In a basketball game that resembles a heavyweight fight, it often takes championship mettle to emerge with the belt.
In the case of the Dirigo boys basketball team on Tuesday night, every punch Calais threw at it was withstood and when the final bell rang, the Cougars from Dixfield maintained their stranglehold on the Class C basketball belt. Or in this case, a gold ball.
And the Cougars’ big prizefighters were Charlie Houghton and Trenton Hutchinson, whose efforts on both ends of the court powered Dirigo to its second straight state championship by a 65-58 count at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“He’s the best player that I’ve seen play this year,” Dirigo coach Cody St. Germain said of Hutchinson, whose 24 points helped the Cougars conclude a 21-1 season.
North regional champion Calais finished 18-4.
While Houghton was able to counter every Calais run with a big basket, it was Hutchinson’s defensive effort on Blue Devils’ 1,000-point scorer Jace Cook that proved to be a vital difference.
Cook, the Class C North tournament Most Valuable Player, was held to 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting thanks to Hutchinson’s physicality and quickness.
“I was really working on that in practice,” said Hutchinson, who scored eight third-quarter points en route to 14 on the night. “Coach brought in some alumni players to act like their best players. I was going as hard as I could in practice and it carried over to this game.”
The Cougars led for much of a back-and-forth first half before Houghton went to the bench with his second foul and Calais took advantage, turning an eight-point deficit into a tied game on Ethan Gillespie’s one-hander, but a follow-up basket just before the buzzer from Trent Holden restored Dirigo’s lead.
After a topsy-turvy third quarter that finished in a 48-all tie, Houghton scored six points to spark a 9-2 run that gave the Cougars a seven-point edge two minutes into the quarter.
Calais got as close as one on Jeremy Turner’s backdoor layup just inside the two-minute mark, but the Cougars scored the game’s final six points to seal the deal.
“They battled back whenever we made a run at them, stood up defensively and hit clutch shots,” Blue Devils coach Dean Preston said. “That’s what good teams do.”
Houghton admitted to wanting to stay in the game after getting his second foul in the second quarter, but knew his teammates would pick him up.
“When I got my second foul I saw Coach grab a sub, I looked at him and I was like, ‘no,”’ Houghton said.
But he knew it wasn’t worth the risk in picking up his third in a game that was physical on both ends of the court, which gave the Cougars a slight edge.
“I thought that was something we had an advantage on, on film,” St. Germain said. “The Mountain Valley Conference is known for being very physical. I feel like we’ve been in those situations.”
The defensive prowess of Hutchinson allowed the Cougars to keep things simple on that end of the floor and not have to resort to any junk defenses.
“That’s Hutch right there,” said Houghton. “Hutch just has no quit in him.”
“It’s great to be able to guard a guy who is averaging 25 points per game and just be able to guard him with one player,” St. Germain said.
While the Blue Devils briefly led in the third quarter, the combination of Dirigo’s physicality and experience on this stage wore Calais out.
“Our experience really showed tonight,” Houghton said. “When they were up we were able to battle back.”
Turner was Calais’ leading scorer with 11 points. Jacob Sockabasin had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Ethan Gillespie 10 points.