Brooke Carson, center, of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School pulls down a rebound between Kayla Flanders, left, and Carly Morey of Windham during the Class AA North semifinals in Portland on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

When Oxford Hills played Portland in December, the Vikings ran the Bulldogs out of the gym with a 28-point victory.

That loss, as brutal as it seemed, might have been the best thing that could have happened to Portland.

“I walked out of there and I wasn’t sad because this is perfect,” Portland coach Gerry Corcoran said. “We have everyone back and we need to work. The practice after was the hardest practice I have had in my three years here. We have been on a run ever since.”

Oxford Hills beat Portland again in late January, 48-38. The Bulldogs’ only other loss was to third-seeded Bangor on Jan. 9. Other than those three losses, the second-seeded Bulldogs (17-3) cruised through their schedule and into the Class AA North final, in which they will face the No. 1 Vikings (19-1) at the Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Oxford Hills’ only loss was by one points, 62-61, on the road against Greely on Jan. 7.

In the the Vikings’ and Bulldogs’ second matchup, Portland caught Oxford Hills off guard a bit with its pace of play and jumped out to an early 6-0 lead.

“They didn’t change so much as they made some shots,” Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said. “When they came up to our place, they didn’t make a lot of shots. We weren’t ready for the pace but then settled in and we played at our pace, which is still fast but we played more disciplined.”

After Oxford Hills’ win over Windham in the AA North semifinal on Thursday, Pelletier said that other than the Vikings, Portland is the region’s most athletic team.

The Bulldogs use their athleticism to their advantage by getting out in transition. This year, players like Amanda Kabantu, Davina Kabantu and Gemima Motema are complementing their athleticism with smarter, more savvy play.

Portland’s Amanda Kabantu reaches for a loose ball as Bangor’s Maggie Cowperthwaite moves in. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Amanda Kabantu has been on a tear in the postseason, scoring 20 points Thursday in Portland’s semifinal win over Bangor, and 32 in the quarterfinal victory over Edward Little.

“She’s a sponge,” Corcoran said. “She has the internal switch that you can’t teach. What has transpired in the last six months is she’s starting to listen as a young player. … Amanda has been that person that has elevated her IQ. Now you have to be very careful because she might come off that corner with one dribble instead of four and shoot.”

Another facet of Amanda Kabantu also can grab rebounds in bunches, a facet of her game that Pelletier and the Vikings are well aware of. Kabantu pulled down 11 boards in the win over Bangor, eight of those coming off the offensive glass.

“If we can hold them to one shot per possession then I think we will be in pretty good shape,” Pelletier said. “At the end of the day, it’s not about holding Amanda down, it’s keeping them to one shot per possession.”

Oxford Hills, the defending Class AA state champion, has been powered by seniors Julia Colby and Cecelia Dieterich, who were both named Miss Maine Basketball semifinalists earlier this week.

Dieterich scored 13 and Colby added 11 on Thursday’s semifinal win, in which the two veteran guards went to the bench early because the Vikings had built such a large lead. Still, Colby made her first five shots before missing right before the end of the third quarter, and both pushed the pace to run Windham out of the Cross Insurance Arena with a 54-31 victory.

Cassidy Dumont hit three 3-pointers, as well, and has been a solid scorer for the Vikings the past two seasons.

The Vikings and Bulldogs both want to keep each other out of the paint.

“Based on what we saw against Bangor and previous games, the biggest thing is rebounding and boxing out,” Dieterich said. “If we can rebound so they don’t get second chances, we should be able to win.”

Portland will look to senior forward Kiera Eubanks to control the paint with both rebounding and scoring. The Bulldogs’ captain will be playing at Emmanuel College next year, and after only playing three games in 2018-19 has blossomed in her final high school season.

“When she gets caught fighting bodies in the paint, she loses,” Corcoran said. “We are trying to keep her feet nimble, make the post player concentrate on her rather than the basketball.”

The Vikings won the AA state championship last year, defeating Scarborough, and didn’t lose much scoring from last year’s team. Because of that experience, Pelletier is confident in his team’s chances.

“They definitely have well-rounded, scoring just like us,” Pelletier said. “It’s supposed to be a good matchup, and as much I would like to go out and win by 30, I do not see that happening. My girls have been battle-tested and they know how to win a close game, and if I had to choose, I’d take my team.”

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