Jay boys’ basketball players Tyrell Waldon, left, and Brian Fournier embrace after winning the Class C state basketball championship in Augusta in 2002. Fournier’s last-second free throws lifted Jay to a 48-47 win over Calais.

Jay boys’ basketball players Tyrell Waldon, left, and Brian Fournier embrace after winning the Class C state basketball championship in Augusta in 2002. Fournier’s last-second free throws lifted Jay to a 48-47 win over Calais.

AUGUSTA — One of the reasons basketball fans count down the days to the state high school basketball tournament is that, inevitably over the ensuing fortnight, at least one game will end in dramatic, unlikely, even impossible fashion.

Whenever one of those fantastic finishes occur, fans will turn to the people sitting next to them in the arena or report to social media and declare it the most incredible ending ever.

And anyone who witnessed the 2002 Class C state championship game between Jay and Calais at the Augusta Civic Center will know better.

Even those who were on the court when Jay went from down one point and without the ball with 1.4 seconds left to state champions find the ending a little bit preposterous, 15 years later.

“I didn’t even believe it when I was recalling it to my co-workers a few days ago,” said Josh Armandi, a junior forward and the Tigers’ leading scorer that night.

“It’s just crazy,” said Brian Fournier, Jay’s senior point guard and the game’s hero. “How it all went down is still just unbelievable.”

An obscure rule, a technical foul and two clutch free throws by the steely-nerved Fournier capped off the Tigers’ come-from-behind 48-47 win and cemented the 2002 Class C state championship in tournament lore.

First, the comeback

Fans debated the ending for months, even years after it happened. But it would have been moot if the Tigers didn’t shake off a slow start that saw them go nearly seven minutes without scoring a point and put them in an eight-point hole at halftime.

“We went into the locker room with our heads down at halftime,” said Derek Armandi, Josh’s older brother and a senior guard for the Tigers, along with his twin brother Dana. “We were waiting for our coach (Steve Hamilton) to come in to talk to us. I usually never spoke at halftime, but us older players started getting everyone into it. It was like, ‘Hey, if you’re a senior, this is your last game. If you’re a freshman, this may be your only state championship game. We did more with less time last week, so let’s make this happen.'”

Indeed. Just one week earlier, the Tigers rallied from 10 points down late in the fourth quarter to beat Georges Valley in overtime of the Western C final. But they needed to start making shots and find a way to contain Calais stars Andy Frost and Joe Footer if they wanted to win a gold ball.

Derek and Josh Armandi obliged, combining to score 12 of Jay’s first 14 points in the third quarter (en route to a team-high 15 points apiece) to tie the game at 32-32.

The Tigers went cold again in the fourth quarter, missing nine of their first 10 shots. Somehow, though, they stayed within striking distance of the Blue Devils.

Calais led by four with 33 seconds left when Josh Armandi drilled a 3-pointer to pull Jay within one, 47-46. Derek Armandi drew an offensive foul to get the Tigers the ball back with 20 seconds left.

“There’s a lot of emphasis put on the ending, but if we’re down by 10 at the end of the game, I’m not talking to you right now,” Derek Armandi said.

Jay called a time out and worked for the last shot, which ended up being two shots. Senior center Tyrell Waldon’s off-balance shot and follow-up putback attempt were both short. The rebound went out of bounds off of Jay, giving Calais possession with 1.4 seconds left.

The right call

All the Blue Devils had to do, essentially, was inbound the ball. The Tigers only hope was to make the most of the time that was left, which meant fouling someone, anyone.

“My mindset was to foul the guy I was guarding before the ball was put into play so we’d have some time left,” Fournier said.

The foul never came. Instead, there was a whistle, followed by mass confusion in the packed arena.

“I remember face-guarding my man at halfcourt with my back to the ball and hearing the whistle,” Josh Armandi said. “I turned around and I saw the official signal the technical and I’m figuring, ‘Oh crap, maybe one of our kids was running their mouth.'”

“When he blew the whistle, I figured the foul was on me, because I was pretty much fouling the guy,” Fournier said. “Then I thought it might have been a technical on me because I was fouling the guy out of bounds.”

But the technical wasn’t on Fournier. It was on the player he was guarding, senior Darren Morrell, for running  out of bounds before the ball was put in play.

Derek Armandi was among the first to know what call had been made, and why.

“The Calais coach was instructing (Morrell) to get out of bounds,” he said. “He kept yelling for him to get out of bounds, I guess because he didn’t want him to be the one shooting free throws, and the referee, before he gave (the inbounder) the ball, warned the coach and the player that they couldn’t do it. And I remember hearing Coach (Steve) Hamilton kind of pointing it out to the ref and saying it was a technical.”

“I knew the rule. I didn’t know if anybody was hearing me but I was hoping someone would,” Hamilton said. 

The rule — still in place today — requires that with a dead or stationary ball, the team with possession must have four players in bounds when the official gives them the ball to put it in play. The key in this instance was that it was a dead ball. If it had been after a made basket, it would have been legal for the player to run off the court. 

Instead, it was a technical foul, which gave the Tigers two shots and the ball.

For years, Calais fans and others complained about the timing of the call, arguing that it was wrong for an official to decide a state game in the final second with an obscure rule. 

Derek Armandi argues that it was exactly the right call at the right time.

“When else are you going to make that call?” he said. “You’re not going to try to go out of bounds to avoid being fouled at the end of the first half or any other quarter. That’s why those rules are made.”

Money in the bank

Once he found out what the call was, Jay senior forward Ryan Ouellette’s emotions turned on a dime, from the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory.

“When the technical happened, I was thinking we’d just won, because everyone on the team knew Fournier was going to the line, and it was money in the bank,” Ouellette said.

There was no question who Hamilton would select to take the free throws. Fournier was the Tigers’ best free throw shooter that season, (estimates range from 87-92 percent, depending on who tells the story). Josh Armandi recalled that, before the season, Hamilton ordered the team to go to school early every day to practice their free throw shooting, and “Brian was the one who did it religiously.”

Fournier was pretty sure he would get the call, too, but checked with Hamilton to make sure. He then stepped to the line and convinced himself that there was no more pressure on him at that moment than there was in the Tiger Dome all of those mornings before school.

“I thought all I needed to do was make one, because as long as we went into overtime, we had a shot,” he said.

Once he swished the first shot, the pressure was off, so the second shot touched nothing but net, too, and sent the Jay bench and fan section into a frenzy.

Now, only inbounding the ball separated the Tigers from a state title, which they did successfully. Some players, and many fans, still didn’t know, or at least believe, what they had just seen. 

“After the fact, it was ‘Oh, I guess that makes sense.’ But I never would have thought we’d win on such a random thing,” Ouellette said. 

“We used to hang out with some of players from Valley (which was in the midst of winning six Class D state titles in a row) and we’d had this history of tough tournament losses in overtime and things like that and we’d always wonder if we’d ever even win one state title,” Josh Armandi said. “Finally winning it, it was like we’d finally proven to everyone, or I guess proved to ourselves, that we could do it.”

And no one in Jay will let them forget it, either, even though the town has since merged with Livermore Falls to form Spruce Mountain High School.

Memories tinged with sadness

Of course, the game comes up often at Armandi family functions, given that Dana, Derek and Josh made up three-fifths of the starting lineup. Ouellette, who lives in Waltham, Mass. remains close friends with Josh Armandi, so the topic is bound to come up occasionally. Even Fournier, who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., gets a chance to reminisce when he crosses paths with a former teammate, Byron Johnson, who lives near Tampa. 

Hamilton, currently wintering in Florida, said that team still resonates with the people of Jay.

“It’s unbelievable when I’m home,” he said. “There isn’t a week, certainly every couple of weeks, I’ll run into somebody and we’ll be talking about someone from that team or that season or that game.”

“The town was going through a lot then… and that team mesmerized that community,” Hamilton said. “The gym was packed every night, whether we were home or away. It’s really nice being a part of the team that did something special for a small town like that. It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years.”

Reliving the glory days comes with a tinge of sadness now, though. Waldon, who had 12 points off the bench in the game, died in 2013 at the age of 30.

“That definitely makes it bittersweet,” Derek Armandi said. “Ty and I were best friends growing up, right from first grade. Our senior year, we wanted to win it. Ty wanted it so bad, he was willing to relinquish his starting role in that game because he’d been getting in foul trouble early in previous games. I think that spoke to how he was and how he wanted to win, and I think it spoke to the team, too.”

Not being able to talk to their friend and teammate hurts, Josh Armandi said, but also reminds the old Tigers to cherish the memories with the teammates who are still here.

“I’ll always remember how good we felt after, and how we all did it together,” he said. “Being able to share those moments and experience them with my two brothers was a blessing. And being able to talk about it together and at family events over the years is priceless.”

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