Not even a lengthy 3 ½-hour bus ride from Aroostook County could slow down the Fort Kent boys basketball team from advancing to the semifinals.
No. 3 Fort Kent (17-3 overall) started hot, scoring the first 10 points of the game and withstood a strong surge by a determined No. 6 Mattanawcook Academy squad from Lincoln Wednesday morning as the Warriors picked up a 63-48 victory in the Class C North quarterfinals.
Fort Kent faces the winner of No. 2 Dexter vs. No. 7 Central at 8:35 p.m. Friday at the Cross Insurance Center.
In a game of runs, Fort Kent bolted to a 10-0 lead in the opening minutes, only to see Mattanawcook Academy come roaring back with seven straight points of its own in the first quarter. The Warriors closed out the game they way they started with a 10-2 run to advance to the semifinals.
“Our game plan is always to run and gun,” Fort Kent coach Chad Cyr said. “In pretty much every game we go into we are undersized compared to our opponent, so the transition game is the biggest thing for us.”
With seven seniors on the squad, the Warriors have plenty of veteran leadership to rely on. Senior Steven Pierce led the way with 22 points, 17 of which came in the second half and included four of five free throws.
Senior Eden Paradis chipped in 14 points and senior Jace Rocheleau added 10.
“We came out playing like we typically do, but then they [Mattanawcook Academy] started to come back and all of a sudden our boys realized the stage they were on and I think the jitters got to them,” coach Cyr said. “That first half was probably our worst half of basketball all year, but the boys came out and did not disappoint in the second half.”
The coach said Fort Kent has been a strong second-half team in just about every game it played this year, partially because of the many long bus rides the team must take from the top of the state to face opponents. The team actually came down Tuesday evening and spent the night in Bangor to be at the Cross Center bright and early.
Facing a much-taller squad in the Lynx, coach Cyr said his team focused on establishing position in the low post to increase its chances of rebounding.
“We worked hard on our rebounding with competition drills in practice,” he said. “I think we could have done a better job securing the ball, but overall these boys are just witty and gritty.”
Senior Brandon Oliver paced Mattanawcook Academy with 15 points.
The two teams did not meet in the regular season. A season ago, Fort Kent was eliminated in the preliminary round, while MA lost in the semifinals.
Mattanawcook Academy ends its season with a 10-10 overall record.