BOX SCORE

Portland 58 Edward Little 25

EL- 6 9 5 5- 25
P- 19 14 13 12- 58

EL- Ouellette 3-2-8, Hammond 2-1-6, Maiwen 1-1-3, Alexander 1-0-2, Clark 0-2-2, Piper 1-0-2, Turcotte 1-0-2

P- A. Kabantu 12-7-32, Motema 4-2-11, Eubanks 2-1-5, Yugu 2-0-5, Kelley 1-0-3, Tuza 0-2-2

3-pointers:
EL (1) Hammond 1
P (4) A. Kabantu, Kelley, Motema, Yugu 1

Turnovers:
EL- 26
P- 13

FTs
EL: 6-10
P: 12-18

PORTLAND—Amanda Kabantu has produced many memories in her three years as a Portland Bulldog girls’ basketball player.

But Kabantu never had a game quite like the masterpiece she put forth Tuesday evening at the Portland Exposition Building.

And what a perfect time for Kabantu to score a career-high 32 points.

In Portland’s first postseason test.

The second-ranked Bulldogs hosted No. 7 Edward Little in a Class AA North quarterfinal and didn’t need much time to seize control.

Just 22 seconds in fact, as junior Gemima Motema made a layup to put Portland on top to stay and on the play, Red Eddies’ senior Hannah Chaput suffered a leg injury and had to leave the contest.

In the first period alone, the Bulldogs forced 11 Edward Little turnovers and got a stat sheet-stuffing nine points, three rebounds and three steals from Kabantu to grab a commanding 19-6 lead.

By halftime, Portland was up, 33-15, and the Bulldogs didn’t relent in the third quarter either, getting nine points from Kabantu to take a 46-20 advantage.

Portland pulled away from there and went on to a decisive 58-25 victory, thanks in large part to Kabantu’s tremendous effort.

The Bulldogs improved to 16-3, ended the Red Eddies’ season at 5-14 and advanced to take on either No. 3 Bangor (12-6) or sixth-ranked Lewiston (5-13) in the semifinals Thursday of next week at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

“We want to play every game like it’s the last game,” said Kabantu. “We know if we lose, we’re out and we don’t want to be out.”

All systems go

Portland came into the season highly touted and lived up to billing, winning 15 of 18 games (see sidebar for links to previous stories), its best record since Ed Feeney coached the 1999-2000 squad to a 17-1 mark.

The Bulldogs lost only to Oxford Hills (twice) and Bangor and wound up the No. 2 seed in Class AA North for the second time in three years.

Edward Little, a state champion as recently as two years ago, lost its first eight outings this winter, then went .500 the rest of the way to finish seventh in the eight-team region.

Portland won both regular season encounters, 70-22 Dec. 20 in Auburn and 50-26 Jan. 30 at home.

The Bulldogs had taken three of four prior playoff meetings (see sidebar), with a 48-43 victory in last year’s quarterfinals the most recent.

Tuesday, Portland reminded everyone why it is so highly touted and with the talent on the roster, why the sight of college scouts as its games is a regular occurrence.

Edward Little turned the ball over on its first possession and it led to disaster, as senior Davina Kabantu stole the ball from Chaput after a collision, then set up Motema for a layup and Chaput wasn’t able to get up after the play.

After a delay, which saw Chaput carried off the floor (she was later on crutches), the Bulldogs continued their onslaught.

Portland forced six Red Eddies’ turnovers on the visitors’ first seven possessions and after senior Chantel Ouellette got Edward Little on the board with a free throw, senior Kiera Eubanks made a jump shot in the lane, Amanda Kabantu scored on a putback, then Kabantu sank two foul shots for a quick 8-1 lead.

Freshman Aiwen Maiwen countered with a layup, but Bulldogs’ sophomore Naulissa Tuza made two free throws, sophomore Elizabeth Yugu made a layup after a steal and after Red Eddies’ coach Chris Cifelli called timeout to no avail, Kabantu made a layup after a steal for a 14-3 advantage just over five minutes into the game.

“That fast start was really good because it set the tone for the entire game,” Kabantu said. “We were determined to not underestimate anybody.”

After senior Caroline Hammond countered with a 3-point shot for Edward Little, Kabantu banked home a shot, Kabantu made a free throw, then Motema sank two foul shots to make the score 19-6 after one quarter.

Kabantu outscored the Red Eddies on her own and Portland’s defense forced 11 turnovers to help the cause.

Edward Little settled down in the second period, but the Bulldogs managed to grow their lead.

A Kabantu free throw started the frame and after Hammond knocked down a short jumper, Motema, on consecutive plays spanning nine seconds, made layups after steals for a 24-8 advantage.

“Gemima was unbelievable,” said Portland coach Gerry Corcoran. “In the last three, four games, she’s taken her game to another level, which is awesome for us.”

Ouellette drove for a layup for the Red Eddies, but Motema countered with a 3.

After a free throw from Hammond, Kabantu made a jumper and after sophomore Madisyn Turcotte made a runner, Eubanks answered with a jump shot.

Late in the half, sophomore Nikkie Clark made two foul shots for Edward Little, but a Kabantu putback made it 33-15 Bulldogs at the break.

In the first 16 minutes, Kabantu had 14 points, five rebounds and three steals, while Motema added 11 points, five rebounds and three steals.

Kabantu then continued to put on a show in the second half, as Portland completely put it away.

After Red Eddies’ senior Emily Piper opened the third quarter with a jumper, Yugu made a 3, Kabantu hit a free throw, Kabantu made a jumper, then Kabantu sank two foul shots for a 41-17 advantage.

Maiwen got a point back at the line, but Kabantu took a pass from her sister and made a layup and after sophomore Brooklyn Alexander made a runner for the visitors, Eubanks sank a free throw, before Kabantu got consecutive offensive rebounds, then scored on a putback for a 46-20 lead.

In the final stanza, Ouellette opened the scoring with a runner, but again, Kabantu scored on a putback on a third effort, Kabantu scored on another putback, then she hit a long jumper to extend the lead to 30.

Ouellette made a free throw, but Kabantu sank a 3 for her final points, then sophomore Mia Kelley hit a 3 as well for Portland before an Ouellette runner accounted for the 58-25 final score.

“Our practices have been awesome and our practice (intensity) matched this game,” Corcoran said. “I have a lot of respect for EL.”

Kabantu didn’t just finish with 32 points, she had a double-double, as she grabbed a dozen rebounds, and had  three steals and a pair of blocked shots.

“I’ve been working a lot on my shot,” Kabantu said. “Coach has told me to slow down. It’s been hard for me to find that happy medium, where I don’t completely slow down and don’t go too hard.”

“Amanda was incredible,” Corcoran said. “I told her at halftime to slow down, use screens, take your shots. That’s the first time she’s listened. Her shot was beautiful tonight.”

Motema also finished in double figures with 11 points, to go with seven rebounds and five steals.

Eubanks and Yugu (five steals) had five points apiece, Kelley had three and Tuza added two (to go with eight rebounds).

“We’ve been trying to build everyone’s confidence because we need everyone, not just the starters,” said Kabantu.

“Everyone played well,” Corcoran said. ” I talk about whoever gets in is in for a minute or two max to give the starters a break.”

The Bulldogs had a commanding 42-19 edge on the glass, overcame 13 turnovers and sank 12-of-18 free throws.

Edward Little got eight points from Ouellete, six from Hammond (who had five rebounds), three from Maiwen and two apiece from Alexander, Clark, Piper and Turcotte.

The Red Eddies turned the ball over 26 times and made 6-of-10 free throws

“We knew we’d have a tall order tonight, but to have a game plan ready, then to lose a big component of that, it put a lot of people into spots we hoped to ease them into, as opposed to throwing them into to,” Cifelli said. “I thought we started to get our legs midway through the second, but (the Bulldogs) score so quickly and we’ve struggled coming back in games. We didn’t want to have a big deficit to dig out of. Portland’s an excellent basketball team. They’re going to challenge for a regional title.

“I’m happy the kids bought in, even when our record wasn’t where we wanted it. We played strong teams close down the stretch. We put a lot of ninth and 10th graders out there and asked them to play in big spots. I’m proud the kids learned on the job. It’s important our younger girls played in a playoff game, to get that feel.”

Edward Little loses Chaput, Hammond, Ouellette and Piper, who helped win a title as sophomores.

“No matter where these kids go, they’ll always be the first group of kids to win a state championship for girls’ basketball at EL,” Cifelli said. “Hannah transferred over from Lewiston, our rival, and she made a huge impact that first year. Chantel has been our warrior. Caroline and Emily always played their role and never asked for more than what their jobs were. They were very selfless.”

Waiting game

Portland not only has to wait over a week to take the court again, it has to wait until Wednesday night to learn its foe, when Bangor hosts Lewiston.

The Bulldogs split with the Rams this season, beating them in the opener Dec. 6 in Portland, 55-44, then falling, 49-36, Jan. 9 in Bangor. The teams have met just once in the postseason, a 62-39 Bulldogs’ win in the 2018 quarterfinals.

Portland swept Lewiston this season, prevailing 50-20 at home Jan. 2 and 62-42 away Feb. 3. The Bulldogs are 4-1 all-time in the tournament versus the Blue Devils, with a 63-55 loss in the 1999 Western A Final the most recent.

Whomever Portland squares off again next week, it will be up for the challenge.

“I’m very excited to play at the Civic Center,” said Kabantu. “I’ve loved playing there, but for two years I’ve only been able to play there once (because we lost in the semifinals). I don’t want that to happen again. We’ll work very hard.”

“I told the girls I’m turning it up,” Corcoran said. “We’ll move on if we make shots and play Portland High basketball. Bangor gives us a greater challenge than Lewiston does, but we get excited about playing Bangor. We talk about poise and passion. Keeping it simple and playing smart. It’s all mental for us.”

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

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