BANGOR, Maine — Before Saturday afternoon’s Northern Maine Class D championship game, Jonesport-Beals coach Skip Alley admitted that the athleticism of his team’s opponent — top-seeded Woodland — concerned him.
Of particular concern: 6-foot-4 swingman Justin Worden, who had provided matchup problems in two previous meetings this season.
Alley was right to be concerned.
Worden took just six shots from the field in the game, but made five of them en route to 13 points, while the speedy Dragons ratcheted up their defensive pressure in the second half on their way to a 40-37 boys basketball win at the Cross Insurance Center.
The championship was the second regional ‘D’ title for Woodland, which also won the state championship in 2009.
“I expected a tough fight from them. They’re a really well-taught team, and they good,” Worden said. “But we were able to step up and get the win.”
Drew Maynard broke a 34-34 tie by hitting a hoop and two free throws on back-to-back possessions in the final 1:18 to kick off a frenzied finish.
Kaiden Crowley of Jonesport-Beals answered with a conventional 3-point play with 1:03 to go that made it 38-37 with 1:03 to go, and after a missed free throw on the other end, the Royals had the ball and a chance to take the lead.
Enter Worden, who jumped in the path of Ryan Alley’s drive and stole the ball. On the next possession Gavin Gardner made two free throws with 7.6 seconds to go to provide the final margin.
Alley’s 3-point attempt from the top of the key was closely contested and rattled out at the final buzzer.
Woodland coach Ben Maloney credited that defensive effort for the win.
“Second half ball pressure [was the key]. When we started putting pressure on the ball, they started making turnovers and we able to get out, run a little bit, make some free throws, and I think they started to tire a little bit,” Malone said.
The Dragons headed into the halftime break down 21-16, and didn’t make immediate changes when the third quarter started.
But after falling behind by seven points early in that quarter, Maloney had his team extend its defense, meeting the Jonesport-Beals guards at the midcourt stripe and making it difficult for the Royals to begin their offensive sets.
“For me, [I] sometimes like to try one or two possessions [of pressure defense] to see how things go, but they started to really struggle and that was our point of emphasis for the rest of the game,” Maloney said.
Skip Alley seconded Maloney’s assessment.
“We struggled a little. They played really defense. And when we got really good looks, we couldn’t seem to convert,” Skip Alley said.
That defensive presence helped launch the Dragons on a 16-4 run that spanned the late third and early fourth quarters, and gave them a 34-29 lead, which led to the thrilling finish.
The Dragons (18-3) advance to next Saturday’s Class D state championship game, where they’ll face Southern Maine champ Greenville at 2:45 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center. The Royals finish their season 16-4.
Skip Alley said though his team was able to limit Worden’s shot attempts, he still played a key role in the Woodland win.
“He’s so big. He’s 6-3, 6-4, and it’s hard for a big guy to guard him because he can put the ball on the floor,” Alley said. “He’s just a strong player.”
Gardner and Sabre Lee Phelps added seven points apiece for Woodland.
The Royals were led by Adam Robinson, who scored 16 points. Ryan Alley added seven points and eight rebounds, while Crowley also scored seven.
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