Gutsy North Haven effort not enough as Phoenix rise to regional finalIsland communities show up in force to cheer on history-making Hawks
North Haven — The No. 6 North Haven boys basketball team seemingly had its entire island community in attendance on Wednesday morning, Feb. 19 at the Augusta Civic Center as the Hawks looked to pull off their second regional playoff upset in five days, this time against No. 2 Hyde School of of Bath.
The Hawks put forth a valiant effort against the taller, more physical Phoenix in the Western Class D semifinal playoff game and thrice cut their deficit to five points in the fourth quarter, but ultimately came up short in their quest for a first regional title berth, falling 49-39.
With the win, the Phoenix (18-2) move on to the Western Class D championship game on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 2:45 p.m. in Augusta, where they will play No. 4 Valley of Bingham (16-4), which upset top-seeded and defending state champion Forest Hills of Jackman (17-3) 50-40 in Wednesday's other semifinal.
Against North Haven, Hyde led 16-12 after the first quarter, 28-18 at halftime and 36-24 after three stanzas.
The Hawks finished an impressive campaign at 17-3.
Fans from North Haven and neighboring Vinalhaven made the trip to Augusta to support the Hawks during their postseason run.
On Wednesday, Avery Waterman netted 18 points in the losing effort for the Hawks, while Ethan Mao tallied six; Zeb Campbell and Dalton Hornby, four; Aidan Emerson, three; and Chayse MacDonald, two.
Five days earlier, the Hawks had won the first boys quarterfinal playoff game at the Augusta Civic Center in school history with a 42-36 upset of No. 3 Greenville. The team also earned a 70-31 victory over Pine Tree Academy of Freeport in a prelim playoff game on Feb. 12 on North Haven.
“I knew Hyde was going to be a big challenge,” said veteran North Haven coach Roman Cooper. “They’re quick, but they’re also very tall and long. And passing over them is tough.”
The Phoenix were led by twin towers Warsame Mohammed, a 6-foot 4-inch forward, and Akim Sanni, the team’s 6-6 center. The two combined for 34 of the squad’s 49 points, with Mohammed netting 23 and Sanni 11.
Wilson MacMillan added six points for the Phoenix, Aaron Leffert, four; Talin Rowe, three; and Kiefer Cundy, two.
“We knew that if we stopped the two big men we could do it [win the game],” said Waterman. “We knew they were going to drive baseline and we just didn’t communicate well enough. They’re so big. We’ve never played anybody that big before.”
The Phoenix were 12-of-24 (50 percent) from the charity stripe during the game, while the Hawks did not attempt a free throw in 32 minutes of action.
North Haven committed 18 fouls in the game to six for Hyde, including a 10-1 differential in the second half, mostly due to Hyde's inside size and strength and shooting the ball close to the basket.
The Hawks found themselves in foul trouble quickly in the first quarter as Campbell picked up his third foul, while Hornby added his third in the early stages of the second stanza. Both missed a significant chunk of the second quarter.
“The fouls in the first half I think is what did it,” said Cooper. “If we could have kept them [Campbell and Hornby] in those last seven minutes [of the first half] because we had to put them on the bench. We lose so much defensively there and that’s where I think things broke down. Getting into foul trouble early killed us. But we held our own.”
Despite the foul trouble the Hawks hung tough and held a 10-7 lead midway through the first quarter after a fastbreak hoop from Waterman and a runner from Campbell with 3:12 remaining.
The Phoenix then went on a 9-2 run to end the quarter and, despite the Hawks keeping the game close throughout, never trailed again. Mohammed netted two field goals and two free throws, while MacMillan canned a trey. Mao rattled in a jumper with about 20 seconds to go in the half.
Sanni later hit a shot at the end of the third quarter to put the Phoenix up by 12 points, which gave the higher seed its largest lead of the game.
The Hawks went on a 6-0 run to start the fourth quarter on a jumper from Mao and two hoops from Waterman to help the islanders climb within 36-30.
Sanni then converted a field goal, but Emerson netted a trey from the wing with 4:52 remaining to bring the Hawks within five points at 38-33.
North Haven cut its deficit to five points two more times in the fourth quarter on layups by Waterman and MacDonald, but could get no closer as Hornby fouled out with 5:51 left and Campbell followed shortly thereafter with 1:33 remaining.
Despite the loss coach Cooper, his players and, in essence, the entire island community, seemed happy with the team’s tournament run.
“Losing by 10 points [to Hyde School] is quite a phenomenal feat for these boys,” said Cooper. “They really dug deep when they needed to. Coming up here and trying to face a team like that is a daunting task in and of itself. But these kids really rose to the occasion.”
“We never gave up,” said Waterman. “We just ran out of steam.”
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Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. Haskell has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School. He has won multiple Maine Press Association awards for writing and photography.
Mark loves the Boston Red Sox, iced coffee, cargo shorts, Foo Fighters and time with friends and loved ones.
He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn, his sons Beckett and Austin and daughter Lila.
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