With the game on the line, Dexter boys basketball coach Peter Murray wants the ball in the hands of Nathan Richards.
The senior guard made sure on Wednesday that the Tigers didn’t make an early exit from the Class C North tournament.
Richards scored eight fourth-quarter points, including some key free throws, to lift No. 2 Dexter to a 39-36 victory over No. 7 Central of Corinth at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“I’m the one who keeps the string going and it’s my job to make sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing and doing it right,” said Richards, who went 9-for-14 from the foul line overall, but 4-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
“It’s painful to watch as a person and as a player,” he said of that effort.
Dexter takes a 19-0 record in an 8:30 p.m. Friday semifinal against No. 3 Fort Kent (16-3), which beat No. 6 Mattanawcook Academy on Wednesday.
The Tigers didn’t shoot well, but their man-to-man defense limited the Red Devils to 13 second-half points.
“There were times that we were careless and we forced shots and we were not smart with the ball,” said Central coach Riley Donovan, whose team committed 12 turnovers.
“I think Dexter’s defense was phenomenal.”
Richards gave Dexter the lead for good with two free throws at the 2:01 mark, then made two front ends in bonus situations down the stretch, including the last one with 15 seconds to play that made it 39-36.
Central (13-7) had a final possession, but Alex Hewitt found himself in traffic at the 3-point arc and his shot came up short as time expired.
“It’s just good, old-fashioned Penquis League basketball,” Murray said. “You just grind it out and you’ve got to win ugly and that’s what it was.”
Richards led the Tigers with 13 points and four rebounds, while Robby Dorman contributed 10 points and four rebounds. Parker Ponte added six points and Haedyn Guenther grabbed nine rebounds to go with a free throw.
Scotty Ferrie’s strong inside play paced Central and he finished with a game-high 15 points and nine rebounds. Bryce Burns posted eight points and five boards, Simon Allen netted seven points and Chandler Willard chipped in with five points and 10 rebounds.
Dexter had beaten Central twice during the regular season by an average of 16 points.
The Tigers pulled in front with a 9-3 run in the final period. Brett Kuznierz converted a low-post move, then a Guenther free throw gave Dexter a 31-30 lead.
Allen stuck a 3-pointer for Central, but Richards made a seven-footer from the baseline, then sank two free throws and Ponte converted two foul shots to make it 37-33 with 1:29 to play.
“Nathan’s our senior, our go-to guy,” Murray said. “We’re going to put it in his hands and see what happens.”
A Ferrie free throw got Central back within 37-34 with 1:18 left, then Richards made the first of two foul shots, but Ferrie countered for the Red Devils with a bucket off a lob pass from Hewitt that cut Dexter’s lead to 38-36 with 40.6 seconds remaining.
Two missed foul shots and an offensive rebound tie-up kept the ball with Dexter and Richards’ last foul shot provided the margin of victory.