Dexter’s defense nearly surrendered as many points to Fort Kent in the first half of Friday night’s Class C North semifinal (31) as it had averaged this season for an entire game.
Despite some struggles containing the speedy Warriors, the Tigers eventually buckled down on defense and executed their offense.
Junior guard Parker Ponte took a feed from Nathan Richards and buried a 3-pointer from the right wing with 2.7 seconds left, helping No. 2 Dexter escape with a 55-52 victory at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“It’s one of those moments where if you’re open, you’ve got to shoot it,” Ponte said. “It was quite an experience. I don’t really know how to put it into words.”
Undefeated Dexter (20-0) plays No. 1 Central Aroostook of Mars Hill (16-4) in Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. regional championship game.
Fort Kent, the No. 3 seed, wound up 17-4.
Dexter trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, but the Tigers’ man-to-man defense allowed only 10 points in the last 10 minutes to overcome a determined Warriors ballclub.
Fort Kent’s 1-3-1 trapping press caused headaches throughout for Dexter, which experienced issues with turnovers and fouls.
“We didn’t handle it very well,” Dexter coach Peter Murray said. “I think people just get too hyped up in the moment.”
Dexter eventually settled down and kept the ball in Nathan Richards’ capable hands with the game on the line. The poised senior guard delivered.
Richards, who made six 3-pointers, scored six of his game-high 29 points to spark an 11-0 flurry that gave Dexter it’s first lead (39-36) almost three minutes into the third quarter. He went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the period.
“He can affect a game in so many different ways,” Murray said. “We needed his scoring tonight because we were struggling.”
“I knew I had to step up because we got down early and I made a few big shots and it got us right back into the game,” Richards said.
An undersized Fort Kent team, its energy flagging after an exhausting defense and rebounding effort, never quit. Jace Rocheleau hit a 3-pointer with 1:03 remaining, then scored a layup off his own steal 25 seconds later to tie it 52-52.
Content to take the last shot, Dexter handed the game to Richards. As the clock ticked down, he found Ponte open on the wing.
“The design is for me to go one on one and try to get something out of it and I saw my teammate get free a little bit and I gave him the ball and he made a great shot,” Richards said.
After a timeout, Fort Kent had only 1.9 seconds to get the ball into the frontcourt. A defensive deflection sent the ball to Eden Paradis, whose 3-pointer from the right side hit the rim as the horn sounded.
Brett Kuznierz (8 points, 4 rebounds), Robbie Dorman (7 points, 10 rebounds) and Haedyn Guenther (3 points, 6 rebounds) helped the Tigers protect the rim and rebound against the Warriors’ effective dribble penetration. Ponte finished with six points while Cameron Paige and Will Kuznierz were other contributors.
Rocheleau posted 22 points and eight rebounds to lead Fort Kent, which received 13 points from Paradis and six points and 10 rebounds from Austin Delisle. Even Deschaine and Steven Pierce each snared eight rebounds.
“I think they got tired toward the end and their legs came out from under them,” Fort Kent Chad Cyr said. “I think that might be part of the reason why we were missing some of those layups that we usually capitalize on.”