Jalen Reed put Bangor Christian on his back on Wednesday night but couldn’t quite topple defending Class D champs Southern Aroostook, falling 41-28 in their D North semifinal at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
No. 1 Southern Aroostook (20-0) will face No. 3 Machias (16-4) on Saturday at 10:45 a.m. in the D North final.
“I don’t know where I am at,” Southern Aroostook coach Brett Russell said after the game, trying to find the right words. “It’s been a struggle, it’s been a real struggle, and so I couldn’t be happier for the kids. We have the ‘X’ on our chest this year and the kids have stepped up. I couldn’t be prouder of them and can’t wait for Saturday.”
Reed scored all eight of the Patriots’ points in the first quarter, keeping No. 4 Bangor Christian (16-4) within a reasonable range.
The junior finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Dylan Burpee paced the Warriors with 15 points.
On the Warriors’ side, four different players scored at least one basket and gave Southern Aroostook a 12-8 first quarter lead.
Bangor Christian started the second quarter with 3-pointers from Reed and Conrad Straubel to tie the game at 14-14 3:30 into the period. They turned out to be the only buckets of the quarter for the Patriots, who went into halftime down 19-14.
“To the kids’ credit, they executed the game plan to perfection tonight,” Bangor Christian coach Charlie Colson said. “The only difference is they hit shots and we didn’t. If we shoot our normal percentage of threes, they are probably fouling us at the end.”
Reed scored twice in close to begin the third quarter and got the Patriots within three but at the 4:29 mark Reed bumped heads with Southern Aroostook’s Trafton Russell. Russell got up quickly but Reed stayed down for an extended period of time and was helped to the bench where he stayed seated until the 2:48 mark. While Reed was gone, the Warriors tacked on two points to their lead and the Patriots trailed 28-24.
“We always use that run and jump to dictate the tempo, but it didn’t have the same effect today so we went to our straight, man-to-man defense and got away from the switching up top because that was killing us,” Russell said. “Defense is what dictates what we do and the kids played hard. The kids struggled shooting and mentally that can make havoc in kids minds.”
Southern Aroostook got six points from Dylan Burpee in the third and as the Warriors started the fourth they enjoyed a 30-24 lead.
“Dylan is, he takes a lot of pressure off the other guys because he’s a great player,” Russell added. “Yes, he’s struggled, but he has hit some big shots and so he creates and opens up everyone else.”
Camden Porter and Burpee hit back-to-back 3-pointers to begin the fourth and stretched out a 36-24 advantage for the Warriors.
Before the game, Colson wrote on a white board ”40-38” in reference to what he wanted the score to be with two minutes to play in the game. The Patriots held the Warriors to 41 points but couldn’t hit enough shots.
“We did the job on defense but offensively we didn’t hit enough shots,” Colson said. “When you don’t hit shots, it’s very difficult to win a tournament game.”
After the game, Colson met with Reed, Colton White and Straubel, three of his juniors, to tell them that two years ago Bangor Christian was 1-17 and that next year he thinks they can be the centerpieces of a state title-winning team.
“I think that it’s pretty obvious that we have three juniors who are outstanding players and a fourth that will be a huge contributor,” Colson said. “We had a bad lull in our season where we played six games in eight days. We got detached from what we tried to do. … I think we have a tremendous nucleus. At a very small school like Bangor Christian we have nine kids that are willing to play as freshmen next year.”