AUGUSTA, Maine — The upperclassmen on the Traip Academy boys basketball earned the right to play at the Augusta Civic Center for the first time in their careers on Monday night, and one thing was evident from the start.
They liked it.
The eighth-seeded Rangers couldn’t finish off the upset of No. 1 Hall-Dale that would have made them the talk of Maine. After leading by eight at halftime, and having the ball with a chance to take the lead with under two minutes to play, they couldn’t overcome the series of obstacles thrown in front of them and fell, 68-58.
“I’m not disappointed in anyone,” said senior guard Charlie Driscoll, who scored all 20 of his points in the first half. “We’ve never been here before. Some of us were a little nervous. But coming in as the eighth seed, we did our best. We played hard. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
Hall-Dale (18-1) will play fifth-seeded Richmond (14-5) in the regional semifinals here on Thursday night. The Bobcats came from behind to beat No. 4 Dirigo, 64-51, in the earlier quarterfinal.
It’s the second straight time the Bulldogs have ousted Traip (10-10) from the playoffs. The Rangers’ last trip to this tournament — in 2015 — ended with a loss to them in the prelims in Farmingdale, 59-44.
This game bore little resemblance to that one.
Behind the penetrating and outside shooting of Driscoll, the Rangers took a lead in the first quarter and got it up to 10 when freshman Jordan Polanco (12 points) made a 3-pointer on his team’s first possession of the second.
Even with starters Will Stuart (14 points) and Andrew Davis in early foul trouble, Traip closed the half with six straight points — all by Driscoll — to take a 38-30 lead.
“They’re athletic; it’s apparent watching them play,” said Hall-Dale coach Chris Ranslow. “All five guys can really pass, can really cut. They did a nice job early and Driscoll was on fire.”
If the Rangers had a critically bad stretch, it came right after halftime.
They gave up some easy baskets in transition as the Bulldogs scored six straight points, pulled even at 42 when Tyler Nadeau hit the second of two straight threes, and looked to have control of the game when they kept the run going, getting ahead 49-42 after a slashing move by Ashtyn Abbott (19 points).
“Outside of the third quarter, when we knew they’d pick up the pressure, I loved it,” said Traip coach Jeremy Paul. “We didn’t handle a couple things well and during the year, when we had our downs, it was a quick shot and not getting back in transition.
“We settled for a couple threes (during that stretch), watched and didn’t follow, and didn’t get back. That kind of gave them the momentum.”
But the Rangers dug in again. Stuart and Davis hit shots at the end of the quarter to make it a more manageable 49-46 headed to the fourth.
Down eight, the Rangers rolled off an 11-2 run. Davis followed his free-throw miss while getting knocked to the ground and finished a three-point play, and Polanco put the Rangers back on top, 57-56, when he nailed a three from the corner.
But they were losing the war of attrition. Their bench objected loudly to a pair of player control fouls assessed on Driscoll, who’d foul out with 3:34 to go. Davis was also playing with four.
“We were tired out there,” said Driscoll. “They had a little more subs than us. But it comes down to taking smart shots; that’s why you’re not gassed and (you can) save some of your energy for defense.”
In the end, the final separation was created by a Hall-Dale sub. Jett Boyer, who finished with 11 points off the bench, made a pair of 3-pointers with under two minutes to go. Alec Byron finished his nice night inside with 18 points.
But the Rangers earned some respect, even if they didn’t a win.
“They’ve got some good players in this tournament,” said Ranslow. “Driscoll and Stuart and (Dalan) Hubbard are no different.”
“I don’t think anybody thought we’d be in the game with those guys,” said Paul. “To come out and play as well as we did, for the full 32 minutes, that’s all we could ask of the guys.”
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