AUGUSTA — The Bangor High School boys basketball team has been known for its talented big guys throughout the 2010-11 season.
But when they needed it most during Saturday night’s Class A state championship game at the Augusta Civic Center, two of the Rams’ not-so-big guys played like giants in leading coach Roger Reed’s club to a come-from-behind 58-49 victory over previously unbeaten Cheverus of Portland.
Senior guard Tristan Thomas rallied Bangor midway through the final period, making two straight shots — one a 3-pointer — to erase nearly all of a six-point Cheverus lead.
Then backcourt mate Luke Hettermann made nine of 12 free throws during the final two minutes of play to preserve the Rams’ first state title since 2007 and 12th gold ball in the program’s history.
“This was the goal we’ve all been working for,” said Thomas. “We’ve been working for this since we first started playing together in about the fifth grade with the Bangor Y travel team.”
The win was Reed’s eighth in 10 state championship games with Bangor since 1993 as the Rams overcame a rare height disadvantage to stymie a Cheverus team that was seeking its third state title in the last four years.
The Stags never did get into a consistent offensive flow, committing 20 turnovers.
“I thought our defense was great tonight, and that’s always the secret with what we do,” said Reed. “We’re not very pretty to watch, but we play hard.”
Yet trailing 39-33 after a layup by Cheverus’ Griffin Brady with 6:15 remaining, Bangor needed an offensive surge if it was to avenge a 49-41 loss to the Stags in the 2008 state final.
“We took a timeout,” said Reed, “and I said, ‘Guys, their guys are making plays. Now you guys have to make some plays.’”
And the Rams made plays, outscoring Cheverus 25-10 the rest of the way.
Thomas — who battled foul trouble throughout the evening — fought off a defender to rattle home a jumper from the right wing with 4:14 left, then swished a 3-pointer from the left side on Bangor’s next possession to pull the Rams within 39-38 with 3:46 to play.
“The first one was a fadeaway,” said Thomas. “As it was going up, I thought I didn’t really know if it was going in, but it went in,” said Thomas. “On the 3-pointer I knew it was going in. The guy gave me a little space so I just went up with it and knew it was going in.”
Thomas’ flurry gave the Rams hope, and some subsequent inspired play by senior forward Zach Blodgett produced an offensive rebound and follow-up basket after a missed free throw by Patrick Stewart to give Bangor the lead for good at 44-43 with 2:06 remaining.
“We had the momentum, and it just carried me,” said Blodgett. “I knew I just had to go to the boards. It was an adrenaline rush, I guess.”
Hettermann made the lead stand up, making eight of nine free throws during one stretch as the Rams extended their advantage while limiting Cheverus to one basket until the Stags’ Louie DiStasio hit a 3-pointer with just 15 seconds left.
Jacques Larochelle followed by making three of four free throws in the final 3.3 seconds and Josiah Hartley scored at the buzzer to send Bangor into celebration mode.
“Anytime you go to the line in a state championship game, you can imagine what it feels like,” said Hettermann. “I made a couple and I got more comfortable, and they kept going in one after another.
“We work every day for 25 minutes after practice on foul shots, and it definitely paid off.”
The 5-foot-8 Hettermann also found success coping with a Cheverus defense whose shortest player during the second half stood five inches taller than him. With Hettermann doing most of the ballhandling, Bangor committed just four turnovers during the second half — one in the fourth quarter.
“They’re probably one of the biggest teams in the state and they have a lot of quickness, too, so it definitely was difficult to move the ball and get by them,” said Hettermann. “As the game went on, I definitely got more comfortable out there.”
Hettermann finished with a team-high 14 points, all in the second half.
“I watched their point guard play in the Edward Little [Eastern Maine final] and, to be honest, he’s better than I thought he was,” said Cheverus coach Bob Brown. “He had a nice game. Usually we get quite a few turnovers from point guards, and I’m not sure we got one tonight. He had a good ballgame.”
Thomas added 13 points while helping Bangor earn its 21st consecutive victory, while Blodgett had 12 points and five rebounds and Stewart had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Brady, a 6-6 senior forward, led Cheverus with a game-high 22 points and DiStasio scored 12, but just two other Stags scored.
“It was a game of runs, and I think they got the run at the right time,” said Brown.
“I thought we were in pretty good position when we were up by six, and then I looked up and it was one. They made a couple of good plays, and we missed a couple foul shots, we turned it over, and we didn’t check out on a rebound. You just can’t make those mistakes in a 32-minute game with a score like that.”
Both teams struggled with turnovers at the outset of the game, though Bangor did hold a 9-3 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to five early points by Thomas and extended that margin to 11-3 when Hartley fed Stewart for a jumper from the lane in the opening minute of the second quarter.
But Cheverus rallied as Brady hit two 3-pointers and Connor O’Neil added a third, and the Stags then scored the final three points of the first half on a free throw by Brady and a Cameron Olson layup for a 34-31 lead.
A three-point play by Olson 48 seconds into the second half then gave the Stags a six-point lead, their largest of the game.
“We were pretty concerned down six,” said Blodgett. “But we battle back all the time. We were down three late against Edward Little and we came back, so I knew we could do it. This is what we wanted.”