AUGUSTA , Maine — Trailing by 14 points midway through the second quarter of its Eastern Maine Class A semifinal against Hampden Academy on Wednesday evening, the Brewer boys basketball team wasn’t far from being blown out of the Augusta Civic Center.
Except the Witches didn’t see it quite the same way – they saw it as merely a challenge to be overcome, which they did with a fourth-quarter surge that earned Brewer a hard-fought 59-50 victory over the Broncos.
“I would say our team composure made the difference,” said Brewer junior guard Ray Bessette. “Sometimes teams break down in that situation, but with us being so close, even if coach isn’t in the locker room we’ll talk, and we’re not afraid to say what we’re doing wrong.
“Tonight we figured out we needed to be more intense on defense.”
The win advances No. 1 Brewer (17-3) to Friday night’s EM final against defending champion Edward Little of Auburn, a 60-57 overtime winner over Bangor.
Hampden finishes 15-5, with three of the losses to Brewer.
Bessette finished with a game-high 21 points, while teammate Dom Drake added 12 points while also limiting Hampden standout Jacob Moore to six points on 3 of 12 shooting from the field.
“It just proves what a great player Dom is,” said Brewer coach Ben Goodwin.” I think he deserves a lot more respect than he gets. He’s just an all-around great player offensively and defensively, and we’re lucky to have him.”
Senior guard Tyler Bessette finished with 10 points for Brewer, while center Nate Carson had eight points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
Junior guard Graham Safford led Hampden with 16 points before fouling out on a technical foul with 1:45 left in the third quarter. Center Noah Burditt added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Broncos, while senior guard Brad Dolan scored nine points and Moore had 10 rebounds.
Brewer took control early in the fourth quarter, stretching a 43-42 lead out to 53-46 on a follow-up shot by Yuhi Sasaki.
Two straight baskets by Dolan rallied Hampden within 53-50 with 1:35 left, but Brewer’s Tyler Bessette made six straight free throws to secure the victory.
“I believe in our kids a lot, and I think they believe in each other as a team,” said Goodwin. “We talked about sticking together as a team and not coming apart, and I think tonight showed what we can do when we stick together as a team.”
Hampden controlled much of the first half, but a late seven-point run drew Brewer within 30-26 at intermission.
Burditt scored Hampden’s first eight points in helping the Broncos move out to a 13-4 lead on a jumper by Moore with 2:43 left in the first quarter.
Hampden soon added a 7-0 run to take its largest lead, 25-11, on a fast-break layup by Greg O’Donnell with 5:45 left in the half.
Brewer rallied within 30-26 by forcing six Hampden turnovers during the second quarter and scoring seven unanswered points over the final 90 seconds of the half.
“We got away a little from getting the ball to Noah,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “We had to take him out because he had two fouls, and when he stepped off the floor we were different offensively. When he was on the floor tonight we just pounded the ball inside to him and really good things were happening for us.”
Brewer used steals by Bessette and Drake to fuel an 8-2 run that pulled the Witches within 37-36 midway through the third quarter.
Moore then fed Safford for a 3-pointer and Burditt for an inside hoop, but Safford fouled out with 1:45 left in the third period as he picked up his fourth foul and then his fifth for bouncing the ball away in frustration.
Brewer outscored Hampden 23-8 the rest of the way.
“I think it changed the momentum, because it took out one of their very good players,” said Goodwin, “but it’s one of those things you’ve just got to deal with during a game, and I thought our kids did a good job of keeping their cool and playing.”