From the beginning of the game, No. 8 Camden Hills played shot for shot with the top-seeded Brewer Witches in Class A North.
It was a David and Goliath type of matchup in the Augusta Civic Center, and the Windjammers even had a halftime lead, but led by Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalist Brady Saunders, Brewer was able to sneak out a 59-46 victory and avoid what would have been the biggest upset of the season.
Brewer (18-1) will face No. 5 Cony (12-7) on Wednesday in the A North semifinal.
Camden Hills (5-14) trailed after one quarter, but took a 29-22 lead into halftime. The Windjammers held Brewer to a shooting percentage in the 30s and were able to take advantage of the Witches’ mistakes.
“We really felt good about how our defense was playing,” Camden Hills coach Jon More said. “We really worked on really clamping down on the way we play. It’s kind of a matchup-zone and it’s hard to scout and we’ve had a lot of success running it. We knew it would be a tough battle and when you’re up seven, it’s thrilling, but you know they are going to come back hard.”
In the locker room at halftime, the seriousness of the score and the situation set in for the Witches. Brewer defeated Camden Hills 72-40 on Jan. 31 and got complacent.
“The first half they were making a lot of shots and they kind of shocked us,” Saunders said. “We just played them a couple weeks earlier and we beat them by 30 something so there were a ton of emotions in that locker room. Angry, sadness, but we were excited actually to come back out here because we had something to prove. A lot of times when we come into these games we have nothing to prove and that’s what’s bringing us down sometimes, so when we came back we had something to prove.”
In the third, Saunders scored his 1,000th career point on a free throw that brought the Witches within 29-26 with five minutes to play. Saunders added 11 of his 27 points in the third and the momentum from the milestone and the roaring crowd that cheered for him helped Brewer retake the lead and never look back.
“I think we used that,” Saunders said of the crowd. “The crowd got super hype for me. I love my Brewer fans and it was so emotional. We used that to fuel us and we really took it to them.”
Brewer coach Ben Goodwin said he wanted the ball in Saunders’ hands at all times down the stretch and said that the excitement of Saunders’ 1,000th point got Brewer going.
“We’re such a tight group and such a big family and it’s a big accomplishment for that young man to get 1,000 points and I think it did give us a lot of energy,” Goodwin said. “He makes a big difference and he’s a heck of a player.”
Will Duke led Camden Hills with 15 points and freshman Nolan Ames added 14 points.
Brewer took the lead for good on a Saunders 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the third that put the Witches ahead 34-32. Camden Hills got within three points midway through the fourth quarter but didn’t shoot well enough to keep pace with the Witches.
Camden Hills battled through adversity all season. The Windjammers weren’t able to play in their home gym for the first two months of the season due to water issues and also dealt with a few big injuries to key players.
Still, More was proud of his players.
“We just have guys stepping up to fill,” More said. “That’s probably the most rewarding part that we had freshmen step up and play. They were just absolutely fantastic for us.”