PORTLAND, Maine — The start of Wednesday night’s Class A South semifinal boys basketball showdown couldn’t have been much better for the Biddeford Tigers.
But the ending couldn’t have been more disappointing for a Biddeford squad that was looking to reach the regional finals for the first time since 1991.
No. 2 Biddeford jumped out to an 18-2 lead after the opening quarter but the No. 3 Westbrook Blue Blazes rallied to force overtime and then outscored the Tigers 8-0 in the extra frame to pick up a 52-44 victory at the Cross Insurance Arena.
“We knew it was going to be a 32-minute game,” said Biddeford coach Justin Tardif. “We were talking about that when we were up. You know it’s going to be a 32-minute game … Westbrook is really tough and they’re going to come out and continue to fight, and that’s what happened.”
The Tigers got off to a red-hot start as senior Kyle Norton hit a 3-pointer in the opening minute to kick off an 18-0 run. Norton had six points in the period with senior Jackson Oloya adding five.
Westbrook would finally get on the board when Jeremiah Alado scored with just 14 seconds left in the quarter to make it 18-2.
“We were making shots, and sometimes you go through games where you’re going to get hot, you’re going to get cold and we were just hot at the beginning of the (game),” said Tardif.
The second quarter was all Blue Blazes as Zac Manoogian scored seven points and Abier Manyiel added six to lead Westbrook on a 13-5 run to cut the Biddeford lead to 23-15 at the break.
Westbrook would continue to cut into the lead in the third — and most of it would come from the foul line. Manoogian made all three of his attempts and Alado and Kyle Champagne hit a pair as the Blazes outscored Biddeford 14-10 in the frame to slash the Tigers’ lead to 33-29 heading into the fourth.
The Blazes started the fourth quarter on an 8-3 run and took their first lead of the game at 37-36 with 5:18 left in regulation.
The Tigers responded with a 6-0 stretch of their own to take a 42-37 advantage with 1:35 remaining, but Manoogian was able to create contact on a 3-point try and nailed all three from the charity stripe to make it a 42-40 game.
Biddeford pushed the lead to 44-40 when Carter Edgerton hit a pair from the line with 1:20 left, but those were the last foul shots the Tigers would make as they went 0-for-6 down the stretch.
Manoogian hit a shot with 53 seconds left to cut the lead to 44-42 and the senior standout would tie the game with two free throws with 30 ticks left.
Biddeford had one last shot to win it when Norton took a jumper, got his own rebound and put up another shot at the buzzer. The senior looked to be hit on the shot as he went to the floor. The ball would slide off the rim and no foul was called.
“Everything happened so quick. It looked like a lot of contact but the ref decided not to call it and that’s the way it goes sometimes,” said Tardif on the last seconds of the fourth quarter.
Manoogian put the game away for Westbrook in overtime. The senior went 7-of-8 from the foul line in the extra frame to complete his 32-point performance, while the Tigers were held scoreless in the OT period.
“I’m sure most of his (points) came from foul shots, and that was the key,” said Tardif of Manoogian, who scored 17 points from the stripe. “He got to the foul line … and the game was decided at the foul line. We missed a few at the end, and when they got to the foul line they made theirs and they got a lot of foul shots.”
The Tigers were led by Cody Saucier with 12 points and Norton added 11. Edgerton chipped in nine points and both Oloya and DeSean Cromwell had five. Senior Zach Reali rounded out the scoring for Biddeford with two points.
It was a tough ending for the Tigers — and extremely hard for Tardif to say goodbye to his seven seniors.
“It’s a great group of kids to coach, on and off the court. I said to them that’s the toughest part about ending the season is I wish this was like the NBA and I had these guys all coming back next year and it wouldn’t hurt so much. It’s tough knowing that it will be the last time that I coach those seven seniors that are on the team,” Tardif said of Cromwell, Norton, Oloya, Reali, Jerome Criado, Nate Boutin and Cam Lantagne.
Tardif credits the seniors with helping take the Biddeford program from just two wins in their first two years to being contenders in Class A South.
“It’s a really good senior group … they were the key,” said Tardif. “When they came in as freshman that was our 1-17 year and then as sophomores they were 1-17, but they completely turned the program around — with their basketball skill, but more importantly how they carried themselves on and off the court and the energy that they brought.”
Tardif didn’t focus on the heartbreaking loss when speaking with the Tigers after the game, but instead on what they accomplished throughout the year.
“We really didn’t talk much about this game at all in there. It was all about what they accomplished this season. It’s going to hurt tonight and for a little while but they’ve accomplished so much and that’s what they should be proud of,” said Tardif.
The Biddeford coach is also confident that the program is built to contend for years to come.
“I think the program has definitely turned the corner in that teams respect us and when Biddeford comes into the gym they are going to have to play hard and execute,” said Tardif, who saw his freshman team go 17-1 this season.
Tardif was also thankful to the Biddeford fan base which showed up all season long.
“The fans have been really great this year. (They’ve been) supportive, traveling up to away games at Mt. Ararat, Brunswick,” Tardif said. “They’ve always been positive and I think it’s a tough way to end but when you look back at the season I think they really enjoyed watching us compete and play hard.”
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