AUGUSTA, Maine — The role of favorite did not serve the Brewer boys basketball team well a year ago, when the second-seeded Witches were one-and-done at the Eastern Maine Class A tournament.
Top-seeded in the division this season, they refused to let history repeat itself Saturday as Brewer held off No. 8 Skowhegan 63-53 in a regional quarterfinal at the Augusta Civic Center.
“Last year was awful for us, coming in as the No. 2 seed and getting knocked out by the No. 10 seed [Lawrence of Fairfield],” said senior center Nate Carson, who scored 15 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots for the Witches.
“We weren’t going to let that happen again. I had texts and messages coming in from seniors who graduated last year saying to remember last year and use it as motivation, and we did.”
Brewer (16-3) will play No. 4 Hampden Academy in Wednesday’s semifinals. The Witches defeated Hampden twice during the regular season.
Skowhegan finishes at 9-10.
Brewer moved out to a 33-21 halftime lead behind its lightning-quick defense as well as 11 points from senior swingman Dom Drake and nine points from junior point guard Ray Bessette, and maintained a 44-32 cushion entering the final period.
But Skowhegan, which lost twice to Brewer during the regular season by an average of 22 points, rallied behind guard Paul Verville. He scored 16 of his game-high 24 points after intermission, including two 3-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws after twice being fouled while taking shots from beyond the arc.
Twice Verville hit 3-pointers to draw the Indians within four points, the final time at 48-44 with 4:07 left in the game.
“We still had our hands in his face,” said Bessette. “He was just hitting his shots.”
But Carson, who went scoreless in the first half while shooting just twice — both from 3-point range — went inside to score 11 points over the game’s final 4½ minutes, including a key three-point play that followed Verville’s final 3-pointer.
Carson went up to grab an offensive rebound, then was sent flying toward the right corner of the court as he was fouled while scoring on the putback.
“Someone knocked me in the back of the head and it felt fantastically awful,” said Carson. “But with the adrenalin, people yelling, and the team going crazy, that’s what it’s all about.”
Carson added the free throw to give Brewer a 51-44 cushion, then helped the Witches put the game away by following two Bessette free throws with two more of his own from the line and another follow-up basket to give his team a 57-46 advantage.
“In the first half I wasn’t as aggressive on offense, but I thought defensively I did well,” said Carson. “The shots just seemed to fall in the second half. Ray found me a couple of times, I made a couple of moves and I was fortunate enough to get the baskets and knock down some foul shots.”
Brewer made 18 of 21 free throws for the game, 9 of 9 during the fourth quarter.
“Our kids did a great job once they cut it to four,” said Goodwin. “They continued to play. We didn’t go away from what we were doing. We continued to play defense and attack offensively and we were able to get a couple of buckets and get back on top.”
Bessette finished with 12 points, while Drake had 11 points, nine rebounds and six steals.
Nate Thistle and Jordan Taylor, each of whom battled foul trouble, added nine points apiece for Skowhegan.
“We had to work for everything on offense against them,” said Skowhegan coach Troy Scott, whose team was hurt by 22 turnovers. “Nothing came easy.”