No. 6 Dexter ousts defending state champs

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writer

    BANGOR — The Dexter Tigers’ man-to-man defense is as much of the school’s basketball heritage as their red and white uniforms. So when Coach Peter Murray decided to use a zone defense in his team’s quarterfinal matchup against Lee Academy on Feb. 19, he probably had a pretty good reason — and he did.

    Dexter entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed having defeated Piscataquis Community High School in the preliminary round. But the Tigers came to Bangor with a thin bench and a discernible lack of size to match up against Lee Academy. The Pandas had a tall tandem of six-foot five-inch Cherif Fall and six-foot six-inch Steve Ma.


Observer photo/Joe Cyr

    TIGER VICTORY — Dexter point guard Trevor Fogarty drives against Lee Academy’s Devin Peters during his team’s 41-38 upset victory on Feb. 19 in the Eastern Maine Class C quarterfinals. Forgarty lead the Tigers in scoring with 17 points. Bailey Spack also scored 13 points with four 3-point field goals. The Tigers were eliminated on Feb. 22 by No. 2 Penquis, 46-23, in the semifinals.

    Murray knew his team had to keep Lee off the offensive boards and execute a patient offensive attack in order to prevail in their Class C Eastern Maine boys quarterfinal encounter. And that’s exactly what Murray’s team did. They used the combination of a zone defense and slowed the game’s tempo down on offense to defeat No. 3 Lee Academy 41-38.

    Dexter point guard Trevor Fogarty directed the Tiger offense against the Pandas’ zone defense. He led the team in scoring with 17 points including three foul shots in the game’s last minutes to seal the victory.

    For Fogarty, the game came down to staying with the patient philosophy on offense regardless of the score and making the foul shoots in the final minutes.

    “They were big free throws and I just had to make them,” Fogarty said. “We wanted to burn some clock and shorten the game. It really worked for us. We hit some big shots and were able to hang in the whole way.”

    Sophomore Bailey Spack was inserted into the starting lineup to fill the void created by forward Dylan Graffam’s suspension following the team’s preliminary round game. Spack scored 13 points which included four 3-pointers to puncture the Lee 3-2 zone defense.

    Murray indicated playing zone and slowing the game down on offense were only part of the strategy. He also needed someone from his undermanned squad to make some shots. Spack, who had started a handful of times this season, seemed to be an unlikely hero because the Bangor Auditorium is usually the playground for seasoned veterans during tourney time.

    “He really stepped up for us tonight making those 3-pointers. He may be a sophomore, but he’s not playing like one,” Murrray said. “It’s like he had ice water in his veins hitting all those shots.”

    Playing the game at a slow pace worked, as the Tigers stayed close through the first half. Neither team was able to establish a lead larger than five points. The first half ended with Lee holding a 15-13 lead.

    Dexter forged ahead 28-26 to end the third quarter. The Tigers extended their lead to 35-27 midway through the fourth quarter as part of a 12-0 spurt. Lee rallied to take a brief 36-35 lead with 1:49 remaining, but Dexter regained the lead for good with a Fogarty 3-pointer with 59 seconds left.

    Dexter’s victory earned them the opportunity to take on No. 2 Penquis (20-1) in the regional semifinals. Penquis’ only loss occurred against Dexter as the Tigers won 58-54 on Jan. 4 in Milo. Penquis was without two starters in that game. When it came to play in the tournament, it was a different story as Penquis defeated Dexter, 43-23, on Feb. 21.

    The tone was set early as Penquis limited Dexter to only one 3-point field goal in the first quarter. Dexter shot 27 percent from the field. The Tigers’ struggles in the first half to score were duplicated in the third quarter as they managed to score only two points.

    Murray believed the semifinal encounter resembled the first time the two teams met when his team lost 44-26 in December.   

    “It was more like the first game when we struggled to score 30 points and they won by almost 20,” Murray said. “Penquis has such a great defensive team that if you don’t handle the ball well or move it around then they really expose a team and that’s what happened tonight.”

    Penquis Coach Tony Hamlin believed his team also struggled offensively. The Patriots have been led all season by Isaiah Bess and Trevor Lyford who were limited to a combined 20 points. Penquis received a scoring boost from substitute Derrick Johnson who scored six of his eight points in the second quarter.

    “I thought our defense was good, but we just didn’t have a good offensive night,” Hamlin said. “I give Peter (Murray) a lot of credit for that. He’s gotten a lot of mileage out of those kids to get them to this point in the season.”

    Dexter finished 12-7. Penquis went on to defeat No. 1 Houlton, 46-41, on Feb. 23 in the regional final. The Patriots will play for their second state championship against Boothbay Region High School in Bangor. Penquis defeated Boothbay in 2000 for the Class C State championship.

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