BANGOR, Maine — The top-ranked George Stevens Academy boys basketball team expected to be challenged in its Class C North quarterfinal Tuesday.

Houlton may have been the No. 9 seed, but the Shiretowners were an experienced lot with a 6-foot-8 center in Cameron Cleary and a coach with a considerable championship experience in Tim Brewer from his years at Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.

But GSA has its own championship pedigree — namely the last two Class C state titles — and the Eagles began their postseason quest for a third straight gold ball with a 55-43 victory over Houlton at the Cross Insurance Center.

“We knew they were going to be tough, and we knew they matched up perfectly against us so we knew we had to play a good game to beat them,” said George Stevens coach Dwayne Carter, whose Eagles will take an 18-game winning streak into Friday night’s semifinal against No. 5 Fort Kent.

Senior guard Taylor Schildroth buried two 3-pointers as GSA broke out to an 8-0 lead, and whenever Houlton sought to rally the Eagles had a response.

“We knew this would be a game of runs so we just tried to get out and establish a tempo and hopefully get a good enough lead so that when they made a run we could stop it and still feel pretty comfortable,” said Schildroth, who scored a game-high 23 points.

The Shiretowners were within 17-16 early in the second quarter after back-to-back baskets by sophomore Keegan Gentle, but Schildroth followed with two 3-pointers and a steal-layup over the next 80 seconds to push GSA’s lead back to nine and force Houlton to call time.

When the Shires (15-5) crept within 35-28 early in the second half, 6-6 GSA senior center Max Mattson sandwiched a short jumper and a follow-up slam dunk around another Schildroth 3-pointer to extend the margin to 42-28 and force another Houlton timeout.

And when Jaron Gentle’s 3-pointer pulled Houlton within 47-41 with 5:32 left in the game, George Stevens (18-1) held the Shires scoreless for nearly five minutes to close out its ninth straight tournament victory over the last three years.

“It comes down to realizing that we’ve been here before and that we just need to keep playing our game,” said Mattson, who amassed nine points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots.

Cleary finished with 12 points and nine rebounds for Houlton while Keegan Gentle also scored 12 points.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...