Medomak Valley senior Brandon Soper had never connected on a more important shot in his life before the fourth quarter of Saturday night's Eastern Class B high school boys basketball championship game between the top-seeded Panthers and No. 3 Mount Desert Island.

However, with the Trojans bottling up Panther big men John Murray and Ryan Ripley in the paint, the 6-foot guard rose to the occasion — and helped the Panthers pull away and earn a coveted spot in the state final.

Soper netted a dagger from beyond the 3-point arc to tie the game with 6:45 left in regulation and later drilled another trey to put Medomak Valley up five points as the Panthers (19-2) held off the Trojans and claimed the regional crown with a 56-50 victory at the Bangor Auditorium.

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The win gave Medomak Valley its first regional title in 33 years in its first regional championship game appearance since 1995, when the Panthers toiled in the Class A ranks. The Panthers last won a state Class B title in 1980.

“I’m just happy for the school, the community, the parents, fans [and] the kids,” said Medomak Valley coach Nick DePatsy, who is a MVHS alumni. “They all came together at the right moment. They’re easy kids to coach and they deserve it. They’ve done it all, they’ve been working hard in practice and I couldn’t be any more proud of them.”

DePatsy led Georges Valley to three Western Class C championship games in the 1990s, but Saturday’s game proved to be the veteran coach’s first regional title.

Medomak Valley, also the reigning two-time Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B champions, will move on to face Western champion Falmouth (20-1, after a 67-46 win over York, which finished 19-2, in the regional final) for the gold ball on Friday, March 1 at 9 p.m. at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.

“This is for all the alumni and everyone since 1980,” said DePatsy. “It’s been a long time coming. We’re going to represent ourselves the best we can and go get after it next weekend down in Portland.”

The only previous losses on the season for the Yachtsmen and Wildcats were to each other — with York winning 65-39 and Falmouth winning 71-51 — during the regular season.

MDI, which fell in the regional championship game for the second straight year, finished its season at 17-4.

Medomak Valley has been to four state championship games during its 45-year school history, splitting those contests.

The Panthers beat Schenck of East Millinocket 80-59 in 1980 and Hampden Academy 72-57 in 1977, while losing to Foxcroft Academy 56-53 in 1975 and Bucksport 45-43 in 1979.

The Panthers will look to add a third gold ball to their trophy case Friday night in Portland.

Falmouth won the state Class B basketball title in 2010 (a 72-65 overtime win over Camden Hills) and has won five state Class C crowns (1986, 1987, 1997, 1998, 1999) and finished state runners-up in Class C twice (1990, 1996).

In Saturday's Eastern Maine final, Jonathan Hendrickson-Belloguet tallied 16 points; Ryan Ripley, 13; John Murray, 11; Soper, 10; Boone Olson, four; and Micah Williamson, two for the Panthers.

Fifty-four of Medomak Valley’s 56 points came from senior players.

“I’m pretty happy,” said senior Murray, with a net comfortably around his neck. “I’ve been to a lot of championships growing up. I remember watching [Camden Hills’] Tyler McFarland down here, one of my idols, and he’d always have a net around [his neck] and always had the championships.

“Having us be able to do it as a full team, knowing that we wanted to do it since day one and a lot of people thought we wouldn’t be able to do it this year with all the seniors we lost, but we came together as a team with wicked good chemistry and it really paid off.”

“Our seniors all stepped it up at different points,” said coach DePatsy. “When you win a championship, it has to be a total team effort. It has to be different kids stepping up at different times.”

Medomak Valley made four 3-pointers, including Soper’s two treys in the pivotal fourth stanza, and 12-of-17 free throws (71 percent).

For the Trojans, Jon Phelps dumped in 21 points; Adam Gray, 15; Abe Philbrook, eight; Ben Walls, four; and Andrew Davis, two. The Trojans netted four treys, two from Phelps, and 12-of-17 foul shots (71 percent).

Phelps tallied 14 points (six on two 3-pointers) and Gray eight in the opening half.

Medomak Valley led 15-11 after the first eight minutes, while the Trojans went on a 17-8 surge in the second quarter to take a 29-23 lead at halftime. The Panthers then whittled away at the MDI lead, trailing 39-36 after three quarters.

Murray was contained for much of the first half with the physically thicker 6-5 Gray using his positioning to push Murray under the glass, thus not allowing the Panthers’ top scoring option decent looks at the rim.

"I usually don’t face kids that big, but when he’s pushing me under the paint like that when I have the ball, I’ve just got to trust my shooters,” said Murray. “And I could definitely trust them tonight.”

“Jon-Jon is usually our go-to guy and when we couldn’t go to him we worked it around with out guards,” said Hendrickson-Belloguet. “Our chemistry is amazing and we just work well together.”

Walls, arguably MDI’s top player, was on the bench for much of the first half in foul trouble, heading to the bench with 4:13 remaining in the first quarter and he did not return until late in the first half.

He fouled out of the game with 4.9 seconds remaining.

Despite the 6-2 senior forward spending a significant amount of time on the bench, the Trojans made a furious second-quarter run to seize the lead, led by an eight-point effort from Phelps.

At halftime, DePatsy’s halftime speech was simple.

“I just told them to be patient [and] to not rush it,” he said. “We just took it one possession at a time. It was all them. They did a great job.”

“He just told us, ‘You guys know what you need to do, ” said Soper. “You’ve been doing it all year and you’re going to do it right now.”

Soper’s first trey tied the game 39-39, but several seniors played a pivotal role in bringing the Panthers back in the fourth quarter, with Soper, Murray, Hendrickson-Belloguet and Olson accounting for all 20 points in the stanza for Medomak Valley.

“They were doubling down [in the paint] every time and I knew I needed to hit a shot so they’d come out and guard me,” said Soper. “They were leaving me open and I couldn’t get the ball inside so I knew I had to take one.”

After Phelps netted a foul shot to give MDI the lead back, Murray canned a trey from the corner and Hendrickson-Belloguet put one off the window in traffic to put the Panthers up 44-42.

Walls hit a pair of free throws to bring the Trojans back within two points, put Soper buried another 3-pointer to put Medomak Valley ahead 47-42 followed by another tough hoop in the paint by Hendrickson-Belloguet, which thrust the higher seed ahead by seven points with 2:53 left.

The Trojans hung tough, however, as Gray, the team’s 6-5 center, hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key off a ball that was batted out of the paint off a missed 3-point attempt by Walls, which brought MDI within 50-48 with less than a minute to play.

However, the Panthers were 6-of-6 from the line in the final minute to seal the deal.

With only two teams remaining standing in Class B, the Panthers turn their attention to the Yachtsmen, a team that many consider to be the most talented in the state, regardless of class affiliation.

“I know they’re very deep, very long, very tall and they’ve got a lot of good basketball players down there,” said coach DePatsy. “They’ve got a great program [and] great tradition. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, but we’re going to go down there, represent the community, give everything we got and hopefully we’ll be on the winning side again.”

Earlier in the regional playoffs, the Panthers defeated No. 13 Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft 53-30 and No. 8 Camden Hills 52-47, while MDI bested No. 2 Presque Isle 51-40 and No. 6 Winslow 48-42.

The Trojans also lost to Gardiner in last year's regional final. The Panthers and Trojans do not face one another during the regular season.

Previously this season, Medomak Valley lost to Oceanside 71-65 in overtime and Winslow 73-61, while MDI lost to Washington Academy of East Machias 66-61, Presque Isle 57-51 and Caribou 49-46.

Last year, Yarmouth bested Gardiner 65-53 in the state Class B championship game.

Western Maine final

In the Western Class B championship game Saturday afternoon at the Cumberland County Civic Center, No. 1 Falmouth beat No. 2 York 67-46, as Jack Simonds scored 19 points; Grant Burfield, 17; Thomas Coyne, 11; Thomas Wilberg, 10; Charles Fay, six; and Justin Rogers and Nick Burton, both two. Falmouth made six 3-pointers, including five from Simonds, and 21-of-26 foul shots (81 percent).

For York, Aaron Todd scored 18 points; Zachary Leal, 16; Luke Claflin, five; Adam Bailey, three; and Thomas Kinton and Hayden Webster, both two. The Wildcats netted three 3-pointers and 7-of-13 free throws (31 percent).

Falmouth will have an advantage over the Panthers in the state game in one respect because it has played its tournament games at the Cumberland County Civic Center while Medomak Valley played its games in Bangor.

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