AUGUSTA — The Bangor boys basketball team’s rise to the top seed in Eastern Maine Class A this winter has hinged on consistent defense, with the Rams allowing just 37 points per game during the regular season.
That defense proved crucial to extending the team’s postseason experience Wednesday night, as Bangor limited Mt. Blue of Farmington to just 28 percent shooting from the field en route to a 41-34 victory over the fourth-seeded Cougars in a regional semifinal at the Augusta Civic Center.
“It was definitely an ugly one, but coach [Roger Reed] said there’s always one ugly game you play once you get to the tournament and you’ve got to be able to overcome it,” said Bangor point guard Luke Hetterman. “I’m just glad we pulled it out.”
The win was Bangor’s third of the winter over Mt. Blue and 19th straight overall for the 19-1 Rams, who will face two-time defending champion Edward Little of Auburn for the EM title on Friday night. Edward Little (19-1) edged Hampden Academy 70-65 in the earlier semifinal.
Mt. Blue — which graduates just two seniors from this year’s team — ends its season at 15-5.
Bangor’s defensive effort against the Cougars was spearheaded by 6-foot-6 junior forward Patrick Stewart, who limited 6-5 Mt. Blue star Cam Sennick to seven points on 2 of 9 shooting from the field.
“I really tried to use my feet and deny him to not let him get the ball because once he got it I had to play behind him and he’s a great post player,” said Stewart. “At that point I was kind of at his mercy a little bit, and I had to hope my guys would come and help me out a little bit.”
Stewart also was an offensive standout for the Rams, scoring 14 points on 7 of 10 shooting and grabbing a game-high seven rebounds.
Several of his baskets came after dribble penetration by senior point guard Luke Hetterman drew the defense away from the baseline and left Stewart open for medium-range jumpers or drives to the basket.
“The problem is they have five good players and it’s just hard to match up with them,” said Mt. Blue coach Jim Bessey. “I thought we guarded [Bangor leading scorer Zach] Blodgett really well, and now Stewart has a nice game. They have a lot of pieces to the puzzle, and it looks to me like they’re a tough team to beat.”
Hetterman added eight points and six assists for Bangor, including two drives to the basket midway through the third quarter that helped the Rams extend a 19-11 halftime lead to 30-17 on a Stewart follow-up basket with 1:27 left in the period.
Mt. Blue did creep back within 38-33 in the game’s final minutes after back-to-back baskets by junior point guard Eric Berry, but Hetterman made a free throw and Stewart added a layup to put the game away.
“We had to fight through a lot of screens and it was a very physical game,” said Stewart, “but we were able to pull through it.”
Berry finished with 13 points and five rebounds for Mt. Blue, which made just 13 of 45 field-goal tries.
“When we played them up [in Bangor] we were intimidated by them, but we weren’t intimidated tonight,” said Bessey. “We stood our ground and gave a good effort, but I think Bangor’s a darned good team.”