PORTLAND—Coming off a sloppy loss in the season opener, Portland’s boys’ basketball team faced the daunting task of trying to neutralize visiting Bonny Eagle and its 6-foot-8-inch senior center Elliot Bouchard Tuesday evening at the Portland Exposition Building.

But the Bulldogs embraced the challenge and went out and rode a team effort to an impressive early-season victory.

Portland would never trail, as its pressure defense got the Scots off their game early and after one quarter, the Bulldogs held an 11-10 advantage.

Portland got in foul trouble and couldn’t pull away in the second period, clinging to a 20-16 lead at the half.

Senior point guard Brady Toher and junior Pepito Girumugisha then helped produce some breathing room in the third quarter and the Bulldogs took a 29-20 advantage to the final stanza.

There, Portland momentarily went up by a dozen, but Bonny Eagle crept back within six before senior Pitia Donato and Toher drained clutch late free throws and the Bulldogs closed out a 42-28 victory.


Girumugisha led a balanced attack with 11 points as Portland evened its record at 1-1 and dropped Bonny Eagle to 1-1 in the process.

“Tonight was definitely a team victory,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Joe Russo after his 448th win with the program. “It was a huge victory. It’s good to beat a good team that is going to win a lot of games.”

Getting on track

Portland had a rough start at Lewiston Friday, as it committed over 30 turnovers and lost to the Blue Devils, 56-47.

Bonny Eagle, meanwhile, which expects to push reigning state champion South Portland and perennial contender Thornton Academy this winter, started with a 60-49 home victory over Deering.

In last year’s meeting, the Bulldogs eked out a 45-41 victory in Standish.


Tuesday, the Scots sought their first win over Portland since a 62-61 overtime decision at the Expo Jan. 30, 2019, but the Bulldogs made them uncomfortable throughout and got in the win column.

Portland senior Kennedy Charles launches a shot over Bonny Eagle senior Hayden Campbell during the Bulldogs’ 42-28 victory Tuesday. Hoffer photos.

Portland turned up the defensive intensity from the moment the ball went up and Bouchard won the opening tip.

The Bulldogs forced an immediate turnover and went ahead for good 49 seconds in when sophomore Drew Veilleux hit a jumper.

After Girumugisha added a layup after a steal, Bonny Eagle got on the board on a putback from senior Hayden Campbell.

Senior Kennedy Charles then added a 3-pointer from the corner for Portland, but fouls started to add up on the home team and the Scots were able to stay within hailing distance.

After a layup from junior Lucas Drinkwater, junior Brandt Abbott added two free throws to pull Bonny Eagle within one, 7-6.


After senior Sam Esposito hit a jumper for the home team, Bouchard scored his first points, as a leaner rattled in.

Girumugisha then banked home a shot, but late in the frame, Bouchard tipped home a missed free throw and the Scots were only down a point, 11-10, after eight minutes.

The Bulldogs then clung to the lead in the second quarter.

After Veilleux opened the frame with a jumper that bounced in, Campbell answered with a driving layup.

Junior Kevin Rugabirwa made a layup for the hosts, but two free throws from Bonny Eagle senior Dom Gordon made it a one-point game again.

Girumugisha broke away for a layup, but with 1:42 to go, junior Terrell Edwards made two free throws to pull the Scots within a point for the final time.


With 1:24 remaining, Rugabirwa came up huge with a 3-pointer and Portland was on top, 20-16, at halftime.

The Bulldogs forced 15 first half turnovers to get the jump.

The second half saw Portland allow a single field goal as its defense secured victory number one.

Portland sophomore Drew Veilleux drives on Bonny Eagle junior Brandt Abbott.

Senior captain Pitia Donato put on a show early in the third quarter, getting fouled on an offensive rebound and hitting both free throws, then scoring on a reverse layup.

After Campbell was fouled on a 3 and made just one of three foul shots, Toher calmly buried a 3 to stretch the lead to 10, 27-17.

“Brady had a great floor game,” Russo said. “He ran the ship out there and it made a world of difference.”


After Campbell got a point back at the line, Toher set up Girumugisha for a reverse layup and while Edwards made two free throws late, Portland took a 29-20 lead to the fourth period.

There, the Bulldogs put it away.

Girumugisha opened the frame with a 3.

After Drinkwater and Bouchard countered with single free throws, Toher made a save of a loose ball along the sidelines while crashing into the press table and the ball came to Veilleux, who sank a jumper to make it 34-22 with 6:25 to go.

The Scots made one final push, as Cooper hit a free throw, Campbell drained two, then Campbell knocked down a long 3 with 3:07 to go to cut the deficit to six.

They wouldn’t score again, however, and Portland ended all doubt, as Charles scored on a layup, Toher set up Veilleux for a breakaway layup, Donato sank two free throws, then Toher did the same to bring the curtain down on a 42-28 victory.


“It feels good,” Donato said. “I was hoping we could have a good start this year. We should have won that last game too.”

“We couldn’t have beaten them individually,” Russo said. “I played 11 guys and I needed 11 guys. We have to rely on continuity. Tonight, the guys played together. We need to work on our execution because we had a hard time at times running our offense the right way. We didn’t score a lot of points, but when we needed a big shot, we got it. We tried to keep it simple.”

Girumugisha led the Portland offense with 11 points even though he fouled out in the fourth period. Girumugisha also had five rebounds.

Veilleux had eight points and six rebounds, Donato added six points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots, Charles, Rugabirwa and Toher all had five points and Esposito finished with two.

The Bulldogs overcame 18 turnovers and made 6-of-9 free throws.

Bonny Eagle got 11 points from Campbell. Bouchard was held to just five points, but had 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.


“Our goal was to pressure the guards so (Bouchard) couldn’t get the ball and I think we did a good job of that,” Donato said. “We had a good game plan. We fronted him and sandwiched him in the back. It was a good team effort.”

“We sandwiched him whether we were in zone or man,” Russo said. “We wanted him to have to pass it.”

Edwards (four steals, three assists) finished with four points, Drinkwater had three, Abbott (five rebounds) and Gordon two apiece and Cooper one.

The Scots had a 31-26 advantage on the glass, but turned the ball over 22 times and made just 15-of-24 free throws.

Rivalry time

Bonny Eagle looks to rebound Friday at Scarborough. The Scots have a showdown at preseason favorite Thornton Academy Tuesday of next week.


Portland remains home to take on Hampden Academy Friday. The Bulldogs then meet city rivals Cheverus and Deering next week.

Portland is also poised to get exponentially better when senior Remijo Wani, who has missed the season to date with a knee injury, returns, something which could happen anytime in the next couple weeks.

“We should be one of the top teams,” Donato said. “We just need to put up more points. We hold the other team, so we just need to score.”

“I want us to be playing as a good unit before Remijo comes back,” Russo said. “The way we played tonight as a team, now he can blend in and help us.”

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

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