BANGOR, Maine — It wasn’t so much the win over Washington Academy of East Machias in the Penobscot Valley Conference title game that was big for Stearns coach Wade Duplisea, it was the chance to see the Raiders play firsthand.
Duplisea’s Minutemen of Millinocket won that game by four points and as much of a confidence boost as that provided, it was the advance scouting from the game that proved invaluable Friday night.
The fifth-seeded Minutemen attacked the boards, junked the fullcourt press they love to run, and concentrated on dogged, man-to-man defense to post a 51-49 upset of top-ranked WA in their Eastern Maine Class C semifinals at the Bangor Auditorium.
Well, all those factors plus finding the range just in the nick of time at the foul line in the final 44 seconds.
The 18-2 Minutemen will take on three-time defending champ Calais, a 75-35 winner over Lee Academy, in the Eastern title game tonight at approximately 8:45.
In the late game, after Tyler Richards’ two foul shots made it 46-40 Stearns and gave the Minutemen their largest lead of the game with 4:11 to play, things looked good for the blue-and-white, but then Richards got back-to-back fouls to go to the bench with four and the Minutemen missed their next four foul shots.
Meanwhile, WA was using a 7-2 run to pull within a point with 45 seconds to play. The momentum pendulum then swung just as suddenly the other way, however, as the Raiders missed both a potential game-tying and go-ahead free throw after Richards (six points, six rebounds) fouled out.
Stearns’ William Eurich rebounded the missed free throw, was fouled, and hit one of two a second later. Then Stearns’ Brandon McLaughlin stole the ball in the paint and ran the other way before Stearns called timeout with 23 seconds left.
Stearns played keep away, but Garen Manzo was fouled with 12.5 ticks to go. The junior guard stepped up to the line and drained both shots to make it 51-47 and all but ice the game.
“I just tried to relax, acted like I was in practice, and hit ‘em,” said Manzo, who led his Minutemen with 15 points and eight rebounds. “We’re normally a better foul shooting team than that, but I guess it was nerves tonight.”
Nerves didn’t affect Stearns’ balanced scoring and rebounding, however, as Zach Sadlon had 12 points and seven boards, McLaughlin had 10 points and seven rebounds, and Cory Barnett had 13 rebounds.
The Minutemen outrebounded WA 49-37 despite a 22-rebound effort from the Raiders’ Bryce Colbeth.
“We studied the video of that PVC game a lot and the biggest thing was making sure we got back on defense,” said Duplisea. “We both like to run, but they’re quicker than we are, so we didn’t want to press and with our size, we made sure we limited their second chances.”
Colbeth turned in a double-double effort with 21 points to go with all his boards. Noah Von Rotz chipped in with 12 points for the 18-2 Raiders.
“Our pressure worked when we used it and got us back in it late, but they made plays and foul shots down the stretch,” said WA coach Kenrick Liburd. “I think they played a little bit smarter and with a little more discipline and patience.”
In the early game, it’s tough enough to beat the Calais boys basketball team when it places four players in double figures in the scoring column.
But when the Blue Devils limit you to just 25 percent shooting from the floor, forget about it.
Those assets doomed a young Lee Academy team Friday night, as coach Ed Leeman’s second-ranked club ended the first half on a 24-8 run and cruised to victory.
The Blue Devils improved to 15-4 and Lee finished at 13-8.
Aggressiveness on the backboards allowed coach Randy Harris’ Pandas to stay close early, but all hopes of Lee pulling its second tourney upset vanished when the Blue Devils scored the final 10 points of the first quarter after Lee’s Ryan Beers had converted a conventional 3-point play.
Jeremy Carr sparked Calais’ balanced offense with 18 points, with Cal Shorey and Jordan Leeman scoring 14 apiece and Ryan Cavanaugh 12.
“That’s what we’ve always been about … it’s a very unselfish team,” said Shorey, one of three seniors in Calais’ starting lineup.
With its athleticism and quickness wreaking havoc on the Pandas’ offensive sets, the Blue Devils were able to crank up their fast-break attack rather easily, with Cavanaugh and Carr combining for 10 of Calais’ 14 second-quarter points.
“Once we got in the flow of the game, we started it up, ran out a little more and got a couple of easy buckets to get us going,” said Jordan Leeman, the coach’s son.
If the Pandas had any thoughts of making a second-half comeback, they vaporized rather quickly. Leeman converted on a steal and breakaway layup and a putback to jumpstart an 18-3 run over the first 4:18 of the third.
“When we play tough defense, we’re extremely hard to beat; we get rebounds, we outlet the ball, run out and we get easy buckets,” said Carr.
Shorey was also a force inside with three blocked shots.
Calais was fairly consistent on both ends of the floor, shooting 32-for-51 (63 percent) offensively while forcing 19 Lee turnovers and committing just eight themselves.
“I thought we were pretty consistent. We fell asleep a couple times, but I thought overall we played pretty consistent basketball,” said coach Leeman.
The Blue Devils’ defense has been stifling so far in the tournament, as they held their second consecutive opponent under 30 percent shooting while they’ve surrendered a mere 64 points in their two victories.
Beers was the lone Panda in double figures with 12 points while Tyler Doty contributed eight.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY MICHAEL YORK
Wen Hao Song of Washington Academy makes a pass over the defense into the lane as Cory Barnett from Stearns of Millinocket (42) tries to swat it away in the first half of Friday night’s Eastern Maine Class C boys semifinal game at the Bangor Auditorium. Stearns won the game 51-49.