Mike Thurston’s game-ending shot from beyond halfcourt against Westbrook in the 1969 Class LL state final not only earned the Caribou boys basketball team its first gold ball but has endured as one of the most memorable moments in Maine sports history.
Fifty years later, the modern-day Vikings will have the opportunity to capture gold ball No. 2.
Junior captain Parker Deprey scored 19 points and senior captain Austin Findlen buried four straight free throws in the game’s final 44 seconds as Caribou knocked off top-ranked and defending state champion Hermon 43-40 and captured the Class B North boys’ crown at the Cross Insurance Center on Saturday afternoon.
“It feels amazing,” Deprey said. “It’s been 50 years since Caribou’s won a gold ball and it feels great now to have this chance.”
The regional title is the first for the second-seeded Vikings (18-3) since their 1983 Eastern Maine Class A title, and the victory sends first-year coach Kyle Corrigan and his club to next Saturday’s 2:45 p.m. state championship game against Cape Elizabeth at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
Cape Elizabeth (14-7) defeated two-time defending Class B South champion Wells 39-38 in the South final.
“The whole community’s been behind us all week,” Corrigan said. “It’s almost tear-jerking to see all the community members come together over a basketball team but I couldn’t be any more proud.”
Hermon (20-1) had its 42-game win streak ended.
“I told the seniors that this one stings but nothing can take away from what they’ve accomplished in the last two years,” said Hermon coach Mark Reed. “This has been a coach’s dream in terms of the kids I’ve been able to work with and the leadership they’ve brought. The things they’ve accomplished, they don’t go away.”
“You play every season to play in the last game of the year. We came up one game short.”
Deprey, a 6-foot-2 forward, scored eight of his points in the fourth quarter at the end of a game-long battle with Hermon standout Isaac Varney as Caribou extended its own winning streak to 15 games.
“Parker played probably the game of his life on the biggest stage in front of the most people he’s ever played in front of,” Corrigan said.
Findlen added 11 points, with his late free throws all coming within a 10.1-second span to help the Vikings maintain a lead they held for more than 28 minutes of the 32-minute contest.
“There were a little nerves,” Findlen said. “But we practice those every single day at the end of practice so I knew I had them.”
Cody Hawes led Hermon with 14 points while Varney scored 11 and Garrett Trask added 10.
Caribou won the battle of the defenses during the first half, inducing seven Hermon turnovers in the second quarter alone while building a 25-15 cushion at intermission.
Caribou also capitalized on its fast-break game, getting 10 points in transition including Isaac Marker’s one-handed dunk after a steal that sparked a 14-2 run over the first 6½ minutes of the second quarter.
Hermon amped up its defense during the third quarter, forcing six Caribou turnovers as the Hawks rallied within 30-28 entering the game’s final eight minutes.
Joel Bergeron’s 3-pointer off a kick-out pass from Varney gave Hermon a 31-30 edge — the Hawks’ first advantage since 7-5 — 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Deprey countered with two 3-pointers as Caribou took a 36-33 lead into the game’s final 2:25.
Hawes then took a steal in for a layup to make it a one-point game, but Deprey scored in a one-on-one battle with Varney off the subsequent inbounding play and Findlen made four straight free throws to offset two by Hawes as Caribou maintained a 42-37 edge with 33 seconds left.
“That’s storybook for Austin,” Corrigan said. “That’s the end of a story for a senior, you want to be on the line to close out the big game and he stepped up and knocked down those free throws. I couldn’t be any happier for him.”
A step-back 3-pointer by Hawes drew Hermon within 42-40 with 15 seconds left, but one free throw by Alex Bouchard restored Caribou’s lead to three points before a 3-point bid by Varney came up short in the final seconds.