BANGOR, Maine — The Brewer boys basketball team arrived at the Bangor Auditorium on Thursday night with its postseason life at stake.
For rival Bangor, the final Class A game to be played on the historic floor had no immediate implications, only the sense that the current players were competing not only for themselves but the legions of Rams who had preceded them onto the court at the Queen City landmark.
Those dueling incentives produced a hard-fought contest, but Bangor persevered in the mutual regular-season finale with a 58-53 victory.
The Bangor Auditorium, which opened on Oct. 1, 1955, is slated to be torn down this spring and replaced by the Cross Insurance Center now under construction just a few feet away and slated to open in September.
Prior to the contest, two participants in the first high school game played on the auditorium floor, Wayne Lawton of Bangor and Skip Chappelle of Old Town, took part in a ceremonial jump ball in recognition of that contest at the outset of the 1955-56 season.
“We understood Brewer’s motivation of wanting to get into the tournament, every high school team in the state wants to be in the tournament,” said Bangor coach Ed Kohtala. “But we also talked about the fact that this is the ‘Bangor’ Auditorium and about the generations of Bangor Rams who have played right here, so as much as we understood Brewer’s motivation we also felt we had tremendous motivation.
“And to my knowledge it was the first night that [former Bangor] coach [Roger] Reed was in the house, and as I told the guys afterward he honored us by coming to see us play and they honored him with their effort.”
Bangor (13-5) finished fourth in Eastern Maine Class A and will face No. 5 Lewiston in a quarterfinal Saturday, Feb. 16. Brewer finished 8-10, one spot out of the playoff hunt.
Reserve guard Liam Harrigan came off the bench to score 16 points for Bangor while senior forward Matt Cosgrove’s 3-pointer after grabbing an offensive rebound sparked a 10-0 fourth-quarter run that enabled the Rams to secure their second victory over the season over Brewer.
“Liam, as the brace on his knee shows you, came out of soccer with a pretty severe knee sprain and has been struggling to get into basketball shape while dragging that brace around,” said Kohtala. “He’s worked hard and done the extra training, he’s rehabbed the knee, and he’s shown some flashes, but this was the first time he was able to string together a long series and he made big baskets at times when we needed them.”
Bangor built a 9-2 lead three minutes into play thanks to five early points by senior guard Sean Tocci.
Brewer rallied within 15-12 by the end of the opening period, but he Rams pulled back out to an 11-point cushion behind Harrigan, who scored 11 points during 3-minute, 8-second span midway through the second quarter.
But Brewer scored the final seven points of the half — including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass by senior guard Jeff Weeks — to rally within 28-24.
Bangor surged back to a 41-32 lead by the end of the third quarter, with Harrigan hitting a 3-pointer and a reverse layup for the final points of the period.
Brewer senior forward Ian Burgess (24 points, 14 rebounds) then took over the game early in the final quarter, scoring his team’s first eight points of the period as the Witches crept within 43-40.
Junior guard Brendan Newcomb soon scored from the baseline and on a fadeaway jumper from the left wing to cap off the 10-0 run that gave Brewer its first lead at 44-43, and Burgess made two free throws to give the Witches a three-point edge with 3:42 remaining.
Bangor missed its next shot, but Cosgrove hustled out toward the free-throw line to grab the rebound, then nailed a game-tying 3-pointer from the corner seconds later.
“I hadn’t taken many shots and I hadn’t made many shots,” said Cosgrove. “But I knew I had to make that one.”
That started a 10-0 run by Bangor, as junior center Conner Adams scored inside, Cosgrove made two free throws and junior guard Alex Campbell stole the ball and drove for a three-point play to give the Rams a 53-46 lead with 1:51 left.
Brewer pulled within 55-53 on a free throw by Weeks with 28.6 seconds remaining, but Adams followed with one from the line and after the Witches came up empty on their next possession Campbell added two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 10.9 seconds left.