Portland High’s Pepito Girumugisha, center, and Kevin Rugabirwa celebrate the Bulldogs’ win against Windham in a Class AA South quarterfinal on Feb. 16. The Bulldogs haven’t played since, but now will need to win on back-to-back days to advance to the state championship. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

To get to its first Class AA state championship game since 2017, Joe Russo’s Portland High boys’ basketball team will need to win games on consecutive days.

According to the Bulldogs’ coach, winning those games will be the challenge. The physical demands of playing in them, on the other hand? Not so much.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, because both teams are in the same boat,” Russo said. “It wouldn’t be fair if one team were playing Friday and had to play on Saturday but the other team played Thursday, but both teams will be in the same boat and have the same time to prepare or not prepare.”

The snowstorm on Thursday is forcing the Class AA boys’ teams to play their regional semifinals on Friday, the day before the regional finals. Second-seeded Portland (14-5) meets No. 3 Lewiston (14-5) in a North semifinal at 2 p.m. at Cross Insurance Arena.

For Russo, the change in plans reminds him of the way the tournament used to run. Up until 2004, the Western finals in Class A – then the highest class in the state – were held the day after the semifinals.

“For us old timers, it’s nothing new,” said Russo, who’s in his 33rd season coaching the Bulldogs. “It’s exactly how they used to have it. So it’s nothing new to me. I have no problem with it. … It’s a throwback to the old days.”


Kevin Millington’s South Portland team (16-3), the second seed in the South, will play No. 6 Scarborough (7-12) at 7 p.m. Friday. Millington played at South Portland before graduating in 1991 and then coached at Windham when the back-to-back setup was routine.

“I suppose the players who log the most minutes might have to recover a little bit, but … I kind of like it,” he said. “Growing up in South Portland, (for) the semifinals on that Friday night, I remember sitting on the stairs because you couldn’t get a seat at Cumberland County (Civic Center), it was the biggest night of the year, basketball-wise. And then of course the finals the next night were huge. I kind of miss it. It’s probably nostalgia more than anything else.”

Snow pushed the Western Class A semifinals and final together in 2015, as well, and the games were also played on consecutive days in 2012. Back when it was an annual occurrence, Russo said he would schedule Saturday exhibitions after Friday games to get his team prepared for having to handle the back-to-back load in the playoffs.

“We’d play Waterville or Morse on that Saturday. … It was part of your planning as a coach,” he said. “You’d always find a quality opponent, so you’d know it was a hard-fought game. You might do it twice during the season, midseason and toward the end.”

Falmouth’s Chris Simonds fends off Mt. Ararat’s Kasey Bergeron, left, and Ben Therriault to get a rebound during a Dec. 27 game at the Portland Expo. Simonds is unavailable during the postseason because of a broken ankle. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

THE FALMOUTH BOYS were dealt a potentially crippling blow on the eve of the postseason when standout forward Chris Simonds went down in practice with a broken ankle.

From a results standpoint, at least, the Navigators haven’t been slowed by the setback. Falmouth, the defending Class A South champion, is back in the regional final after knocking out No. 8 Mt. Ararat and No. 4 Westbrook.


Overcoming adversity is nothing new for the Navigators, who withstood an earlier injury to Simonds, as well as another to Judd Armstrong, to earn the region’s No. 1 seed.

“The mentality we have is it’s next man up. We might not have the best players, but we can still be the best team,” Coach Dave Halligan said. “We don’t expect anyone to replace what Chris did, but we expect everyone to do just a little bit more.”

Halligan acknowledged that losing the 6-foot-5 Simonds was a blow.

“The last five games, he was averaging 20 points and eight rebounds. He’s a legitimate big man,” he said. “He’s a wide body, and our league doesn’t have a lot of good big men, so we sort of had the advantage with him, we felt.”

The trio of Armstrong (32 points in two playoff games), Lucas Dilworth (33) and Paul Dilworth (21) has handled the scoring, and Halligan said players like Eli Cowperthwaite, Billy Birks and Peyton Mitchell, elevated into a starting role, have contributed significantly.

“What this team is is competitive,” Halligan said. “We’re not looking for that one big shot at the end of a game to win it, we’re looking for all the guys to do all the little things throughout the game, and the score will take care of itself.”


Falmouth (16-4) meets No. 3 Marshwood (15-5) in the regional final at 8:45 p.m. Friday at the Portland Expo.

THE OCEANSIDE GIRLS were rolling from the start in their 49-20 Class B South semifinal win over Medomak Valley, but it was a lesser-known name who provided the Mariners with their initial spark.

Sophomore guard Aubrey Hoose scored five of Oceanside’s first seven points, spinning for layups, hitting jumpers and putting the Mariners on the route to a rout and their 53rd straight win. With Bailey Breen, Audrey Mackie and Abby Waterman getting the bulk of the attention as Oceanside pursues a second consecutive state title, players like Hoose aren’t often in the spotlight.

Coach Matt Breen, however, knows her value.

“She’s really coming into her own. She’s had a great year for us,” he said. “We really wanted someone who was going to step in and take that fifth starter spot, and she kind of took over. Her energy and her defense set the tone for us.”

Hoose’s primary job on the team is defense, but she knows she can make Oceanside that much more formidable when she adds to the score sheet as well.

“When we hit shots, it opens up Bailey in the paint and it just makes it a more team-played game, and that’s when we play a lot better,” she said. “When we eliminate making it a two-person team and make it a five-person team … it just makes it better.”

Top-seeded Oceanside (20-0) defends its regional title against No. 2 Spruce Mountain (19-1) at 2 p.m. Friday at the Portland Expo.

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