Members of the Dirigo High School basketball team celebrate their Class C state championship victory at the Augusta Civic Center on March 5, 2022. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Public

Charlie Houghton’s 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired lifted Dirigo of Dixfield to a dramatic 59-56 victory over Dexter on Saturday night to win the Class C boys basketball state championship.

Dirigo, which claimed its first state crown since 2012, ends its season with an 18-5 record.

Dexter, which was seeking its first state title since winning the Class B championship in 1986, finishes 17-6.

Dirigo inbounded the ball from deep along the left wing in frontcourt with 8.3 seconds left, with Dakota Tompkins passing the ball in to Trenton Hutchinson.

Hutchinson dribbled the ball toward the basket until Houghton came out from along the baseline and toward the left wing. Hutchinson kicked the ball back to the Dirigo big man, who buried his third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter as the buzzer sounded, capping off the Cougars’ comeback from a 13-point deficit.

Houghton hadn’t attempted a 3-pointer during the first three quarters, but was 3-of-4 from beyond the arc during the game’s final eight minutes.

Houghton finished with 21 points — 14 in the fourth quarter — and nine rebounds to pace coach Cody St. Germain’s club, while Tompkins finished with 13.

Senior forward Avery Gagnon paced Dexter with a game-high 27 points on 11-for-13 shooting, including 4 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc. Gagnon also grabbed seven rebounds for the Tigers.

Senior forward Will Kusnierz, the subject of a diamond-and-one defense for much of the contest, added 12 points for the Tigers while Seth Robbins finished with eight points.

Dexter led 46-33 after Kusnierz spun into the lane for a three-point play 19 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Dirigo rallied thanks to its late-game dominance of the backboards and Dexter’s 3-for-9 shooting from the free-throw line.

The comeback was gradual, beginning with Houghton’s first 3-pointer of the game to cut the deficit to 10 points with 6:55 left.

Dexter still led 54-49 after a baseline drive by Gagnon with 2:30 remaining before Dirigo used back-to-back 3-pointers by Houghton with 2:03 left and by Trent Holman with 1:25 to play to take a 55-54 lead.

Kuznierz followed in his own miss to give Dexter what turned out to be its last lead, then Wyatt Smith made 1 of 2 from the line to forge a 56-56 tie with 47.8 seconds remaining.

Dexter then worked down the clock before Will Spratt missed a shot from the right baseline, with Holman grabbing the rebound to enable Dirigo to call timeout to set up its last play.

Gagnon made 7 of 9 field-goal tries in the first half to propel Dexter to a 25-24 lead at intermission.

The senior forward scored back-to-back baskets to give the Tigers an early 6-2 lead, and Dexter maintained a 12-8 lead at the end of the period.

Dirigo got its transition game going in the second quarter, and also found some success on the offensive boards as it rallied to tie the game at 15-15 on a layup by Bode Gray and then take its first lead on a fast-break layup by Hutchinson with 4:56 left in the period.

A 3-pointer from the right corner by Tompkins soon extended the Dirigo lead to 22-19, but two late 3-pointers by Gagnon, one from each corner, restored Dexter to the smallest of leads at the break.

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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...