Red-hot Portland rallies to beat Deering

Sport: Basketball (boys)

Posted: February 5th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Red-hot Portland rallies to beat Deering
By Michael Hoffer
Special to MBR
02/05/08

PORTLAND- Beware Western Class A: It's February and the Portland Bulldogs are playing their best basketball

Again.

The Bulldogs, notorious for peaking near tourney time, have returned to serious contender status. Monday night, in a game postponed 72 hours by bad weather, Portland overcame a sluggish start to rally past fierce rival Deering 53-47 at the Portland Expo.

"Both teams came tonight to play," Bulldogs' coach Joe Russo said. "It was a typical Portland-Deering game. I hope the rivalry never changes. The atmosphere and intensity is what makes basketball special in the city of Portland.

The Deering-Portland rivalry needs no introduction. Both teams have faced their share of challenges this winter, but both are once again angling for a high tournament seed.

The Rams beat the Bulldogs 59-50 at home Jan. 19 and after losing both games to their fierce rivals last winter were hoping for a season sweep.

Deering got off to a terrific start, scoring the game's first eight points, as senior Chris Smith made a layup, senior standout Kyle Donovan followed with a floater and a dunk and junior Ronald Abwoch hit two foul shots. Portland finally got on the board with 4:43 to play in the period on a foul shot from senior Jake Longstaff. Longstaff then added a long jumper, but Donovan made another layup. Bulldogs' senior Mike Harmon answered with a floater, but the Rams took an 11-5 lead after one on a free throw from senior Kristopher Stephenson.

After three rebound hoops by Donovan, Deering pushed its advantage to as many as a dozen points, 19-7, on a layup by junior Khadar Abbas with 5:12 to go in the first half, but Portland came to life 30 seconds later, when senior Anthony Passmore canned a 3-pointer. The Bulldogs got within seven, 20-13, on a bank shot from sophomore Koang Thok, but Donovan scored on a jumper and senior Tim Conley hit a leaner to push the lead back to 11, 24-13, with 1:12 to play before halftime.

The hosts would respond, however, as sophomore Joe Zukowski converted a three-point play and senior Mike Harmon's 3-point prayer was answered as time expired, getting Portland within a manageable five, 24-19, at the break.

The Bulldogs kept the pressure on in the third.

After Passmore and Abwoch traded layups, Longstaff made two foul shots and Donovan was whistled for his third foul. With 6:05 to play in the quarter, Longstaff made two free throws, then, 20 seconds later, sophomore Wally Stover scored on a layup after a steal to put Portland on top for the first time, 27-26, capping a 14-2 run.

"We weren't prepared for what they could do offensively last time," Longstaff said. "They took us by surprise. We're more well-prepared now."

Abwoch responded with a 3-ball, but Stover made a free throw and Longstaff hit a jumper right before Abwoch earned his third foul. Longstaff then made a free throw and Thok hit a floater for a 33-29 lead before Smith answered with a 3. Deering got one final possession at quarter's end and made the most of it as Abwoch took an inbounds pass and made a layup for a 34-33 advantage.

The Bulldogs made the big plays in the final stanza.

Just 27 seconds in, Longstaff tossed up a leaner as he was fouled. It dropped and he made his ensuing free throw for a 36-34 lead. With 5:42 to go, junior Ed Bogdanovich scored his first points of the game on two foul shots. Passmore and Longstaff each made a free throw, Stover converted a left-handed layup and Thok hit a 3-ball with 3:35 to go, capping a 12-0 run and giving Portland a commanding 45-34 lead.

"Kyle was getting a lot of rebounds in the first half, then we got a string of rebounds in the second half and we built the momentum off that," Longstaff said. "This kind of atmosphere this time of the year, you've got to step it up. When it's Portland-Deering, you have to step up the intensity.

"I didn't want to lose. I got into a rhythm and I found my teammates. They stepped up."

A three-point play from Conley ended the run and the Rams' 4 minute, 54 second scoring drought. Donovan then got his first points of the half on a three-point play and Deering was within five, 45-40. Smith made a layup off an inbounds pass with 1:47 left, but Longstaff broke the press on the Bulldogs' ensuing possession and found Bogdanovich for a layup and a 47-42 lead.

Donovan made it a one-possession game yet again when he hit a short banker with 1:09 to play. Conley stole the ball at the other end, but couldn't finish his opportunity. Abwoch came up with the rebound and was fouled, but missed the front end of a one-and-one.

With 33 seconds to go, Harmon made two clutch free throws. After Abwoch made one at the other end, Passmore hit a pair for a 51-45 lead with 18 seconds to play. Junior Khadar Abbas answered with two foul shots, but the Bulldogs iced it on two Bogdanovich free throws with 11 seconds left and closed out the 53-47 victory.

"We struggled at the beginning," Russo said. "We knew what they were doing and we had to keep our composure. We came out of it. We wanted to keep Donovan off the boards and we didn't in the first half. We had to run our offense. The kids did a nice job executing. It could have gone either way. We hung in there. We didn't break. Both teams played physical tonight in a good spirit."

Portland was led by 14 points from Longstaff and 10 from Passmore. Harmon had eight, Thok seven and Bogdanovich six (all on foul shots).

Deering got 19 points from Donovan and 10 from Abwoch. Abbas, who had a huge game in the first meeting, was held to four.

Coach Dan LeGage was not available for comment following the game.

The Rams (now 12-4 and fourth in the Western A Heals) hosted South Portland Tuesday (too late for this edition) and wraps up the regular season Friday at home versus Cheverus.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, hoped to continue their recent surge (Monday's victory was the team's ninth in 10 games) when they hosted struggling Cheverus Tuesday (also too late for this edition). Portland (12-4 and fifth in the Heals) goes to South Portland to conclude the regular season Friday.

As they always seem to do, the Bulldogs are putting it together when it matters the most.

"We're not exactly peaking yet, hopefully that will be Civic Center time," Longstaff said. "We're coming together. Kids are understanding their roles. There are some really good teams, but I think we can hang with them."

"We're trying to peak at this time of the year," Russo added. "We can't finish No. 1 after what SP did to TA. We're fighting for the third spot. In terms of good chemistry and spirit I feel like we're coming together. I can't tell you the outcome of the season right now, but it's really a fun bunch right now and they're really enjoying it."