ORONO — It was hard to tell what the Lee Academy boys basketball team was more excited about Tuesday night: Winning the school’s first basketball regional title, playing on a Division I college basketball court, or playing an opponent who liked to run and wouldn’t try to slow the pace of the game.
Judging from the post-game jubilation, it was a no-brainer that winning the Eastern Maine Class C championship game in impressive fashion with a 64-42 victory over Sumner of East Sullivan at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena won out.
“I’ve been around this since I was 5 years old. I always wanted to play there and I only have one game left, but this is an awesome being able to win a championship,” said senior guard A.J. Harris, who is also son of Lee head coach Randy Harris. “And it was great to be able to open it up.
“There was an Internet post on MBR that we couldn’t play with faster teams, but I think we showed we can play with anyone.”
The Pandas looked like they could play with teams in Classes A and B during their tourney run.
The game was moved to Alfond Arena after being postponed twice because of snowstorms. The game could not be played at the Bangor Auditorium as it had committed to a recreational products trade show.
The No. 6 Sumner Tigers had no qualms about trying to play a speed game on the longer college floor against the big, fast Pandas.
“We just figured we were gonna leave the dance with the girl we brought and the only way to play our best was to play the best way we know how,” said Sumner head coach Walter Crabtree, whose Tigers wind up 17-4.
The 20-1 Pandas advance to play for a state title against West champ Dirigo of Dixfield in an 8:45 game Saturday at the Bangor Auditorium after jumping out to a 20-9 lead and outplaying a solid Sumner team in almost every facet of the game.
Senior do-everything guard and unsung player Bryan James led the way with 18 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“We have a lot of weapons, so it’s fun to play on this team,” said James, who jump-started the Pandas early when they were a bit sluggish out of the gate. “I just take my shots when I’m open and find the open guy when I’m not.”
Sophomore 6-foot-7 center Daniel He was open a lot, especially in the first half, when he scored 13. He finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Harris finished with 13 points and sophomore guard Arturas Makovskis grabbed 12 rebounds to go with six points.
“Winning, on top of winning a championship, and winning a championship with your son as a player… I can’t imagine any other coach around as fortunate as I am,” said Randy Harris.
Harris said Lee was glad Sumner advanced to the final because of their uptempo brand of basketball.
“We were kind of glad they beat Penobscot Valley because they play a slowdown style, which we don’t like, and we knew they could beat us since they gave us three tough battles in all the games we played,” said Randy Harris. “And the kids looked forward to getting up and down the court.”
Tylor Martin led the Tigers with 18 points and also grabbed four boards. Gabe O’Brien chipped in with 11 points, Xavier Tracey had eight rebounds and Brett Deniger finished with seven points and six rebounds.
“I feel bad for our seniors to get this far and not win a championship, but I’m also really proud of our guys for what they did, and they showed they belonged here, even against a team as impressive as Lee,” said Crabtree. “I know nobody wants to run with them, but for us to slow it down, that’s not our game and it would’ve been a recipe for disaster. They are very good.”