AUGUSTA — These conference championship games are supposed to be exhibitions.
Coaches experiment with different combinations. Defense is more lackadaisical if not all-star-game optional. And players with even a hint of an injury don’t see the court in the interest of saving it for the tournament.
Someone forgot to drop that last detail in Ben Holmes’ ear.
Supposedly slowed by a sprained right ankle, Holmes brought 11 points and 15 rebounds off the bench Monday night. The physical and emotional lift ripped open a close game and made Dirigo an easy 70-48 winner over Spruce Mountain in the MVC boys’ title game at Augusta Civic Center.
“It was a lot of adrenaline,” Holmes said.
This building tends to bring that out in Dirigo (18-1). The Cougars have won three straight Western Class C championships here.
Seeing Spruce Mountain (17-2) on the other sideline probably had something to do with it, too. It was the Phoenix who spoiled the Cougars’ unbeaten regular season with a 46-41 victory in Jay on Wednesday.
Holmes rolled his ankle in the pre-game shoot and made minimal impact that night.
“He told me he was 95 percent. The trainer (Aaron Perreault) told me he was 95 percent. I didn’t really believe them, but when we played he definitely showed me,” Dirigo coach Travis Magnusson. “He was an animal tonight.”
Dirigo dominated the paint in an about face from the previous meeting.
Named the league’s player of the year prior to the game, Cody St. Germain backed it up with 17 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, three blocked shots and a thunderous late-game dunk.
“They had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half, which is probably more than they had combined in the first two games,” Spruce Mountain coach Chris Bessey said.
Dirigo won 59-55 when the teams met Jan. 3 in Dixfield. Spruce Mountain had won 11 straight games since.
“That’s a really good team,” St. Germain said. “The best team I think I’ve played in my four years of high school in Western Maine. I have tons of respect for them.”
Josh Turbide tallied 11 points for Dirigo, including three 3-pointers. Caleb Turner added 10.
Jake Bessey led Spruce with 15 points before fouling out with five minutes remaining. James Barker had eight points, all in the second quarter. Both made five steals.
Spruce scored eight unanswered points to snag a 23-18 lead early in the second quarter. Turbide’s 3-pointer got the Cougars untracked.
St. Germain hit a free throw and missed the second, but Holmes’ offensive carom led to a short jumper by St. Germain and put Dirigo in front.
Holmes answered a Trevin Dunlop bucket with another putback.
“I didn’t even think he was going to play,” St. Germain said of Holmes. “I don’t think he felt anything.”
Mitch Stanley — Holmes’ replacement in the starting five — and freshman Tyler Frost each delivered a key hoop in the final two minutes to give Dirigo a 31-27 halftime edge.
It was 37-35 with four minutes to go in the third before two Holmes’ second-chance hoops highlighted a 10-0 run.
Two free throws by Zach Bonnevie briefly interrupted the show, but Hunter Ross found Holmes for the dagger, a 3-pointer from the right corner.
“I wasn’t planning on playing him that much, maybe 8 to 10 minutes,” Magnusson said. “He kept saying every time I would take him out, ‘Coach, I feel good. I feel good.’ ”
Dirigo forced 28 Spruce Mountain turnovers.
With Bessey and Nate Shink in foul trouble and Ben Keene sidelined with a hip injury, the Phoenix’s already small and thin bench struggled to contain the Cougars’ two big men.
“They played well. We tried everything on defense and they hit every open shot and moved the ball well and drove by us. Penetration was a non-factor the last game,” Chris Bessey said. “We knew they would be upset that we kept them from an unbeaten season. We played them tough twice. We’re definitely as good. They’re not (22) points better. They’re definitely more comfortable in this building than we are.”
Dirigo will face the winner of a Telstar-Sacopee Valley preliminary here in next Monday’s quarterfinals. Class B Spruce will confront either Wells or Cape Elizabeth at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Portland.