Editor’s note: One in a series on tournament basketball memories at the Bangor Auditorium, which is hosting its final tournament this season. Part VI: five top games for boys’ teams.
BANGOR, Maine — Many factors play into the staying power of a sporting event.
The stakes of the game are important, as well as the backgrounds and relationships between the participating teams.
Upsets are memorable, as are fantastic finishes.
All of those factors play into many of the greatest postseason high school basketball games ever played at the Bangor Auditorium since it first hosted tournament play in 1956.
Here are five of the most noteworthy contests.
Stearns of Millinocket returned all five starters and 10 players overall from a 1962 squad that was defeated by Caribou in the Eastern Maine semifinal while Morse of Bath was seeking its second straight state championship after defeating Bangor in the 1962 final.
They arrived at the state final as unbeatens loaded with star power. Four players from the game, Joe Harrington and Rick Woods of Morse and Terry Carr and Jon MacDonald of Stearns, went on to Division I college careers, Harrington and MacDonald at Maryland and Carr and Woods at Maine.
Morse had the height advantage in 6-foot-7-inch Dale McNelly and the 6-5 Harrington and used that edge to maintain a six- to eight-point lead for much of the contest, including a 56-48 advantage midway through the fourth quarter.
But Dean Chase’s 20-foot jumper started an 8-0 run by coach George Wentworth’s Minutemen that forced overtime, followed by two baskets by center Dave Vaznis that led to a game-tying baseline jumper by Ed DiCentes in the final seconds.
Offsetting baskets by Vaznis and McNelly sent the game into the second overtime, where Harrington and Carr traded two free throws apiece for a 60-60 tie before Harrington scored the game-winning point from the line with 19 seconds remaining.
These teams met again in the final of the New England championships, where Stearns defeated the Shipbuilders 56-54.
It’s the “shot heard ’round the state,” a running, two-handed set shot from just beyond halfcourt that not only made Mike Thurston a household name in Aroostook County but also won Caribou High School its only Class LL state championship.
The lead-up to that buzzer-beating moment of glory against Westbrook was nearly as dramatic, as coach Gerry Duffy’s Caribou “cardiac kids” rallied for last-minute victories over John Bapst of Bangor in the EM semifinals and over Lawrence of Fairfield in the regional title game just to get the chance to challenge a Westbrook team that featured high-scoring guard Matt Donahue.
Caribou trailed Westbrook by eight points with five minutes remaining before embarking on yet another comeback.
The Vikings narrowed the deficit to three with less than 30 seconds remaining before Mike Kelley was fouled while scoring after grabbing an offensive rebound.
Kelley’s free throw tied the game, and when Westbrook’s Don Douglas missed a shot during the Blue Blazes’ next possession, Caribou had one last, slim chance to avoid overtime.
The Vikings’ Peter Curran grabbed the rebound and quickly passed the ball to Thurston, who had time for two or three dribbles before launching one of the most memorable shots in state history.
This night began with a leak in the Bangor Auditorium roof that delayed the start of the girls’ final between Houlton and Mount View of Thorndike for 75 minutes.
By the time the boys’ game started it was past 10 p.m., but little did the players, coaches and fans know that it would be 12:18 a.m. before a winner was determined.
Coach Dave Cook’s fast-paced Rockland team and a disciplined Dexter squad coached by Ed Guiski forged a hard-fought battle of the Tigers that went to overtime after Rockland guard John Post made a 12-foot shot from the lane to tie the game at 53-53 as time expired in the fourth quarter.
Neither team scored during the first overtime, before Post came up the hero again in overtime No. 2 with a jumper from the right wing in the final seconds to draw to a 55-55 stalemate.
Dexter again struck for the early lead, but this time Rockland’s Dan Gargan kept the game going with a buzzer-beating 26-foot straightaway jumper to tie the game at 57-57 as midnight approached.
Late missed free throws by Dexter in the fourth overtime left the teams tied 59-59 heading into the fifth extra period.
Rockland had possession of the ball and a 61-59 lead with 1:35 remaining but missed on a drive to the basket, and Dexter’s Steve Bell soon banked in a 10-footer to tie the game with 50 seconds left.
Again, Rockland got a close-range shot only to have it fall off the rim, and Dexter grabbed the rebound. Dexter eventually worked the ball to the left baseline, where Mark Haines bounced a short pass between two Rockland defenders to teammate Marty Keaveney, whose short runner off the backboard in the final seconds was the game-winner.
This may rank as the biggest upset in a regional championship game, given that defending state champion Waterville twice already had defeated its neighbor by lopsided margins during the season — including a 56-point (89-33) humiliation in Fairfield on Lawrence’s Senior Night.
Lawrence, angered by being called “the JVs” by Waterville players while the teams took turns practicing at Colby College during the week leading up to the game, finally solved Waterville’s run-and-jump defensive tactics on the Auditorium floor and were within two points at intermission.
The game remained close, but Waterville had a four-point lead and possession of the ball with a half-minute to go. Lawrence was forced to foul and Waterville missed the front end of a one-and-one, setting up a Mike Nutting jumper that made it a two-point game.
Lawrence got the ball back after another missed free throw, but its missed shot was headed out of bounds in the rebounding action. Waterville had a chance to save the ball but didn’t, and possession went back to Lawrence with six seconds left.
Lawrence coach Mike McGee drew up a play for Nutting, but freshman Troy “Goose” Scott swooped in to take the pass and drove to the basket, with his runner hitting the back of the rim, bouncing high into the air and then down through the net to send the game to overtime.
Lawrence controlled the extra period and went on to win — a 59-point reversal from just two weeks earlier.
Deering of Portland brought to Bangor a roster led by that year’s Mr. Basketball in Jamaal Caterina and Nik Caner-Medley, a 6-foot-7-inch junior who later starred at the University of Maryland.
The Portland team not only was unbeaten, but had defeated its first 21 foes by an average of 26 points.
Bangor didn’t have the statistics to match save for its 20-1 record, and coach Roger Reed’s club was the distinct underdog.
So Bangor tried something different, abandoning its man-to-man defense for a 2-3 zone that frustrated Deering early and enabled Bangor to build a 28-13 second-quarter lead.
But Deering then switched from its zone to man-to-man defensive pressure to turn the game in its favor. Coach Mike Francoeur’s club closed to within 28-19 by halftime and took a 44-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
Deering still had a 56-53 lead and ball possession with 33 seconds remaining, but a foul by Bangor resulted in a missed free throw by Deering — with Caner-Medley fouling out in the ensuing rebounding action.
Bangor’s Joe Campbell made two free throws with 31.8 seconds left to make it 56-55, and teammate Zak Ray soon stole the ball in Deering’s frontcourt, giving the Rams a chance to win.
Campbell got the ball with time winding down, but when he made a spin dribble into the lane he was stripped of the ball by Deering’s Derek Raymond. But as Raymond began to dribble Ray stepped in to steal the ball back and then lofted a desperation shot from near the left sideline.
The shot was short, but Campbell saw it coming and with his back to the basket jumped and redirected the ball off the backboard and through the net as time expired to give Bangor a most stunning victory.