Portland 45 Deering 40

P- 15 6 13 11- 45
D- 9 12 11 8- 40

P- W. Donato 5-2-12, P. Donato 4-1-9, Toher 3-1-7, Cross 3-0-6, Johnson 1-2-5, Kiala 2-0-4, Charles 1-0-2

D- Wani 11-0-26, Augusto 3-0-6, Chikuta 2-0-4, Lagasse 1-0-2, Lindsay 1-0-2

P (1) Johnson 1
D (4) Wani 4

P- 18
D- 13

P: 6-11
D: 0-2


PORTLAND—Local basketball fans got an early holiday present Thursday afternoon at Deering High School when ancient rivals Deering and Portland engaged in the latest memorable chapter of their rivalry.

Playing in front of raucous fans for the first time in two years, the Bulldogs and Rams showed why they have the pieces in place to contend in a deep and balanced Class AA North in contest that ultimately became a battle of Wani vs. Wani.

Deering senior Remijo Wani was close to unstoppable in the first half, capping it with a long, long-range 3-pointer to forge a 21-21 tie.

The Rams even took a short-lived lead in the third quarter, but Portland senior Wani Donato produced a double-double and junior Brady Toher set up senior Spencer Cross for the go-ahead layup as the Bulldogs slammed the door defensively and went on to a 45-40 victory.

While Remijo Wani finished with a game-high 26 points, Wani Donato had 12 points and 16 rebounds and Portland won its fourth straight game, improved to 4-1, snapped a four-game skid in the series and in the process, dropped valiant Deering to a misleading 1-4.

“That was fun,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Joe Russo. “It was nice to see the crowd come out. It was a very competitive game, which I expected. We’re very similar. We run a similar defense, so that automatically keeps the score low. The difference was Wani Donato, we made some big free throws down the stretch and I think we’re just a little more cohesive on defense.”


Holiday matinee

Two years ago, Deering was a Class AA North finalist while Portland won three games.

The gap got closer in last winter’s COVID-abbreviated campaign, when the Rams went 7-3, including an inspirational win over Falmouth, while the Bulldogs finished 3-6.

On Opening Night of the 2021-22 campaign, Deering held off visiting Bonny Eagle (64-55), while Portland lost a close home game to Lewiston (42-40), but since then, the Rams have struggled, while the Bulldogs have hit their stride.

After starting with a victory, Deering lost at Cheverus (73-72, in overtime), at Bangor (74-55) and Oxford Hills (66-53) and making matters worse, lost senior big man Alex Willings to a wrist injury.

Portland’s first win came at Bonny Eagle (45-41). The Bulldogs then prevailed at Hampden Academy (63-42) and Tuesday night, rallied for a 44-41 victory at Cheverus.


Deering took both meetings last winter, 38-35 at home and 53-40 at Portland High.

Thursday, in front of as large a crowd as Deering High is permitted to host (half capacity), the Rams hoped for their fifth straight win the series, something which hadn’t happened before this century, but instead, the Bulldogs beat their rival for the first time since their dramatic Class AA North quarterfinal round upset at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Portland got out to a fast start, as Toher drove for a layup, then sophomore James Johnson knocked down a 3-pointer, but Wani then made his presence felt by draining a 3, then, after a steal from freshman Evan Lagasse, Wani took the pass and made a layup to tie it.

Wani Donato countered for the Bulldogs, setting up junior Pitia Donato for a layup, then driving for one of his own for a 9-5 lead.

Again, the Rams answered, as Wani took an inbounds pass from senior Max Chikuta and made a layup, then he made another layup to tie it again, 9-9.

The last six points of the opening stanza would go to Portland, as senior Jose Kiala bulled his way for a layup, junior Kennedy Charles made a layup, then Cross banked home a contested shot to make it 15-9.


The Bulldogs couldn’t pull away in the second period and Deering rallied to tie it up.

Wani started the new quarter with a long 3, ending the Rams’ 6-minute, 4-second scoring drought.

Johnson then fed Wani Donato for a layup off an inbounds set and after Wani scored on a putback, Pitia Donato fed Wani Donato for a layup, then Toher drove and scooped a shot off the glass and in for what proved to be Portland’s biggest lead of the game, 21-14, with 1:23 to go before halftime.

But Deering closed on a surge, as Wani spun and made a layup with 59 seconds on the clock, Chikuta scored on a putback for the Rams’ first non-Wani points with 19.3 seconds remaining, then, after a Bulldogs’ turnover, Wani raced up court, passed the midcourt stripe, took another step, then let it fly and the ball found nothing but net just before the horn and just like that, Deering was even, 21-21.

“I wasn’t really happy with the way we finished the second quarter,” Russo said. “They got (seven) quick points. That shouldn’t have happened.”

Wani stole the first half show with 19 points, while Wani Donato paced Portland with six points and 11 rebounds.


The contest remained razor-close in the second half.

Just over a minute in, a Wani 3-ball put the Rams ahead for the first time.

The Bulldogs rallied on a bank shot from Kiala and a free throw from Pitia Donato, but sophomore Quinton Lindsay went coast-to-coast for a layup and Lagasse hit a floater from the baseline to make it 28-24 Deering with 4:58 left in the period.

Portland countered, as Toher found Pitia Donato for a backdoor layup and Toher set up Wani Donato on the fastbreak for a layup to make it 28-28.

The Rams then took their last lead, as senior Tiatyo Augusto made a leaner, but Cross answered with a bank shot, Pitia Donato found Toher for a layup, then Wani Donato set up Pitia Donato on the fastbreak for another layup.

Wani made a late layup for Deering, but the Bulldogs took a 34-32 advantage to the fourth quarter.


Where they would do just enough to prevail.

Fifty-five seconds in, Augusto drove and finished a pretty reverse layup to tie it, but with 6:35 remaining, on the run, Toher set up Cross for the layup which gave Portland the lead for good, 36-34.

“It was just a great pass from Brady,” Cross said. “I’m glad he gave it to me.”

With 5:45 remaining, Wani Donato extended the lead, scoring on a putback while being fouled, then adding the and-one free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and a 39-34 advantage.

A leaner from Wani cut the deficit to three, but Pitia floated and banked home a shot to make it 41-36 with 3:50 to go.

With 2:58 left, an Augusto bank shot again made it a one-possession contest, but that’s as close as Deering would get.


Forty-five seconds later, Wani Donato made one of two free throws, then the Rams had four opportunities to get closer, but they came up empty.

First Wani had a 3 go in-and-out.

After Portland turned the ball over, Lagasse drove to the hoop, but Johnson blocked the shot.

The Bulldogs gave the ball away again, but Wani couldn’t hit a 3 and Cross was fouled.

With 36.6 seconds left, Cross had a chance to ice it, but missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Senior Nick Langella then missed a 3 for Deering and this time, Portland was able to get some separation, as Johnson made it a six-point game by sinking two free throws with 21 seconds to go.


After a Rams’ turnover, Toher made a foul shot to effectively end it and while Chikuta made a leaner in traffic with 6.1 seconds left, that’s as close as it would get and the Bulldogs were able to celebrate a 45-40 victory.

“It feels good,” Wani Donato said. “It’s a lot of fun to play in front of fans again. Their energy got us hyped up. We just slowed the game down and ran our offense. We play hard and work together. That’s why we’re 4-1.”

“It was just great to get the win,” Cross said. “We came out of halftime and we were a different team. We were ready to play. We played hard. It was a good battle. I knew it would be a hard game and I knew it would be close. I’m just glad we came out on top.”

“I’ve been very pleased with how hard my players are working,” Russo added. “They’re working hard and they’re working together and that’s what’s carrying us.”

Wani Donato had 12 points, 16 rebounds and a pair of assists. Pitia Donato added nine points, four rebounds and three assists, Toher had seven points and four assists, Cross six points and five boards, Johnson five points, Kiala four (to go with six rebounds) and Charles two.

The Bulldogs had a 39-27 rebounding advantage, made 6 of 11 free throws and committed 18 turnovers, but had just enough to hold on.


The Remijo Show

Wani stole the show for Deering, scoring 26 points, grabbing six rebounds, blocking four shots and producing a pair of steals.

“Remijo is one of the top players in the state,” Rams coach Todd Wing said. “He does it all. He played well on offense and defense. His leadership will take us far.”

Wani was held somewhat in check in the second half, with just seven points after the break.

“First half, we gave him a lot of open shots, then in the second half, we tried to deny him more,” said Wani Donato.

“We didn’t let him shoot as much in the second half and just played better defense on him,” Cross said.


“That kid’s tough,” Russo added. “Because they kept him in the middle and he can shoot and rebound, what we did was put a guy in the middle, so if he got the ball, he had to put it on the floor and then, we collapsed on him.”

Augusto finished with six points and five rebounds, Chikuta had four points, four rebounds and two assists and Lagasse and Lindsay had two points apiece.

The Rams missed their two free throw attempts and had 13 turnovers.

“So far this season, we’ve relied heavily on the 3-ball, even more so tonight,” said Wing. “It’s amazing we stayed as close as we did.  In hindsight, we needed to attack the rim a little more. We didn’t take bad shots. They just didn’t drop. We fought the whole way and played tough. The kids are giving it all.

“It was a fun game, a rock fight, as we expected. I’m glad it was so close. It was great to have the fans and the student sections back.”

Deering hopes to get Willings back soon.


“Alex will be out four-to-six weeks,” Wing said. ‘He played 32 minutes per game for us, so we’re figuring out who can be on the floor for those minutes.”

One left in 2021

The rivals square off again Feb. 8 at the Portland Exposition Building.

By then, each team should be a very different team and if all goes well, a more formidable team.

In the meantime, Deering is back in action Tuesday of next week with another tough road test at Lewiston. Despite their recent struggles, the Rams aren’t ready to panic.

“I think our record is misleading,” Wing said. “We’ll figure it out, then get (Alex) back and we’ll play anyone.”


Portland is back in action Tuesday of next week when it hosts always-tough Edward Little.

“We’re just playing together and having fun,” Cross said. “We’re playing hard every game and it’s working. Our defense is good. We just need to run our plays a little better.”

“We have to keep playing hard and playing team defense and get everyone on the team involved,” Wani Donato said.

“We’re still really young, but I’m really pleased,” Russo added. “Once we learn how to run an offense and execute better than we have been, we’ll be legit. We have the skill, but we’re not executing. When we can dictate the flow, we’ll be one of the better teams.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Comments are not available on this story.