BANGOR, Maine — The Dirigo of Dixfield boys basketball team brought a much-heralded Knight to the Bangor Auditorium on Saturday night — but it was the Calais Blue Devils who emerged as kings.
Senior center Cal Shorey hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game with 17 seconds remaining, and Dirigo star Thomas Knight missed an 8-footer from the lane in the final seconds as Calais stunned the favored Cougars 40-39 for its third Class C state championship in the last four years.
“I think sometimes it’s more special when you’re not expected to do it,” said Calais coach Ed Leeman. “I don’t think many people picked us in this one, and I probably wouldn’t have picked us in this one either.
“We had to have the perfect storm, and I’ll tell you what, for a week and a half it’s been a perfect storm for us.”
Shorey, at 6-foot-4, was tasked primarily with trying to defend the 6-foot-9 Knight, who in November accepted a full basketball scholarship to attend Notre Dame next fall.
And while Knight showed plenty of that Division I talent — with 20 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks —Shorey limited him to 8-of-24 shooting.
“My main goal was to play the toughest defense I could play,” said Shorey, “keep a hand in his face and make him have to take tough shots.”
Shorey’s defense enabled his teammates to limit the rest of the Dirigo lineup to just 19 points — and that gave Calais a chance to win the game.
“We were able to play Tommy with one guy and try to take away some of their other stuff,” Leeman said. “To hold that team to 39 points is a great defensive effort.”
Yet Dirigo still led 36-31 midway through the fourth quarter, leaving the Calais offense needing to make some big plays.
Senior guard Sean Cavanaugh hit 1 of 2 from the line, then Shorey — who rarely shot 3-pointers during the season — scored from long range to pull the Blue Devils within one with 3:35 left.
Sophomore Ryan Cavanaugh then gave Calais a 37-36 lead with a fast-break layup on its next possession, but Dirigo’s Nic Crutchfield made a short jumper and Knight hit 1 of 2 from the line after grabbing an offensive rebound to give the Cougars a 39-37 lead entering the final minute.
Shorey missed badly on a 3-pointer, but Dirigo’s Tyler Gates missed the front end of a one-and-one with 32 seconds left to give the Blue Devils another chance.
This time the Calais big man didn’t miss, as Shorey took a pass from classmate Jordan Leeman to the right of the top of the key and drilled the biggest shot of his life.
“It felt really good coming out of my hand,” said Shorey. “I just thought, ‘please Tom, don’t block this.’”
Dirigo didn’t need to call time, knowing exactly where it wanted to get the ball, but Knight’s shot from the middle of the lane hit the back of the rim and Calais rebounded the miss as time expired.
“We got a pretty high-percentage shot at the buzzer,” said Dirigo coach Gavin Kane. “It just didn’t go down.”
Shorey finished with 16 points and eight rebounds for 17-4 Calais, while Jeremy Carr scored 11 and junior forward Josh Gillespie gave the Blue Devils a big lift off the bench with eight rebounds.
Crutchfield added 12 points and six rebounds for 20-2 Dirigo, but only two other Cougars scored.
“Cal forced Tommy into some real tough shots,” said guard Jordan Leeman, the coach’s son. “But he’s that good that if you double him he finds people real well, too, so we decided we were going to guard him with Cal and try to shut down everybody else.”
Calais began the game seeking the fast breaks that marked its run through the Eastern Maine tournament, but when Dirigo contested those quick strikes the Blue Devils opted for offensive patience, in part as a defensive mechanism.
“We had to use some time because if we didn’t use time it would put too much pressure on Cal guarding Tommy,” said coach Leeman. “If Cal has to guard Tommy for the full 32 [minutes] and we’re shooting every five seconds, he’s going to foul out and we knew that.
“It wasn’t that we wanted to slow down, but we knew we couldn’t put that kind of pressure on our defense every time down.”
That tactic, and two 3-pointers by Shorey, helped Calais grab an 18-9 lead early in the second quarter, and the Blue Devils maintained a 22-16 halftime edge.
But Dirigo upped its defensive pressure to start the second half and made sure Knight touched the ball on every possession. The Cougars forced nine Calais turnovers in the third quarter, and Knight scored 10 points before feeding Crutchfield for a layup that gave Dirigo a 30-29 lead at the end of the period.
After Shorey scored inside to give Calais back a one-point edge, the Cougars ran off six straight points to take their largest lead at 36-31 on a drive by Eric Bolduc with 4:21 left.
Dirigo was on the brink of its first state title in 26 years.
“With one more score I thought we could really make it difficult for them to come back,” said Kane, “but give credit to Calais, they made some things happen to close that gap very quickly.”
And that enabled the Blue Devils — one year removed from losing in the state final — to return to the top.
“I told the boys in the locker room before the game we’re playing the best basketball of our lives, so let’s keep riding it,” said coach Leeman. “This is unbelievable. It’s just a dream season.”