BANGOR — Needing a basket to stay alive, the Sumner boys’ basketball team turned to the man it trusted most.
In what had been a back-and-forth affair for much of the second half of Tuesday’s quarterfinal against Central Aroostook, Sumner found itself trailing by a point with 9.7 seconds left on the clock. A score and a stop would give the Tigers a win over the No. 1-ranked team in Class C North. A loss would bring the team’s season to a close-but-no-cigar end.
Out of a timeout, Sumner head coach Dana Smith called a play to get the ball to the team’s top scorer on the season, Colby McLean. The senior from Gouldsboro had scored just three points on the night, but if there was ever a time for the Tigers’ 1,000-point scorer to come through, this was it.
With eight seconds left to play, Sumner junior Ethan Young passed to teammate Kyle Brooks on the wing. McLean then ducked past the defense to receive the ball in the high post. Shrugging off one defender, he maneuvered his way past another to lay the ball off the glass and into the basket with one second on the clock.
“We run that play when we have to, and it usually works,” McLean said. “It was nice to be able to run it. I knew I needed to make a play for my team.”
It certainly worked this time for Sumner, which survived a desperation heave from Central Aroostook at the buzzer to win. The Tigers’ 54-53 victory over the Panthers sent the team to its first regional semifinal appearance since 2011.
Sumner got off on the wrong foot to start the game as Central Aroostook scored the first four baskets to go ahead 9-0. Even after the Tigers finally got on the scoreboard with a Simon Torrey layup, the top-seeded Panthers (15-4) responded with a 7-0 run to stretch the lead to 14 points.
After Central Aroostook answered a Kyle Brooks 3-pointer with a basket of its own, No. 8 Sumner (13-7), fueled by three baskets from Torrey in the post and a mid-range jump shot from David Allen, cut the Panthers’ lead to 18-13. The Tigers then built on that momentum with another offensive surge to take a 31-30 lead into halftime.
“Simon has really emerged as a threat for us,” Smith said. “Those early baskets he had really helped in us stopping that run they went on and got us right back in the game.”
The Panthers, though, came out firing in the second half and led by as many as nine points in the third quarter. Yet Sumner battled back a second time and regained the lead when a slew of 3-pointers from Brooks put it back up one.
Central Aroostook quickly re-established its lead in the final quarter but couldn’t pull more than one or two possessions ahead of the Tigers the rest of the way. That proved costly for the Panthers, whose 60-foot prayer at the buzzer hit the rim moment’s after McLean’s layup.
Brooks led Sumner in scoring with 17 points. Torrey, who scored 27 for the Tigers in the team’s 70-59 victory over No. 9 Fort Fairfield (12-7) in the preliminary round Thursday, scored 14 and added eight rebounds.
“Kyle was absolutely fantastic today,” Smith said. “I’m really happy for him. He had a tough go of it for us [against Fort Fairfield], but he got back at it today and really came through with some of those 3s.”
Sumner’s Class C North semifinal game will be played at 3:35 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, when the Tigers take on No. 4 Houlton (16-4). Houlton delivered one of Tuesday’s most impressive performances when it dismantled fifth-ranked Penobscot Valley (17-3) 72-32.
Houlton, which beat Central Aroostook twice this year by a combined margin of 38 points, will provide another stiff challenge for McLean and the Tigers. Yet on Tuesday, as McLean walked off the court to celebrate with his teammates and fans, the present moment was all that mattered.
“It feels amazing,” the smiling McLean said. “I’ve never been happier.”