BANGOR, Maine — Guard play traditionally is pivotal to success in the Maine high school basketball tournament, and it proved pivotal for fourth-ranked Central Aroostook of Mars Hill in its 54-46 Class D North boys quarterfinal victory over Jonesport-Beals at the Cross Insurance Center on Monday.
Ben Thomas, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, scored a game-high 18 points and 5-7 junior Caleb Harris scored six of his nine points consecutively late in the third quarter to give the Panthers the lead for good.
Those backcourt contributions helped coach Jason Woodworth’s club offset the defense applied against 6-1 senior center Zach Crouch, who scored 13 points but was limited to three field goals by Jonesport-Beals’ frontcourt duo of 6-3 junior Isaiah Faulkingham and 6-foot classmate Austin Grant
“They were guarding Zach Crouch pretty well,” said Thomas. “They were trapping Zach right away so we knew we’d have to step up.”
Central Aroostook’s defense also came up big, inducing 27 turnovers by a youthful Jonesport-Beals club whose playing rotation that included three freshmen.
“We knew we had to put on a lot of pressure on and just keep pushing,” said Thomas. “We were in foul trouble but we wanted to attack.”
Central Aroostook (13-6) plays No. 1 Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook in Thursday’s 3:35 p.m. semifinal. The Warriors topped No. 8 Greater Houlton Christian 73-50 in their quarterfinal.
Southern Aroostook topped the Panthers 51-45 in last year’s quarterfinals, then defeated Central Aroostook twice during the recently completed regular season: 84-51 on Dec. 9 and 74-56 on Jan. 19.
No. 5 Jonesport-Beals concluded its season with a 11-8 record.
The Royals and Central Aroostook were tied at 26-26 at halftime and remained stalemated at 29-29 after two Faulkingham free throws with 4:36 left in the third quarter.
Then Harris, who scored just two points in the first half, fueled a run of nine straight points by the Panthers.
He took a skip pass from Crouch and scored from the baseline to give his team the lead, then added a scoop shot from the lane and a steal and layup before feeding Thomas for a 3-pointer from the right of the key that gave CAHS a sudden 38-29 cushion.
Jonesport-Beals answered with eight straight points on two baskets each by Faulkingham and junior guard Josef Guptill, but a 3-point play by Crouch with 6:42 left in the game ended the Royals’ run and Central Aroostook went on to outscore Jonesport-Beals 12-4 over the next five minutes.
“It felt good to be back here in Bangor,” said Harris. “Last year we lost in the first game, so it feels good to come down here and get the first one.”
Faulkingham paced Jonesport-Beals offensively with 15 points.