BANGOR, Maine — Just a year ago the Forest Hills of Jackman boys basketball team left the Class D state final a bit humbled after a 38-point loss to Jonesport-Beals.
“It was a really good Jonesport team we played last year, they had height, speed, everything, they were unbelievable,” said Tigers senior forward Derick Ouellette. “We learned a lot from that game, and it gave us motivation.”
Those lessons learned were tested as Forest Hills — a school with just 53 students — returned to the title game Saturday afternoon, and this time the Tigers left as state champions for the first time as sophomore Matt Turner scored 16 points to lead coach Anthony Amero’s club past Central Aroostook of Mars Hill 55-48 at the Bangor Auditorium.
“Last year we came in and were wicked intimidated,” said Forest Hills sophomore forward Ryan Petrin. “We really didn’t know what we were doing but this year that experience helped us and we just went out and won it.”
The Tigers ended Eastern Maine’s nine-year hold on the Class D boys state crown with a mix of patient offense, offensive rebounding strength, second-half defensive pressure and a knack for gaining control of nearly all the loose balls.
“They won all the loose balls, all of them,” said Central Aroostook coach Tim Brewer. “They also outrebounded us and it caught up with us today. We just got outhustled.”
Ouellette finished with 13 points and seven rebounds for 20-2 Forest Hills, while Petrin had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists and Evan Worster also scored 10 points.
“They were hungry, and I thought the start of the game was key,” said Brewer, whose team never led and did not score its first field goal until just 10 seconds remained in the first quarter.
“For them to get started the way they did and for us not to get out of the gates like we did, that was a key to the game. We just couldn’t get much going, and certainly you have to give the credit to their defense. They won the game plain and simple, and we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Sophomore guard Chandler Brewer, the coach’s son, scored a game-high 23 points for Central Aroostook, including 21 over the final three quarters despite leaving the game for several minutes during the second half after being kneed in the head.
“I was pleased with the way Chandler stepped up,” said coach Brewer. “I thought he tried to put us on his back.”
Steven Decker, the Eastern D tournament MVP for the Panthers, was limited to eight points by a Forest Hills defensive effort keyed by Ouellette.
“I just played the best defense of my life,” said Ouellette. “I knew he was a 20-point or more scorer a game, so that was a big assignment but I knew I could do it and just stepped up to the challenge and worked as hard as I possibly could.”
After the teams battled to a 19-19 halftime stalemate, Forest Hills took the lead for good by outscoring Central Aroostook 11-2 over the first four minutes of the third quarter.
Worster scored twice during the surge and fed Turner for a layup to spark an offensive run fueled by the Tigers’ switch to a zone press defensively that produced several Central Aroostook turnovers.
“We were waiting for the second half to press them to mix it up a little bit so they wouldn’t get used to our other defense,” said Petrin, “and it worked really good.”
Central Aroostook rallied within 30-29 on a four-point play by Joe Stiles with 1:28 left in the period, but Stiles then drew his fourth foul and was relegated to the Panthers’ bench.
Forest Hills countered with the final six points of the period, with Brandon Ouellette beating the third-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Tigers a 36-29 advantage.
Central Aroostook made one more run and closed within three points twice during the fourth quarter, the final time at 43-40 on a baseline drive by Brewer with 4:30 remaining.
Things looked worse for Forest Hills when Worster — the school’s career scoring leader — fouled out with 3:58 left — but the rest of the Tigers picked up the slack.
Forest Hills held Central Aroostook without a field goal until a 3-pointer by Decker with just 27.3 seconds left, and by that time the Tigers had built their lead to 53-42 with a 10-2 run capped off by a Tanner Daigle layup with 38 seconds left.