High school boys basketball

Mariners ramp up second-half defense, oust upset-minded Rams in semifinals

Oceanside plays for regional crown Feb. 24 against Messalonskee of Oakland
By Mark Haskell | Feb 23, 2017
Photo by: Mark Haskell Oceanside's Nate Raye (5), Jack Freeman, left, and Josef Berger are all smiles as they run off the court and celebrate a 67-61 high school boys basketball Class A North semifinal playoff win over Cony on Feb. 22 at the Augusta Civic Center.

Augusta — It has been smooth sailing for the Oceanside Mariners in their second season in Class A North — particularly when it comes to postseason contests at the Augusta Civic Center.

The No. 3 Mariners, after a pair of higher-ranked squads were upset in the quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 18 — suddenly found themselves as the top remaining seed as they squared off with No. 7 Cony of Augusta in the semifinals on Wednesday night, Feb. 22.

The Rams — playing in their own backyard (though they play their home games at nearby Cony High School) — gave the Mariners all they could handle throughout the 32-minute affair with their aggressive substitution style, swarming defensive and offensive attacks.

But the defending regional champs ultimately improved to 5-0 at the ACC in the past two seasons as they ousted the upset-minded Rams 67-61 and punched a ticket to their second straight regional title game.

Click for photos from this game.

Watch video below.

The Mariners (17-3) will face No. 5 Messalonskee of Oakland (15-5) for the regional crown on Friday, Feb. 24 at 2:45 p.m. back at the ACC. The Eagles defeated No. 8 Skowhegan 64-55 in overtime in another semifinal game to advance to the regional final.

Oceanside defeated Messalonskee 54-52 on Jan. 6 in Rockland in the team's lone regular-season meet. The squads also met in last year’s quarterfinals as the then fourth-ranked Mariners bested the fifth-seeded Eagles 64-51.

Cony (11-10) defeated No. 10 Erskine Academy of South China 62-47 in a prelim playoff game and upset No. 2 Hamden Academy 60-48 in the quarterfinals to advance to face Oceanside.

The Mariners also bested No. 6 Nokomis of Newport 53-49 in the quarterfinals.

“I just knew it was going to be a hectic game,” said Mariner coach Matt Breen. “It wasn’t going to be a traditional chess match and we were going to have to reach to what they were doing and we were going to have to control the tempo at times. We attacked their pressure when we needed to and got some easy buckets and there were a couple more we should have capitalized on, but then we were pretty good at pulling the ball out and making them defend in the halfcourt.”

Michael Norton Jr., who has put up numerous double-doubles throughout the season, added another for good measure on Wednesday with a 24-point, 10-rebound performance for Oceanside.

Cooper Wrikala and Nate Raye also had 13-point efforts, while Sam Atwood tallied eight; Amos Anderson, seven; and Josef Berger, two.

Raye also stepped up immensely for Oceanside as he proved to be the catalyst for the higher seed, as he led its defensive press breaker and either finished at the rim or dished out assists in the paint.

“This was a different team going five in five out,” said Raye. “We didn’t know what to [expect]. We knew they’d press a lot and we’d have to break that press and that they had a couple good players and they shot the ball quite a bit. We just tried to break that press and get some open shots and we did.”

Jordan Roddy also had a 24-point effort for Cony, while Austin Parlin added 10; Simon McCormick, six; Nate Parlin, five; Amahde Carter and Taylor Heath, four; Bryan Stratton and Jake Davis, three; and Nick Poulin, two.

The Mariners were 15-of-20 (75 percent) from the foul line, while the Rams were a perfect 4-of-4 (100 percent) from the charity stripe.

Additionally for the Mariners, Atwood (7 rebounds, 2 steals), Raye (6 assists, 5 rebounds), Wirkala (8 rebounds, 2 assists) and Anderson (8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals) had solid statistical efforts.

There also were nine ties and nine lead changes in the game.

The contest was back-and-forth throughout as Cony led 20-17 after the first quarter when McCormick hit an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Cony remained atop the Mariners at halftime with a 40-38 advantage.

But Oceanside went on a 15-10 run in the third quarter to take a 53-50 edge heading into the final stanza.

Breen said Oceanside communicating more defensively on switches — and his players’ ability “to go out and execute in the second half” — was paramount to the team wearing down the Rams.

“We weren’t communicating in the first half and they were coming off screens uncontested and we weren’t getting close enough to Roddy," the coach said. "We just talked about challenging our guys to dig deep on defense. You’ve got 16 minutes to get to a regional final, let’s go get it. And they did.”

The Rams were white-hot from beyond the arc in the first 16 minutes, hitting eight treys as they held the Mariners at bay in the early going.

But Oceanside got a supreme effort on the hardwood from Anderson, who enjoyed a sensational final 20 seconds of the half, which began with a block on Roddy, who was penetrating to the basket.

He then corralled a defense rebound moments later and handed off to Wirkala, who went the length of the court and converted a layup as time expired.

“I put him in in the first quarter and I wasn’t impressed with what I saw and then I got on him a little bit and he was great the rest of the game,” said Breen of Anderson. “Those young kids they’re going to play in spurts and he was huge for us down the stretch on the boards and he did a great job defensively.”

“It was my first couple minutes playing in the game and I was a little jittery,” said Anderson. “Then I got with it, I got down the floor and made some plays.”

Anderson scored off an offensive putback to bring Oceanside within 47-46 midway through the third quarter and came up with a steal at midcourt moments later and was seemingly gobbled up by the swarming Ram defense.

The sophomore then made a desperation, off-balanced pass to an open Atwood near the hoop, and Atwood gave the Mariners back the lead at 48-47.

McCormick countered with a 3-pointer to put Cony back up 50-48, but Norton responded with a traditional three-point play with 2:05 to go in the stanza that, ultimately, gave Oceanside the lead at 51-50.

The Mariners led 56-50 in the early stages of the fourth before Poulin, Carter and Roddy netted field goals to knot the score.

But Oceanside responded with a six-point run of its own with baskets from Anderson and Raye — along with a pair of foul shots from Norton — to push ahead 62-56.

Roddy then scored Cony’s final five points before fouling out with 41.5 remaining.

The Mariners then went 5-of-8 at the foul line in the waning moments to pull away.

Oceanside versus Cony boys basketball
Oceanside versus Cony on Feb. 22 in high school boys basketball Class A North semifinal playoff action in Augusta. (Video by: Zack Miller of VStv)
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