BANGOR, Maine — Southern Aroostook boys basketball coach Bill McAvoy doesn’t often feel the need to speak forcefully to his team during halftime.
But in Thursday’s Class D North semifinal against Central Aroostook, the veteran coach felt he needed to say a few things to his senior-laden squad in order to bring out the strong performance he is accustomed to seeing from his team.
The Warriors responded brilliantly, rattling off 20 unanswered points midway through the third quarter and into the fourth period to break open what was otherwise a close game.
No. 1 Southern Aroostook (19-1) defeated No. 4 Central Aroostook 57-33 to advance to the regional championship game. Southern Aroostook will face No. 2 Machias (19-1), who advanced to the championship via a 68-37 victory over Easton in the early game, at 10:35 a.m. Saturday.
Central Aroostook ends its season with a 13-7 record.
“It wasn’t perfect by any means and hopefully we will come down Saturday and do a better job to start the game,” coach McAvoy said. “I did speak to them at halftime, which I don’t normally have to do. I thought we were being a little bit lazy on defense. They then talked amongst themselves and came out stronger in the second half.”
Southern Aroostook senior Nolan Altvater poured in 19 points and had numerous blocks as he dominated from the low post. Senior Jackson Mathers added 15 points and senior Tyler Batchelder added eight.
For Central Aroostook, sophomore Ben Thomas netted 11 points, and freshman Brayden Bradbury added seven.
“There is nothing more important and nothing more on our mind than the dream of winning that gold ball,” Altvater said. “It’s been our goal pretty much since last season ended.”
“We have No. 1 versus No. 2 … it doesn’t get any better than that does it?” Mathers added. “It’s what I have been hoping for all year. I think it is going to be a great game.”
“We had one loss during the season [a 53-50 loss to Class C contender Fort Fairfield] and I think that was great for us,” Batchelder said. “It really got us motivated and made us more level headed coming into the playoffs.”
Central Aroostook did an exceptional job from the foul line, sinking seven-of-eight attempts (88 percent). Likewise, Southern Aroostook was equally impressive making 12-of-17 free throws (71 percent).
Coming into the game, Central Aroostook coach Jason Woodworth hoped to slow the pace down against Southern Aroostook and was able to do that somewhat in the first quarter. Batchelder opened the game with a deep shot from the perimeter that was just inside 3-point arc. Central Aroostook scored the next three points on a Zach Crouch layup and a free throw from Thomas. That would be the only time Central Aroostook would lead in the game.