Wiscasset stays step ahead of Searsport in prelim playoff victoryGame marks finale for Viking senior Grant, who joined school's 1,000-point club this season
Searsport — Despite dealing with plenty of adversity in terms of long-term injuries to key players this season, the Searsport boys basketball team picked itself up, continued to work hard, remained focused on the game at hand and the task ahead. And, more than anything, the Vikings persevered.
All of that helped Searsport forge to 10 regular-season victories and earned them a home Class C South prelim playoff game.
However, despite a competitive overall performance and furious fourth-quarter comeback that put the hosts in a position to win, No. 8 Searsport (10-9) lost to No. 9 Wisasset (10-9) 49-41 on Thursday night, Feb. 16 in a contest originally scheduled for the previous day.
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With the win, Wiscasset earned a trip to the regional tournament venue, where it will play No. 1 Winthrop (18-0) on Monday, Feb. 20 at 9:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center.
The Vikings and Wolverines did not play each other during the regular season.
In Thursday's playoff encounter, the Wolverines led 17-13, 22-16 and 34-25 at the quarter breaks.
The Vikings, who like to shoot 3-pointers, made eight of them, and received standout performances from Barrett Grant (16 points) and Liam MacMillan (15 points). Grant drilled four 3-pointers and MacMillan kept Searsport in the game with a strong 12-point second half.
Grant, a senior who joined the school's coveted 1,000-point career club this season, played his final game for Searsport on his home court.
Additionally, Ben Powell and Harold Merithew connected on 3-pointers and Colby Snow and Charlie Spiegel scored two points. The team made 5-of-6 foul shots (83 percent).
Searsport played much of the season without Connor Kneeland, Charlie Spiegel and Malcolm Jones due to injuries, but got Spiegel and Jones back late in the campaign. Kneeland, out since around Christmas with a knee injury, never made it back and that was key because he was the team's point guard and floor leader.
The Wolverines, who had a depth and height advantage over the Vikings, used a balanced attack, led by the 6-foot 6-inch Ethan James with 17 points; Cody Roberts, 11; Russell Marr, 10; Logan Orr, five; Zach Reed, four; and Kevin Lynch, two.
The visitors made three treys and 10-of-11 free throws (91 percent), including 7-of-8 (88 percent) down the stretch in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Marr, James and Roberts made 3-pointers for Wiscasset.
"I thought we had great effort, with a couple of breakdowns," Grant said. "We couldn't get much going offensively … we tried making the game hectic but it just didn't work out."
Grant's triple threes helped keep the game close in the first quarter, as Marr scored seven points and James six for the Wolverines, who led 17-13 after the first eight minutes.
The second quarter was a bit less fast-paced as Searsport, in an effort to force Wiscasset out of its box-and-one defense, held the ball for nearly half the start of the stanza while the Wolverines simply stood back, content to hold their lead and let time click off the scoreboard clock.
In fact, the teams combined for only a handful of shots in the quarter and Wiscasset outscored Searsport 5-3 during the second eight minutes. The Vikings did not make a floor shot in the quarter and made 3-of-4 free throws.
The first basket of the stanza came at the 2:43-mark.
Grant said Searsport held the ball at the start of the second quarter to entice Wiscasset out of its box-and-one defense. He said the Vikings also used the "stall ball" against Bucksport earlier in the season.
The second half was more like the first quarter as Wiscasset outscored Searsport 27-25 over the final 16 minutes. Roberts scored nine points and James eight in that stretch. Marr hit all three foul shots, Roberts two and James 2-of-3 down the stretch of the fourth stanza to seal the deal for the Wolverines.
MacMillan proved clutch and immense in the second half with 12 points, including two vital 3-pointers, and Grant netted seven fourth-quarter points, including ending his career with a scrambling 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Wiscasset's lead grew to 27-16 early in the third quarter, but a 3-pointer by Powell kept the hosts close. The Wolverines, with their height, controlled the offensive glass and that helped them earn a bundle of second- and third-shot opportunities.
MacMillan's steal and score off an inbounds pass and Merithew's 3-point brought the Vikings within 29-24 in the third stanza. However, each time Searsport made a push, Wiscasset answered and led 34-26 at the break.
The Wolverines maintained about a 10-point advantage early in the fourth before MacMillan's eight points and Grant's four helped the hosts claw back within 42-38 with 1:30 remaining in their last-ditch effort to keep their season alive.
However, the Wolverines iced 7-of-8 foul shots down the stretch — even with a "large distracting sign" held by Searsport fans on the stage behind the backboard staring them in the face. The unique sign was large pieces of cardboard with the words: "Large distracting sign" written on them.
"I am a very proud coach of the way our kids left it all on the court as always," said veteran Viking coach Dave Pepin. "We played a bigger and better team, but we never quit and that has been the same way the entire season.
"I thought we did a nice job overall of keeping Wiscasset off the offensive glass. I thought we were able, for the most part, to control the tempo, Wiscasset likes to play in the 60s [for a score] and we can't win playing games in the 60s. With our injuries we don't have the offensive firepower, especially with Barrett seeing a box-and-one a lot. We didn't shoot great but we really dug in on the defensive side of the ball and [were] flying all over the court. To hold them to 49 was a great team defensive effort."
The coach said the season has had highs and lows. The lows were all the injuries. "But the way these kids stepped up every night was amazing. We threw in a couple clunkers, but, for the most part, we played so hard and had some great wins. These guys came back four times from 13-point deficits and won three of them. To sum it all up a very successful season."
Grant was sad to end his Viking hoop career, but said he was pleased, overall, with how his high school court years played out.
"I came a long ways from my freshman year where I was only a defensive player," he said. "I kind of started to form a shot my sophomore year a little bit then I gained a lot of confidence last year. And that led up into this year. We had a couple of injuries last year and I had to step up for our team and for this year it helped me out a ton."
More of that load was put on Grant's shoulders this winter, especially with the injuries to his teammates. He said the pressure sometimes got to him and perhaps he forced a few too many shots at times, but still he did what he thought was best for the team in every game he played.
"We will lose one starter and a good one in Barrett Grant," Pepin said. "Barrett had a great senior season. He led us in scoring and rebounding and had to play the point after Kneeland went down. Barrett is a great leader and I will miss him as much as a person as a ballplayer."
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Ken Waltz has been member of the media 30 years and has received hundreds of Maine Press Association and New England Press Association awards for his writing, photography and page design. He studied journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. He lives in South Thomaston with his wife, Sarah. The couple has an adult son, Brandon.
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