Two tightly contested regular-season games between Brewer and Skowhegan seemingly set the stage for a third clash of the titans when the teams met again during Wednesday night’s Class A North boys basketball semifinals at the Augusta Civic Center.
Only one titan emerged, as second-ranked Brewer rolled to a 58-30 victory over the third-seeded River Hawks to advance to Friday night’s regional final against top-ranked Nokomis of Newport.
To be honest, I didn’t really expect this kind of a game,” Brewer junior forward Brady Saunders said. “I knew if we stuck to our game plan we’d be all right but I didn’t expect to win by that much.”
These teams split their two regular-season encounters, but Brewer controlled the backboards against the taller River Hawks in their tournament matchup and forced 24 Skowhegan turnovers while improving their record to 18-2.
“A big part that gave us an edge was our defense and our intensity,” Brewer senior point guard Colby Smith said. “The first two times we played they were able to get what they wanted against us inside the paint, but this time we really limited them to what they could do on offense.”
Saunders paced Brewer’s offense with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, while Smith added 11 points, junior forward Brock Flagg chipped in 10 points and six rebounds, Aaron Newcomb scored eight points and Ryder Goodwin finished with six.
Kyle LePage, one of three Skowhegan starters standing either 6-foot-5 or 6-foot 6, had 10 points but frontcourt teammates Adam Savage and Collin LePage were limited to four points apiece and the River Hawks collectively managed just 11 points after intermission.
Some of Brewer’s defensive success stemmed from the perimeter, where Saunders and Smith used their quickness and long arms to challenge the Skowhegan guards before they could work the ball inside.
“They’re a great team, they have a lot of good plays and that’s their specialty, so we tried to speed them up in this game and we were able to get some turnovers from that and it led to transition and a lot of points,” Smith said.
Saunders had 10 points and three steals in the first half as Brewer built a 31-19 lead.
Skowhegan had some early success on the offensive boards, with both Kyle and Collin LePage each cashing in as the River Hawks moved out to an early 6-2 lead.
“I don’t think coach Goodwin was happy with that,” Flagg said.
Brewer then took a 10-8 lead with eight unanswered points, two apiece by Flagg, Smith, Goodwin and Saunders, and maintained a 14-10 edge at the end of the opening quarter.
Saunders converted a steal into a layup to open the second quarter and fed Flagg for a fast-break layup to extend the Witches’ lead to 18-10.
Brewer then followed the game’s lone first-half 3-pointer by Skowhegan’s Payson Washburn with a three-point play inside by Aaron Newcomb and a mid-range jumper by Saunders to extend their lead to 23-13.
The Witches later took their biggest lead of the half when back-to-back offensive rebounds led to Flagg making two free throws and a follow-up shot.
Flagg finished the half with eight points and four rebounds for Brewer, while Smith had six points and three assists.
Skowhegan stayed within 36-23 midway through the third quarter before Brewer scored 11 straight points to put the game away.
The run began with a steal and free throw by Smith, then Saunders scored on a layup and a jumper from the top of the key to make it 43-23.
Flagg fed Cameron Hughes for a layup and Smith capped off the run with a layup on a goaltending call against the River Hawks to make it 47-23 with less than two minutes left in the third period.