Abby Hasson will certainly never forget her first head coaching victory.

Everything about it was memorable.

Her Portland High girls’ basketball team rallied in the second half for a 60-53 victory Wednesday night at Cheverus in the long-awaited season opener for both schools.

The stands were empty, save for rows of purple and gold balloons, each with a photo of a family member (or pet) of a Cheverus player.  Everyone was wearing a face mask. And her star player could hardly see, her goggles fogging up repeatedly.

In the end, none of that mattered. Hasson had quite a tale to tell her mother, South Portland Coach Lynne Hasson, when she got home.

“She’ll be waiting for me,” said the 27-year-old Hasson. “She probably wasn’t even watching (the game on livestream) to watch me. She was probably scouting. I don’t blame her.”

This didn’t resemble a first game at all, especially one being played in a pandemic, with all the extra precautions that are necessary. Hasson said once the game started, all that mattered was basketball.

Yes, she said, it was a little weird. “I felt like it was going to be a lot weirder,” she said. “But the energy my kids brought, it was just a game. Even in a pandemic. When you get going, it looks like just another game. With face masks.”

Because summer ball was canceled and the start of preseason was delayed, Hasson has had very little time actually working with her players. But, she said before the game, it was obvious that this was a special group, and not just because of star seniors Amanda Kabantu and Gemima Motema. “I think we’ve built a pretty good bond,” she said.

That was obvious once the game started. Motema, bound next for Northeastern University, and Kabantu, heading to Bentley University, came as advertised. Motema scored 16 points and Kabantu had 11.

And they turned the game around late in the third quarter. Kabantu (four points) and Motema (six) scored all of Portland’s points during a 10-2 run that gave the Bulldogs 41-39 lead entering the fourth. Kabantu also made two steals during that stretch.

Motema then hit a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup to start the fourth, and Portland was in control.

“They are special players,” said Cheverus Coach Bill Goodman. “I felt we played a really good game, but Portland deserved to win. Their two stars did everything.”

But, he added, so did their teammates. Sophomore Eliza Stein hit four 3-pointers for 12 points, and Liz Yugu scored 11. Yugu’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:02 remaining made it 56-49.

“I’m super proud of them,” said Kabantu. “I’ll be honest, probably nobody expected them to come up … They made big plays when we needed big plays and that shows us we can rely on them when we need it.”

The Portland players were especially glad for their new coach.

“She deserves it,” said Stein, who played the entire 32 minutes. “It’s awesome.”

“She talked about it in practice, she really wanted it bad,” said Kabantu. “She deserved it more than we did. She’s been working really, really hard.”

Cheverus was led by freshman Maddie Fitzpatrick, who scored 21 points, hitting all 13 of her foul shots.

“She deserves to be out there,” said Goodman. “She’s a special player.”


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