Shawn Ricker and his fellow Lewiston seniors simply had that look. It’s the cold, self-assured glare that so many future college players had when they suited up for Edward Little in the past five years of this rivalry. And it said that nothing shy of an act of God would prevent them from leaving the gym with a victory.
Ricker scored seven of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, helping Lewiston deny Edward Little’s comeback and end an eight-game losing streak in the series with a 58-53 victory in the KVAC regular-season finale before a standing-room-only crowd.
“It’s almost like a relief for the whole program,” Ricker said. “We always came in here expecting to lose, so it’s good to change it.”
The Blue Devils’ first win over the Red Eddies since December 2007 had dual postseason ramifications.
Lewiston (15-3) earned its first-ever berth in the conference championship game, to be played against Hampden at 7 p.m. Monday at Cony High School in Augusta.
As for the Eastern Class A tournament up the street in the capital city, Lewiston clinched the No. 2 seed and will face — drum roll, please — No. 7 EL (11-7) in the quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18.
“It’s insane,” said Ricker, whose team won two games his freshman year and three his sophomore season. “I’ve seen the worst of the worst.”
Ricker hit four first-half 3-pointers on his way to the 18th annual Gordon “John” Gillette Award, symbolic of the game’s most valuable player.
Junior Josh Thomas scored 10 of Lewiston’s 11 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 off the bench.
Luke Cote collected five of his nine points in a 24-second span early in the fourth quarter. Lewiston turned over EL on four consecutive possessions and transformed a 42-41 deficit into a 50-42 lead.
“We’ve started fast against them before and seen them come back and get the lead,” Lewiston coach Tim Farrar said. “I think they expended a lot of energy doing it and we had some push at the end.”
Lewiston exasperated EL into 2-for-16 from the field in the first quarter and 3-for-13 in the fourth. That second stretch included an academic Ian Therriault 3-pointer at the horn.
“The big thing was after the third quarter they were up, we just came back stronger,“ Cote said. “That did it.”
Quin Leary scored 11 of his 15 points prior to halftime for EL. Lewiston shut him out for the final 10 minutes.
Therriault tacked on 12 points and four assists for the Red Eddies. Omar Haji-Hersi added 10 points and a team-high 12 rebounds.
“I thought our (defensive) switching was terrific,” Ricker said. “Quin had to work his butt off for every point he had, and all the other kids got frustrated.”
The Eddies’ frustration was never higher than the opening period. Cote and Ricker each nailed a 3-pointer during a six-minute EL scoring drought. Donne Agossou also delivered two fast break hoops.
Thomas’ steal and coast-to-coast layup in the closing seconds made it a 15-4 Lewiston edge.
“There was a point early in the game where I thought this could get ugly. And then to fight back and go ahead by one, I thought we might able to squeak one out,” EL coach Mike Adams said. “Ricker was phenomenal. Thomas really pushed the whole time he was in there. They’ve had a great year. They’re a good team. They have all the pieces.”
EL found a flow in the middle chapters, shooting nearly 60 percent and briefly outworking Lewiston on the glass.
Ricker rained down a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to keep the Devils’ cushion at seven, 32-25.
“I’ve played in this gym three times and it gets a little easier to shoot every game,” Ricker said. “I know the kids in the crowd, so it’s fun to make one and look over at them.”
Despite Thomas’ personal highlight film in the third, buckets by Leary and Haji-Hersi and a 3-pointer from freshman Llewellyn Jensen gave the Eddies a 42-41 edge.
Thomas’ 10-footer restored the Lewiston lead for good before quarter’s end.
“Josh hit a couple big shots when we didn’t score much. Shawn hit a couple more big shots,” Farrar said, “and then we finally exerted our will on the boards.”
Steven Patrie and Corbin Hyde combined for 15 rebounds.
Lewiston enters the tourney with a seven-game winning streak. First up is a rematch of a Jan. 6 contest in which Lewiston outlasted top-ranked Hampden, 43-40.
“We gave them their one loss, and we’d like to make it two,” Cote said. “It’s a big game. It means a lot for momentum going into the tournament.”