By TRAVIS LAZARCZYK
BANGOR — Since the fans of the Forest Hills boys basketball team were forbidden from storming the Bangor Auditorium court, Tigers head coach Anthony Amero stormed them.
The echo of the final horn was still in the air when Amero sprinted from the Forest Hills bench across the court, arms in the air.
“We did it!” Amero screamed. “We did it!”
Forest Hills outhustled Central Aroostook throughout the entire Class D championship game Saturday afternoon, and despite shooting just 46 percent from the free throw line, and despite seeing its best player foul out with just under four minutes left in the game, the Tigers took a 55-48 win.
It’s the first boys basketball title for Forest Hills, which ends the season with a 20-2 record. Central Aroostook, which had never lost a Class D championship game, ends the season 17-6.
The Tigers never trailed, but held a slim three point lead, 43-40, when senior Evan Worster fouled out on a charge with 3 minutes, 58 seconds to play. The Tigers looked back to the 2012 season for a blueprint on how to play without Worster, a Mr. Basketball semifinalist, on the court. Nearly the same scenario happened in the Western Class D semifinals against rival Valley last season.
“Being in the tournament teaches you a lesson,” Amero said. “I told the guys ‘We’ve been here. We’ve done this. You know what it’s like to do this. We’ll be OK.’ ”
Sophomore Matt Turner (16 points) made a free throw to spark a 6-0 Forest Hills run. A Turner layup with 2:19 to play capped the rally, and gave the Tigers a 49-40 lead.
While Forest Hills was just 16 for 35 at the line in the game, senior Derick Ouellette was 6 for 10 from the line in the fourth quarter, including four free throws in the final minute to help seal the game.
“I’m not the best free throw shooter, so I was like ‘Just make ‘em,’ ” Ouellette, who scored 13 points, said.
Added Worster: “We’re not a real great foul shooting team, but it turns out sometimes, in special moments, you can make special shots.”
Ouellette was a key player in Forest Hills’ outstanding defensive effort. Ouellette drew the assignment of guarding Steven Decker, Central Aroostook’s 6-foot-4 center, who averaged 24 points per game in the Eastern Maine tournament. Decker scored just eight points, including a desperation 3-pointer in the final minute.
“I just played the best defense of my life. I knew he was a 20 points or more scorer. That was a big assignment, and I knew that I could do it,” Ouellette said.
Amero said that before the game, Ouellette announced that he would hold Decker to under 10 points.
“(Ouellette’s) just heart and soul. It’s been his year. His senior year, he came to play and got it done,” Amero said.
Another key for Forest Hills was simple hustle. The Tigers outworked the Panthers, particularly when it came to rebounding. Forest Hills has 17 offensive rebounds, manufacturing more scoring chances.
“I don’t think we showed up, plain and simple. We had kids that were too tentative. Maybe you attribute it to some of their defense,” Central Aroostook coach Tim Brewer said.
The Tigers fought for every loose ball, winning a majority of them, and when Forest Hills went to a three-quarters court press in the second half, it gave the Panthers fits.
“We weren’t sure about it. It wasn’t our best defense. They can get easy layups off of it sometimes, but everybody worked hard. We kind of threw it at them to see what it could do, and yeah, it did surprise them a little, it looked like,” Ouellette said. “Everybody hustles. Everybody wanted to win. We knew we had to do everything to get the ball.”
Added Brewer: “They won all the loose balls. Not the 50/50s, they won all of them. They also outrebounded us. It caught up with us tonight. We got outhustled.”
Offensively, the Tigers made an effort to be patient. It led to open layup opportunities, beginning with an Ouellette basket 31 seconds into the game, and ending with a Tanner Daigle layup that pushed the Tigers’ lead to 53-42 with 40 seconds left in the game.
“We’ve had to work hard at patience. Early in the season, we had a couple tough losses. Coach said patience is what’s going to make us better as a team,” Worster said.
Forest Hills made just one 3-pointer, by guard Brandon Ouellette as the third quarter ended.
“From watching the Hodgdon and Washburn (tournament) games, we knew they wanted to get out and run. We like to run as well, but we knew that they’re a little bit faster,” Derick Ouellette said.
Chandler Brewer left the game for two minutes in the third quarter after getting kicked in the head going after a loose ball, but returned and led Central Aroostook with 23 points.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242