PORTLAND — It has been a 15-year journey, but Poland Regional High School finally finds itself in the land of Greely, Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth and company.
The Knights advanced to the Class B West boys’ basketball semifinals for the first time in school history Saturday, defeating Spruce Mountain, 77-69, in a frantic and foul-filled regional quarterfinal at Portland Expo.
Alan Young had 25 points and 13 rebounds and C.J. Martin added 20 points for the Knights (11-8), who were victorious in their third-ever try at a win past the preliminary round.
“This is huge. This is our first time ever winning on an Expo-type floor in a tournament environment,” said Martin, a senior captain. “It’s really cool, because we can see the community atmosphere when we start winning. Our crowd was loud and behind us the whole way, and it was really great to experience that.”
No. 6 Poland will play No. 2 Morse in Thursday’s semifinals at Cumberland County Civic Center. No. 3 Spruce Mountain finished 16-3.
The Knights led by 15 late in the first half but had to stave off numerous rallies by the Phoenix, the last one ending bitterly for the Jay-Livermore Falls combine.
Deonte Ring sank two free throws to get the Phoenix within three, 69-66, with 1:56 remaining. He then stole in the backcourt and drove for an apparent hoop, but instead was whistled for an offensive foul, his fifth.
Ring fouled out with a game-high 29 points. While protesting the call, his coach, Chris Bessey, picked up a technical foul. Martin made both ensuing free throws, and Spruce Mountain never again nudged closer than four points.
“That was a bad call. I hope they look at the tape, because that’s what happens when you put JV officials doing tournament games,” Bessey said. “And the technical I thought was a bad call. I didn’t swear. I was in the box. At that point in a tournament game, with that call, you’re an official and you’ve got to understand the situation a little bit better than that.”
Scottie Hall added 12 points and Anthony York 10 for the Phoenix. York and Ring each scored eight in the fourth quarter to fuel the comeback bid.
But, as Bessey quickly pointed out, the Phoenix helped dig the hole.
Poland shredded Spruce Mountain’s full-court pressure early and often, with Tyler Michaud (eight assists) routinely finding Martin and Young down the floor for easy buckets.
“They pressed us. We found the gaps. We got to the middle,” Martin said. “We found the diagonal pass cross-court, and from there we had a two-on-one, with which you’re going to have a high percentage of scoring opportunities.”
Martin scored 12 of his 20 in the first quarter, when Poland jumped out to a 22-14 lead.
“We did a very nice job of attacking their press and not letting it affect us. We got some early buckets and that built our confidence,” Poland coach Tyler Tracy said. “Honestly the halves were backward I thought. I didn’t know how we were going to respond coming out, because we haven’t played here in a couple years. I thought we might be a little nervous and back on our heels, and that wasn’t the case at all.”
The second quarter commenced with more of the same. Derek Michaud (13 points) drove the lane to start a 3-point play, then found Shawn Murphy for a 3-pointer on Poland’s next possession to push the lead to double digits.
Poland’s advantage hit its high-water mark of 15 points after Spruce went nearly five minutes without a field goal. Billy Bickford’s putback, followed by a Derek Michaud free throw, made it 40-25 with two minutes to go.
It was 43-30 at the half, with the Knights shooting 58 percent from the field at that stage. Spruce, meanwhile was a frosty 9-for-33 (27 percent) and missed five free throws in the half, as well.
“The kids showed a lot of heart and toughness. We obviously put ourselves in a hole, and Poland played very well. We did some bad things with our press and left Martin uncontested many, many, numerous times,” Bessey said. “Once we got settled in, it became an even game. We had a couple chances even in the first half to get momentum, and it always seemed like we would make a mistake on the offensive end.”
Spruce Mountain cut it to five, 51-46, late in the third quarter, but Derek Michaud answered with a 3-pointer.
Ring scored the last 10 points of the period for the Phoenix, most of it by breezing past his defender and driving to the hoop.
“We did not do a good job defensively on dribble penetration. Ring just kept getting to the basket,” Tracy said. “They can shoot it, which makes it difficult because it spreads them out a little bit. He’s a tough kid. He put them on his back and brought them back into it.”
Young scored 10 in the fourth quarter to help Poland survive.
The Knights went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line at the end after a shaky 2-for-6 start in the fourth quarter.
“It was kind of a bend-but-don’t break atmosphere for us,” Martin said. “We toughed it out until the end and hit our foul shots.”