George Stevens Academy had its hands full during Friday’s Class C North boys basketball semifinal against Mattanawcook Academy.
The Eagles from Blue Hill encountered early foul trouble, shot poorly and trailed by seven points early in the fourth quarter. But GSA had an advantage for which there is no substitute: The confidence derived from 15 straight tournament wins.
Third-seeded GSA scored the last seven points of regulation, then put up the first seven points of overtime to outlast No. 2 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln 45-39 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“I thought we had the X factor of being here before and doing it before,” said GSA coach Dwayne Carter, whose 18-3 Eagles will try to claim a fourth consecutive regional championship at 8:45 p.m. Saturday when they face No. 4 Houlton (17-4), a 60-34 winner over No. 8 Sumner on Friday.
The senior-laden Lynx, who lost to Fort Fairfield in last year’s semifinals, wound up 17-4.
The teams split on the regular season, with GSA winning 53-46 on Jan. 12 in Blue Hill and MA taking a 55-53 decision on Feb. 5 in Lincoln.
“We’ve had so much experience [here] and we kind of consider this court our second home court,” said GSA senior guard Percy Zentz, whose 3-pointer with 1:30 left forced overtime. “Every time we come in here, we’re feeling good.”
This time, the determined Lynx could not string together enough plays to prevail.
“If we play that last four minutes, we probably win that seven out of 10 times, but not tonight,” said MA coach Lucas Turner. “We didn’t execute very well, missed shots, and [didn’t get] rebounds.”
GSA finally took charge in OT behind Szwez, who sat out the last 11:05 of the first half after picking up his second foul. The sophomore, who scored seven of his nine points in overtime, opened the scoring with a 12-footer from the lane.
After a missed 3-pointer by the Lynx, who patiently worked for good shots late in regulation and in overtime, a Zentz free throw made it 39-36 with 1:46 to play.
MA quickly missed the front end of a bonus, which eventually led to a Szwez free throw, and a missed MA shot and foul put Szwez back on the foul line. He made both, giving GSA a 42-36 lead with 41.6 seconds to play.
“We felt really comfortable going into overtime because the whole game we didn’t play good offensively and we knew that if we started playing good in the overtime we would win it,” Szwez said.
The Lynx had a final chance to make it a one-possession game, but a 3-pointer rimmed out and GSA’s Isaac Wardwell answered by making the front end of a double bonus.
“That was two teams that played each other twice [before] and kind of knew personnel matchups and how to defend against one another,” Turner said.
GSA demonstrated balance. Junior Caden Mattson netted 11 points, nine of which came in the first half. Zentz finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, senior Reece Dannenberg provided seven points and six rebounds and Wardwell posted six points and six boards. Szwez also grabbed seven rebounds.
GSA shot only 15-for-52 (29 percent) from the the field against MA’s hard-nosed man-to-man defense.
“They were playing great [defense] all game, so we were kind of having a hard time getting into the flow of our offense,” Zentz said. “We just kind of kept with it and then we made it to overtime and hit a couple shots and got a little bit of momentum going.”
The Lynx were led offensively by senior Max Woodman (4 rebounds), who made four 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 16 points. Seniors Nate Ring (8 points, 5 rebounds), Alex Brown (7 points, 7 rebounds) and Cayden Spencer-Thompson (4 points, 5 rebounds) were other key contributors.
MA shot just 30 percent (13-for-44) from the floor.
GSA led 19-18 at halftime despite Szwez and Zentz missing considerable time with two fouls each. It was bolstered by the play of its bench, including Tanner Ashley, Michael Moon, Austin Snow and Eric Mote.
“I thought our bench played great in the second quarter,” Carter said. “We went into halftime with a lead, which was huge.”