PORTLAND — When Oxford Hills needed a basket, it turned to star senior Julia Colby. 

Portland held a four-point lead in the middle of the third before Colby hit a layup and a 3-pointer, and Oxford Hills went on a long run en route to a 45-35 victory in the Class AA North girls basketball final at the Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday.

“I just didn’t want this game to be my last,” Colby said.

The top-seeded Vikings (20-1), the defending state champions, advance to their second straight Class AA title game, and third in four years. They will play South Portland (17-3), which defeated Sanford 49-34 in the AA South championship, next Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena.

“It feels incredible,” Oxford Hills junior guard Cassidy Dumont said. “We have unfinished business. We need to keep things at home.”

The second-seeded Bulldogs (17-4) went on a 7-0 run in the final 45 seconds of the first half. They pulled within one point, 21-20, at halftime, and kept the run going early in the second half.

They started the third quarter with two more buckets, a Gemima Motem layup after an offensive rebound and a fadeaway shot by Amanda Kabantu. An Elizabeth Yugu free throw gave Portland a 25-21 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.

While the Bulldogs were making their run, the Vikings (20-1) kept turning the ball over. To get back on track, Oxford Hills turned to Colby, a four-year starter who was playing in her fourth regional final.

We couldn’t get her going in the first half, but she hit some key shots when we needed them and some key free throws when we needed them,” Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said. “… I felt like there were times that she could make a move and get by the shoulder and she just wasn’t doing that. It was getting her to dribble downhill. We were doing a lot of east-west stuff, but once she got downhill and everyone dribbled downhill it was good for us.”

Portland coach Gerry Corcoran was given a technical foul for being on the court, and Dumont hit one of two free throws to jump-start an 11-0 Vikings run.

I’m not going to comment on that,” Corcoran said of his technical. “I don’t want to dismiss what (the Vikings) did. The two or three times we didn’t rotate correctly, they made 3s.”

Jade Smedburg made a layup for Oxford Hills and then Cecelia Dieterich added a trey.

Colby capped the run at the end of the third, coming off a screen set by Smedburg and scoring a layup and then draining a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to give the Vikings a 32-25 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

Pelletier told Colby during the game to shoot more, and she scored 12 of her team-high 14 points in the second half.

He usually yells at me at halftime, and that usually gets me going,” Colby said. “… I was focusing on getting in the paint and kicking it out more in the first half.”

Colby wasn’t the only catalyst for the Vikings’ second-half surge. Smedberg, Dumont and Maggie Hartnett contributed scoring, rebounds steals and blocks. Brooke Carson filled in nicely for Dieterich after the senior guard — and, like Colby, a Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist — fouled out in the fourth quarter. 

Brooke Carson stepped up for us when Cecelia went down and played tough defense,” Pelletier said. “She just played tough all game. Jade was battling on the boards against (Kiera) Eubanks, who was a lot bigger than her, so it was just a team effort.”

With under seven minutes to play, Eubanks converted her second three-point play of the game and dragged Portland within one, 32-31.

Colby, though, answered with a 3-pointer to quiet the Portland offense. 

“I was really impressed with the grit my team had,” Pelletier said. “We decided to pick up the tempo and press a little bit and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be effective, but playing with tempo we started to play the basketball that we play.”

Dieterich fouled out in the final regular season game against Bangor when Oxford Hills was already without Colby due to an ankle injury, so closing out Portland without one of its top scorers wasn’t foreign territory. 

“This team is really resilient, they just — one of our assistant coaches said, ‘If a team is going to beat us, they’re going to earn it,’” Pelletier said. “That’s a very positive thing, if they’re going to beat us then they’re definitely going to earn it.” 

The Vikings weren’t able to limit the Bulldogs’ rebounding as much as they hoped — for instance, Portland grabbed five offensive board in the third quarter alone — but Pelletier said Oxford Hills’ rebounding effort was enough to be a key factor in the victory.

I thought as a team we boxed-out well,” Pelletier said. “They’re going to get some offensive rebounds, there’s nothing you can do about that, but as a whole I thought that essentially won us the game.”

Amanda Kabantu led Portland with 10 points. 

Before the game, Corcoran told his players that if they could win if they played at the level they had been in the playoffs. In many ways, they played how they wanted to, but not quite the complete game needed to unseat the Vikings.

I posted a score in the coach’s room, 52-43, victory for us,” Corcoran said. “I knew it was going to take 50 points to win, and they scored 45. I thought if we could keep them between 40 and 50 and we could score how we usually do, in the low 50s, we could win. But we came up short and some shots didn’t fall.”


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