BANGOR, Maine — A season that began with illness and continued through some frustrating losses ended in celebration Saturday for the Woodland boys basketball team.
Senior guard Chad James scored 18 points as the Dragons withstood a Richmond comeback to defeat the Bobcats 49-43 to claim the Class D state championship at the Bangor Auditorium.
It marked the first gold ball for the boys program, just hours after the school’s girls basketball team won its fifth state championship in the last nine years.
“In fifth grade when Ashley Marble and Julia Knights and Kaitlyn Leeman brought us in to show us the first gold ball they won, that’s what’s we’ve been motivated for ever since,” said Woodland senior guard Aaron St. Pierre, one of three Dragons who contracted mononucleosis at the start of the winter.
“Winning this now feels amazing,” he said.
Senior guard Ben Sears added 13 points for the 16-7 Dragons, while junior forward Corey Rolfe scored nine points and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
Woodland never trailed after James hit a 3-pointer good for a 9-8 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Dragons twice built their lead to 17 points during the second quarter, as James and Sears penetrated effectively through the Richmond defense while Rolfe and senior center Eddie Flaherty anchored an interior defense that contained Bobcats big men Bruce Carver and Kyle O’Brien.
“We played pretty good defense, created some turnovers and were shooting well,” said Woodland coach Troy Cilley, who brought home a state title to his alma mater eight years after winning an Eastern D crown at East Grand of Danforth. “You couldn’t ask for much more than that in a start, and it turned out we needed it.”
That’s because Richmond — making its third state-final appearance in the last four years but seeking its first gold ball since 1986 — crept within 33-20 on a 40-foot, 3-pointer by Eric Murrin at the halftime buzzer and then kept coming, drawing within 35-31 on an inside basket by Murrin midway through the third quarter.
“We wanted to spread the defense to create some lanes to the basket, but we were more or less trying to stall the ball more than attacking the hoop,” said James, the Eastern D tournament MVP. “That really hurt us, and they got a lot of easy baskets near the hoop from breakdowns by the defense.
“But we finally got our heads back in it and got determined to get to the hoop. We knew we had to do it.”
James started that turnaround with a 3-pointer to end a nine-point Richmond run, and Woodland pushed its lead back to 43-35 on a layup and a jumper by Sears early in the fourth quarter.
Richmond (17-3) got no closer than six the rest of the way as the Dragons made 6 of 8 free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.
“We just spread out more people,” said St. Pierre. “They couldn’t pack five people in the middle all the time, so they had to come out and foul us and we’re pretty good from the foul line.”
Carver led Richmond with 13 points and nine rebounds, while Murrin scored 12 points and O’Brien came off the bench to add 10.