They didn’t deserve to see a (junior varsity) game. So I really have to apologize to the fans that came.”

While Russo’s tough coaching decision was the postgame focus, it couldn’t completely distract from Thornton’s strong all-around effort.

Thornton, the top team in the Class AA South Heal points, improved to 11-4 with its third straight win. Portland (9-5) had won three straight and entered the game ranked fourth in AA North.

The Trojans used their size and good on-ball defense to close off the middle. That forced the Bulldogs to settle for 3-pointers and they made one of their 10 attempts in the first half.

“It’s just understanding positioning on defense, team defense, the way it’s supposed to be,” said Thornton Coach Bob Davies.

Thornton’s defensive specialist, Kobe Gaudette, wiped Portland’s top sharp-shooter, Simon Chadbourne, from the equation, limiting Chadbourne to three shots, all misses.

“We’ve certainly been trying to improve (our defense). A lot of our practice revolves around it now,” Gaudette said. “We’re finally getting it down and I think we’re going to win a lot of games now because of our defense.”

Thornton countered with a balanced offense, featuring inside scoring from Dylan Griffin (8 of his team-high 12 points in the half) and Will Chapman (6 in the second quarter). Thornton also did a good job closing out each quarter, with Jack Pyzynski (11 points) hitting a 3-pointer to finish a 16-7 first quarter and Chapman converting an offensive rebound with less than three seconds left in the second.

Thornton outscored Portland’s makeshift lineup 14-0 in the third quarter and its lead crested at 52-15.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig