Having already lost to Class B West boys’ title game opponent Greely by 23 points in the regular season, the Knights were down by 19 Saturday more quickly than you could say, “in over their heads.”
Brimming with confidence, flaunting size, strength and facial hair, overflowing with all-conference players, Greely was a lock to hit the cruise control switch and drive to its inevitable state-game date in Bangor.
“We played like we had nothing to lose,” Poland’s C.J. Martin said. “We felt we didn’t. We were just tough. That was the biggest difference. Toughness, toughness, toughness.”
In what was perhaps the most improbable and inspired comeback in the 93-year history of Maine tournament basketball, Poland rode the senior shoulders of Martin and Tyler Michaud to a 63-59 victory at Cumberland County Civic Center that nobody in attendance will forget as long as they’re on the planet.
Martin scored 26 points for Poland — which trailed 11-0, 23-4 and 27-9 out of the gate — and won the Pierre Harnois Award as outstanding player and sportsman of the tournament. Michaud scored seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. Sophomore John Fossett brought 10 points off the bench.
The No. 6 Knights, who were two games under .500 with four games remaining in the regular season, knocked off No. 3 Spruce Mountain, No. 2 Morse and No. 1 Greely in succession by a total of 13 points and smashed the bracket to smithereens.
“That’s crazy,” Michaud said. “We knew we had to get cranking soon. Coach (Tyler) Tracy called a smart timeout and got us motivated. He said, ‘This isn’t how we want to end our season.’ Obviously it wasn’t.”
Poland (12-8) will face fellow sixth seed Old Town in the Class B final. Game time is 9:05 p.m. Friday at Cross Insurance Center.
Bailey Train scored 22 points on the strength of six 3-pointers for Greely (19-2) and nearly willed a comeback that would have been more otherworldly than Poland’s.
With his Rangers trailing 61-50 and two starters having fouled out with less than a minute to play, Train drained back-to-back trifectas. Poland missed four straight free throws to leave the door ajar, and Matt McDevitt came off the bench to nail another trey and make it a two-point game.
Junior Derek Michaud calmly pushed the ball up the court and worked the ball inside to defensive hero Josh Gary for a game-clinching layup and a foul.
“Poland did great things. They hit some big shots and we stopped what we were doing,” Greely coach Travis Seaver said. “I don’t think (we let up). We’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot of basketball and have seen crazier things happen.”
The Knights hit 8 of their last 10 shots from the field. Six of Greely’s 22 turnovers came in the fourth quarter.
It was a complete reversal of the first period, in which Greely sank its first six shots and 9 of 11 out of the gate in a men-versus-boys beginning that seemed to make the outcome a mere formality.
“I was thinking I didn’t recognize this team,” Tracy said. “We’ve been tough for a few weeks now, and we just came out that first quarter and played very tentative. Very soft. Very scared of the moment, I think. When we settled down, then we realized, hey, we can play with these guys.”
The game changed when Poland lured Greely 6-foot-7 center and 1,000-point scorer Michael McDevitt into his third foul midway through the second quarter. Gary did much of that dirty work.
Down 27-9, the Knights promptly went on a 16-2 run, triggered by Tyler Michaud’s 3-pointer.
Martin delivered a pair of drives, with Fossett contributing a tip-in and two free throws from the suddenly less intimidating land of giants.
“We game-planned for him. We wanted to take a lot of charges,” Martin said of McDevitt. “We knew he’d be looking to take over. We were expecting him to take over, and when that happened we got into position.”
Tyler Michaud found younger brother Derek for another 3-pointer, followed by a Martin jumper that cut it to five before Train’s trey from the top of the arc made it 32-25 at the half.
Thinking halftime would steal Poland’s momentum? Think again. Martin scored five of Poland’s seven unanswered points, while the Knights held the Rangers scoreless for the first 3:19 to pull even.
“That’s C.J. When we need him, he steps up,” Tracy said. “When we struggle, C.J. just takes it to another level.”
Derek Michaud’s steal and Martin’s 3-pointer gave Poland its first lead, 38-36, with 2:20 to go in the third. The Knights never trailed after Tyler Michaud’s 3-point play two minutes into the fourth.
Shawn Murphy drew the offensive foul that ended Michael McDevitt’s day with just under three minutes to go. By then, it was 58-48, Knights.
McDevitt finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Patrick O’Shea added 10 points.
“We just didn’t execute. We missed a bunch of three and four-footers as well. That hurts,” Seaver said. “Not that anyone was looking ahead, but our goal was to play one more game. That was our goal all year long.”
Now it’s Poland’s dream-come-true.
“The life of a coach is you never enjoy the wins enough and you dwell too much on the losses,” Tracy said. “I’m going to try to enjoy this, but I know tonight the wheels will probably start turning.”
For the scouting report. If not the book. Or the movie.