PORTLAND, Conn. — Minutes after Portland eliminated Wheeler High from the CIAC Division V state boys basketball quarterfinals Friday, Lions' coach Stephen Bailey couldn't help peeking into the future.

It was a reassuring feeling to know all five of his starters, all underclassmen, will be returning next season, while none of Portland's five seniors, who were in complete control of the Hilltoppers' 60-42 victory, will be back.

"Portland starts five seniors and is a state championship-caliber team," Bailey said. "Last year, they lost to Windham, the eventual state champ, by two points in the quarterfinals, and I've been told that experience springboarded them into what could be a state title run this year. Hopefully, that's us next year."

In a matchup of two 15-5 regular-season teams, the home court and Portland's experience edge was too much for Wheeler (17-7 overall) to overcome.

Portland landed the No. 4 seed and quarterfinal home game because of a slight edge in power points (a combo of strength of schedule and quality wins) over No. 5 Wheeler.

"This game could have been played at Wheeler, and I'm sure we would have played better at home," Bailey said. "Now we know what it will take to make sure we get one more home game in the states. We have everything to be be proud of, tying Wheeler's single-season record for wins (17). Portland was the better team today."

Not only did Portland ride the all-around play of 6-foot lead guard Harrison Collins, a 21-point a game scorer, to never trail in the game, the Hilltoppers did all the little things necessary to win.

On a number of occasion, Wheeler forced Portland to misfire from the field only to see the host team get an offensive rebound, keep possession and score.

Wheeler also made too many turnovers in the half-court set If there was time of possession in basketball, Portland would have enjoyed a 2-to-1 minute edge.

Collins scored seven of his game-high 20 points in the first quarter where Portland held a 13-8 lead.

A Kyle Kessler 3-pointer cut the gap to 15-13 with six minutes left in the second quarter. Zane Brewer (13 points) hit a shot to keep Wheeler within 19-16 with four minutes to go before Wheeler became sloppy with the ball.

Portland closed the half on a 10-2 run to lead 29-19 with shooting guard Ryan Kerr (15 points) canning a pair of 3-pointers after long possessions in a spread offense.

"I'm very fortunate to have five senior starters who are not only hard-working and great teammates, but very cohesive on the court," Portland coach David Bradbury said. "Wheeler reminds me of where we were last year. They say there is no substitute for experience."

Collins opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, but Wheeler's Deondre Bransford (team-high 14 points) scored inside to cut the deficit to 32-21.

A Portland offensive rebound led to Kerr's trey. After a Jason Kryskiewicz free throw, Portland's 6-foot-5 Joseph Ruszyck converted a 3-point play and a steal and layup for a 40-22 lead.

Austin Vess, a 6-3, 220-pound center, got fouled on a 3-point shot and hit all three from the line to swell the lead to 43-24 en route to a 43-28 lead heading into the fourth.

Bransford and Brewer (13 points) carried Wheeler offensively in the fourth quarter. Bransford hit a couple of putbacks, and Brewer, a sophomore, canned a 3-pointer and two to slice the edge to 48-37 with 2:47 left.

Portland was content to take time off the clock with the spread. Wheeler could get no closer than 11 as Portland made 10 of 11 free throws in the final 2:30.

Portland moves to the semifinals where it will face top-seeded Windsor Locks, a 60-50 winner over Old Saybrook on Friday, on Tuesday. The site and time of the game has not been finalized.

"We can look back at this season and be proud that we won the ECC Division IV regular season title, won 14 in a row at one point and tied Luke Wilkinson's 17-win team in 1997," Bailey said. "I couldn't ask for much more in my first year here. We have so much to look forward to next season."

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