HERMON, Maine — Tyler Thayer already had experienced the heartbreak of losing in the preliminary round of the Eastern Maine high school basketball tournament three times during his four-year varsity career.
But that just made Hermon’s 47-30 Eastern Maine Class B playoff victory over Presque Isle on Wednesday night all the more rewarding for the senior point guard.
For the big stage — the new big stage at the Cross Insurance Center — finally awaits the Hawks’ 1,000-point scorer and his teammates.
“We’d always had a road prelim before, and finally getting a home one seemed to do it for us,” said Thayer, one of two seniors on the Hermon roster. “I always wanted to make it to the [former Bangor] Auditorium to feel what it’s like to be there, but we finally got it done tonight. It feels very good.”
Thayer scored a game-high 23 points as coach Mark Reed’s eighth-seeded Hawks (11-8) scored their third win of the season over Presque Isle and secured a berth in Saturday’s 3:05 p.m. regional quarterfinal against top-ranked Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston.
Presque Isle, which won six of its last nine regular-season games to earn the No. 9 seed, finished with a 9-10 record.
The 5-foot-10-inch Thayer was at his best during the second half, when he drove to the basket to score 15 points and seemingly came up with every loose ball at key points of the contest to help Hermon extend its 25-20 halftime advantage.
“He got in the lane anytime he wanted to against us, and once he got into the lane if he missed a shot he came down with his own rebound and if we got the rebound he just ripped it out of our hands,” said Presque Isle coach Terry Cummings.
Thayer also made 9 of 10 free-throw attempts, all after intermission, and amassed 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists for the youthful Hawks.
“Tyler has done a great job all year long of leading the team in some of those areas that don’t show up on a stat sheet,” said Reed. “His extra effort on the glass is one of those things that as a coach I’m most proud of and I hope he’s most proud of because they’re great examples for his teammates and the younger players who are watching him.”
Hermon complemented its timely offense with a strong defensive effort that limited the touches of both 6-8 senior center Bradley Shields and senior guard Michael Boone, who had scored 19 points against the Hawks during their season-opening meeting in Aroostook County back in early December.
That defense was at its stingiest during the second half, when the Wildcats made just 5 of 20 field-goal tries and managed 10 total points.
“We were able to get the ball into the post but they did a great job double- and triple-teaming Shields,” said Cummings. “We tried to get our shooters moving more, but they helped and recovered really well.
“It wasn’t just that they held us to 10 points, we weren’t getting shots off.”
While Hermon’s interior defense collapsed around Shields, guards T.J. Verrill and Garrett Kipler combined to limit the perimeter-shooting Boone to six field-goal attempts.
“Those two guys have been great defensively all year,” said Reed.
Thayer made just 4 of 13 shots during the first half, but Hermon persevered thanks to key offensive contributions from sophomore guard Tyler Beaton and junior forward Joseph Plummer, who combined for 15 points before intermission.
“Joe has hit some big shots for us,” said Thayer, “and Tyler’s our spot-up shooter so I’m always looking to get him the ball when he’s open.”
Beaton finished with 12 points and eight rebounds while Plummer added seven points and six boards for the Hawks, who finished the game with a 33-21 rebounding advantage.
Shields had six points and six rebounds for Presque Isle, while 6-3 senior Drew Bates also scored six points.