It was a run seemingly right out of the Nokomis playbook this winter that led the Newport-based Warriors to the first regional championship in the school’s boys basketball history Saturday night.
Call it the big blitz.
Leading just 23-21 a minute into the third quarter of its Class A North championship game against Brewer, top-seeded Nokomis exploded for a 21-4 run that broke the game open en route to a 68-58 victory over the second-seeded Witches before a full house at the Augusta Civic Center.
“When we’re all communicating on defense and are dialed in together, nobody can really score on us,” Nokomis freshman forward Cooper Flagg said. “When our defensive intensity goes up and people can’t hit shots it leads to easier fast-break transitions. You get rebounds and you can push it ahead so I think our intensity is what helps us go on the runs.”
The presence of the 6-foot-7-inch Flagg and his twin brother, 6-foot-6 Ace Flagg, certainly helps in most cases, and Nokomis’ second win in three meetings with Brewer this winter was no exception.
Cooper Flagg finished with 27 points — including four slam dunks and an 11-of-13 effort from the free-throw line — to go with 11 rebounds, five steals, five assists and three blocked shots, and he was named winner of the Al Halliday Award as the tournament’s outstanding player-sportsman.
“He’s a great scorer but he’s a better passer. He’s a great player but he’s a better teammate,” said Nokomis coach Earl Anderson, whose Warriors are now 20-1 after their 19th straight victory and will face Falmouth for the state championship at 3 p.m. next Saturday at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. “That sums it up.”
Junior forward Madden White added 15 points for Nokomis and Ace Flagg had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but three of the Warriors’ more unsung players also made key contributions during the game’s decisive moments.
After Ace Flagg scored on a drive and White made two free throws to give Nokomis a 27-21 lead early in the third quarter, sophomore guard Connor Sides took an Ace Flagg pass and buried a 3-pointer from the left wing,
Moments later the third freshman on the Nokomis roster, Dawson Townsend, hit a transition 3-pointer on an assist from Cooper Flagg.
Cooper Flagg then fed sophomore guard Alex Grant for a third 3-pointer of the blitz, and by the time Cooper Flagg added two free throws and Grant converted a layup, Nokomis had a 44-25 lead and Brewer was left to play a game of catch-up it couldn’t complete.
“They were good shots at the right time and in individual rhythm and in team rhythm,” Anderson said of the 3-pointers. “Those were huge.”
Brewer, which finished its season with an 18-3 record, was not without some grit of its own, scoring the first eight points of the fourth quarter to draw within 49-40 and force a Nokomis timeout with 5:22 left in the game.
Cooper Flagg then sent in his twin brother for a layup and Sides for a reverse layup, and the lead was back to 13 points. Brewer got no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“It’s just unreal to get this win,” Ace Flagg said. “We’ve still got one more, but the feelings are good.”
Newcomb and Brock Flagg and Newcomb each scored 14 points for the Witches while Brady Saunders scored 11 points and Colby Smith had 10.
Nokomis rallied from an early 12-4 deficit to gain a 21-19 halftime lead.
Brock Flagg scored six early points, all after grabbing offensive rebounds, to help stake the Witches to their early eight-point lead.
Nokomis finally tied the game at 16-16 on a steal and slam by Cooper Flagg, then White hit a 3-pointer from the right wing and a fast-break slam dunk to give the Warriors a 21-17 lead with 25 seconds left in the half before Brewer reserve forward Cam Hughes beat the buzzer with a follow-up shot to make it a two-point game at the break.
“We liked the position we were in,” Anderson said. “If we had rebounded the ball on the defensive end like we should have, that probably would have eliminated 10 of their points in the first half and we were still up by two.
“We just needed paint touches, because when we get paint touches with either [Cooper or Ace Flagg] something really good’s gonna happen.”