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Greely shocked by Poland in regional final

Sports

Greely shocked by Poland in regional final

PORTLAND—Greely's boys' basketball team has known its share of agonizing defeat over the years, but what happened Saturday at the Cumberland County Civic Center still doesn't seem real.

The Rangers, top-seeded and seemingly destined to play for the Gold Ball for the first time in 16 seasons, played their role of overwhelming favorite to near perfection in a first quarter that left Cinderella No. 6 seed Poland on the canvas.

But eight minutes does not a basketball game make and slowly and surely, the upstart Knights crept back.

After trailing by as many as 19 points, 23-4, Poland, sparked by the play of sophomore John Fossett off the bench, went on an improbable 18-4 run, took advantage of Greely senior standout Mike McDevitt's absence after he received his third foul and got as close as four points late in the first half, but Rangers senior shooting sensation Bailey Train made his third 3-pointer to give Greely a 32-25 lead at the break.

The Knights then scored the first seven points of the third quarter to tie the score and when senior standout C.J. Martin drained a 3 with 2:26 to play in the frame, Poland had the lead for the first time, 38-36.

The game would go back and forth for awhile, being tied on five occasions, before a three-point play from Knights senior Tyler Michaud put the underdog on top for good.

As McDevitt and eventually senior Connor Hanley fouled out, Poland stretched its lead to as much as 11 points, 61-50, but in the final minute, the proud Rangers mustered one final comeback.

Two 3s from Train, both contested and from difficult angles, followed by another from freshman Matt McDevitt, suddenly made it a 61-59 game with 26.2 seconds to play, but the Knights iced it on a layup from senior Josh Gary and held on to shock the local basketball world, 63-59.

Poland improved to 13-8, extended its win streak to seven games and got 26 points from Martin as it advanced to its first state final, where it will meet Old Town Friday evening in Bangor.

Despite 22 points from Train, Greely's tremendous season ended at 19-2.

"Poland did great things," said Rangers coach Travis Seaver. "They really did. They hit big shots and we stopped what we were doing. All the credit in the world to them. They played great from halfway through the second quarter on."

Midnight doesn't strike

Since winning the 1998 Class B crown, its third in four seasons, Greely has been in the playoffs every season and knocked (sometimes quite loudly) on the championship door, but it couldn't get over the hump.

This year's team, however, was something special and after a 17-1 regular season, the Rangers avoided an epic upset in the quarterfinals, rallying to edge No. 8 York, 41-38, then handled rival No. 4 Yarmouth in Thursday's semifinals, 56-38.

While Greely was expected to be here all along, Poland was not. The Knights began the year 1-4 and were 6-8 late in the season, in danger of missing the playoffs, but Poland won its final four regular season games, then upset No. 3 Spruce Mountain (77-69) in the quarterfinals and second-ranked Morse (45-44) in the semifinals Thursday (almost blowing a 13-point lead before holding on for dear life) to make it to its first ever regional championship game.

Greely won the lone regular season meeting, 67-44, six days before Christmas in Poland. The teams had no playoff history.

Saturday, they made some in a game that can't be forgotten quickly enough in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, but will live in Poland lore as long as the school exists.

It took four seconds for Greely to make a statement, as Mike McDevitt won the opening tip to Train, who fed Hanley behind the defense for a layup.

Train hinted a big night to come when he hit a 3. Hanley then fed senior Kyle Wood for a fastbreak layup and with 4:44 to go in the first, O'Shea sank a jumper, forcing Poland coach Tyler Tracy to call timeout.

It didn't help, as McDevitt threaded a beautiful pass to Hanley for a layup and an 11-0 lead.

With 3:43 left in the first, the Knights finally got on the board as Gary made a bank shot, but McDevitt made a free throw, then took a pass from O'Shea and dunked home a shot. It counted, but McDevitt was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Martin made both free throws to make the score 14-4.

With 2:09 left in the first, McDevitt made a layup while being fouled and hit the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play. After Hanley made a free throw, Train made another 3, then converted a floater for a 23-4 lead.

At that point, Poland's season appeared to have a very short shelf life, while Greely was halfway to Bangor, but there was still a lot of basketball to be played.

Martin hit two foul shots with a second to go, but that only pulled the Knights within 17, 23-6, after one.

Then, in one of the most shocking momentum turns in Maine tournament history, everything changed.

Big time.

After junior Alan Young made a foul shot for Poland, O'Shea drove for a layup. Sophomore John Fossett then somehow banked home a follow-up while falling down, but McDevitt hit a baseline jumper. Senior Tyler Michaud canned a 3 for the Knights, cutting the deficit to 27-12 and Seaver, not taking any chances, called timeout.

It didn't help as seconds later, McDevitt was called for a charge, his third, and he had to sit for the rest of the half.

Poland then took advantage and went on a stunning run.

A finger roll from Martin was answered by two Hanley foul shots. After another acrobatic play by Fossett, who tipped home a missed shot, Fossett made two free throws.

"John's an energy guy," Martin said. "He doesn't go between the legs or do a 360 or anything like that, but he busts his butt on defense and gives us energy. That's what we needed. He came out, wasn't shellshocked and delivered what he needed."

A driving bank shot from Martin with 2:09 left in the half pulled the Knights within single digits, 29-20.

Junior Derek Michaud followed with a 3 and with 1:05 remaining, Martin made a pullup jumper to make it a four-point game.

"It was just mental toughness," said Martin. "We didn't believe we were out of it. We were just a little bit shellshocked at the beginning."

"I just wanted us to start playing with confidence," said Tracy. "I don't know if it was Greely or the environment, but we just didn't play our game. We played tentative, scared. We finally settled down and starting attacking them and I thought we had a shot. I knew we'd eventually settle down, but I was concerned about when it would happen. They were a couple baskets away from really closing the deal early and we just managed to knock down a few buckets."

The Rangers had been staggered.

"I don't think the guys thought it was over (when we were up, 23-4)," Seaver said. "They've played a lot of basketball and have seen a lot of things happen."

Finally, with 12.4 seconds to go, Greely restored some order when Train made a 3, ending the 16-2 Poland run and making it 32-25 Rangers at halftime.

In the first half, Train led all scorers with 11 points. McDevitt added eight and Hanley had seven. Poland got 10 points from Martin.

In the third quarter, the Rangers got McDevitt back, but the Knights didn't budge.

Martin hit a floater 45 seconds in, then added a layup. After Young made a layup, a free throw from Martin tied the game, 32-32.

Greely went back on top on an O'Shea leaner and McDevitt took a pass from Hanley and made a shot for a 36-32 advantage, but back roared the Knights, as Martin hit a corner 3, then, with 2:26 left in the frame, Martin made another 3 for Poland's first lead, 38-36.

An O'Shea jumper tied it, but Tyler Michaud made two free throws. After Train tied the game with a layup, Martin drove for a layup. Two O'Shea foul shots with 22.3 seconds left made it 42-42 heading for the frenetic fourth.

Poland opened the final stanza with a layup from Fossett. McDevitt pulled the Rangers within one with a foul shot, but Tyler Michaud drained a baseline jumper.

With 6:26 left, McDevitt found a wide open Train up top and Train buried a 3, but Michaud drove for a layup, was fouled and converted the three-point play with a free throw to give the Knights the lead for good.

With 5:28 to go, McDevitt was whistled for his fourth foul and Young made one of two free throws for a four-point advantage, 50-46.

After Young scored on a putback, Young made a leaner and the lead was eight, 54-46.

McDevitt made a free throw, but Michaud set up Fossett for a layup. After McDevitt made another foul shot, Martin hit two and Poland impossibly had a double digit advantage, 58-48.

With 2:53 to go, Greely's comeback hopes took a serious hit when McDevitt was called for a charge, his fifth foul, and had to leave the game.

"We wanted to take charges," Martin said. "That was the game plan. We knew he'd try to take over. We got ourselves in position."

Hanley kept hope alive with a putback, but Michaud made two free throws and Martin hit one, giving the Knights their biggest lead, 61-50.

The Rangers then embarked on a furious rally in the final minute, one which almost stole victory from the jaws of defeat.

With 52.3 seconds to go, Train hit a long, contested 3. Thirteen seconds later, he made another, this one from the far right corner and just like that, Greely was only down five, 61-56, with plenty of time left.

"Bailey's a great shooter and he's a gamer," Seaver said. "It's nice to have him on the floor."

After Derek Michaud missed two foul shots, Rangers sophomore Matt McDevitt buried a 3 and suddenly, Greely had more than a pulse, it had legitimate hope, trailing by only two, 61-59, and Poland was putting its coach and fans through the wringer once more.

"That was nervewracking," Martin said. "The whole tournament we've done that. I think our parents are pretty mad at us for that."

"I've gotten a lot of gray hairs the past two weeks," said Tracy.

But on the ensuing inbounds pass, Derek Michaud threw a touchdown pass that Young tipped to Gary, who made a layup while being fouled. He missed the free throw, but Poland was back on top by two possessions, 63-59.

"That play over the top was a backbreaker," Seaver said.

Derek Michaud then stole the ball and although Tyler Michaud missed two foul shots with 6.5 seconds to go, the Rangers had run out of chances and the Knights prevailed in epic and astonishing fashion.

"The whole community was behind us today," Martin said. "It was a lot of fun. We were also fan favorites being the 6 seed. We have a lot of respect for Greely. They set the precedent this year. They beat every team in our conference and even beat Falmouth.

"I always knew we had the ability and talent. In the final three weeks of the season, we came along with mental toughness. Now that it's happened, we keep pinching ourselves. This is the first time in Poland's history that we're here. We played like we had nothing to lose, because we didn't. I'm still in disbelief. It's another thing to marvel at. We're a resilient bunch."

"I did think this was possible," said Tracy, who in four short years has put the program and the school on the map. "This past summer, we talked about having the ability. We didn't play to our capabilities early, then we finally got going. The way we were playing at the end of season, I thought we could really do some damage. It's the kids. They've put in the work. They wanted this. They showed tonight how tough they are. They don't roll over."

Bangor bound

Martin, who won the Pierre Harnois Award as outstanding player and sportsman of the tournament, dazzled, scoring 26 points.

"C.J.'s our senior captain and he wasn't going to let us go down easy," said Tracy. "He's there when we need him most."

Tyler Michaud was clutch throughout, scoring a dozen points. He also had a pair of steals and rebounds.

Fossett had 10 points and tied for game-high honors with seven rebounds, but what he brought to his team off the bench Saturday simply can't be quantified.

"John's just a workhorse," said Tracy. "We needed physicalness and aggressiveness and he brought that. "

Young had eight points and five boards, Gary finished with four points and Derek Michaud added three.

"This has been such a team effort the whole time," said Martin. "It seems like someone new delivers every night."

Poland, after committing six turnovers in the first half, only had five the rest of the way (including none in the third period) to finish with a most respectable 11, especially considering the magnitude of the game. The Knights made 17 of 27 free throws.

Poland's magic carpet ride has one last stop, Friday, at the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, where it will meet Eastern B champion Old Town (17-5) in the state final at 9:05 p.m.

The schools have no history and neither has played in a Class B state final.

The Coyotes won Class A championships in 1952, 1957, 1967 and 1991, which was their last time on the big stage.

Old Town knocked off No. 11 Waterville (73-44) in the preliminary round, then upset third-ranked Mt. Desert Island (57-44), beat No. 10 Ellsworth (53-50) and finally survived fourth-ranked Caribou (43-41, in overtime) to advance.

Something will have to give as a pair of No. 6 seeds do battle.

"We're going to be focused," Martin said. "We want to get this one for Coach, he's from the Bangor area. We believe in him. He's a big reason why we're here. He preached mental toughness to us and pushed us enough to get to where we could come back from being down 19 to the 1 seed that has a lot of all-conference players."

"I'm a Northern Maine guy, so I'm excited for my guys to play on the Bangor floor and get that experience," said Tracy, who hails from Guilford. "They deserve it."

Picking up the pieces

Train paced the Rangers with 22 points, including six of the team's seven 3s. He also had three steals and a blocked shot.

Mike McDevitt bowed out with 13 points, six boards and a block.

O'Shea had 10 points, Hanley nine (to go with four rebounds), Matt McDevitt three and Wood two (to go with a team-high seven boards and a block).

Greely had a 25-19 rebounding advantage and made 10 of 16 foul shots, but was done in by 20 turnovers.

"Our goal was to make it one more game, but we weren't looking ahead," Seaver said. "They shot 8 for 10 in the fourth quarter and made 17 free throws. Those things are killers. We got in foul trouble. We just didn't execute. We missed a bunch of three-, four-footers. When they were hot, we weren't.

"It's very disappointing, but we had a great season. The kids who put the uniform on every night are tremendous kids. I can't stress that enough. Our captains are quality people. As a coach, that's all you can ask for. We'd love to play one more, but everyone in our locker room will go on and do great things in life."

Clearly, the loss of Hanley, McDevitt, O'Shea, Train and Wood (as well as reserves Alex McAdoo and Terison) will be a huge blow to the program, but the Rangers will once again be in the hunt next winter.

"We'll keep competing," Seaver said. "We have good kids coming back. We're lucky. It's a great program here."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Photo:

Greely junior Gabe Axelsen goes up over Poland junior Derek Michaud. Axelsen was called for a charge on the play.

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Greely senior Connor Hanley elevates for a shot.

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Greely senior Mike McDevitt soars for a dunk and is charged with a technical foul for hanging on the rim in the process.

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Greely senior Patrick O'Shea, who had 10 points, shoots from the outside.

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Greely senior Bailey Train shoots over Poland junior Derek Michaud.

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Greely senior Kyle Wood goes up for a shot.

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Try as it might, the Greely student section wasn't able to will the Rangers to victory Saturday.

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Greely seniors Mike McDevitt (far left) and Connor Hanley can only sit on and watch in dismay in the waning moments after fouling out.

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Cinderella celebrates. After rallying from 19-points down, the Poland boys' basketball team danced on the court after winning its first regional championship.