High school boys basketball

Lights-out shooting carries Messalonskee over Oceanside for Class A North title

Eagles fly high early, maintain comfortable cushion throughout to beat defending champion Mariners
By Ken Waltz | Feb 25, 2017
Photo by: Ken Waltz Oceanside's Cooper Wirkala, left, and Messalonskee's Griffin Tuttle battle inside during a Feb. 24 high school boys basketball game at the Augusta Civic Center. The Eagles bested the Mariners 61-40 in the Class A North championship game.

Augusta — At the time, a thrilling, early-season home comeback victory over Messalonskee of Oakland provided a defining moment and gave the Oceanside boys basketball team an identify — one that showed the Mariners could, on any given day under most circumstances, beat any opponent — that carried through the rest of a solid regular season and playoff run.

However, the Eagles, perhaps with memories of that exact game, one, from their perspective, a victory that slipped through their fingers, earned a large measure of redemption on Friday afternoon, Feb. 24 at the Augusta Civic Center.

That is when and where No. 5 Messalonskee (16-5) flew to great heights — and shot lights-out from beyond the 3-point arc and the foul line — en route to a dominating 61-40 win over No. 3 Oceanside (17-4) for the Class A North championship.

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Watch video below.

It was the second straight regional finals appearance for the Mariners, who won last year's Class A North crown.

In fact, the ACC had been a home away from home, of sorts, for the Mariners until Friday as Oceanside had won five straight playoff games in the building.

However, on this day and in this game, the rims in the building were not Oceanside's friend, while those same orange cylinders, and, ultimately, the bottom of the nets, got especially chummy with many shots hoisted by the sizzling Eagles.

With the win, Messalonskee earned a spot in the state Class A championship game on Saturday, March 4 at 2:50 p.m. back at the ACC.

The Eagles will play the South winner of No. 1 Greely of Cumberland (21-0), which beat No. 2 Falmouth (15-6) 47-26 for the regional title on Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

It will be the first state final appearance for Messalonskee.

The Mariners must have known quickly that it would not be their day as most nearly every shot Messalonskee took went in and many Oceanside attempts, a bundle of which came a few feet from the backboard or rim, would not fall.

It was if all the Mariners' good bounces and good fortune in the building had run dry as the Eagles soared to leads of 16-2 and 21-4 and never looked back. In fact, Oceanside's first six points came on foul shots and the Mariners did not score a basket from the floor until the 4:34-mark of the second quarter.

"We struggled from the opening tip," said Oceanside coach Matt Breen. "We started slow and after that start the pressure mounted with every possession. It was a struggle offensively."

The Eagles soared early and often, as they led 18-4, 24-14 and 46-26 at the quarter breaks. In fact, Messalonskee made eight 3-pointers and 17-of-21 foul shots (81 percent) in the game.

And the lower-seed could not have gotten off to a better or faster start as it made seven floor shots, including two 3-pointers, and two free throws in the first eight minutes, while the Mariners, who had little trouble scoring points in games most of the season, were limited to four foul shots in the opening quarter.

While Oceanside battled back with a 10-6 second quarter to pull within 10 points at halftime, the Eagles again flew off their perch like they had a hurricane wind beneath their wings with 22 third-quarter points, including four more treys.

Messalonskee netted 15-of-19 foul shots (79 percent) in the second half, including 9-of-12 (75 percent) in the fourth quarter.

In fact, Messalonskee converted a rare four-point play when a player made a 3-point field goal and subsequent foul shot in the third stanza.

For the Mariners, Cooper Wirkala netted 16 points; Amos Anderson and Jack Lombardo, seven; Trevor Reed and Sam Atwood, three; and Nate Raye and Michael Norton Jr., two.

The Mariners made 14-of-20 foul shots (70 percent) and six 3-pointers, three from Wirkala late in the fourth quarter, and one from Anderson, Reed and Lombardo.

Additionally, Norton (8 rebounds), Atwood (5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals), Wirkala (2 rebounds), Anderson (3 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) and Raye (2 rebounds) led the Mariners in other statistical categories.

For Messalonskee, Nate Violette tallied 21 points; James Kouletsis, 13; Griffin Tuttle, 10; Chase Warren and Cole Wood, six; Tucker Charles, three; and Trevor McCray, two.

The Eagles made 17-of-21 foul shots and eight treys, including four from Violette, who had the four-point play, and two from Warren and one from Tuttle and Charles.

Kouletsis was 9-of-12 (75 percent) and Violette a perfect 7-of-7 from the foul line.

Messalonskee also got a boost, perhaps, from its girls team winning the regional title 55-39 over Nokomis of Newport in the previous game at the same site.

The Eagles also got a boost from a strong, vocal student section and superb band. Oceanside also had a solid student section and plenty of fans in the building, but not as much to cheer about in the early going, or overall on the afternoon.

Messalonskee got off to an unbelievable start as Wood scored inside and Wirkala made two free throws as the game was tied 2-2 in the first minute. But things took a turn for the worse for the Mariners from that point as Wood converted a putback and Oceanside could not covert multiple chances at the other end.

That ended up being the theme of the game for the Mariners, while the Eagles literally flew away for good in the opening stanza.

Violette scored on a backdoor cut, Tuttle a putback and Tuttle transition's trey at the 4:42-mark made it 11-2. After an Oceanside timeout, Violette hit a 3-pointer at 4:04 to give the Eagles a 14-2 advantage and that lead grew to 16-2 on Kouletsis' two free throws.

Lombardo stemmed the tide for the Mariners with two free throws at the 2:41-mark to make it 16-4, but despite a blocked shot by Anderson moments later that fired up the Mariner crowd, Oceanside could not gain any offensive traction as many of their shots rolled in and out or harmlessly off the rim.

McCray's score with 1:15 left to gave Messalonskee an 18-4 first-quarter advantage.

Warren's 3-pointer 20 seconds into the second quarter gave the Eagles a 21-4 advantage before Oceanside outscored Messalonskee 10-3 the rest of the quarter to get within 10 points at halftime.

While that margin seemed manageable, at the time, the Mariners watched Messalonskee come out in the third quarter and regain control, as the Eagles outscored the Mariners 22-12 in the stanza to build a comfortable 46-26 advantage at the break.

Messalonskee netted five 3-pointers and 6-of-7 free throws in the third stanza to gain separation from the Mariners.

Raye, one of four Mariner seniors, said Messalonskee's defense was tough and "their pressure was pretty good. We couldn't find any open shots and our offense wasn't really clicking."

Atwood, another senior, said that in the first quarter, when the game essentially was decided, the Mariners had a handful of defensive stops after the Eagles led early, but Oceanside could not convert on the offensive end, even when getting several high-percentage inside shots.

"We just couldn't do anything offensively," Atwood said.

"We came out flat and it was kind of hard to dig our way back into it," said Berger, also a senior.

Raye said despite the Marines' early deficit in Friday's regional championship game against the Eagles, the players felt, even at the start of the second half, they could make a comeback, and had proven that by beating Messalonskee during the regular season when trailing by 13 points at halftime.

That positive mindset changed for the Mariners, Raye said, about midway through the third quarter "when they were hitting all of their shots and our shots still weren't really falling as much."

"The kids gave me all they could all year long," Breen said. "They had a great season that ended in disappointment. This loss should not overshadow all they accomplished. We graduated seven players from last year's team. There was a lot uncertainty about this group. Once the season got going we got great leadership from our seniors. Our younger or less experienced kids developed in a hurry. It was a pleasure to be a part of this group."

Earlier in the playoffs, the Eagles defeated No. 8 Skowhegan 64-55 in overtime in the semifinals and No. 4 Gardiner 53-46 in the quarterfinals. The Mariners beat No. 7 Cony of Augusta 67-61 and in the semifinals and No. 6 Nokomis of Newport 53-49 in the quarterfinals.

On Jan. 6, with a furious second-half comeback, Oceanside defeated Messalonskee 54-52 in Rockland in the team's lone regular-season meet.

The squads also met in last year’s quarterfinals as the then the No. 4 Mariners bested the No. 5 Eagles 64-51.

Oceanside versus Messalonskee boys basketball
Oceanside versus Messalonskee on Feb. 24 in high school boys basketball Class A North championship action in Augusta. (Video by: Zack Miller of VStv)
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