BANGOR — While Lee Academy’s boys made it look easy while winning Saturday morning’s Eastern Maine Class C semifinal against Penquis of Milo, it was anything but for their next opponent.
Before top seed Lee dismantled a solid Penquis basketball squad 48-27 on the Bangor Auditorium floor, the sixth-seeded Sumner boys from East Sullivan had to outhustle, outshoot and outlast Penobscot Valley of Howland before emerging with a 49-44 upset victory.
The 17-3 Tigers were able to execute all facets of a multi-pronged game plan to offset Penobscot Valley’s size advantage and notch their second straight significant upset.
After knocking off No. 3 Calais and now No. 2 Penobscot Valley, the Tigers will try to continue climbing the upset ladder against another tall order — 19-1 Lee — in a 5:45 p.m. Monday title showdown.
Penobscot Valley’s Howlers close the season with a 16-4 mark while Penquis winds up 14-6.
In the first game, the Tigers double-teamed Howlers big man Joey McCloskey early and often, making him work for his points and rebounds.
“We knew McCloskey is a tough matchup in the post, so we put two bodies on him and tried to outlet the ball really fast to use our speed, and we really got on the boards hard,” said sophomore forward Tylor Martin (11 points, eight rebounds). “We wanted to press them and make them turn the ball over, and if not that, make some mistakes.”
Even with the double-teaming, the Tigers still managed to exert intense man-to-man defensive pressure all around, especially in the second half. Sumner’s defensive intensity, and 67 percent shooting from the foul line in the last five minutes, helped them pull out their second straight tournament stunner.
“I knew their quickness would give us problems and force us out away from the basket and away from Joey,” said Howlers coach Jamie Russell. “For the most part we did a good job defensively. The big thing was our inability to take care of the ball and making some bad choices.”
McCloskey still led the Howlers in points (19) and rebounds (14), and while a double-double certainly isn’t going to make anyone think he was stopped or even contained, he was kept from exploding and taking the game over.
“That sounds like a lot, but it’s not for him. I was worried he’d score 40,” said Sumner coach Walter Crabtree.
Moreover, the smaller Sumner squad was also able to hold its own on the boards, actually matching Sumner 28-28 overall and having just one fewer offensive rebound (seven to eight).
Gabe O’Brien led Sumner with 15 points while also totalling four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Brett Deniger scored 13 to go with a pair of steals.
Jacob Jones also paced PVHS with 14 points and eight rebounds.
In the second game, the individual statistics were unimpressive as Lee’s top scorer (A.J. Harris) had just 10 points, but a team shooting percentage of 53.6 percent to 29.7 for Penquis certainly was.
The Patriots, as was the case in two previous meetings with Lee, just couldn’t match up with the tall, athletic Pandas, who also boast multiple shooters.
Penquis tried to overcome that by slowing the pace and limiting Lee’s possessions, but Lee simply played patiently and took a 5-2 lead into the second quarter and a 10-2 lead into halftime.
“I told the guys possessions were multiplied by about eight because there wouldn’t be a lot of them,” said Lee coach Randy Harris.
The Pandas then exploded for 28 points when Penquis finally had to play the Pandas straight up in the third.
“They’re bigger, stronger, faster. The only chance we had, we thought, was to keep the score 10-8 at halftime,” said Penquis coach Tony Hamlin. “We held them to 10, but when you do that you have no margin for error and we had too many mistakes.”
Bryan Russell led Penquis with eight points.