BOX SCORE

Portland 35 Cheverus 29

C- 4 13 6 6- 29
P- 8 11 4 12- 35

C- L. Jordan 2-0-6, Storey 1-4-6, H Jordan 2-0-5, Lizotte 1-2-4, Singleton 1-2-4, J. Kratzer 1-0-3, Davie 0-1-1

P- A. Kabantu 3-4-10, D. Kabantu 2-3-7, Eubanks 2-1-5, Motema 2-1-5, Kelley 1-2-4, Yugu 2-0-4

3-pointers:
C (4) L. Jordan 2, H. Jordan, J. Kratzer 1
P (0)

Turnovers:
C- 21
P- 10

FTs
C: 9-9
P: 11-14

SOUTH PORTLAND—Portland’s girls’ basketball team didn’t expect to be pushed to the brink Saturday afternoon against Cheverus at Southern Maine Community College’s HUB Gymansium and the Bulldogs certainly didn’t anticipate trailing in the fourth quarter, but in a late-season gut-check, they made the plays they had to with the specter of a shocking upset hanging over their heads.

A month after drubbing host Cheverus by 25 points, in a game that didn’t even feel that close, Portland, which suffered a close loss to defending Class AA state champion Oxford Hills Thursday night, raced to a quick 9-2 lead, but this time, the Stags fought back..

After creeping within five points after one quarter, Cheverus kept the score close, 19-17, at the half.

The Bulldogs threatened to pull away when they got the first four points of the second half, but the Stags scored the final six points of the third period to send the game to the final stanza deadlocked at 23-23.

Early in the fourth quarter, sophomore Julia Kratzer made a 3 to put Cheverus on top for the first time and sophomore Lillie Singleton added a layup to give the Stags a stunning five point lead, but Portland refused to buckle.

The Bulldogs retook the lead on two free throws from junior standout Amanda Kabantu and while Cheverus had some chances to wind up on the winning end, it couldn’t get shots to drop, and Portland did just enough down the stretch to hold on and prevail, 35-29.

Kabantu led the way with 10 points and 12 rebounds as the Bulldogs improved to 11-3 and dropped the Stags to 9-6 in the process.

“It was a great high school game,” said Bulldogs’ coach Gerry Corcoran. “All the credit to Cheverus. Oxford Hills made plays when the game was on the line to beat us (Thursday) and we made the plays today when we had to. I’ve done this a long time. I’ll take a one-point win.”

Close call

Cheverus and Portland have been among the top teams in Class AA North all season.

The Stags opened with wins over host Lewiston (50-38), visiting Scarborough (48-44) and host Edward Little (54-31). After falling at home to reigning Class AA state champion Oxford Hills, 50-38, Cheverus won, 47-39, at Massabesic. After a 64-39 home loss to Portland, the Stags defeated host Deering (58-38), visiting Bangor (53-49) and host Thornton Academy (53-35). Cheverus lost at Windham, 48-37, then bounced back for a 63-33 home win over Lewiston. The Stags then lost at home to South Portland, 56-37, and at Oxford Hills (65-31) before downing visiting Deering Friday, 65-25.

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 had no trouble with visiting Thornton Academy (58-23) before falling at home to Oxford Hills Thursday, 48-38.

In the teams’ first meeting, Dec. 23, Portland shot to a 16-4 lead after one quarter and never looked back. Junior Gemima Motema had a game-high 18 points, Kabantu added 14 and senior Kiera Eubanks had 11. Junior Jillian Lizotte paced the Stags with 13.

Saturday’s game was rescheduled from Dec. 30 and moved to SMCC and turned out to be much closer than most expected.

When Eubanks set up senior Davina Kabantu for a layup and Amanda Kabantu fed Motema for a fastbreak layup, the Bulldogs had a quick 4-0 lead.

With 4:31 to go in the first quarter, junior Madison Storey made an up-and-under layup to get Cheverus on the board, but Amanda Kabantu hit a jumper, Motema made a free throw and sophomore Elizabeth Yugu made a layup after a steal for a 9-2 lead.

Portland appeared primed for another easy win, but the Stags didn’t let it happen.

Storey made two free throws in the final minute of the first quarter to pull Cheverus within five and the game got even closer in the second period.

Lizotte made two free throws, then took a pass from senior Lauren Jordan and made a layup to cut the deficit to one and after Yugu got a runner to bounce in, Jordan sank a 3 with 5:36 left in the half to tie the score, 11-11.

The Bulldogs bounced right back and retook the lead on an Amanda Kabantu putback, then Davina Kabantu set up Eubanks for a layup.

Storey responded with two free throws, but junior Mia Kelley made two foul shots for Portland, making it 17-13.

After Singleton sank two free throws for the Stags, Davina Kabantu banked home a shot, but with 18.9 seconds remaining in the half, Jordan set up sophomore Hayley Jordan for a layup, pulling Cheverus within two, 19-17, at the break.

In the 16 minutes, Amanda Kabantu had four points and eight rebounds and the Bulldogs forced 10 Stags’ turnovers, but six points from Storey helped Cheverus stay close.

Portland tried to pull away early in the second half, as Kelley hit a jumper and Davina Kabantu made two free throws, but Lauren Jordan hit a 3 from the corner, then Hayley Jordan made a 3 as well and the game went to the fourth period deadlocked at 23-23.

The Stags then took the lead early in the fourth period and appeared primed to spring a huge upset, but the Bulldogs saved their best for last.

Twenty-two seconds into the final stanza, Kratzer made a 3-point shot and Cheverus had the lead for the first time and 24 seconds later, on the fastbreak, senior Emily Huntington fed Singleton for a layup and a stunning 28-23 advantage.

While it appeared the Stags were on their way to shocking the world, they wouldn’t make another field goal and Portland answered the challenge.

Out of a timeout, Eubanks set up Amanda Kabantu for a layup, snapping a 7-minute, 45-second scoring drought, an 8-minute, 16-second field goal drought and Cheverus’ 11-0 run.

A mere 33 seconds later, Motema put home a miss and the Bulldogs were only down by one.

Portland then went on top to stay with 3:35 left, as Amanda Kabantu was fouled and calmly sank both free throws.

“There’s a lot of pressure, but I told myself it’s just like practice,” said Kabantu. “I told myself I was in the gym by myself.

“We came together as a team and realized we didn’t need to rush. We just had to be smart and make plays and that’s exactly what we did.”

“I told them to relax,” said Corcoran. “We forced everything. When we speed up and force things, we don’t play well. I told them to settle down and we made plays.”

After the Stags failed to respond, due in part to an Amanda Kabantu blocked shot, Eubanks was fouled with 2:07 to go and made the second of two free throws to push the Bulldogs’ lead to two.

Singleton then had a look at a 3-pointer to give Cheverus the lead, but it was no good.

With 1:26 to play, after a steal, Stags’ junior Ella Davie was fouled and after a lane violation on the first attempt, Davie found the net to snap a 5:48 drought and pull Cheverus within one, but the Stags wouldn’t score again.

After a Kelley miss, Lizotte got the rebound and Cheverus had a chance to take the lead, but Singleton missed a layup and after Motema got the rebound, she set up Eubanks for a pivotal layup and a 32-29 lead with 36.7 seconds remaining.

The Stags had one final chance to tie, but Singleton’s 3 was no good.

“We hoped the ball wouldn’t go in and it didn’t,” Amanda Kabantu said. “We shouldn’t let that happen. If they hit one of those shots, it would have been a totally different game.”

“The girls who took the shots at the end are the ones who I wanted to take the shots,” Cheverus’ first-year coach Billy Goodman said. “They did so much to keep us close. I loved how we got good shots at the end. The girls gave everything they had.”

Then, with 18.8 seconds to go, Davina Kabantu made one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game.

After another Cheverus miss, Amanda Kabantu went to the line and hit both free throws to ice it and Portland survived, 35-29.

“I feel like we came out way too confident and thought we’d win easily because we beat them the first game,” said Amanda Kabantu. “That was a huge mistake. To their credit, (Cheverus is) a very good basketball team. They fought hard. They played like it was the state final. They made our team better. They made us realize we have to show up every single game.”

Amanda Kabantu was the only player in the game to finish in double figures and she wound up with a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds.

“Amanda didn’t let us lose,” Corcoran said. “She plays smart and can rebound.”

Davina Kabantu added seven points, Eubanks and Motema had five points and five rebounds apiece and Kelley and Yugu (four steals) each had four points.

The Bulldogs didn’t make a single 3-pointer, but had a 35-26 rebounding advantage, only turned the ball over 10 times and made 11-of-14 free throws.

Cheverus got six points apiece from Lauren Jordan and Storey, Hayley Jordan had five, Lizotte (four steals) and Singleton four apiece, Kratzer (four rebounds) three and Davie one.

The Stags made all nine of their free throw attempts, but turned the ball over 21 times.

“My girls did everything we asked,” said Goodman. “The shots didn’t go in, but we got good shots. We executed amazing on offense and defense and I’m so proud of them. We all were embarrassed up at Oxford Hills and we had a heart-to-heart in the locker room. I gave them the weekend off, then starting Monday through today, they’ve been focused and coachable.”

Nearing the end

Cheverus (now fifth in the Class AA North Heal Points standings) is back in action Tuesday at home versus Bangor. The regular season concludes for the Stags the following week when they host Edward Little and Windham.

“This was the beginning of the rest of the season,” said Goodman. “I’m very happy as a coach. Whether we’re home or away (for the quarterfinals), I just want us to do what we did today. I think we’re going to end the season on a high note.”

Portland (second behind Oxford Hills in Class AA North) has four games left, two at home and two on the road. Tuesday, the Bulldogs welcome Windham and Thursday, they play at Edward Little. Portland then hosts Lewiston and closes with a game at Deering.

“Every game is a new game even if we played that team before,” said Amanda Kabantu .”We want to come out strong every game.”

“Windham on Tuesday will be like another state game,” said Corcoran. “The teams we’re facing we’ll be teams we can play in the tournament. We have to get better and figure out a couple little things.”

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

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