Class B Boys’ Basketball Final: Six of one, half-dozen of the other

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Quick, name that team.

These guys finished the season with a substantial winning streak to sneak into the regional tournament as a No. 6 seed, then kept it going with an improbable run.

They won those playoff games with high drama, timely defense and scoring balance, sometimes letting a lead slip away but always exhibiting the toughness to save it at the end.

It’s all led by a fourth-year coach who overcame a glaring lack of recent tradition and a schedule that was tougher than a two-dollar steak to get here.

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Time’s up. The two acceptable answers are Poland (13-8) and Old Town (17-5), and they will meet at 8:45 p.m. Friday for the Class B boys’ basketball championship at Cross Insurance Center.

Maine’s two most surprising teams have so much in common that, yes, it’s a bit startling. The common denominators remain after you strip away the recent scores and other statistics, too.

“They’ve got good guard play. They’ve got a couple of good big men. Very similar to us,” Poland coach Tyler Tracy said. “They’re going to put the ball on the floor and try to get to the basket. They run the floor well. Defensively they’re going to try to mix it up a little bit.”

The six-against-six matchup equals the highest combined seeding of two state championship opponents in Maine boys’ hoop history, including all classes.

Poland entered the playoffs having won only three tournament games in its 15-year existence, and never tasting a prior victory past the preliminary round.

The Knights knocked off the top three seeds in the West — Spruce Mountain, Morse and Greely — by a combined 12 points. In the final against the Rangers, they overcame a 19-point deficit and avenged a 23-point regular-season home loss.

Although Old Town boasts a lengthy lore that includes four state titles and six Eastern Maine titles dating back to 1929, its dry spell was even longer. The Coyotes hadn’t won a tournament game since 2001 before beating Waterville in the preliminary round and then halting an eight-game losing streak to Mount Desert Island in the quarterfinals.

Old Town held off Ellsworth in the semis and clipped Caribou, 43-41, in overtime for the regional title. MDI, Ellsworth and Caribou handed the Coyotes four of their five regular-season defeats.

Poland has won seven consecutive games, Old Town nine.

The Knights were 1-4 and 6-8 before embarking on their longest winning streak ever.

“I definitely had to have some heart-to-hearts with some of them and let them know they didn’t have to do it all,” Tracy said. “People look at our eight losses. We play in one of the best conferences in the state. Every night is a grind. We have a couple losses that could have gone either way.”

Naturally, the Knights’ early-season crisis of confidence is dead and buried.

“I’m sure we’ve probably seen most of the stuff they’re going to throw at us,” senior guard Tyler Michaud said. “OOB plays the same type of game (as Old Town). They mix up defenses a lot. If we just stay composed and play our game, we should be all set.”

Another similarity between the two teams is balance.

The hard-nosed Michaud, the explosive and smooth C.J. Martin and the steady low post presence of Josh Gary and Alan Young have led the Knights throughout the tournament.

Eric Hoogterp, Nick Cowan, Garvey Melmed and Mitchell Cole all led Old Town’s scoring in at least one tournament game. Melmed, a four-year starter in the backcourt, scored the Coyotes’ final eight points against Caribou, including the game-winning free throws with 22 seconds remaining in OT.

Senior Zach Bartlett has been missing from Coach Brian McDormand’s frontcourt since sustaining a hand injury in the quarterfinals. Junior Adam Richardson has stepped up his production to fill the void.

“They’ve got some good guards and a good big man,” Martin said. “If we stop the guard play, we should be OK.”

Poland practiced in Bangor on Tuesday evening.

Although playing the final in a new building removes some of the quirks that may have given Eastern squads an advantage in the past at venerable Bangor Auditorium, Tracy said that his team still was “awestruck” by the experience. He is glad the Knights had the opportunity to get that out of their system.

Martin agreed.

“We benefited a lot from it,” the 5-foot-10 captain said. “It was good to practice shooting there and get acclimated to having the fans right on top of us. We’re ready for it to be louder than Cumberland County Civic Center, because you can just tell it holds noise better.”

“It’s a good shooting gym in there,” Michaud added. “There’s a few spots where the lights blind you, but other than that it was great. The fans are a lot closer, so we should hear them a lot better and that will get us pumped up.”

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