BANGOR, Maine — His team was trailing by 10 points to perennial power Central Aroostook in the first half, but Shead boys basketball coach Dean Preston used a Washington County-like term to describe how his Tigers kept chipping away.
“We’ve had some runs in the season where we were down by double digits, but we call it just chopping wood, going to work, possession by possession, chopping wood,” said Preston.
The strategy worked for the seventh-ranked Tigers Saturday night, as they outscored the second-ranked Panthers from Mars Hill 40-26 in the second half to post a 69-55 Eastern Maine Class D upset at the Bangor Auditorium.
Shead (15-4) meets No. 3 Fort Fairfield (17-2), a 67-61 winner Saturday over No. 6 Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, in Thursday’s 2:05 p.m. semifinal.
In the nightcap, it appeared as though it was going to be all Panthers (16-3) in the first half, thanks to the shooting of Logan McLaughlin and Caleb Kelly. Kelly’s jumper from the corner gave CAHS a 23-13 lead with 6:57 left in the second quarter and prompted Preston to settle his club down.
The Tigers responded, closing the second quarter on a 14-6 run to tie the game at 29 heading into halftime.
“We got all the jitters out [and] we were ready to play,” said Shead senior forward Tyler Mitchell, who pumped in 16 of his 19 points in the second half. “We just battled in the post and out-played them inside.
After Mitch Folsom gave the Panthers a brief 31-29 lead early in the third with a pull-up from the right block, Mitchell’s follow-up basket re-tied it and Tim Barnes’ 3-pointer from the left corner gave Shead the lead for good.
“We shot well the second half,” said junior guard Dave Medeiros, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds. “We were more disciplined, played better defense.”
Since Central Aroostook is a solid perimeter shooting team, the Tigers did a good job with not leaving shooters open, and the Panthers were 8-for-40 from beyond the arc.
“We knew who was shooting the 3-pointers and we just stuck with them,” Medeiros said.
Barnes finished with 11 points for Shead while Tyler Smith had 14 points and 14 rebounds while Mitchell gathered 10 boards.
One thing the Tigers proved Saturday is that they should no longer be judged by their seeding.
“We played a schedule this year that allowed us only to finish seventh, but we knew that we were well balanced,” said Preston. “This team is probably as well-prepared as any team we’ve brought here.”
McLaughlin finished with 20 points while Kelly had 23 for Central Aroostook.
In the first game, Fort Fairfield unleashed a “Big Mac” attack. Senior center John McNamee took full advantage of his 6-foot-5 frame, dominating the middle with a 30-point, 18-rebound performance that propelled the Tigers.
“Our strength is the fact you can’t teach 6-5 and that physically strong,” said Tigers coach Todd Alley. “So that’s our game plan and when teams figure out what to do with that, we kick it back outside.”
McNamee scored nine points and pulled down nine rebounds in the pivotal fourth quarter as the Tigers wiped out a 10-point, third-quarter deficit.
From the outset, the Warriors (13-5) focused their efforts on slowing McNamee, employing double- and triple-teams out of their 2-3 zone. Ultimately, their lack of frontcourt height led to substantial foul trouble and put the Tigers at the foul line often.
“He’s got to touch the ball,” Alley said. “He doesn’t necessarily have to shoot the ball, because we have kids that can hit the outside shot.”
McNamee went 11-for-15 from the floor and Fort Fairfield outscored Southern Aroostook 18-6 from the foul line. The Tigers outrebounded the Warriors 50-33.
Dynamic senior guard Dakota Sleeper scored 22 of his 30 points to help stake the Warriors to a 12-point lead late in the first half as they took advantage of transition opportunities and dribble-penetration.
“We needed to stay composed and keep playing,” McNamee said. “We couldn’t give up; just keep going.”
However, the Tigers put together a 14-5 scoring run to end the third quarter, then eventually took the lead. Three-pointers by Dereck Dufour and Travis Noyes gave Fort Fairfield a 57-54 lead with 4:58 to play.
Noyes overcame a significant ankle injury to contribute 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Tigers, while Joshua Booth added eight points and five assists.
Sleeper’s effort, which also included five assists and five steals, was complemented by 10 points and seven rebounds from Anthony Diaferio and 10 points from Travis Casey.