PORTLAND, Maine — The Bangor High School boys basketball team set lofty goals for itself this winter, aspirations that seemed particularly high given that the storied program had not won a single tournament game since 2012.
But this collection of veterans formed a bond that proved unstoppable as the Rams met every goal they set for themselves, including the big one — a state championship.
The gold-ball ceremony the Rams longed for came at the Cross Insurance Arena late Saturday night after Damien Vance scored 20 points and Matt Fleming added 19 to lead Bangor past Bonny Eagle of Standish 58-48 to capture the Class AA boys basketball state championship.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Fleming, the senior forward who with his family moved to the Bangor area from western Maine in 2017 and was the catalyst for the Rams’ resurgence. “I honestly can’t put into words how great it is for a group of guys like us who love each other so much and want to do this for each other to have it all pan out the way we wanted it to.”
Bangor never trailed in this final step of its title trek after scoring the game’s first six points, although first-year head coach Brad Libby and his club had to withstand a late Bonny Eagle comeback. The run cut what was a double-digit deficit to three points before the Rams closed it out by making 8 of 9 free throws in the final 78 seconds.
“We were definitely clutch from the free-throw line,” said Bangor senior forward Noah Missbrenner, “and I think our chemistry took us a long ways. We’ve been together for two years now, we didn’t have a senior last year, and working together for the last two years made us a special team and kept us composed at times like these.”
The victory capped a 20-2 season for Bangor, which won its 13th state championship overall and first since 2011. It also marked the Rams’ first Class AA crown in the four-year existence of that large-school division.
Bonny Eagle, seeking its first state championship since 1970, finished 18-4.
“We just needed to make shots earlier,” said first-year Bonny Eagle head coach John Trull, a former junior varsity basketball coach at Bangor under Ed Kohtala. “I knew my guys were a tough group and would make a run, but it was just too much to overcome.”
Bangor’s chemistry was most pronounced on the defensive end, where they teamed up to contest Bonny Eagle guards Zach Maturo and sophomore Jacob Humphrey, the Scots’ leading scorers throughout the winter.
Vance, a senior guard who became a 1,000-point scorer at Bangor after a freshman year at neighboring Brewer High School, kept track of the flashy Maturo while rangy junior forward Henry Westrich worked to contain Humphrey’s 3-point shooting ways.
The Bonny Eagle duo combined for 30 points, but just 18 during the first three quarters as Bangor built a 41-28 lead.
“I’m just so proud of everyone on the defensive end of the floor,” said Libby, whose team allowed an average of just 44.3 points in its four tournament wins after yielding 49.2 points per game during the regular season.
“Maturo’s a dynamic player and Damien did a good job on the ball, but more importantly we had great help-side defense behind him with Matt stepping up and then the next guy rotating in. He got his, but I think we made everything they got hard.”
Vance also worked his way into the lane to pick up much of the offensive slack while Fleming sat out the final 5:02 of the first half after drawing his second foul. Then that duo combined for 14 of Bangor’s fourth-quarter points to hold off Bonny Eagle in this sometimes chippy contest.
“They’re a really scrappy team and one of their tactics was to get in our heads,” said Westrich. “You just can’t let them get to you, and I don’t think we did.”
Missbrenner added nine points for Bangor while Westrich scored six in support of Vance and Fleming offensively.
Maturo led Bonny Eagle with 19 points while Humphrey finished with 11.
Vance scored 10 points to lead Bangor to a 23-17 halftime lead.
The Rams jumped out to a 9-2 lead behind five points from Fleming and two each from Vance and Missbrenner as Bonny Eagle had difficulty penetrating Bangor’s defense.
The lead was 11-5 at the end of the quarter and grew to 19-7 on a baseline move by Fleming midway through the second period.
But when Bangor’s Mr. Maine Basketball finalist, who also contributed 10 rebounds and five blocked shots, picked up his second foul Bonny Eagle amped up its defensive pressure and rallied back into contention as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Missbrenner scored seven third-quarter points as Bangor re-asserted its command, but Bonny Eagle outscored Bangor 9-1 to close within 42-37 on a fast-break layup by Humphrey with less than five minutes left.
Vance scored on an offensive rebound and a baseline jumper to restore Bangor to a 46-37 cushion, but Bonny Eagle kept coming.
The Scots forced three straight Bangor turnovers and scored six consecutive points to draw within 46-43 with 1:55 left.
Bangor came out of a timeout and got the ball to Fleming, and he scored from the baseline to end the run, then Vance drove to the basket and Bangor had a 51-43 edge with 1:18 to go, and they did the rest of the work at the free-throw line.
“We called a timeout there and all I said to the guys was you’ve got to stick together,” said Libby. “If we stick together and give it everything we’ve got in these last few minutes, we’re going to end up state champs.”