AUGUSTA, Maine — Nate Violette was aching to get back into the game after drawing his second foul with 2:41 left in the first quarter of Friday’s Class A North boys basketball final.
The wait proved longer than the Messalonskee of Oakland senior guard would have hoped — until the start of the second half — but he made the most of his return. Violette scored 14 third-quarter points as the Eagles won their first regional title with a 61-40 victory over defending champion Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston at the Augusta Civic Center.
“This is the first Northern Maine championship game I’ve ever played in and in the first I half I didn’t play much,” said Violette, who finished with a game-high 21 points. “So I was pumped and ready to go for that second half because I really wanted to play and make some noise.”
Backcourt mate and classmate James Kouletsis also had a big second half as Messalonskee extended its 24-14 intermission lead, scoring 11 of his 13 points and grabbing eight of his game-high 11 rebounds after the break.
“When you can put a game on their shoulders and say, ‘Nate and James, you need to take over this game and you need to lead,’ you can’t put that into words,” Messalonskee coach Peter McLaughlin said.
Fifth seed Messalonskee (16-5) will play with winner of Saturday night’s Class A South final between No. 1 Greely of Cumberland Center and No. 2 Falmouth for the state title on March 4 in Augusta.
Third-seeded Oceanside, which graduated seven players from its 2016 Class A North championship team, ended its season at 17-4.
“We just never got going,” Oceanside coach Matt Breen said. “I don’t know how to explain it. We started slow, they made a push and then when that happens it becomes a little more difficult with every shot and it never came together.
“My kids have worked extremely hard, and I’m proud of everything they did. It’s just too bad to come out and struggle the way we did.”
Oceanside missed its first 13 field-goal attempts of the game and did not score a basket until a drive by sophomore forward Cooper Wirkala (team-high 16 points) with 4:34 left in the first half.
By then Messalonskee had built a 21-6 lead, and while the gap narrowed to 10 points by halftime Oceanside was unable to draw closer. Violette and Kouletsis got untracked after the break while the Mariners’ top three veterans from last year’s championship team — seniors Nate Raye and Sam Atwood and junior Michael Norton Jr. — were held without a field goal for the entire game.
“We knew they were their primary scorers,” Kouletsis said. “Raye and Atwood can light it up from the outside and Norton had a game earlier this season when he scored 40 points, so we knew we had to stay with them and defensively we just locked it down for 32 minutes.”
And if there was any concern about Messalonskee letting down after intermission, memories of the afternoon’s preceding game — when the school’s girls team watched a 29-point halftime lead shrink to 11 before winning its first regional crown since 2009 — served as a wake-up call.
“As we were watching the end of the girls game we saw the margin get smaller so we thought this could happen to us as well,” Violette said. “We just had to stay true to what got us that big lead and if we did we’d keep it.”