Portland High’s girls’ basketball team had its morning shootaround Thursday, then went out to breakfast. Coach Gerry Corcoran then brought the Bulldogs back to the high school and had the girls stand in front of the school’s trophy case.

He wanted them to see the Gold Balls won by previous Portland girls’ teams, the last coming in 1988.

“We talked about envisioning before we execute,” he said. “Just trying to get the girls to understand, this is big. This is big.”

The Bulldogs obviously got the message.

Second-seeded Portland raced to a 54-42 win over No. 3 Bangor in the Class AA North semifinals at Cross Insurance Arena. The Bulldogs scored the final 15 points of the second quarter to erase a 19-14 deficit.

The win sends Portland to its first regional final since 1999. The Bulldogs will face defending state champion Oxford Hills, which cruised past Windham, 54-31. Three minutes into that game, Windham senior Hannah Talon suffered a right knee injury, and the Eagles never recovered.

Oxford Hills defeated Portland twice during the regular season, by 28 in December and by 10 in January. Corcoran said the strategy against the Vikings is straightforward: “Contain the 3-point line, stopping (Cecelia) Dieterich and Julia Colby, paying attention to where they are on the floor at all times, that’s it.”

Easier said than done. But when the Bulldogs are at their best, as they were in the second and third quarters against Bangor, they’re capable of beating anyone.

“They’re just super athletic,” said Oxford Hills Coach Nate Pelletier. “We’re going to do some things different. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to push the tempo, because that’s what we do. We’ve just got to be disciplined in what we do.”

That’s the message Corcoran preaches to his team, also. Portland is most successful when pushing a fast tempo. But Corcoran frequently tells his players to slow down.

“When I say slow down, it’s all mental,” he said. “Our athletes are so aggressive, so talented, when that basketball is in front of them, they’ve got to be slow in their minds.”

“I know what he’s talking about,” said Portland junior Gemima Motema. “I have to slow the ball down, not to lose it. Too many turnovers can change a game.”

Portland trailed 19-14 with 4:51 left in the second quarter after Bangor’s Emi Streams completed a three-point play. Then Portland’s defense rattled the Rams, forcing four turnovers, and the offense got running. It was 29-19 at halftime.

“We know we’re very athletic and we can run,” said Portland senior Kiera Eubanks. “But at the same time, that comes with a challenge. Mentally, we’re running, too, and I have to tell my teammates sometimes to slow down. We have to process what’s happening, and then we can run and make the runs that we need to make.”

Oxford Hills likes to run, too. As Pelletier said, “We’re just about playing as hard and fast as we can, That’s what we do in practice every day. A lot of times, that puts teams on their heels because they’re not ready for the pace we play.”

Portland will be ready. And that should make for quite a regional final.

 

 

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