BANGOR — With a 26-point effort from junior guard Taylor Schildroth and 15 rebounds and 12 blocked shots by junior center Max Mattson, the George Stevens Academy boys’ basketball team finally broke open a seesaw game in the fourth quarter and downed Fort Fairfield 59-45 for the Class C North title Saturday at the Cross Insurance Center.
Unlike many over the season, this win did not come easily for the top-seeded Eagles. GSA (21-0) fell behind by as many as six points in the early going and swapped leads with the second-seeded Tigers throughout much of the first half. The score was knotted at 24 at halftime.
Sparked by the ball-handling and passing skills of 5-foot-8 senior guard Ryan Player, the Tigers (19-2) battled the Eagles on every possession. And their balanced scoring — 14 points from junior Isaac Cyr, 10 from senior Chris Giberson, eight from Player, seven from Carter Bruce and six from Landen Kinney — prevented the GSA defense from keying on any one player.
But in the second half, GSA’s defensive pressure and the shot-blocking and rebounding of Mattson began taking its toll on the Tigers. And while the third period ended deadlocked GSA finally took a 45-42 lead on back-to-back baskets by senior Jarrod Chase and Schildroth early in the fourth quarter.
After Kinney scored from underneath the basket to cut the GSA lead back to a single point, a pull-up jumper from junior Stefan Simmons and a rebound putback from Chase put GSA in front 51-44 with just over four minutes to go.
With time winding down, the Tigers were left with no option but to foul. Schildroth made six of six free throws over the final three minutes to put the game out of reach.
As it turned out, Mattson didn’t need to be a major scoring factor for the Eagles. In addition to Schildroth’s 26 points, Simmons finished with 11, and Chase had 10.
“I just had to play my game today,” Mattson said. “The team needed me to play defense, so that was just what I did.”
Mattson confirmed what many of GSA’s thousands of fans already knew about the Tigers.
“They were the best team we played all year,” the 6-6 center said. “They were probably the most athletic, and they played the same game we did. It’s been a while since we’ve been in a close one like this. It was tough, but it was fun. I liked it.”
For GSA, the second half clearly was the difference, head coach Dwayne Carter said.
“We picked up our defense, and that was key for the game,” he said. “Mattson played huge. It was probably the best he has played defensively.”
Carter said playing from behind was “a new experience for us. It was a good challenge.” GSA had easily defeated Dexter the day before, and Carter said the Eagles were “a bit tentative” and that “we were second-guessing ourselves” in the first half.
The Eagles will now have a week to enjoy their second consecutive Northern Maine title and prepare to face the Winthrop Ramblers (21-0) for the state championship at 8:35 p.m. Saturday, March 4, back at the Cross Center in Bangor.
PHOTOS BY TIM SUELLENTROP