GARDINER — The Messsalonskee boys basketball team lost both of its games to Gardiner this season, each by double figures.
But that was the regular season. The playoffs, as the Eagles proved Wednesday, can be a different story.
Sam Dube scored 17 points, Daniel Parent added 12, and No. 9 Messsalonskee took down No. 8 Gardiner 54-45 in a Class A North preliminary showdown.
“I’m proud of my team. We hustled and we executed coach (Jay Dangler’s) plan,” Dube said. “We had the heart and hustle tonight.”
“Everyone thought we were going to lose this game,” Parent said. “We came in very confident that we were going to win. We came out and played our hearts out, and that was the result.”
Messsalonskee improved to 4-15, and will play No. 1 Nokomis in the quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday. Gardiner, which got 21 points from Ryan Moore, finished at 6-13. The Tigers narrowed a 20-point third-quarter deficit to four points in the fourth, but couldn’t complete the climb out of the deep hole.
“They made a lot of shots, and they had momentum throughout the game,” Tigers coach Aaron Toman said. “I’m proud of our guys for staying composed and fighting back. We could have hung our heads and taken the beating, but we didn’t.”
Messalonskee dropped the regular season games by 77-51 and 61-47 scores, but Dangler knew his team was capable of a lot more going into the third matchup.
“This is the potential we’ve seen in them all season. It was just the fact of the matter of executing on the floor,” he said. “Our two big focuses to prepare for this were defensive stops and not turning the basketball over. We’ve been 20-plus turnovers all season.”
Being able to shoot it helps too. Messsalonskee hit nine threes and five in just the first half, with Dube hitting three of them to help the Eagles jump out to a 25-15 lead.
“In practice, we put up probably 100 shots each at the 3-point line, and that shows in the game,” Dube said. “It really helped us in this game tonight.”
The Eagles were also able to handle Gardiner forward Kalvin Catchings, holding him to 12 points after he had scored 28 against them in an earlier matchup.
“We came out in just a straight 2-3 (zone), and we didn’t shade over to him and shadow him at all,” Dangler said. “We kind of moved to some stuff, but when you throw a young team out and just say ‘Hey, draw this up and do this,’ they don’t really execute the way we want them to.”
Messsalonskee’s lead reached 20 at 41-21 on a Parent three with 4:15 left in the third, but the Tigers grabbed momentum back with their season fading away. Moore made a basket and a pair of free throws, and after Luke Lawrence had a steal and a lay-in, Moore hit back-to-back threes from the left corner to make it 41-33 and reignite the crowd going into the fourth .
When Catchings hit from outside to make it 41-36 with 7:37 to play, the crowd was at its highest decibel level of the game.
“At halftime in the locker room, I said ‘They’re going to go on their run, it’s just how we handle and weather that,’” Dangler said. “I didn’t expect they’d go on a run like that.”
The young Eagles, however, steady themselves. Parent hit a three to push the lead back to eight, and after the Tigers narrowed the gap to four on a Moore basket, he hit another jumper to make it a six-point game at 46-40. Dube hit a pair of free throws, and though Moore answered them with another basket, he fouled out on the next possession, and free throws from Merrick Smith, Dube and Alden Doran pushed the lead to 52-42 with 1:46 to go.
“I thought the game was ours,” Dube said. “Basketball is a game of runs, really. I knew they were going to go on a run, I knew we were going to go on a run, and I knew it was going to be a good game until the end.”
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