BANGOR, Maine — Central Aroostook went into Saturday’s game against Hodgdon without much championship-game experience.
What the Panthers from Mars Hill did have was the benefit of two overtime wins during the postseason.
Third-seeded Central Aroostook fed off the confidence derived from those games again Saturday, making enough clutch plays in overtime to pull out a 58-55 victory over No. 5 Hodgdon to win the Eastern Maine Class D boys title at the Bangor Auditorium.
“Those are the best games, right there, the ones that come down to the overtime, the final possessions. Those are fun,” said Panthers senior Steven Decker, who scored five of his team-high 22 points in overtime.
“We came back against Schenck with a huge win in overtime [in a preliminary game], a lot of clutch play there, then against Washburn in the last round,” he added.
Central Aroostook (17-5) plays Western Maine winner Forest Hills of Jackman (19-2) in next Saturday’s 2:45 p.m. state championship game in Bangor.
Senior Joe Stiles made three of four free throws in the last 34 seconds of the extra period, lifting coach Tim Brewer’s team to its seventh regional championship overall and its second in three years.
“I guess we love overtime games. We’ve had three of them,” said Stiles, who finished with 12 points.
Saturday’s final was the rubber game between Central Aroostook and Hodgdon (17-5), which had split two regular-season meetings. This time, neither team led by more than three points over the last 14 minutes.
“The overtime games that we had early, when we went to overtime here, our kids were confident that they were going to win that game,” Brewer said. “They knew what to expect.”
Sophomore Chris Hudson stole the show for coach Rob Smith’s Hawks. The lefthander poured in 28 points, 19 of which came in the first half. He snared 12 rebounds and blocked two shots.
Decker was the Panthers’ offensive catalyst in OT after he had missed two free throws late in regulation that might have ended the game earlier.
He opened the scoring with a nifty move in the lane,. After two missed free throws by Hodgdon, the Hawks cashed in on a turnover when Tyler Sherman hit a layup off a cut through the lane off a Devin Logie feed with 1:55 left.
Decker put CAHS on top with a foul shot, but Hodgdon regained the lead on Logie’s hoop from underneath off a penetrate-and-dish move by Chris Hudson with 1:06 to play.
Decker responded, slicing through the paint for another basket.
“Decker had just a monster game inside,” Brewer said. “We started going to him when [Josh Hudson] got in foul trouble. He really put us on his back there at the end of the game.”
Logie countered for Hodgdon with a free throw to make it 55-55 with 37.4 seconds remaining, but a foul four seconds later sent Stiles to the line. He made both.
“It was tense, especially when Decker and Joe went to that free-throw line,” said senior Zack McClung, who made two big baskets in the fourth quarter. “I was just praying they made it.”
Hodgdon then turned the ball over and Stiles hit the front end, pushing the lead to three.
The Hawks called timeout with seven seconds left, but Tyler Sherman’s contested 3-pointer missed as time expired.
“I thought I got the timeout at the half-court line, not down below the free-throw line, so it didn’t work the way I drew it up,” Smith said.
“I think our legs went out from under us a little bit,” he added. “The shots were a little bit short and we didn’t have anybody crashing [the boards].”
Decker posted three assists and three steals to complement his offense. Sophomore Chandler Brewer tossed in 15 points, while McClung added nine points. Each had four rebounds.
For Hodgdon, senior Josh Hudson posted six points and nine rebounds, while senior Matt Harmon and junior Sherman contributed seven and six points, respectively.
The Hawks outrebounded the Panthers 34-22.
It was a seesaw first half, with CAHS taking an early 11-2 lead, then Hodgdon rallying to tie early in the second quarter. The Hawks were up 30-24 at halftime, but Chandler Brewer sandwiched driving layups around seven straight points by Decker, including a 3-pointer, to put the Panthers on top 35-30 midway through the third.
It went down to the wire. The Hawks led 50-48 in the final minute of regulation, but didn’t score in the last 57 seconds of the period.
Decker sank one of two foul shots on consecutive trips to the line, including one with 4.8 seconds left .
After a timeout, Hodgdon inbounded only to have Stiles knock the ball loose and a 3-pointer by Brewer failed to connect.