Deering leaves Bonny Eagle Green with envy
PORTLAND—Eleven years ago, the Deering boys' basketball program was the victim of one of the most storied and (from the Rams' perspective) cruel buzzer beaters in the history of the state tournament when its quest for a first state championship was torn asunder by Bangor's Joe Campbell in improbable fashion at the horn.
Saturday evening, Deering got to experience the other, far more delirious side of such a shot and as a result, is making plans to compete for a state championship this coming weekend.
The top-ranked Rams and No. 3 Bonny Eagle Scots put on a 32-minute show in the Western Class A Final at the Cumberland County Civic Center. One where both teams appeared to have the upper hand, only to lose it in a split second.
Deering took an early lead, but back came Bonny Eagle in the second quarter and the Scots had a 25-19 advantage at halftime. When Bonny Eagle scored the first five points of the third period, the Rams were in serious trouble, but Deering embarked on a 13-0 run to take a 32-30 lead into the fourth period where the Scots scored the first four points to seemingly get the upper hand again.
After a controversial, game-changing technical foul on Bonny Eagle coach Phil Bourassa, the Rams retook the lead and held it until the Scots went back on top with 1:27 to go. Again, Deering went ahead and stayed there until 30 seconds remained when Bonny Eagle tied the game with a 3-pointer.
With overtime looming and junior Labson Abwoch on the bench with five fouls, Deering needed to win in regulation, but the Rams weren't able to run the play they had designed.
With five seconds to go, senior Pat Green, who was a force in this tournament, got the ball and got moving. He sped past a defender and from just behind the 3-point line, leaned in and released a shot that found nothing but net as the horn sounded, giving the Rams a palpitating 45-42 win and exorcising the ghost of Joe Campbell and the Bangor Auditorium once and for all.
Green led Deering with 17 points, but it took a complete team effort for the Rams to improve to 18-3, end Bonny Eagle's year at 17-4 and set up a Class A state game showdown with 20-1 Hampden Academy Saturday at 7 p.m., at the Civic Center.
"It was an unbelievable experience," said exhilarated and exhausted Deering coach Dan LeGage. "The fans saw all that was good about high school sports. Tonight was one of those things if you saw this game, you saw all that's good. You saw character, determination, resiliency, togetherness, kids stepping up, no quit. All the things you hope they get out of their high school experience, you saw it."
Nice to be back
This winter, Deering, which got to the semifinals a year ago, lived up to its reputation as the favorite by winning its first nine games. After a 49-40 loss at Cheverus on Jan. 13, the Rams won three more, then dropped a 39-35 home decision to Portland. After three more victories, Deering was humbled at Portland in the regular season finale, 46-22.
The Rams still managed to earn the top seed for the tournament and after trailing at halftime, erupted in the second half to down No. 9 Biddeford, 66-54, in the quarterfinals. Friday night, in the semifinals against defending regional champion, No. 4 Cheverus, Deering raced to a 10-1 lead and held on for dear life at the end to advance, 52-49.
Bonny Eagle made it all the way to the regional final last season and didn't disappoint this winter, going 15-3 (losing only to visiting Portland and Deering and at Biddeford) to earn the No. 3 seed. The Scots dominated No. 6 Marshwood in the quarterfinals, 61-40, and rode a 16-2 start to a 54-39 semifinal round win over No. 7 South Portland in Friday's semifinals.
The teams' last playoff meeting was a year ago, in the semifinals, where Bonny Eagle pulled away in the second half to win, 43-34.
On Dec. 30, in Standish, Deering escaped the Scots, 57-55, in overtime.
Saturday, the Rams' quest for their first trip to the state final in six seasons was realized in a way that no scriptwriter would have dared dream up.
Bonny Eagle scored first, on a jumper from junior C.J. Autry, but Deering heated up as senior Jon Amabile set up junior Thiwat Thiwat for a layup, Amabile buried a jumper and Abwoch took a pass from Green on an inbounds pass and made a layup for a 6-2 advantage.
Autry countered with two free throws, but after senior Cal London got an offensive rebound, Thiwat made a layup. Scots sophomore standout Dustin Cole hit a leaner, but again the Rams answered as Green made a jumper for a 10-6 lead.
After Bonny Eagle senior star Cole Libby stole a pass and raced in for a dunk, Green hit a leaner in the lane, but in the final minute, Cole passed to Autry for a 3 and the Scots were only down one, 12-11, after one.
In the second period, Bonny Eagle earned some separation.
After London hit a leaner over two minutes in to push the lead to three, Libby made a 3, senior Evan Arnell made a jumper and Cole hit a pullup jumper for an 18-14 lead, forcing LeGage to call timeout.
It didn't help as Cole stole the ball and pulled up for a 3 and after a steal from junior Jon Thomas, Cole made a layup for a 23-14 advantage with 2:56 to play in the half.
An old-fashioned three-point play from Abwoch (spinner, foul and free throw) ended the 12-0 run, but freshman Ben Malloy made a jump shot for Bonny Eagle. An Abwoch layup with a little over a minute to go, cutting the deficit to six, 25-19, was followed by Abwoch's third foul, making Deering's comeback quest in the second half even more daunting.
"We turned the ball over more than we usually do and they made shots," said LeGage.
When Thomas scored on a putback and Autry hit another 3 with 6:24 remaining in the third period, the Scots were on the verge of pulling away.
The Rams were on the ropes, but like Muhammad Ali in his prime, they rose off those ropes with a vengeance and fought back.
Our of a timeout, Thiwat scored on a leaner. Abwoch added a free throw and Green, from London, buried a 3-ball to cut the deficit to 30-25 and force Bonny Eagle to call timeout.
It didn't stem the tide.
With 4:03 to play in the quarter, Green sank another 3. A mere 28 seconds later, Amabile, driving to the hoop, managed to bank home a shot to tie the score.
"We couldn't look at the score," said Amabile. "We didn't play the scoreboard. We chiseled away and got back in it and got the lead. We had to stop Cole and Libby and do our things. Everyone worked hard and stayed focused."
"We got down 30-19 and all of sudden you could kind of hear rumblings, but we never lost faith in ourselves," said LeGage. "The kids put the work in. I think our program works harder than anybody. We start in June and really get after it in the weight room, in the summer, through the fall. These guys have bought in. I knew we weren't playing well and we said to the guys to dig in because there was still a lot of game left. We needed to dig in on defense and rebound. I told them we'd play better and to stick with it. That's where the resiliency, character and refuse to lose attitude came in."
The run was marred by Abwoch's fourth foul with 1:19 to go, but 30 seconds later, a leaner from London put Deering on top, 32-30, a score which held into the fourth period.
There, the two heavyweights traded punches until the bitter end.
With 6:29 to play, Cole hit a jump shot, ending the Rams' 13-0 run and a 7 minute, 55 second scoring drought.
With 5:34 left, Thomas scored on a driving left-handed layup and the Scots were back in front, 34-32.
After nearly two scoreless minutes, the most fateful official's call of the regional tournament helped Deering retake the lead.
After Amabile took a pass from Green in transition, he was fouled by Malloy on a drive, but before he could shoot the free throws, an official quickly T'd up Bourassa, giving Amabile four shots instead of two. He made them all and the Rams had a 36-34 advantage.
After the game, Bourassa was dumbfounded as to the reason for the technical.
"I was in the (coach's) box and I never said a word," Bourassa said. "I never said a word. I asked (the official) to explain and he never explained. I didn't look even look at him because I know he has a quick whistle. It was very frustrating."
Abwoch fouled out with 2:38 to play, but the Scots couldn't convert as Cole missed a jumper and London got the rebound. With 2:06 left, London made two foul shots to stretch the lead to 38-34.
Thirteen seconds later, Cole hit a fadeaway jumper, was fouled and made the free throw and suddenly, it was a one-point game again.
After Amabile missed a shot for the Rams, Cole hit a running bank shot with 1:27 to go and Bonny Eagle had retaken the lead, 39-38.
That advantage lasted all of 13 seconds before Green made a runner from the baseline to make it 40-39 Deering.
After a Bonny Eagle turnover, Green was fouled and hit both free throw attempts. With 42.2 seconds left, it looked like the Rams were about to salt away a win.
But it wasn't meant to come that easily.
The Scots came down the floor and nearly turned the ball over as Cole dribbled the ball off his foot and dove after it on the floor. Green and Amabile both went for the steal, so when Cole got possession and passed to Libby, Libby spotted a wide-open Malloy and he drained a 3-ball to make it 42-42 with 30.6 seconds to play.
That set the stage for the winner.
Our of a timeout, Rams sophomore Chhorda Chhorn dribbled the ball up the floor, passed to Amabile and at the 10-second mark, Chhorn got it back. As the clock hit 5 seconds, Green took the ball near midcourt and drove down the right side, getting a step on Cole. Stopping just before the 3-point stripe, Green momentarily hesitated in mid-air, then let loose with 1.3 seconds to go.
The shot was a line drive and didn't look promising from a Deering perspective, but with 0.2 seconds on the clock, it found nothing but net, time ran out and Green, the newly minted hero, ran down the floor exulting before being mobbed by his teammates and coaches (getting a bloody nose in the melee).
"It's definitely the thrill of my young life," Green said. "It's an unbelievable feeling. Surreal. I think every high school player visualizes a game winning shot. It was amazing. We drew it up for Thiwat, but things broke down. Having the shot clocks (above the baskets) helps a lot. I saw time running down. I made my move with about five seconds left. Credit to Dustin, he locked me up all night, but I got free for a little bit and tossed it up there. I felt it. Toward the end of the game, I felt myself heating up a little bit."
"We were supposed to run a play, it didn't work out," Amabile said. "Pat took a shot and it went in. It's the best shot I've ever seen. I didn't think it was going in, but it dropped."
"It's definitely what everyone dreams about," London said. "Pat hit a great shot. He was awesome today. We're all proud of him. I was actually up top. It was supposed to be set up for Jon. Time was running down and Pat took the ball and made the shot. We piled on him. He got a bloody nose, but it was worth it. He's happy. We're happy. I thought it was too low. I thought it would hit front rim, then it went in. For a second, I didn't know it was real, then I heard the buzzer. We've put it together. We had our slumps today, but we came back and grinded it out."
LeGage was thrilled with the identity of the hero.
"It couldn't have happened to a nicer kid," said LeGage. "Pat Green epitomizes what a high school athlete should be. He's an unbelievable student and citizen. I can't take any credit. It was all Patrick. We were trying to run some clock and with about 12 seconds to go, run a cross in the paint where we wanted to isolate a big in the post, but the cross broke down and Thiwat couldn't get to where he needed to on the block. Patrick had his head up, saw that and the rest was all him. It was storybook. It looked like it didn't have enough trajectory. He was hanging in the air and shot it one-handed. It was amazing. The fans got a treat.
"We won (the region) in '05 and (the state title in) '06 and it was a great experience, then from '06 through to now, we never fell out of the conversation," LeGage said. "As a coach, when you sit back and assess how we're doing as a program and if you can say we're always part of a conversation, that's the mark of a good program. We've had some tough breaks. We had our best player break their ankle. Twice. We've paid our dues. These kids deserve all the credit in the world for working as hard as they have. That was one of the most incredible things I've ever been a part of. It couldn't have happened to a greater bunch of kids than these kids. They're just a joy."
The celebration continued as Green was the last to take part in the net cutting ceremony, waving over his head to the Rams' faithful the twine his shot had recently tickled.
"I got bumped in the nose and had a bloody nose, but to have my team with me, it's the best feeling," Green said. "I made the shot, but credit to the team."
Deering is the Western Class A champion.
"I've worked on this for four years, ever since I've been in high school," Amabile said. "It feels so good. I didn't imagine how good it could feel."
"We had to regroup," said Green. "We knew this was it, it was all or nothing. All our chips were in. We've tried to prove everybody wrong."
Green, who had the game's final seven points, led all scorers with 17 points. He had all three of the Rams' 3-pointers and also had two rebounds and a steal.
Abwoch had eight points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal in his limited action. Amabile was held to eight points. He compensated with a game-high nine rebounds.
In the postgame, Amabile was presented with the George Vinall Award as the outstanding player-sportsman of the regional tournament. The award honors a former official and one-time Deering athletic director.
"Our program isn't here without (Jon)," LeGage said. "Our stature as a top five team, always in the hunt, isn't here without Jon. We're not even close. Jon's a scorer. He's a tough kid. He gets a lot of respect and attention. He scores a lot of points. I think he's played better defense in the tournament and has done a better job rebounding."
London continued his recent stellar play with six points and six boards.
"Cal's stepped up so much in the last part of the season," Green said.
Thiwat had six points, five rebounds and two blocks.
The Rams had a 26-18 rebounding advantage and made an impressive 10-of-11 free throws, while turning the ball over 18 times.
"We had foul trouble, but we had other guys step up," LeGage. (Junior) Dominic (Lauture) played well. Cal, for a second night in a row, made plays."
For Bonny Eagle, Cole led with 16 points and also grabbed three rebounds. and had two steals. Autry added 10 points, Libby (three boards, three steals and a block) and Malloy five each, Thomas four (along with five rebounds) and Arnell (three boards) two.
The Scots had 15 turnovers and made all of three of their foul shots.
This loss will take a long time to digest.
"It hurts," Bourassa said. "I believe we were the better team. I still believe that. That's why it hurts. It was a great shot."
Bonny Eagle loses four seniors, most notably Libby.
"I started my coaching career when he was a freshman," Bourassa said. "I love that kid like a little brother. "
State final showdown
Deering has played Hampden Academy twice previously in the Class A Final, losing the 2005 encounter (59-49) in Bangor before garnering the program's first Gold Ball (47-37) a year later at the Civic Center.
The Rams have lived up to their No. 1 seed and now seek to finish the job.
It's starting to look like Deering, once a star-crossed program, is now a team of destiny.
"I think it'll be a challenge just like any championship game," London said. "I feel like (this is) our homecourt. We wear the home jersey. We treat it like it's home. I think we can grind it out and win again."
"We have to go hard," said Amabile. "We can do anything if we put our mind to it."
"We're hoping to do it again," said Green. "Get one more win. We have to prepare. We don't know much about them. The coaches will get us prepared. We have all week. We win as a team. We've done that all year. Our motto is, 'Who? The team!'"
LeGage thinks his team will have its hands full.
"(Hampden Academy has) a big guy inside," LeGage said. "He's huge and he's a force with great touch around the basket. They have another McCue, who might be Mr. Basketball. They defend well and they don't make a lot of mistakes. They've only lost once. It'll be a challenge, but it's something we're looking forward to.
"We're a good team. There wasn't a lot of respect given to us as a No. 1 seed. That's fine. We don't care about that stuff. We take care of our own. That's what we preach in the program. We'll have to keep doing what we do. Take care of the basketball, play great defense, get quality possessions and make the most of them. We've built the program on defense and rebounding. We have to keep believing in our philosophy."