BANGOR, Maine — One way to counter an opposing team’s height is to attack the basket, draw fouls and get those players in foul trouble.
The Gardiner boys basketball team did that to near perfection Wednesday afternoon, as Jake Palmer connected for 33 points, including an 11-for-11 effort from the foul line as the third-seeded Tigers knocked off No. 2 Medomak Valley of Waldoboro 57-46 in a Class B semifinal at the Bangor Auditorium.
The Tigers (18-2) advance to their first Eastern Maine final in school history and take on top-seeded Mount Desert Island (20-0) on Saturday at 3:35 p.m. MDI turned back No. 5 Presque Isle 55-49 in the second afternoon game.
In the first game, coach Jason Cassidy’s Tigers didn’t execute their game plan very well in the first half, as the bigger Panthers were the ones earning trips to the line, resulting in a 29-28 halftime lead.
But as the game wore on, Gardiner started wearing out Medomak (17-3) with quickness and dribble penetration, and Palmer caught fire, scoring 19 second-half points.
“We wanted to get them in foul trouble,” Palmer said. “We did all right in the first half, I thought we could’ve done better, though.”
Gardiner trailed by two entering the final period, but the Tigers scored the quarter’s first five points to forge ahead 41-38.
After Medomak’s Shane Osier retied the game with a 3-pointer from the right corner, the Panthers were held to two field goals the rest of the way while Matt Hall’s follow-up basket put Gardiner up to stay.
Hall was a beast on the backboards for the Tigers, as he not only scored 14 points but hauled down 12 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
With just under four minutes to play and Gardiner up 43-41 after a Hall follow-up shot, the Panthers were whistled for a technical foul coming out of a timeout, as they had too many players on the floor.
The Tigers wound up hitting 16 of their 18 free-throw attempts in the final eight minutes to seal the win.
“It played out that they got a little antsy and had a couple calls go against their way,” Cassidy said. “Our boys stepped up.”
The game was tight throughout the first half, with Gardiner taking the largest lead at 21-15 early in the second quarter, but the Panthers closed the half on a 10-3 run to forge ahead at the break.
John Murray had 12 points to lead Medomak while Alex Greenrose had 11.
In the second game, it was MDI’s front line that gave the Trojans the win over the Wildcats.
Senior forward Jayson Burke scored 18 points, junior forward Ben Walls added 13 and junior center Adam Gray contributed 12 as the rugged Trojans took control underneath complemented by outside points, including a pair of 3-pointers by the 6-foot-1 Walls.
The game’s flow started to change in the second quarter when the 6-2 Burke scored the first 10 of his points.
“Their big guys were killing us underneath,” said Burke of PI 6-5 forward Tyler Brooks, 6-3 forward Andrew Kofstad and 6-6 center Matt Eager. “I just have to be aggressive in order for us to win these games.”
“Burke and [the 6-3] Gray are tough matchups,” said Wildcats coach Terry Cummings.
While Burke normally gets most of his points close to the rim, he also exhibited a soft touch on his jumpers.
“I’ve got to expand my game,” he said. “I’m trying to be a threat out to 15 feet.”
The Wildcats (15-6), led by junior Brooks with 21 points, senior guard Wilder York with 13 and senior Kofstad with eight, hung tough with MDI, who had beaten Presque Isle twice during the regular season.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” said MDI coach Justin Norwood. “… They’re well coached, and they play hard-nosed basketball.”
After PI took a 44-42 lead with 6:40 remaining in the game, the MDI frontcourt sparked an 11-1 run.
Burke tied the game at 44 when he rebounded his own miss and laid it in with 6:22 left. He then started another play with a pass to a cutting Caleb MacDonald, who deftly tossed it to Gray for an easy layup that gave the Trojans the lead for good with 5:29 to go.
After a pair of PI misses, Brooks hit the front end of a one-and-one to cut the lead to one with 4:17 left, but Burke scored again, Gray hit two free throws and Walls hit a field goal and the front end of a one-and-one to complete the run.
“We missed a couple of free throws and they took advantage,” said Cummings. “They didn’t panic.”
Brooks put up his final two points with 40.1 seconds left to cut the margin to six, but after Nick Shaw missed the front of a one-and-one, Brooks stole a PI pass deep in the backcourt and fed Connor Mooers for the clincher with 29.3 seconds remaining.
Next is Gardiner, but Norwood didn’t watch any of the earlier game, preferring to prepare for his game.
“Hopefully, somebody I know taped the game,” he said with a smile.