BANGOR, Maine — A total team effort carried the No. 2 Fort Fairfield boys basketball team to a 60-50 victory over No. 6 Schenck of East Millinocket in Friday afternoon’s Class C North semifinal at the Cross Insurance Center.
The Tigers (19-1) showed tremendous hustle, a balanced scoring attack and dominated the rebounding on both ends of the court.
The Tigers will face No. 1 George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill in the Class C North championship at 8:35 p.m. Saturday. GSA rolled by No. 5 Dexter 60-31 in the second game.
Senior Chris Giberson led Fort Fairfield with 13 points and eight rebounds, while junior Isaac Cyr added 12 points, three rebounds and three steals. Ryan Player chipped in 10 points, three rebounds a block and a steal.
Schenck senior Justin Thompson led all players with 32 points, nine rebounds and a block. Senior Chris King chipped in with 10 points and four rebounds.
Fort Fairfield coach Logan McLaughlin, who will be coaching in his second regional championship in the last three years — Fort Fairfield finished as state runners-up in 2015 in Class D — said he was expecting a fast-paced game against Schenck.
“They like to get out in transition and run just like we do,” McLaughlin said. “Our big thing was we knew we were not going to stop [Justin] Thompson, so we focused on [Chris] King. If you give him any room, he has such a quick trigger shooting, so we tried to focus on him.”
Neither team was able to establish dominance in the first quarter, as the lead was never more than three points (5-2 in favor of Schenck). In the second quarter, the Tigers led by as many as five at one point (25-20), but still the Wolverines remained within striking distance at the halftime break at 27-24.
The Wolverines took a short-lived lead in the third quarter with 6:57 to play, but the Tigers went to work on their transition game and quickly built a 46-39 edge to end the quarter.
Schenck continued to scrap in the final period, cutting the deficit to 54-50 with 1:22 to play as Justin Thompson converted a putback. Those would be Schenck’s final points of the game as the Tigers scored the next six points to seal the win.
Player said the Tigers worked hard on their defensive game plan going into Friday’s semifinal, particularly on making sure the team did not allow Schenck to have more than one shot opportunity.
“This feels awesome,” Player said. “We knew Schenck was going to be tough offensively, because they are big and fast. Coach preached to us about the importance of getting back on defense so we could be in position to get a rebound.”
The Tigers did precisely that as a sea of white jerseys was typically found swarming underneath the basket on nearly every shot attempt.
“Boards were a really big key for us today for sure,” said Fort junior Jerad Harvey, who tallied eight points and three rebounds. “We are a pretty undersized team. But we’re scrappy. People call me ‘Big Harv’ because I play aggressive in the paint. I like to get the boards.”
Schenck coach Derrick Thompson said rebounding was a focus of the team’s practices in the days leading up to Friday’s semifinal.
“We had the word ‘box out’ written on our board I don’t know how many times during practice,” he said. “It’s one thing to know it. It’s another thing to go out and do it. My hat is off to Fort Fairfield. They are a really good team and we just got outplayed.”