BANGOR, Maine — In a 2018 tournament where low-scoring games were the norm, the George Stevens Academy boys basketball team often looks like an offensive juggernaut by comparison.
But make no mistake about it, defense was the catalyst Saturday night as the top-ranked Eagles captured their third consecutive Class C North championship with a 62-39 victory over No. 2 Fort Fairfield at the Cross Insurance Center.
“We were talking before the game about how we knew this was our last game here, so we really wanted to come out and set the tempo early,” said senior guard Taylor Schildroth who, along with classmates Max Mattson and Stefan Simmons, have been at the forefront of a program that will attempt to win its third state crown next Saturday night when GSA faces Class C South champion Hall-Dale of Farmingdale at the Augusta Civic Center.
“We wanted to make it known that no one else should be coming from the North except for us so we ramped it up more than usual and the defense was really there tonight.”
GSA used pressure defense to score the first seven points of the game and build a 24-11 lead by the end of the first quarter en route to its 20th consecutive victory since a season-opening loss at Lee Academy.
The Eagles forced seven early Fort Fairfield turnovers that often turned into layups for standout senior guard Schildroth, who scored 14 of his game-high 29 points in the opening eight minutes, nearly all coming in transition off takeaways.
“We were tired tonight and I realized early that the 3 wasn’t falling,” said Schildroth, who shot 13 of 25 from the field but just 2 of 11 from beyond the arc. “But our defense helped and we got a lot of fast-break points.”
George Stevens then scored the first 12 points of the second quarter to extend its advantage to 36-11, and a Fort Fairfield team coming off a hard-fought semifinal victory over Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln a night earlier found itself unable to match the Eagles’ defensive energy level.
“We played an athletic Mattanawcook team (Friday night) and worked our guts out,” said Fort Fairfield coach Logan McLaughlin. “I think (GSA’s) overall size and quickness got to us and we just weren’t there tonight.
“But no one would have ever written us to get this far into the bracket, and for us to get here and play as well as we did … I wish we would have given George Stevens a better game but we just had no gas left in the tank and ran up against a dang good team.”
Mattson, GSA’s 6-foot-6 senior center, added 12 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots while controlling the defensive paint, while junior forward Percy Zentz finished with eight points.
Fort Fairfield senior guard Isaac Cyr, who scored his 1,000th career point in the semifinals and averaged 25.5 points in the Tigers’ first two tournament games, was limited to a team-high 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting by a combination of foul trouble and the defensive tenacity of GSA sophomore Caden Mattson.
“The plan was to go right at them defensively and keep the ball out of Isaac Cyr’s hands,” said George Stevens coach Dwayne Carter. “Caden just face-guarded him the whole time, and if (Cyr) gave the ball up we didn’t want to let him get it back.
“We were going to make the other kids beat us.”
Senior forward Jared Harvey added seven points and senior center Liam McNamee scored six for Fort Fairfield, which reached a regional final for the third time in four years but fell to George Stevens for the second straight year with a C North crown on the line.
The 18-3 Tigers shot just 25 percent (13 of 52) from the field for the game.
“Coming in we wanted to run on them and press as much as possible,” said Caden Mattson.
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