AUGUSTA — No one had done anything like this to the Mt. Blue boys basketball team. Not even close.

Sure, teams have had spells of defensive success against the Cougars, but nobody has fully been able to shut them down from the opening tip to the final horn — at least not until the Messalonskee Eagles did exactly that Wednesday night.

Messalonskee led the entire way in a 45-36 victory over Mt. Blue in a Class A North semifinal showdown at the Augusta Civic Center. The Eagles, who led by as many as 25 before the Cougars tightened things in garbage time, advanced to Friday’s regional final.

“I think we played about as well defensively as we could,” said Messalonskee junior forward Merrick Smith. “From Day 1, even in summer league, Coach (Sam Smith) has preached to us that defense comes first. We’re a defensive team first, and tonight, we played some great defense as a team.”

Smith had game-highs in points (14) and rebounds (13) for Messalonskee, which also got 13 points from Ryan Parent and nine from Sam Dube. The Eagles held Mt. Blue senior guard Evans Sterling (25.0 points per game) to just seven points as the Cougars scored 11 points fewer than they had in a game all season.

Third-seeded Messalonskee (16-4) came out hot out of the gate, using a Dube putback, Smith free throw and Ty Bernier 3-pointer to go up 6-0 in the first two and a half minutes. Dube then got a layup and an and-one to make it 11-0 Eagles before Sterling scored on a tip-in moments later for Mt. Blue’s first points.


A bunny from Smith with 2:20 left in the first quarter marked the final points of the period, Parent found his groove in the second. The junior guard drained a trio of three pointers from well beyond the arc to put the Eagles up 24-9 before Drake Brunelle hit a buzzer-beater to give them a 17-point lead.

“We’re a deep team, and we’ve been a deep team all year, and these guys all want this moment and aren’t going to shy away from it,” Sam Smith said. “One night, it could be Merrick; one night, it could be Ryan, as you saw tonight; another night, it could be someone else for us. We have so many guys who can step up.”

Messalonskee fans celebrate during a timeout of a Class A North semifinal game against Mt. Blue on Wednesday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Parent wasn’t done; on the contrary, moments later, he would make the play of the game. With the Eagles leading No. 2 Mt. Blue (16-4) 30-11 early in the second half, he pulled up from long range and hit a 3-pointer while drawing contact to make a four-point play that sent the Messalonskee half of the ACC into a frenzy.

“I was going to shoot it anyway no matter what, but he kind of closed in on me and got the arm,” Parent said of his momentous play. “It’s all about confidence, and when I get hot and have my teammates feeding the hot hand, I just keep shooting.”

Messalonskee took a 40-16 lead into the fourth quarter, where it would score its final points of the game on a Smith dunk with three and a half minutes to play. Mt. Blue then finished the contest with 12 unanswered points — one-third of its total for the game.

Mt. Blue’s previous season low was 47 points, a figure to which it had been held twice this season. One of those instances was in a 65-47 loss to Messalonskee on Jan. 23 that marked the Cougars’ first loss of the season, and with that result in his team’s back pocket, Sam Smith knew his team could produce a similar effort.

Messalonskee forward Merrick Smith shoots against Mt. Blue during a Class A North boys basketball semifinal game Wednesday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We absolutely knew (we could come out here and do this),” Smith said. “I had full confidence in our guys. I told our guys we had to hold them under 40 to win the game, or at least hold them to the mid-40s or under. The guys bought into that; they believed they could do it, and they went out there and did it.”

It was a tough loss for Mt. Blue, which started the year 12-0 before dropping four of its last eight to end the regular season. Nevertheless, head coach Troy Norton took a lot of pride in the accomplishments: the team’s most wins since 2012, its most regular season wins since 1997 and the best start in program history.

“They have length in there with Merrick, and they were somehow able to both keep Evans out of the paint while also closing down on our shooters,” Norton said. “Coaching this group of kids has just been phenomenal, and we’ll definitely have some memories to look back on, but it definitely stings right now.”

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