BANGOR, Maine — First they got the inside game going. Then they looked outside.
By the time the No. 3 Shead of Eastport boys basketball team got things going together, the Tigers had earned a hard-fought 70-56 victory Monday morning over No. 6 Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook at the Bangor Auditorium and a trip to the Eastern Maine Class D semifinals.
In the second morning game, Central Aroostook built a big lead with the intensity of pressure defense and attacking offense.
The defending state champion Panthers preserved victory in their quarterfinal with discipline at the free-throw line, making 15 of 18 fourth-quarter attempts to hold off Katahdin of Stacyville 70-64 at the Bangor Auditorium.
No. 2 Central Aroostook (17-3) will face Shead (17-3) in a 7:05 p.m. semifinal Thursday.
In the first game, Wayne Clossey’s 17 points helped get Shead back into the game when the Tigers were down early. Thomas Pottle’s 18 helped the Tigers gain some distance in the third.
“We were nervous at first, but we got comfortable and we clicked,” Pottle said.
The Warriors got off to a strong start in the first quarter but Shead began to look inside to center Clossey and forwards Justin Lewey and Tyler Mitchell to battle back from an eight-point deficit. The Tigers started the second quarter with a 13-2 run as their post players powered inside for layups and drew fouls.
“The first quarter we had to get the butterflies out of our system,” said Clossey, who had eight rebounds. “After that we were able to pound it into the post.”
Southern Aroostook got its offense clicking in the third quarter and cut an 11-point Shead lead to four when Dakota Sleeper hit two straight shots.
Pottle took things over from there, however. As the Warriors’ 3-2 zone defense collapsed inside, Pottle hit his stride with a long jumper to make it 46-38.
“They got hot on us,” SAHS coach Vaughn Sleeper said. “Those things happen.”
Pottle was responsible for seven more points near the end of the third, including a fast-break basket that was followed by a Southern Aroostook technical foul for slapping the backboard. Pottle converted both free throws and after the Tigers inbounded the ball he hit a 3-pointer to give Shead a 52-38 lead.
“That was huge for us.” Pottle said. “It was a big swing.”
Tyler Robinson and Dakota Sleeper each scored 13 points for the Warriors (11-7).
In the second game, Central Aroostook made 23 of 27 free throws for the game.
“I knew we shot well from the line,” said Central Aroostook coach Tim Brewer after his team’s 14th straight victory. “We made our foul shots down the stretch, and that secured the win for us.”
Senior guard Manny Martinez made three 3-pointers and scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the second quarter while Central Aroostook’s defense forced 13 first-half turnovers as the Panthers took a 38-24 halftime lead.
Central Aroostook extended that margin to as many as 17 points and held a 53-38 lead early in the fourth quarter before Katahdin rallied, with a 3-pointer by Ethan Qualey and three free throws by Evan McCarthy pulling the Cougars within 55-50 with 2:45 to play.
But Central Aroostook capitalized on two straight Katahdin turnovers to create some breathing room, as Mitch Folsom and Martinez each made two free throws to give the Panthers a 59-50 lead with 2:18 left.
McCarthy then was fouled again on a 3-point shot, and again made three free throws. Kolby Gallagher hit a 3-pointer and Matt McAvoy went inside for a three-point play to cut the Central Aroostook lead to 67-62 with 25 seconds left, but the Panthers made 3 of 4 from the line in the waning seconds to put the game away.
“We dug too big a hole for ourselves in the first half,” said Katahdin coach Shaun Craig.
Kelly had 12 points for Central Aroostook, while Kasey Brewer scored 10 and Logan McLaughlin had eight points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Robinson’s 17 points and seven rebounds paced Katahdin, while Josh Guiggey scored 14 points and McCarthy had 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists.