BOX SCORE

Oxford Hills 48 Portland 38

OH- 12 15 9 12- 48
P- 8 12 7 11- 38

OH- Colby 5-3-16, Dumont 2-11-16, Dieterich 4-1-10, Hartnett 2-0-6

P- Motema 6-1-13, Eubanks 4-1-9, Yugu 2-0-6, A. Kabantu 2-0-5, D. Kabantu 2-1-5

3-pointers:
OH (7) Colby 3, Hartnett 2, Dieterich, Dumont 1
P (3) Yugu 2, A. Kabantu 1

Turnovers:
OH- 13
P- 15

FTs
OH: 15-21
P: 3-5

PORTLAND—Portland’s girls’ basketball team isn’t at a championship level yet, but Thursday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, the Bulldogs got to learn from a squad that is.

And in the process, they showed defending Class AA state champion Oxford Hills that they’re closing the gap.

Rapidly.

Six weeks after losing by 28 points at Oxford Hills, Portland shot to a quick 6-0 lead, but the Vikings settled down and took a 12-8 lead after one quarter.

Oxford Hills eventually completed a 16-2 run, but the Bulldogs were within four points just before halftime when Vikings’ senior standout Julia Colby got a 3-point shot to rattle home for a 27-20 advantage.

Portland again crept within four in the third period, but senior Cecelia Dieterich made a layup and just before the horn, Colby hit another 3 for a 36-27 lead.

The Bulldogs refused to buckle and when junior Gemima Motema scored five straight points, they were down by just three, 38-35, with 2:39 to play, but Oxford Hills’ ability to possess the ball and hit free throws (junior Cassidy Dumont made seven of eight herself) allowed it to pull away and prevail, 48-38.

Colby and Dumont each scored 16 points as the Vikings improved to 14-1 on the year, dropping Portland to 10-3 in the process.

“I don’t know if we’re there yet,” said Bulldogs’ coach Gerry Corcoran. “The bottom line is when the game was on the line, they made huge plays, whether it was rebounding or making free throws. That’s them, to their credit. They never get rattled.”

Clear favorites

Oxford Hills and Portland have established themselves as the two best teams in Class AA North and arguably the whole state so far this winter.

The Vikings have done an admirable job as defending champions, passing every test but one.

Oxford Hills started with a 65-28 win at Deering, then downed visiting Gorham (74-59), visiting Portland (60-32), host Cheverus (50-38), host Lewiston (74-36), host Edward Little (67-35), visiting Bangor (57-38) and visiting Windham (54-36). After a 62-61 setback at reigning Class A champion Greely, in a thriller that saw the Vikings have multiple chances down the stretch to win it, Oxford Hills bounced back to defeat visiting Deering (72-25), host Noble (64-39), host Scarborough in a state game rematch (64-23), visiting Cheverus (65-31) and visiting Edward Little (70-41).

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have only stumbled twice. Portland beat visiting Bangor (55-44) in the opener, then downed visiting Windham (63-47). After a 60-32 loss at Oxford Hills, Portland defeated visiting Scarborough (45-35), romped at Edward Little, 70-22, and Cheverus (64-39), easily handled visiting Lewiston (50-20) and Deering (56-17), then impressed with a 50-42 victory at Class AA South favorite South Portland. After losing at Bangor (49-36), the Bulldogs defeated host Gorham (52-31) and last Friday, had no trouble with visiting Thornton Academy (58-23).

In the first meeting, Dec. 13, the Vikings outscored the Bulldogs, 27-10, in the middle two quarters and rolled to victory behind 27 points from Colby, 14 from Dumont and a dozen from Dieterich (junior Amanda Kabantu paced Portland with 15 points).

Thursday, in front of a raucous crowd, Portland looked for its first win over Oxford Hills since the teams started playing regularly in 2015-16, but instead, the Vikings made it seven in a row in the series in that span.

The Bulldogs came out with great intensity and after junior Davina Kabantu made a layup after a steal, Motema scored on a floater and Motema fed senior Kiera Eubanks for a transition layup and a quick 6-0 advantage less than two minutes into the game.

Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier was forced to call timeout and his team responded.

With 5:32 to go in the opening stanza, Dieterich got the visitors on the board with a 3-pointer and 27 seconds later, Colby tied the score with a 3 from the corner.

With 4:53 left, Dieterich drove for a bank shot for the Vikings’ first lead, but a jumper from Eubanks tied the game.

With 1:29 remaining in the quarter, a 3-ball from senior Maggie Hartnett put Oxford Hills ahead for good and Dieterich added a foul shot for a 12-8 advantage after eight minutes.

“I called timeout and said, ‘We’ve been waiting for somebody to punch us in the face to start the game and they did and now it’s a fight,'” said Pelletier. “The girls settled down. What I love about this team is someone to beat us will have to play their hearts out because our girls will give you every single second of every single game.”

The game remained close in the second period as well.

After Colby set up Dumont for her first points, a transition layup, Colby got a floater to rattle in to complete a 16-2 run.

“We realized we could compete with them,” said Dumont. “We’ve competed with them before and we settled down and played our game.”

Amanda Kabantu ended the run and a 5-minute, 48-second scoring drought with a 3-pointer, but Hartnett answered with one of her own to make it 19-11.

After Eubanks made a free throw, Motema scored on a leaner, then Motema took a pass from junior Mia Kelley and made a layup to pull Portland within five.

Dumont answered with a 3 and after Amanda Kabantu scored on a putback, Dumont made two free throws.

Eubanks scored on a putback and it appeared the Bulldogs would take momentum to the half, but just before the buzzer, Colby fired a 3 which hit the rim multiple times before falling through for a 27-20 Vikings’ advantage at the break.

“I think that shot was pretty big,” Colby said. “We were able to execute plays at the end of quarters.”

Neither team was able to generate much offense in the third quarter.

After Colby opened the second half with a putback, Motema scored on a putback and Eubanks hit a jumper.

Dumont made two free throws, but with 2:09 on the clock, sophomore Elizabeth Yugu’s 3-pointer pulled Portland within four, 31-27.

Again, the Vikings closed the period strong, as off an inbounds set, senior Brooke Carson set up Dieterich for a layup and after Carson kept possession alive with an offensive rebound, Dumont fed Colby for another buzzer-beating 3 and a 36-27 advantage.

“In practice we really focus on details and executing plays,” said Pelletier. “Hitting shots at ends of quarters is a huge momentum swing. That came from a huge rebound crashing the board and getting a kick-out.”

Portland made one final run in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.

Dieterich got a leaner to bounce in 27 seconds into the final stanza to give Oxford Hills a double-digit lead, but after Yugu drained a 3, Motema made a layup after a steal while being fouled, then added the free throw for a three-point play.

Then, with 2:39 to go, Motema scored on a putback and just like that, the Bulldogs had made it a one-possession contest, 38-35.

But Portland couldn’t complete the comeback, as the Vikings relied on their poise and foul shooting to close it out.

At the other end of the floor, Hartnett missed a 3-pointer, but Dumont grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled.

With 2:22 left, Dumont calmly sank both ends of the one-and-one opportunity to push the lead to five.

The Bulldogs then turned the ball over and with 2:09 on the clock, Dumont made two more free throws for a 42-35 advantage.

After Davina Kabantu made a free throw for Portland, Colby missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the Bulldogs turned the ball over.

With 1:03 remaining, Dumont was fouled again and again, sank two free throws for a 44-36 lead.

“I hit some big shots like that in the state game last year, so I just had to calm myself down, breathe, not worry about missing it, just doing the same routine every single time,” said Dumont.

After Eubanks missed a 3, Colby was fouled and made the first attempt. She missed the second, but got her own rebound.

Dumont then hit one of two free throws before Colby tacked on two foul shots.

“Cassidy is a great free throw shooter and Jules is too,” Pelletier said. “It makes me feel good as a coach when they get there because I’m confident they’ll make them.”

Davina Kabantu drove for a layup as time wound down, but it was far too little, too late and Oxford Hills closed out its 48-38 victory.

Colby (eight rebounds) and Dumont shared game-high scoring honors with 16 points apiece.

Dieterich (four assists, three rebounds and three steals) had 10 points and Hartnett (five rebounds) added six.

The Vikings only turned the ball over 13 times and finished 15-of-21 at the free throw line.

Portland was paced by Motema, who had 13 points. Eubanks added nine points, Yugu had six and Amanda Kabantu (eight rebounds) and Davina Kabantu (seven rebounds) five apiece.

The Bulldogs had a 33-32  rebounding advantage, but made just 3-of-5 free throws and turned the ball over on 15 occasions.

“We struggled at times,” said Corcoran. “Our bench is very thin. It’s very difficult on our (starting) five. We have to get players to step up off the bench.”

Preparing for February

Oxford Hills has three games left: at home versus Lewiston and at Windham and Bangor. The Vikings will be the top seed in Class AA North and will be very tough to dethrone.

“Our team chemistry is great,” said Colby. “We’ve played together since the fourth or fifth grade. We want to win it again so badly.”

“We have to keep working hard at practice every single day and be ready for whatever comes our way,” Dumont said. “We’re ready for the challenge.”

“We just have to fine tune our offense a little bit,” Pelletier added. “In general, we have to tweak some things. People have seen us a lot, so we have to change some things up a bit and be ready to go. We want to play our best basketball come playoff time. I think in a couple of weeks, we’ll be ready.”

Portland (second in AA North) is back in action Saturday when it “hosts” Cheverus, in a game played at Southern Maine Community College. The Bulldogs visit Windham Tuesday, then welcome Edward Little Thursday of next week. Portland then closes with games at Lewiston and Deering.

“I’m not looking by anybody because we have Windham next week at their place, which is hard,” Corcoran said. “We just have to start making plays.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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