Melady Mata of Edward Little High School shoots the ball while being defended by Austin Andrews of Gray-New Gloucester during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — Anyone suffering from tournament withdrawal would have more than gotten their fix from Friday’s Unified quarterfinal between unbeaten Edward Little and its scrappy opponents from Gray-New Gloucester.

The 10th-seeded Patriots nearly rallied from an 18-point first half deficit, finishing the game with a 12-0 run before falling just one point shy as the top-seeded Red Eddies held on for a 42-41 win.

The victory means EL (9-0) will host a regional semifinal at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday against No. 4 Bonny Eagle, which survived a tense quarterfinal of its own, 48-47, over Poland.

It was a rare escape for the Red Eddies, who had beaten everyone but Lewiston by at least eight points during the season.

“It makes it more exciting. It was a nail-biter,”EL co-coach Sandy Whiting said. 

It was also a great way for the Patriots to end their second season of Unified and first in the tournament.

“We’ve really learned to play as a team,” said Gray-New Gloucester co-coach Jeff Duquette, noting his team’s improvement in a season that included a preliminary round win over Greely earlier in the week. “Everybody goes out there and has a ton of fun, and they’re super competitive, as you can see.”

Gray-New Gloucester showed how competitive by shutting out the Eddies for more than five minutes and nearly pulling off the comeback.

“Our coach told us to just take it one basket at a time,” junior Ryan Verrill said. “He said not to take threes. He just said to take twos, and we got back in the game.”

Junior Mark Buzzell got the Patriots going with a layup that made it 42-31 with 4:46 left. The Patriots continued to attack the basket for layups from Verrill and fellow junior Andrew Parker, including a nifty spin move by Verrill, to pull within seven with just under three minutes to go.

Baskets by Buzzell and Verrill made it a three-point game, then Parker closed it to 42-41 with a hoop with 32 seconds remaining.

The Patriots had a chance to take the lead with a steal by Parker on an out-of-bounds play with 11 seconds left. Parker drove all the way to the other end and got to the basket for a layup but, with the Eddies hustling back to play defense, just missed. A jump ball in the rebounding action went to EL on the alternating possession, and the Eddies took care of the final 1.8 seconds to hold on.

Whiting noted that the experience all of the athletes gained with such a tense finish was more valuable than anything on the scoreboard.

“It’s problem solving,” Whiting said. “You’ve got one second left. What are you going to do? And I love it with our kids because they listen very well. Even with the excitement, they showed composure.”

The Eddies hadn’t played a game in eight days, so they were champing at the bit to get back in action and jumped out to a 12-6 lead after three buckets in a row by Dumont.

A pair of baskets by Gage Cloutier  helped EL widen the lead to 26-8. Gray-New Gloucester closed the gap a bit thanks to a bank shot high off the backboard by Buzzell, but the Eddies recovered a 14-point lead heading into halftime.

“I think they were a little nervous in the first half playing an undefeated team and being in the second round of the playoffs,” Duquette said. “I said ‘In the second half, you guys have got to play a little bit tougher on defense. If you concentrate on defense and get (the deficit) to six, we’re right back in the game.”

“It was getting really close. It was like that in the Lewiston game, too (a 31-29 win on Feb. 27),” Dumont said. “When you have a nervous game, it gives the person self-confidence to want to push himself more and to get right into the game.”

Dumont pushed himself to 12 points. Cloutier was the top scorer with 14 points and was a factor inside with multiple rebounds and blocked shots. Parker led the Patriots (5-4) with 13 points while Verrill had 10 points.

Duquette said the improvement in the Patriots in their second year in the program is almost immeasurable, beyond the fact that the roster ballooned to 20 players and partners this year. He has just two seniors on the roster, so there will be more opportunities to watch them grow next year. 

“Their skill sets, their ability to play defense and know the rules…It’s been a big change,” Duquette said.

“It has been a blast,” Verrill said. “This is our first time being in the tournament and it’s just been a fantastic tournament.”

Dumont, who is in his third year playing for EL, said the Eddies have come a long way themselves.

“We’ve improved, and that’s what I like to see,” he said. “That’s what our team decided we want to do.”

The Eddies want to have fun above all else, but winning in the tournament presents more opportunities for everyone to learn and grow.

“It’s something that we’ve never had,” Whiting said of EL’s tournament buzz, enhanced by the boys’ and girls’ teams winning state titles last week. “We want them to learn something. It’s not about the winning. The hype of winning is amazing, and as you can see, we’re pretty psyched about that. But it’s about the coming together. It’s about students working with students that they wouldn’t normally work with. They just have a really good bond with each other, and they have fun.”

“Even our athletes are awesome to the other athletes. There’s no ‘I’ in team, right?” she added. “They work really well together. It’s been a great year.”

Gage Cloutier of Edward Little High School passes the ball to his teammate, Shaylea Latham, during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal against Gray-New Gloucester at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Ben Dumont of Edward Little High School drives on Roland Buzzell of Gray-New Gloucester during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Kegan Kenny of Edward Little High School looks to pass around Vitaliy Chan of Gray-New Gloucester during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday. Unified partner Nick Hathaway is at left.   (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Shaylea Latham of Edward Little High School takes a seat on the bench after a substitution during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Josh Dumont of Edward Little High School drives to the basket against Ryan Verrill of Gray-New Gloucester during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Caleb Bisson of Edward Little High School smiles after taking a shot during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Carter Culleton of Edward Little High School looks for a teammates to pass to while being guarded by Ryan Verrill of Gray-New Gloucester during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Ben Dumont, right, of Edward Little High School shakes hands with his teammate, Carter Culleton, after the Red Eddies beat Gray-New Gloucester 42-41 during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Unified basketball partner Noah Peck of Edward Little High School celebrates a good play by Shaylea Latham during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Kegan Kenny of Edward Little High School attempts to keep the ball inbounds during the Unified basketball South quarterfinal against Gray-New Gloucester at EL in Auburn on Friday.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)


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