PORTLAND—The Deering boys’ basketball team was able to achieve its goals of making the playoffs and advancing to the Cumberland County Civic Center for the Western Class A semifinals for the first time in five seasons, but the road came to a disappointing end Wednesday evening despite a valiant effort.
The seventh-ranked Rams went toe-to-toe with the talented and confident second-seeded Bonny Eagle Scots in a thrilling first half, but an offense that clicked so well the first 16 minutes, stagnated in the second half and the Scots rode an 11-0 run to a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Deering battled back within four on a resounding dunk from senior Jamie Ross with 1:22 to play, but could get no closer as the Scots made five free throws down the stretch to hold on for a 43-34 victory.
Bonny Eagle (17-3) advanced to meet top-ranked Cheverus (20-0), the defending Class A champion, in the Western A Final Saturday at 9 p.m. , at the Civic Center.
The Rams’ season ended at 11-9.
“(Bonny Eagle) hit shots and in the third quarter, we got away from what was working offensively and they made that spurt to go up six and sat on the lead,” said Deering coach Dan LeGage. “They played really well. It’s like they’re a team of destiny.”
Back and forth
Deering was reeling down the stretch, losing four of its last five to wind up 10-8 and sixth in the region, but the Rams rediscovered their mojo Saturday with an inspirational 41-33 victory over No. 3 Thornton Academy in the quarterfinals, the program’s first playoff win in five seasons.
Bonny Eagle has been a surprise in the eyes of most, winning an unexpected 15 contests, good for the No. 2 seed. The Scots raced to an early lead against No. 7 Westbrook and rolled to a 48-33 win.
The teams met back on Opening Night, Dec. 10, in Portland, where Deering let a halftime lead slip away in a 44-41 loss. The teams’ last playoff meeting came in the 2005 quarterfinals (a 44-39 Deering triumph). They also met in the 1993 quarterfinals (a 69-65 Rams’ victory).
Wednesday, all of Bonny Eagle’s weapons were on display and the Scots simply had too much for Deering to counter.
The first half was a testament to how enjoyable basketball can be when there’s a great flow and the officials ignore their whistles. In the opening 16 minutes, there were a grand total of two fouls called and the teams combined for 46 points and a mere five turnovers.
The Rams took the lead when senior Jackson Frey scored on a putback 48 seconds in. Scots junior Cole Libby answered with a 3, but junior Jon Amabile scored on a putback for a 4-3 lead.
At the other end, Bonny Eagle’s superb freshman, Dustin Cole, made a 3 from beyond NBA range, but Deering countered on a jump shot from junior Patrick Green. The Scots went back on top on senior Steven Simonds’ jumper, but Green tied it with a jump shot, Frey made a layup and sophomore Labson Abwoch hit a bank shot to give the Rams their biggest lead of the game, 12-8.
Bonny Eagle rallied to tie the score after one period on a layup from Simonds and a beautiful pass from Simonds to Cole for a layup off an inbounds set as time expired.
The game remained tight in the second period.
A leaner from Ross put the Rams back on top 31 seconds in. After Cole answered with a leaner, Green connected for a 3-ball to make it 17-14. A layup from senior Jeff Arnell pulled the Scots back within one, but Ross countered with a little hook shot.
Back-to-back jumpers from senior Levi Meggison, who gave Bonny Eagle solid play all night, put the Scots back in front, 20-19. Ross scored on a putback, but Cole answered with another 3. A Ross layup tied the game at 23-23 and that was the halftime score.
In the first two periods, there were five ties and seven lead changes. There was also not a single made free throw.
“In the first half, probably half (the Rams’) points were off offensive rebounds,” said Bonny Eagle coach Phil Bourassa. “I told them to just box out and we’ll be fine. That ended up being the case.”
In the third period, the Scots kept their offense clicking, while the Rams weren’t able to keep up.
Deering did retake the lead for the final time on a Green 3 44 seconds in, but the Rams wouldn’t score again for 5 minutes, 17 seconds and Bonny Eagle took advantage.
A 3-ball from Libby tied the score. Then, with 6:18 to go in the third, Libby scored on a leaner to put the Scots ahead to stay. Meggison made a layup and Cole hit a jumper, forcing LeGage to call timeout, but with 2:33 left, Meggison made a leaner to push the advantage to eight, 34-26.
Finally, with 1:59 remaining in the period, a Ross putback got Deering back on track. Thirty-three seconds later, sophomore Thiwat Thiwat hit a jumper to pull the Rams within four, but as time expired, for the second time in three quarters, Bonny Eagle got a backbreaking hoop at the horn as Cole, under intense pressure from Green, somehow managed to drain a fadeaway jump shot for a 36-30 lead.
“The Cole kid did a nice job,” LeGage said. “He showed a lot of poise and maturity for a young player. I thought we had him pretty good, but he buried that shot.”
Deering’s offensive woes continued in the fourth, as it made just two field goals.
The Scots pushed the lead back to eight, 38-30, when Libby made a layup 41 seconds in, but they went cold as well, not scoring for six minutes. In that time, however, the Rams could only chip four points off the deficit.
With 3:25 to go, Ross was fouled after an offensive rebound, but he missed both foul shots.
Finally, with 1:37 remaining, a jumper from Amabile (just the third and fourth points of the game for the SMAA’s fourth-leading scorer) made it 38-32 and ended another long (7 minute, 49 second) drought.
That basket momentarily sparked Deering as Ross made a steal, raced in and slammed the ball home to make it 38-34 with 1:22 to play.
But as they’ve done all year, the poised Scots didn’t buckle.
“A dunk is two points, just like a layup,” Bourassa said. “Our kids don’t get rattled by that stuff.”
With 1:13 to play, Cole went to the line and in a statistical marvel, made the first free throws of the night with the game nearly over. Those shots extended the lead to six and at the other end, a Frey shot was blocked by Meggison.
With 1:05 to go, Arnell went to the line with a chance to make it a three possession game, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one. At the other end, Amabile’s 3-point attempt from beyond NBA range was an airball and Bonny Eagle regained the ball.
With 46.2 seconds left, Cole had a chance to put it away, but he too missed the front end of a one-and-one.
With 25 seconds to go, Cole got another opportunity and this time sank both free throws. One more foul shot from Meggison with 11.7 seconds remaining brought the curtain down on Deering’s season and gave the Scots the 43-34 victory.
“I think we took our foot off the gas pedal a little too early, but down the stretch, I’ll give the kids credit, we stepped up and made free throws,” said Bourassa.
“We went a little bit cold in the fourth quarter,” LeGage lamented. “That was attributable to their defense. They did a good job against Amabile. They did a nice job down low with Labson. We played hard defensively the whole game. We just had a couple missed checkouts where they got free. They made some tough shots where we had guys all over them. They do a very good job handling the ball.”
The Rams got a tremendous effort from Ross in his swan song, as he had 12 points, 12 rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal.
“I thought that’s the best I’ve ever seen Jamie play,” said LeGage.
Green, who had an excellent first half, finished with 10 points, two steals and two boards.
Amabile was held to four points. Frey also had four, while Abwoch and Thiwat (four rebounds) had two apiece. The Rams only turned the ball over six times, but went 0 for 4 from the foul line.
Deering’s record doesn’t reflect how far it came this season and the Rams will have to be taken very seriously in 2011-12.
“We haven’t been here in a few years,” said LeGage. “I think these guys, to their credit, in an up-and-down season, they let the downs go and focused on the next game. I think that’s why we got down here. They didn’t dwell.
“We have Amabile, Green, Labson and Thiwat and some other guys coming back. For them to get down here and see how hard you have to work to get here and to win here is good for them. The goal’s always to get down here. We have a nice core coming back and hopefully this will motivate them in the offseason to work really hard and get back here.”
Bonny Eagle was paced by its superstar-in-the-making, Cole, who had 16 points and played with the poise of an upperclassman.
“I don’t consider him a freshman,” said Bourassa. “He’s a great player. He has an incredible skill set. We expect the world from him. Maybe game one against Deering, he played a little bit like a freshman, but now he’s definitely playing really well.”
Libby added 10 points, five boards and a block. Meggison was solid with nine points, eight rebounds, three blocks and a steal. Simonds had six points (eight boards and two steals) and Arnell finished with two points (five rebounds and a steal). The Scots turned the ball over just 11 times and made 5 of 8 foul shot attempts.
“Having three good guards is clutch,” Bourassa said. “Especially ones who can hit free throws and handle the ball.”
Bonny Eagle moves on to the regional final for the first time this century against a Cheverus squad which suddenly looks vulnerable. The Scots played their worst game of the season at home versus the Stags on Jan. 13, a 63-34 loss that was over after one quarter (25-1).
Bonny Eagle is a much more confident team now, however, and awaits the opportunity to win and move on to the state final for the first time since 1995.
“We’re excited, but we’re not satisfied by any means,” Bourassa said. “We look forward to the opportunity.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @foresports
Deering sophomore Labson Abwoch attempts a shot inside while defended by Bonny Eagle senior Steve Simonds.
Deering senior Jamie Ross draws a charge against Bonny Eagle junior Cole Libby.
Deering junior Jon Amabile makes a pass out of the reach of Bonny Eagle junior Cole Libby.
Deering senior Jackson Frey goes to the hoop against Bonny Eagle senior Cameron McKague.
Deering sophomore Thiwat Thiwat looks to pass out to the perimeter as he’s defended by Bonny Eagle senior Jeff Amell.
Deering junior Pat Green goes up for a layup against the defense of Bonny Eagle freshman Dustin Cole during Wednesday night’s Western Maine Class A semifinal game at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Despite a solid effort from Green and his teammates, the Rams’ season ended at 11-9 after a 43-34 loss to the Scots.
More photos below.