Portland 47 Deering 44

D- 6 10 11 17- 44
P- 15 9 14 9- 47

D- Gayle 4-6-15, McGowan 3-7-15, Sibo 4-0-8, Lia 1-0-2, Rosenthal 1-0-2, Santiago 1-0-2

P- Stein 3-0-9, B. Yugu 3-2-9, Tuza 3-2-8, Wakati 2-3-7, E. Yugu 2-3-7, Alaari 1-0-2, Irakoze 1-0-2, McCrum 1-0-2, Pozzy 0-1-1

D (3) McGowan 2, Gayle 1
P (4) Stein 3, B. Yugu 1

D- 17
P- 22

D: 13-21
P: 11-25


PORTLAND—In its first year post-superstars Amanda Kabantu and Gemima Motema, Portland’s girls’ basketball team is learning that nothing will come easily.

Even when an easy victory appears in store.

But Thursday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, the Bulldogs dug deep and did just enough to get into the win column for the first time.

Thanks to a team-wide effort.

Hosting winless Deering, Portland never trailed and shot to a 15-6 lead after one quarter thanks to a couple of 3-pointers from junior sharpshooter Eliza Stein.

But the Rams refused to go quietly and 11 first half points from senior Ella McGowan kept the visitors within eight, 24-16, at the break.


Deering then drew within two, 29-27, in the third period, but the Bulldogs closed the frame on a 9-0 run, then added the first five points of the fourth quarter to seemingly put it away.

But the Rams roared back and when McGowan made a free throw with 17 seconds to play, Portland clung to a two-point lead.

That’s as close as Deering would get, as a free throw from senior Lina Wakati provided a little breathing room and the Rams never managed a potential game-tying shot and the Bulldogs held on to prevail, 47-44.

Portland put nine different players in the scoring column, got key contributions from starters and reserves alike and improved to 1-4 on the season, dropping Deering to 0-5 in the process.

“It feels good,” said Bulldogs second-year coach Abby Hasson. “For a program that’s as storied as Portland, to go through droughts is really hard, so credit to the kids. They were ready to go. It wasn’t very pretty, but a win’s a win.”

A first step


Portland enjoyed a dominant 9-2 campaign in 2020-21, Hasson’s first with the program, but due to COVID, there was no postseason. The Bulldogs were then decimated by graduation, as Kabantu (Bentley) and Motema (Northeastern) moved on to play in college.

Portland started the 2021-22 season with losses at Lewiston (55-44), at home to Bonny Eagle (41-26), at home to Hampden Academy (55-30) and at Cheverus (62-37).

Deering, which didn’t win a game two years ago, then went 1-8 in 2020-21, started by losing at Bonny Eagle (35-25), at home to Cheverus (62-20), at home to Bangor (65-20) and at home to Oxford Hills (52-33).

Last year, the Bulldogs took both meetings, 66-34 at Portland High and 66-21 at Deering.

Entering play Thursday, Portland had won seven straight in the series. The Rams hoped for their first win over the Bulldogs since Dec. 28, 2017, but Portland did just enough to make it eight in a row.

Portland senior Naulissa Tuza drives on Deering senior Yipsi Sibo during early action Thursday. Hoffer photos.

Just 29 seconds into the game, senior captain Elizabeth Yugu drove for a layup and a lead the home team wouldn’t relinquish.


After junior Annie Pozzy added a free throw for Portland, Deering got on the board courtesy two foul shots from sophomore Maya Gayle.

After Wakati scored her first points, on a putback, McGown scored on a runner, but Stein hit her first 3, Yugu scored on a putback, then Stein added another 3 for a 13-4 advantage.

McGowan got two points back at the line for the Rams, but a late jumper from sophomore Ainsley McCrum, which rattled home, made it 15-6 Portland after eight minutes.

The Bulldogs hoped to run away and hide in the second quarter, but Deering didn’t let it happen.

Wakati started the second period with an old-fashioned three-point play, making a layup after a steal, being fouled in the process, and hitting the free throw.

McGowan then answered with a 3 and hit a free throw to cut the deficit to eight.


After junior Paola Irakoze banked home a shot for Portland, Gayle hit a free throw and after Stein fed sophomore Inas Alaari for a layup, McGowan drained a 3.

Late in the quarter, Yugu drove for a layup, but junior Nyabhana Lia went coast-to-coast for a layup and the Rams were only down eight, 24-16, at the break.

Each team enjoyed runs in the third quarter.

Tuza started the second half with a leaner, but McGowan set up senior Yipsi Sibo for a layup and after Yugu made a foul shot, Gayla scored on a putback, sophomore Natlie Santiago scored on a putback and after a McGowan steal, Gayla made a layup to cut the deficit to just three points, 27-24.

Bulldogs freshman Baleria Yugu, Elizabeth Yugu’s younger sister, then first made her presence felt with a layup, but Gayle countered with a 3 from the corner to make it a two-point game with 2:49 to go in the third.

The rest of the quarter belonged to Portland, as Stein stemmed the tide with a 3, Baleria Yugu made a free throw, then drove for a layup, Wakati hit a free throw and Elizabeth Yugu drained two foul shots to extend the lead to 38-27 heading for the fourth quarter.


Where Deering fought hard to the bitter end.

Early in the final stanza, Baleria Yugu knocked down a 3.

“(Baleria) played great,” Elizabeth Yugu said. “She’s my sister, so I’m going to pressure her to do better, but I’m proud of her. She’s stepping up and she’s playing at a level a lot of people don’t get to play at. I’m proud she’s being herself. Me being more experienced, I can pass down knowledge that I’ve learned.”

Tuza then made two free throws to seemingly put it away with the score 43-27 with under six minutes to go.

But the Rams refused to buckle and admit defeat.

With 3:44 left, McGowan sank two free throws to end Portland’s 14-0 run and a 7-minute, 5-second scoring drought.


Sophomore Shay Rosenthal added a layup, Sibo hit a leaner, McGowan made a free throw, Sibo knocked down a jump shot and with 1:38 to play, McGowan fed Gayle for a transition layup and just like that, the score was 43-38.

The Bulldogs seemingly put it away when Baleria Yugu made a free throw, then after a Baleria Yugu steal, Tuza made a layup for an eight-point advantage with under a minute to go.

But Deering roared back again, getting two free throws from Gayle, a putback from Sibo and after Gayle made a foul shot with 29.4 seconds on the clock, McGowan added another with 17 seconds to play to make it a two-point contest.

McGowan then missed the second attempt and Sibo got the offensive rebound. She went back up looking to tie the score, but Tuza blocked the shot.

On the ensuing inbounds pass, Wakati stole the ball and was fouled.

After missed a pair of free throws seconds earlier to keep the game alive, Wakati calmly made her first attempt with just 9 seconds on the clock.


“I’m disappointed I missed the previous two, but I was glad that I got the one that I really, really needed,” Wakati said. “I felt the pressure, but I was trying to concentrate.”

“We missed Lina while she missed the early part of the season, so getting her back in the rotation is important,” Hasson said.

While Wakati missed the second free throw, the Rams weren’t able to line up a potential game-tying shot from behind the arc and the horn sounded, allowing Portland to celebrate its 47-44 victory.

Portland celebrates the win at the final horn.

“This is something we’ve been waiting for,” Elizabeth Yugu said. “The past four games were tough for us. It’s a new team and we’re adjusting. We’re all getting in the mix and finding out what works for us. Having this first win will set us up.”

“I’m glad we got the win,” Wakati said. “Defensively, we just needed to lock it in. I think now we’re on a roll.”

“I tried to get kids minutes with too much time left in the game,” Hasson added. “While my team is young, I’m also young and my coaching staff is young. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll move on and we won’t make those mistakes again.”


Stein (five rebounds) and Baleria Yugu led the Bulldogs with nine points apiece, but they had plenty of company.

Tuza added eight points, four rebounds and two blocked shots, Wakati had seven points, six rebounds, four steals and a pair of assists, Elizabeth Yugu contributed seven points, 10 rebounds and two steals, while Alaari, Irakoze and McCrum each scored two points and Pozzy had one.

“I talk a lot about how this year I need a few points here and there from different players,” Hasson said

Portland enjoyed a 43-34 rebounding advantage, but committed far too many turnovers (22) and only made 11 of 25 free throws.

Deering got a game-high 15 points apiece from Gayle (who also had six rebounds and three steals) and McGowan (seven rebounds, five assists and two steals). Sibo added eight points and eight boards, while Lia, Rosenthal (four steals) and Santiago (five rebounds) had two points apiece.

The Rams turned the ball over 17 times and made 13 of 21 foul shots.


“I’m very pleased with the grit and the effort,” said longtime Deering coach Mike Murphy. “It’s a group that hasn’t seen too many ‘Ws’ and you have to learn to win. We struggle to put the ball in the hole. Once you start seeing some success, you get some giddy-up in your step and defensively, you force turnovers and we took advantage of it.”

Onwards and upwards

The Bulldogs and Rams play again Feb. 7 at Deering, but both teams will be plenty busy in the meantime.

Deering will again seek its first victory next Thursday when Lewiston pays a visit.

“It’s very challenging, but I’m seeing progress in small increments,” said Murphy. “I told the kids how proud I am that no one is quitting and that they show up and play hard for each other. That builds character. We’ve played some great teams so far. Cheverus, Oxford Hills and Bangor. We’ve seen the top and it’s a learning process. We just hope to get better.”

As for Portland, it will seek a second straight win next Thursday at Edward Little.

“We’re trying to find what works,” Elizabeth Yugu said. “Hopefully, this will be a big boost of confidence for us.”

“We can still work on communication,” Wakati said. “Once we get that, we’ll be tough.”

“We’re focused on onwards and upwards and getting better every day,” Hasson added. “I’ve got only two kids who played big minutes last year and everyone else didn’t. I’m reminding myself as much as I remind them that it’s a long season.”

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

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