AUGUSTA — Travis Frost and Hunter Ross celebrated a state championship one year ago. Their Dirigo boys' basketball program has won the Western Class C title four Februarys running.
So when the Cougars faced a six-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter Monday and all those accomplishments might have felt like they were a hundred years ancient, who did the seniors want to see cradling the ball? Why, freshman Riley Robinson, of course.
"It doesn't surprise me one bit. The kid plays basketball year-round. He's in the gym every chance he gets," Frost said. "I have no problem putting the ball in his hands, because I have faith he's going to hit big shots, even though he's only 14 or 15 years old."
The kid carried the weight of all that tradition on his shoulders, scoring 12 of his game-high 23 points in the final 6:47 and making No. 3 Dirigo a 50-47 winner over No. 6 Old Orchard Beach in a quarterfinal battle royal.
Robinson hit two 3-pointers to begin the comeback, polished off a two-on-one to put Dirigo (18-1) in front with 1:02 left, then nailed four straight free throws in the final 16 seconds.
Dirigo won its 13th straight regional tournament game at Augusta Civic Center and advanced to a 7 p.m. Thursday semifinal against second-seeded Waynflete.
"He's been our leading scorer all year, about 15 points a game. He has been very good offensively," Dirigo coach Travis Magnusson said of Robinson. "The biggest thing he did tonight was he made 4-for-4 foul shots at the end. That's a tough situation for a freshman to be in, but he knocked them down. He was very cool. I don't think it hit the rim at all. He's been a great player for us all year."
Those heroics at the offensive end were set up by the defensive work of Frost, Ross, Robinson, Chad Snowman and Robbie Babb.
Dirigo forced six fourth-quarter turnovers, including a combined three steals by Ross and Frost, and held OOB (13-5) to two field goals in the final 4:45.
The Seagulls led 42-36 on Tyler Scott's 3-pointer prior to that stifling finish.
"Coach started to mix things up. We weren't playing our best for sure," Ross said. "Offensively we just haven't been feeling it, so defensively Coach has been doing the right thing, getting a lot of traps so we can get transition points out of that."
Robinson's second 3-pointer of the period trimmed the deficit in half. Then a steal by the freshman set up Ross' lone field goal of the game on the fast break to make it 42-41.
The margin mushroomed to four again on a free throw by Anthony Langella-Laws and an inside bucket from Quincy Grace, but Dirigo responded with seven straight points to take command.
Babb began the surge by scoring off a Frost feed, drawing an offensive foul against Grace, then later making the first of two free throws with 1:17 to go.
Dirigo's next defensive stop gave the Cougars a numbers advantage in the open floor, and Snowman located Robinson for the go-ahead layup.
"Our offense wasn't very good most of the night," Magnusson said. "We weren't moving as well as we have the past couple of games. Maybe nerves. Probably a little bit of pressure. We definitely worked and battled defensively."
Frost stripped away the ball to shorten OOB's next possession, forcing the Seagulls to foul Robinson.
"I was feeling good. You've got to be confident going up to the line in that situation," Robinson said. "All my senior captains were supportive. They wanted the ball in my hands. They trusted me, so I wanted to hit 'em for them."
Babb notched nine points and Frost six for the Cougars, who committed an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers but harassed the Seagulls into 21.
Dirigo also lured OOB's 6-foot-4 Grace and 6-2 Nick Carlin into foul trouble. Grace sat out the entire third quarter and was held to nine points. Carlin was shut out.
Joey Gildard scored 12 points to lead the Seagulls, who fell to Dirigo's in the 2012 Western C final and entered this tournament on a 10-game winning streak.
"Old Orchard really played well, and they did most of it without their big guy. They are a very, very good basketball team," Magnusson said. "We're very fortunate. We feel like we kind of stole one today."
Dirigo led 10-6 after one quarter and 22-21 at the half before OOB scored eight straight points to open its largest lead of the game.
Langella-Laws hit two 3-pointers in the third quarter. James Strohm, seeing significant minutes in Grace and Carlin's absence, had four points and five rebounds in the period.
"It was a good win," Robinson said. "We didn't play well at first. They're a good team, and we just stuck it out and were able to gut it out."