Before the game, as Southern Aroostook boys basketball coach Brett Russell filled out his score sheet like he has before every game this year, he wanted his team to realize the importance of Monday’s game.
“I said, ‘There’s 28 pages filled out here but not one of them matters. Just tonight,’” Russell told his team prior to the Warriors’ Class D title game against South champs Forest Hills. “That’s how we started our pregame talk and the guys executed.”
In a rematch of the 2022 Class D boys basketball final, the result was the same on Monday night as Southern Aroostook overwhelmed Forest Hills in a 83-56 victory and won its second gold ball in a row at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“Back to back is great,” Russell added.
The Class D North champs finished off their undefeated 22-0 campaign in front of a solid Southern Aroostook contingency in the stands.
Dylan Burpee exploded for 15 of his 36 points in the second quarter to help the Warriors grow their lead and never look back.
The junior guard was the go-to guy for the Warriors throughout the tournament.
“This is what I’d tell you about Dylan. Dylan could have scored 1,000 points this year if that’s what we wanted to do but that’s not what we do,” Russell said. “Down here he came in and played the full games and his full repertoire was on display. He is a great kid and the sky is the limit for him.”
Playing together as a team was the difference, according to Burpee.
“We just came out to play and we got the win,” Burpee said. “The points just came with it. We just came out and played, kept the intensity all game. We have been playing together since we were kids, have great chemistry and we just play together.”
Forest Hills (18-4) relied on Mason Desjardins to make play after play for the Tigers. Desjardins scored 10 points in the first quarter and hit two more 3-pointers in the second, but in the third the Warriors’ defense clamped down and held the high-scoring senior to just two free throws.
After Southern Aroostook won the first quarter 19-15 thanks in part to 10 points in the paint from Graham Siltz, the Warriors outscored Forest Hills 24-9 in the second and held a 43-24 lead at halftime.
Siltz’s huge first quarter was crucial in opening up the rest of the offense for the Warriors. Southern Aroostook broke the Class D state championship game record with nine 3-pointers.
“The first half, once we started pounding the ball to Graham I said, ‘Graham, if you don’t make a quick move, pass it to the corner, it will be wide-open,’” Russell said. “Dylan is our shooter but we have three or four that can hit them.”
Siltz, a senior forward who finished with 21 points, knew he was a crucial part to the early game plan.
“We knew if we pounded it inside early on that we would get open shots on the outside and that’s what happened,” Siltz said. “It feels great. It’s a great way to leave high school.”
Desjardins couldn’t get anything going on offense in the third. When the senior guard would cross halfcourt, his defender was forced into a double team as Southern Aroostook ran its 2-2-1 zone to perfection, which most of the time would either result in a turnover or force Desjardins to pass out of the play.
“We wanted to contain him,” Russell said of Desjardins. “I told the boys that he can go out for 30 but he’s not going to beat us by himself. It was more on the other players. My guys worked so hard, got garbage points as I call them working the boards and I thought we did the little things really well.”
With three minutes left in the third, Desjardins grabbed a steal and found Cooper Daigle for a layup that made it 46-32. Daigle then took back-to-back charges and the Tigers had some momentum. Over the next two minutes, Burpee helped the Warriors on a 9-0 run to put any comeback to rest.
In the fourth, Desjardins and Siltz battled basket for basket with the Southern Aroostook big man scoring seven of his 21 points in the period while Desjardins added 14.
Desjardins ended with 33 points.