PORTLAND — No. 6 seeds aren’t supposed to get to the final this way.
Threatening to explode through the roof with double-digit leads, then relying on a call here and a free throw there to escape the quarterfinal and a miraculous defensive gem to survive the semifinal? Nope, that’s what favorites do.
The longer Poland hangs around the Class B West boys’ basketball tournament, we’re all realizing that the Knights don’t follow a script. They’re just themselves: A rugged, resilient bunch that doesn’t care what the scoreboard or standings say.
Tyler Michaud’s steal of an inbounds pass with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation Thursday night preserved Poland’s 45-44 semifinal victory over No. 2 Morse at Cumberland County Civic Center.
“He’s a reflection of this team. He’s a senior guard. These guys are gritty. They’re tough. They just don’t back down,” Poland coach Tyler Tracy said. “Morse is a good team, and obviously they know how to win the close ones from the last one (double overtime over Lake Region). We just stepped in front of it and defended it.”
Poland (12-8), which had never advanced past the quarterfinal round in its history prior to this run, will face No. 1 Greely in the final at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.
The Knights have won six straight games. They prevailed despite giving away most of a 13-point lead while not scoring in the final 4:38 of regulation.
“Last game too,” Michaud said, referring to a 77-69 quarterfinal triumph over No. 3 Spruce Mountain in which a 15-point lead shrank to three. “With two minutes left we thought we had it and made some dumb plays at the end.”
Michaud, himself, made one well-intentioned choice for which he might have kicked himself, had the Shipbuilders completed the improbable rally.
With Poland leading by one and under 10 seconds to play, the senior guard saw daylight and drove to the baseline. His attempted layup rattled off the rim and into the hands of Morse’s Keegan McDonough.
But after Morse dribbled past midcourt and called timeout to design the possible game-winner, Michaud anticipated and stepped in front of the pass to Liam McDonough.
Michaud broke into the open court and threw the ball wisely and triumphantly toward the rafters as time expired.
“It was supposed to be a lob (inside) with the first guy cutting it off,” Morse coach Sam Hayes said. “We didn’t really come off the screen real well. We just kind of floated it out to the 3-point line. If we’d come off that screen hard, I think maybe we could have attacked the basket a little bit, maybe got to the foul line.”
C.J. Martin led all scorers with 13 points for Poland. Alan Young added 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Josh Gary put up 10 points and six boards.
The steal by Michaud was his fourth of the game.
Ethan Winglass topped Morse (15-5) with 12 points, eight in the fourth-quarter rally. Liam McDonough notched nine, Casey Watson eight and Keegan McDonough seven to go with a team-high 10 rebounds.
“Defensively we did just an unbelievable job on Winglass to hold him to 12 points,” Tracy said. “Our last three or four games, we’ve had a comfortable fourth-quarter lead, and we always make it interesting. But we find a way to win, and we did today.”
Martin’s drive capped a 9-1 run to open the fourth quarter to put Poland on top by a baker’s dozen.
Morse compounded its problems by going 4-for-10 from the free-throw line in the half to that point. The rally started innocently enough when Winglass and Watson sank four straight.
Winglass scored on a feed from Liam McDonough. He was fouled in the process, but after missing the free throw, he put back his own miss for a four-point play and a 45-40 deficit with 3:22 left.
“The foul shots really came into play tonight. We got in a hole and really had to stretch defensively from what we normally do to get back in it,” Hayes said. “All year they honestly never thought they were going to lose a single game, and I felt that same way. We won four games at the buzzer. This situation, maybe I’m stupid, but I was still feeling pretty confident.”
Jacob Freeman’s steal set up another Winglass hoop that cut it to three, and Keegan McDonough drained two free throws to set up the furious finish.
Michaud’s younger brother, Derek, may have saved the game for Poland when he alertly called timeout after picking up his dribble and being triple-teamed in the halfcourt with 19 seconds left.
“That’s the thing about this group,” Tracy said. “You don’t know who’s going to step up.”
The teams combined to go 4-for-29 from the field in the first quarter before turning this one into a classic. There were six lead changes in a first half that ended in a 21-21 tie.
Martin gave Poland the lead for good at 25-24 early in the third.
Poland overcame 17-for-53 (32 percent) shooting by committing only nine turnovers.
“At the end we find a way to get it done,” Tyler Michaud said. “We knock down big shots and get stops when we need to.”