Portland senior Mireille Tona shoots over Falmouth freshman Maddy Christman as junior Izzy Bunion also defends during the Bulldogs’ 43-31 win Thursday night. Michael Hoffer / For The Forecaster

BOX SCORE

Portland 43 Falmouth 31

F- 5 9 7 10- 31
P- 9 13 8 13- 43

F- Ginevan 4-4-13, Christman 1-5-7, Birks 2-1-6, Welch 1-3-5

P- Motema 9-2-21, Stein 3-1-8, Tona 2-2-6, Kabantu 1-3-5, Tuza 1-0-2, Wakati 0-1-1

3-pointers:
F (2) Birks, Ginevan 1
P (2) Motema, Stein 1

Turnovers:
F- 18
P- 9

FTs
F: 13-16
P: 9-15

PORTLAND—Even on a night where little came easily, the stars of Portland’s girls’ basketball team came through when it mattered most when up-and-coming Falmouth paid a visit to the tiny gym at Portland High School Thursday.

With senior Amanda Kabantu playing lockdown defense on Yachtsmen sophomore standout Sloane Ginevan at the defensive end, Bulldogs senior Gemima Motema continued her sensational season on offense by hitting some clutch shots at optimal times.

Portland only led, 9-5, after one quarter and found itself deadlocked, 12-12, midway through the second period, but Motema sparked a late 10-2 run which gave the Bulldogs a 22-14 halftime advantage.

Falmouth, despite playing shorthanded, never buckled, and was still within nine, 30-21, heading for the fourth quarter, but Portland slammed the door from there and went on to a 43-31 triumph.

Motema led all scorers with 21 points and the Bulldogs won their fourth game in a row and improved to 5-1, dropping the Yachtsmen to 0-4 in the process.

“I’m super-proud of my team,” Motema said. “We got the job done.”

Fast-paced

Falmouth and Portland each boast some of the best players in the region and play an exciting brand of basketball.

The Yachtsmen started with two losses to Cheverus, 73-41 at home and 51-35 in Portland. Falmouth then fell Tuesday at home against Portland, 51-40, despite 22 points from sophomore Anna Turgeon.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, under their new coach Abby Hasson, opened with a 60-53 victory at Cheverus and a 45-41 home loss to the Stags. After beating visiting South Portland (57-29), Portland won at the Red Riots, 55-31, then Tuesday, behind 17 points from Motema and 12 from sophomore Eliza Stein, beat host Falmouth, 51-40.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first-ever countable encounter between the teams.

The second featured a similar result, as Portland did just enough to hold off the Yachtsmen, who were without Turgeon’s services and nearly lost Ginevan just before the half.

The Bulldogs started fast, as Motema made a layup after a steal, Motema drove for a layup (finding another gear and blowing past the last line of defense along the way) and Stein converted an old-fashioned three-point play (runner, foul and free throw) for a quick 7-0 lead.

The Yachtsmen countered, as Ginevan made a free throw, then Ginevan broke away for a layup.

Portland got two free throws from from senior Mireille Tona, but Falmouth countered with two from freshman Maddy Christman to pull within four, 9-5, after one quarter.

In the second quarter, the Bulldogs eventually got some breathing room, but it took time.

After Christman hit a short jumper to open the frame, Portland junior Lina Wakati and Christman traded free throws.

Tona then banked home a shot, but a leaner in the lane from senior Lauren Welch and a pair of Christman foul shots pulled the Yachtsmen even at 12-12.

The Bulldogs then got some breathing room, as Tona hit a short jumper to put them on top to stay, Motema followed with a layup after a steal, Motema drove and finished with a pretty reverse layup and Stein scored on a putback to make it 20-12.

Then, with 11.6 seconds left in the half, Ginevan drove to the hoop, was fouled and hit the ground hard and stayed there, in obvious pain. After several minutes, she was helped off by Falmouth coach Dawn Armandi and Portland High athletic trainer Ryan Lucas.

Welch took the free throws for Ginevan and made them both, but as time expired, Motema, who led all first half scorers with 10 points, drained a long jumper and the Bulldogs held a 22-14 advantage at the half.

Falmouth stayed in the game in the first 16 minutes thanks to a strong defensive effort and seven points from Christman.

Portland senior Amanda Kabantu defends Falmouth sophomore Sloane Ginevan.

The third quarter was more of the same, as Portland couldn’t shake Falmouth, while the Yachtsmen hung tough, but couldn’t draw close enough to make things truly interesting.

A Stein 3 opened the second half and after Welch made one free throw, Stein, after a steal, set up Motema for a layup and a 27-15 lead.

Ginevan then returned to action, which was a relief for all to see and that sparked Falmouth, as senior Cam Birks made a 3 and Ginevan made a layup after a steal to cut the deficit to seven, but the Yachtsmen would draw no closer.

That was due in large part to Motema, who drained a momentum-altering 3-ball.

“I’ve spent all summer working on 3s,” Motema said. “I’m getting better. Sometimes, I know it’s good and sometimes I have to think about it. I feel like I’m much better down low because I’m more comfortable there.”

Ginevan countered with a free throw to pull Falmouth within nine heading for a final stanza which saw the Bulldogs finally salt their win away.

After Kabantu scored her first points, taking a pass from junior Naulissa Tuza and making a layup in transition, Ginevan countered with a runner, but Tuza made a layup for a 34-23 advantage with 4:43 remaining.

After Ginevan sank two free throws, Motema scored on a floater, but with 2:24 on the clock, Ginevan’s 3 cut Portland’s lead to just eight, 36-28.

Motema then ended any lingering doubt with a pair of free throws and a runner in the lane.

After Birks converted a three-point play (leaner, foul, free throw) for the Yachtsmen’s final points with 1:08 left, Kabantu sank two foul shots, then hit one more and the Bulldogs prevailed, 43-31.

“It was a struggle,” Hasson said. “Falmouth’s a pretty talented squad. They’re well-coached. Dawn does a nice job over there. They knew what to do with their 1-2-2 (zone). It’s tough to beat, especially with Sloane at the top. They’re long and athletic.”

Motema, who was named earlier this week as a semifinalist for Maine’s most prestigious award, Miss Maine Basketball, didn’t just score 21 points, she did so inside and out, and also had five rebounds and three steals.

“Gemima’s just a super-special kid,” Hasson said. “She scores at will. She does what she wants. She lets her game do her speaking for her. Gemima has added things to her repertoire. She doesn’t just drive anymore. She’s worked hard in the offseason shooting. She has a nice pull-up jumper. She’s really come alive, helping her teammates out. She has a great basketball I.Q. She sees the court so well. If I had her skills, I’d never stop playing.”

Stein added eight points and three steals, Tona had six points and Kabantu finished with five (as well as 10 rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists).

More importantly, Kabantu, who is also a semifinalist for Miss Maine Basketball, excelled at the defensive end.

“Amanda did a great job stopping Sloane last game and again tonight,” Motema said.

“You don’t know how much Amanda does,” Hasson said. “She fills the stat sheet. We’ve talked as a coaching staff about getting her going (offensively), but she always brings intensity. She wanted to guard Sloane. She’s a fiery competitor. Everybody looks at her and sees how she’s playing and matches her.”

Tuza added two points and five rebounds and Wakati wound up with one point and five boards.

The Bulldogs out-rebounded the Yachtsmen, 39-33, only turned the ball over nine times and made 9-of-15 free throws.

Falmouth was paced by Ginevan, who fought her way to 13 points and four rebounds.

“Sloane’s a tough kid,” Armandi said. “Nothing stops her from competing. That’s what I love most about her.”

Christman continues to impress as a top young player. She scored seven points and had a game-high 12 rebounds.

“Maddy’s tall and thin, but she battles in there,” Armandi said. “She really rebounds for us.”

Birks added six points and Welch had five points and eight boards.

The Yachtsmen made 13-of-16 foul shots and turned the ball over 18 times.

“We’re competing and that’s the best thing to see,” said Armandi. “We have a tough schedule, but the girls are working hard and they’re fighting. We’re getting there. We’re getting better every single day. The girls want to get better. We battled Portland first game, so the girls knew we could we battle them tonight. They have so many great players.”

Two weeks left

The short and sweet 2021 season is closer to the end than the beginning.

Falmouth hopes to get in the win column Wednesday when Deering pays a visit. After going to the Rams two days later, the Yachtsmen host Greely March 6, then close with a pair of games versus South Portland.

“Tough competition is the best thing for us,” Armandi said. “The way we played makes me more excited for what’s to come. The girls are young and haven’t been in close games, so we just have to keep practicing hard every day.”

Portland is back in action Wednesday at home against Gorham. After going to Gorham two days later, the Bulldogs finish with two contests versus rival Deering.

“I wish we had more games, but it is what is,” Motema said. “I’m looking forward to playing Gorham. It’s a challenge, but I hope we play great.”

“We’re really looking forward to playing Gorham.,” said Hasson. “They’re talented and quick like we are. I look forward to seeing how we match up with them. They’re well-coached and they’re a veteran team. If we go out and take care of it on the defensive end, things will come on the offensive end.

“(The season’s) gone incredibly fast. It’s going to be heartbreaking to not see these kids every day. Amanda asked me to be an assistant coach on the volleyball staff so we could still hang out. For this to be my first year and for it to be during COVID and to have the group I’ve had, it’s not how I pictured it, but I couldn’t ask for it to be any other way. It’s such a special group.”

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

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