BOX SCORE

Portland 66 Deering 34

D- 7 9 9 9- 34
P- 20 23 11 12- 66

D- Gayle 4-3-12, Lia 1-2-5, McGowan 2-0-5, True-Magee 2-0-5, Rosenthal 1-0-2, Santiago 1-0-2, Sibo 1-0-2, Soldati 0-1-1

P- Motema 9-1-20, Kabantu 7-0-15, Stein 5-0-15, Wakati 3-1-7, Tuza 2-1-5, Shaw 1-2-4

3-pointers:
D (4) Gayle, Lia, McGowan, True-Magee 1
P (7) Stein 5, Kabantu, Motema 1

Turnovers:
D- 18
P- 14

FTs
D: 6-12
P: 5-11

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PORTLAND—After dazzling us for the better part of four years, you just had a feeling that Portland High senior standouts Amanda Kabantu and Gemima Motema had something special in store for their Senior Day game Tuesday afternoon against rival Deering at the ancient PHS gymnasium.

But even by their sensational standards, what Kabantu and Motema produced in this one is hard to describe or fully appreciate.

Kabantu, a Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist, set the tone with a 3-pointer just eight seconds into the game and the Bulldogs opened up a 20-7 lead after one quarter.

Motema, who is one of three finalists for the Miss Maine Basketball award, then took over in the second period, scoring 16 points herself, and by halftime, Portland was in command, up, 43-16.

Not surprisingly, the Rams played hard for all 32 minutes, but simply couldn’t make a run and the Bulldogs led, 54-25, after three periods before going to a 66-34 victory.

Motema led all scorers with 20 points, Kabantu added 15 and each girl had a double-double as well as Portland improved to 7-2 and in the process, dropped Deering to 1-7.

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“Watching (Amanda and Gemima) play, I just shake my head,” said Bulldogs first-year coach Abby Hasson. “They’re unbelievable. As great as they are players, they’re even better kids. They’re selfless and they love to get everyone involved. Our younger kids obviously learn from them. They make everybody better. I’ve watched them push it into another gear that I just don’t possess. That’s beautiful. It’s like art. They have this innate ability to get to the rim and know what the defender is going to do. They’re special. I’m extremely melancholy looking at them. They’re fantastic, but I know they’re leaving.”

First time in a long time

Deering and Portland last squared off Feb. 6th of 2020, more than 13 months ago. That evening, the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half for a 59-35 victory. Portland went on to the Class AA North Final, while the Rams finished 0-19.

This year, both squads are happy to be playing and are making the most of every game.

The Rams started with a pair of losses to South Portland (42-39 away and 38-32 at home), then snapped a 22-game skid with a 54-32 home victory over Cape Elizabeth. A pair of losses to Cheverus (55-31 away and 53-29 at home) followed, then Deering lost at Falmouth, 50-26, and at home to the Yachtsmen, 50-36.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, 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 swept Falmouth (51-40 away and 43-31 at home) and defeated visiting Gorham (49-32), before falling at the Rams in the rematch Friday, 48-45.

Entering play Tuesday, the Bulldogs had beaten Deering in five consecutive meetings.

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The Rams hoped for their first win over Portland since Dec. 28, 2017, but the Bulldogs wouldn’t be denied.

Kabantu set the tone just eight seconds in, when she made a 3-pointer.

The next time down the floor, Kabantu passed to sophomore sharpshooter Eliza Stein for the first of her five 3-pointers and Motema then went coast-to-coast for an 8-0 lead just 51 seconds in.

After coach Mike Murphy called timeout, Deering got on the board when junior Ella McGowan made a layup, but Stein (off another Kabantu assist) made another 3.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better start,” Hasson said. “This gym is a different venue than we’re used to, but it’s been great for our shooters. Eliza is something else. She just spots up and she’s got a quick trigger.”

After freshman Maya Gayle made a layup for the Rams, Kabantu scored on a putback, but seconds later, she received her second foul and had to sit for the remainder of the quarter.

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Undaunted, Portland added to its lead, as junior Lina Wakati made a layup after a steal and freshman Emma Shaw sank two free throws.

Deering got a free throw from senior Grayson Soldati and a putback from junior Yipsi Sibo, but wouldn’t score again for a long time.

The Bulldogs capped the first period with a runner from Shaw and a Wakati foul shot for a 20-7 advantage after eight minutes.

Motema then took over in the second stanza.

Motema made a layup 43 seconds in, then scored on a putback and after a block at the defensive end, she scored on a runner to make it 26-7.

Kabantu returned and took a feed from Motema and made a layup, Motema sank a 3, Motema made a free throw, then with 3:18 to go before halftime, Motema scored on a coast-to-coast layup and Portland was in command, 34-7.

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“Gemima’s worked on that 3-point shot all offseason because she can get to the rim anytime she wants,” said Hasson.

Eleven seconds later, Deering snapped the Bulldogs’ 17-0 run and their 6-minute, 38-second drought, but junior Naulissa Tuza answered with a free throw for Portland, Kabantu drove for a layup, Motema scored on a putback, then Stein set up Tuza for a layup to make it 43-9.

Sophomore Nyabhana Lia hit a 3 for the Rams, but Motema capped her 16-point quarter with a runner in the lane.

In the final minute before halftime, Gayla made a free throw, then she hit a long 3, but the Bulldogs took a 43-16 advantage to the break.

Motema nearly had a double-double in the first half, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds, while Kabantu added nine points.

The fun continued in the second half.

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Stein opened the third quarter with her third 3 and after junior Ella McGowan answered for Deering, Kabantu drove for a layup.

Gayle banked home a shot on the run, but Motema answered with a layup after a steal for her final points.

After Gayle hit a runner in the lane, Kabantu drove for a layup, then Kabantu made a layup after a steal before a pair of Gayle free throws pulled the Rams within 54-25 heading for the final stanza.

There, the Bulldogs cemented another impressive win.

A Wakati runner opened the fourth quarter. Stein then drained consecutive 3-pointers to make it 62-25.

After senior Kaylee True-Magee scored on a putback for Deering, Tuza made a layup for Portland.

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After a runner from Rams freshman Shay Rosenthal, freshman Natalie Santiago added a layup and True-Magee made a 3 for Deering’s final points.

Wakati then hit a runner in the waning seconds to bring the curtain down on the Bulldogs’ 66-34 triumph.

“Every team comes right at us and expects the best from us,” Kabantu said. “Everyone comes and pressures us and it’s up to us to set the tone.”

Motema was superb, scoring 20 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, dishing out two assists and adding two steals.

“I’ve played with (Gemima) and my sister (Davina, Portland High Class of 2020) and I’m excited to play with other people, but I’m really excited to see what Gemima can do,” Kabantu said. “She worked a lot during quarantine on her shot in our backyard and I can see it’s improved. I think she’s unstoppable now. Her hard work has paid off. It’s so great to see her come to her full potential and it’s not even half of what she’ll become. When she gets where she’s going to be it’s going to be crazy. I expect that will be the NBA.”

Kabantu stuffed the stat sheet too, scoring 15 points, grabbing a dozen rebounds, also producing four steals and three assists.

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“I’ve played with (Amanda) since I was little,” Motema said. “Amanda does everything. She can shoot, drive and rebound. I think she is a great defender.”

“Amanda, I’m so glad to see her starting to shoot,” Hasson said. “She’s been facilitating everyone else for eight games.”

Deering could only tip its cap in admiration of Kabantu and Motema’s heroics.

“(Amanda and Gemima) are easily the two best players in this league in my 33 years of coaching girls’ basketball. By far,” said Murphy. “(Former Gorham standout Mackenzie Holmes, who is now excelling at Indiana University) was awesome, but it was a different awesome. The speed and athleticism of both of them are phenomenal. They’re lightning-quick, get up the floor quick, can catch and shoot it. ”

Stein scored 15 points, all on 3-pointers, Wakati had seven points and four rebounds, Tuza added five points, five rebounds and two blocked shots and Shaw impressed off the bench with four points, five rebounds and two steals.

“This team is a bunch of athletes,” Hasson said. “They can all kind of fill in. Those older kids give them that confidence and give them a cushion when they go in. I’m excited about we’ve got coming back.”

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Portland had a 55-23 rebounding advantage, overcame 14 turnovers and 5-of-11 foul shooting.

Deering was paced by 12 points from Gayle. Lia, McGowan and True-Magee each added five, Rosenthal, Santiago and Sibo had two apiece and Soldati finished with one.

The Rams made 6-of-12 foul shots and turned the ball over 18 times.

“I’m looking at this as a good experience for our girls to play at that type of speed, against players of that level,” Murphy said. “We played hard. That was our goal coming in. It was a good effort. Our kids didn’t back down.”

What is and what can never be

Deering has one game remaining, Thursday at Portland, then the Rams will turn their attention to the future. Which is very bright.

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“For us, especially with the kids we have coming back, the more we can play against at top-flight opponent can only make us better,” said Murphy.

Portland gets another shot at Gorham, Wednesday at home, before finishing Thursday at home versus Deering. The Bulldogs would have had a great shot at winning an elusive state title had this been a normal season, but Portland still got much from its limited time on the court.

“It’s sad we can’t go for a state title this year,” Motema said. “That was my goal this year, but I’m still having fun. We learned from the last Gorham game and I think we can beat them.”

“I’m sad that my high school career is coming to an end,” Kabantu said. “I’m really going to miss this, but I’m excited to get to the next level. It’s time to branch out. I hope we can have fun our last two games and for me, the only way to have fun playing basketball is to win. I’m hoping for two more wins and making more great memories with my teammates.”

“We kind of left (Gorham’s) gym with a sour taste in our mouths,” added Hasson. “The girls have watched film and realized their mistakes. We know what we’ve got to do and it’s just about going out there and doing it. I’m glad we get to be at home one more time.”

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

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