There was joy, but no real surprise, in the eyes of the Machias Bulldogs on Thursday night.
Despite starting five underclassmen — who remembered but did not dwell on two regular-season blowout losses to Jonesport-Beals — there was instead a quiet confidence.
That was among the qualities that helped Machias fend off repeated challenges by a senior-laded Jonesport-Beals team to post a stunning 79-60 Class D North semifinal victory at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“We were the only ones who thought we’d win,” Machias sophomore Kashman Feeney said. “I don’t even think any of our fans thought we’d pull that game off, but we did.”
The fourth-seeded Bulldogs (11-8) advance to Saturday’s 10:45 regional championship game, where they will play No. 6 Easton (13-6), a 50-48 winner over No. 7 Deer Isle-Stonington on Thursday.
Jonesport-Beals, which finished at 18-1, won the regular-season matchups by an average of 33.5 points. This time, Machias was prepared both physically and mentally.
“I think in the first part we were [nervous], then we settled down and got control of the game, of the tempo,” sophomore Kyle Anderson said. “We did very well handling their pressure.”
When it successfully negotiated the Royals’ three-quarter-court press, Machias executed impressively. The Bulldogs shot 21-for-33 for the game (64 percent), including 18-for-24 over the first three quarters.
The Bulldogs went 34-for-46 (74 percent) from the foul line and made 18 of 25 in the fourth quarter alone.
“Mental toughness-wise, this is the best group I’ve ever had,” Machias coach James Getchell said. “For a bunch of young kids, they’re just rock solid mentally.”
All five starters scored in double figures for the winners, led by freshman guard Ethan Foss, who posted 23 points and seven rebounds. Left-handed forwards Anderson (7 rebounds) and Feeney (11 rebounds), scored 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Sophomore guard Jayden Rhodes (5 rebounds) netted 12 points and freshman Shane Feeney (5 rebounds) tallied 10 points.
Machias committed 22 turnovers, which led directly to 19 points for Jonesport-Beals, which could not get enough stops to string together substantial scoring runs.
The Bulldogs used a 2-3 zone defense that did a solid job of clogging up the paint, contesting drives and forcing the Royals to shoot jump shots. Jonesport-Beals struggled to a 23-for-81 shooting night (28 percent), including 8-for-38 (21 percent) from the 3-point arc.
“We were going to pack the paint, give them no easy baskets,” Getchell said. “The first two times we played them they got a lot of easy baskets on us. We changed our strategy a little bit. The kids really bought into the plan and I’m really proud of them.”
The Royals fired up a lot of threes late in the game as they tried to erase a deficit that was double figures most of the second half. Senior Marc Crowley hit five of his eight 3-pointers in the final period en route to a game-high 24 points.
Adam Robinson contributed nine points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the Royals, who also got nine points, four rebounds and four steals from Alvin Beal Jr. and eight points each from Kaiden Crowley (7 rebounds, 4 assists) and Ryan Alley (7 rebounds).
After spotting J-B a 7-0 lead, Machias embarked on a 29-8 extended run to take the upper hand at 29-15 three minutes into the second quarter.
It wasn’t until midway through the third that the Bulldogs gained control — after the Royals had battled back to within one at 37-36. Anderson scored nine points to key an 18-3 barrage that gave Machias a 55-39 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Behind Crowley’s 3-point shooting, J-B got back within eight briefly, but the Bulldogs used patience and the foul line to put the game out of reach.