BANGOR — No matter what seems to be ailing the George Stevens Academy Eagles, tournament time is the ultimate cure.
Earlier this month, the GSA boys’ basketball team had a stretch the likes of which the Eagles haven’t seen in recent years. In defeats at home to Ellsworth on Feb. 2 and on the road three days later against Mattanawcook Academy, GSA lost back-to-back games in the regular season for the first time since December 2014.
“We played two hard teams, and it just didn’t go our way,” GSA junior Caden Mattson said. “We had to get back to basics and get back to playing our game. All around the team, there was a still a lot of confidence for everybody.”
Fast forward two weeks, and GSA is back to form and back to playing tournament basketball. As the Eagles showed Tuesday morning, few teams come through better than the boys from Blue Hill come mid-February.
GSA continued its recent string of success in the state tournament with a 73-37 drubbing of Calais on Tuesday at the Cross Insurance Center. The Eagles’ win kept the team unbeaten in tournament play over the past four seasons and sent the team to within one game of playing for yet another Northern Maine championship.
“This was a very focused, very intense effort from us,” GSA head coach Dwayne Carter said. “Our defense really stepped up, and outside of one stretch where we were off a little bit with our shooting, the offense just kept getting better throughout the game.”
After a travel on the first possession, GSA forced a turnover and scored the opening basket on a layup from Isaac Wardwell. The Eagles then jumped out to an 11-0 lead on a trio of 3-pointers from Andrew Szwez before Calais scored five straight points. With both teams struggling to make shots over the next four and a half minutes, GSA took a 15-9 lead into the second quarter.
Third-ranked GSA (17-3) returned to form offensively in the second quarter, and the Eagles continued to limit the Blue Devils’ offensive production. Holding Calais to just one basket and three free throws, GSA led 29-14 as the halftime buzzer sounded.
No. 11 Calais (7-13) got the first basket of the second half, but GSA responded with a 9-0 run to take complete control of the game. Leading 44-25 entering the fourth quarter, the Eagles added 29 more points to earn their 14th consecutive tournament victory.
Szwez led GSA with 21 points, and Wardwell added 18. Reece Dannenberg (12 points), Percy Zentz (eight points), Tanner Ashley (six), Andrew Rideout (four), Mattson (two) and Michael Moon (two) rounded out the scoring for the Eagles.
GSA’s win came after it defeated No. 14 Central (7-12) 79-65 in the preliminary round last Tuesday in Blue Hill. That victory set the Eagles up for a quarterfinal date with the Blue Devils, who had delivered one of the biggest upsets of the prelims earlier that day when they defeated No. 6 Fort Kent (14-5) 53-48 in Aroostook County.
“That’s what happens this time of year: those upsets that shake everything up,” Carter said. “I think I was definitely surprised [to see Calais instead of Fort Kent], but Calais went up there and played a great game. We weren’t going to take them lightly at all.”
With GSA having been seeded No. 1 in Class C North in three previous tournaments, the Eagles have gotten used to their quarterfinal games being the last games of the night. As the No. 3 seed this year, a 9:30 a.m. start provided a different setting.
“Usually, it’s pitch black outside when we get here and pitch black when we leave,” Carter said. “Today, you can see the sun peering in when you look up at the stands. It didn’t really affect us on the court, but it’s certainly different when you think about it.”
GSA’s next game will be against No. 2 Mattanawcook (16-3) at 2:05 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22. The Eagles beat Mattanawcook 53-46 last month in Blue Hill before falling to the Lynx 55-53 in Lincoln.
As it showed in winning the rematch, Mattanawcook, the only Class C team to beat GSA this year, has the horses to end the Eagles’ bid for a fourth straight Gold Ball. The Lynx showed the same in Tuesday’s other Class C North morning game, in which they beat No. 7 Dexter (15-5) 47-37.
“We have to play tough on D and avoid turnovers,” Mattson said. “When we outwork people, we find ways to get it done. It starts with our effort and our hustle, and we have a lot of it.”