BANGOR, Maine — Its height advantage largely unrewarded during much of Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class B boys basketball final, the Medomak Valley boys basketball team turned to its long-range offense and ended a longtime championship drought.
Senior guard Brandon Soper hit two key 3-pointers during the fourth quarter and senior center John Murray added a third strike from beyond the arc as the top-ranked Panthers of Waldoboro rallied past No. 3 Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor 56-50 before nearly 4,000 fans at the Bangor Auditorium.
The regional title is the first for the Medomak Valley since 1980 when the Panthers were competing in Western Maine Class B.
The immediate aftermath of this championship game, like others, was a scene of contrasting emotions as the Medomak Valley players celebrated and the MDI players solemnly watched from the sidelines.
But two Medomak Valley players sought to bridge that divide.
While their teammates were preparing to take down the nets at the Bangor Auditorium, Panthers’ seniors Murray and Ryan Ripley walked over to the MDI bench where the Trojans were all seated and waiting for the awards presentations.
Murray and Ripley made their way from one end of the bench to their other end, shaking hands and sharing a few words with the MDI players, opponents just moments earlier but now forever linked by their shared championship-game experience.
“We knew that Ryan and I would probably go last [to get the nets], and while we were there we thought we’d go talk to the MDI kids,” said Murray. “I know their seniors really wanted this one and I respect the way they played. We just wanted to congratulate them.”
Medomak Valley coach Nick DePatsy said his team wasn’t running its offense the way he wanted them to before its fourth-quarter surge.
“We weren’t reversing the ball and making the extra pass. We kind of rushed things and were off balance and playing into their hands,” he said. “We needed somebody to step up and hit some shots, and tonight it was Soper.”
Medomak Valley (19-2) will play 20-1 Falmouth in the Class B state final next Friday at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. MDI, which fell in the regional final for the second straight year, ends its season with a 17-4 record.
Medomak Valley entered the contest led by the 6-foot-8-inch Murray and the 6-5 Ripley, but while Ripley worked inside for eight first-half points MDI center Adam Gray was able to limit Murray to two points on 0-of-9 shooting from the field over the first two periods.
MDI had its own problems with leading scorer Ben Walls beset by foul trouble but junior point guard Jonathan Phelps picked up the slack, scoring 14 of his game-high 21 points in the opening half to help stake the Trojans to a 29-23 intermission lead.
Medomak Valley, which trailed by as many as seven points late in the second quarter, gained some momentum in the first minute of the third period when Murray scored off an assist from Jonathan Hendrickson-Belloguet and Micah Williamson converted a steal into a layup to quickly pull the Panthers within 29-27.
“I think the biggest four points they scored of the game were the four points they scored at the start of the third quarter,” said MDI coach Justin Norwood. “Against Presque Isle [in the semifinals] we scored the first four points of the third quarter and that turned the tide, and the same thing happened today.”
MDI did move back out to a five-point lead before settling for a 39-36 advantage at the end of the third period, but Soper opened the fourth quarter by capitalizing on the sagging Trojans’ defense with a wide open 3-pointer from the left wing to forge a 39-39 tie.
“They didn’t guard me so I had to put it up,” said Soper. “The only way to get it inside was if they had to guard me, so I had to give them a reason to come out.”
Murray then struck for a right-side 3-pointer to give the Panthers a 42-40 edge with 5:55 left — their first lead since midway through the second quarter.
“In the second half we changed things up a little and everyone touched the ball,” said Murray. “Everyone scored and we came away with the win. With each [3-pointer] that went in we had shivers running down our backs.”
The outside shooting opened lanes to the basket for Hendrickson-Belloguet, who sandwiched two driving layups around another 3-pointer by Soper to extend the Medomak Valley lead to 49-42 with 2:53 left.
The Panthers then made just one of their next five free throws to keep MDI’s hopes alive, but after Gray made a long, straight-on 3-pointer to draw the Trojans within 50-48 with 41 seconds left, Soper, Murray and Boone Olson each made two free throws to preserve the Medomak Valley lead.
Hendrickson-Belloguet led Medomak Valley’s offense with 16 points, while Ripley (13), Murray (11) and Soper (10) also scored in double figures.
Gray added 15 points for MDI.
“That’s how high school basketball goes,” said Murray. “We’ve been in close battles before, and we knew no matter what came to us that we’d be able to get through it.”