There’s no doubt that in the Class A boys basketball state championship game, Messalonskee (16-5) is the underdog to undefeated Greely (21-0). But after coming out of the North bracket as the fifth seed, there’s also no doubt the Eagles are used to playing in that role.

“Greely is probably going to be the most talented team we play this year. They’ve had an amazing year. They’ve gone 21-0 through a pretty rigorous schedule. They had a couple close calls. They’ve been tested,” Messalonskee coach Peter McLaughlin said. “They go seven, eight deep, and their first five play an incredibly high quality of basketball. We’ve got to go out and play our best basketball for 32 minutes.”

This is Messalonskee’s first appearance in the state championship game. Greely is playing its first state game since 1998, when the Rangers won the Class B state championship.

“Everyone on their team can hurt you, from all different angles. They shoot the three well. They’re tall, they’re big. You can’t just focus on one guy. This is a team where, anyone on any given night can stand out,” said Messalonskee senior guard Nate Violette, who won the Al Halliday Award as the North tournament’s most outstanding player.

Greely boasts two Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalists, Jordan Bagshaw and Matt McDevitt, but the most dangerous Ranger could be senior Ryan Twitchell. In Greely’s 47-26 win over defending state champ Falmouth in the South regional final, Twitchell grabbed 17 rebounds, including 11 offensive, and scored 13 points to earn the tournament’s most outstanding player honors.

“Twitchell is the guy who kind of makes it all work for them. I think he’s their heart. When you focus so much on stopping their perimeter game, he’s kind of the guy that really looks to hurt you,” McLaughlin said. “When things weren’t going quite right, I thought he was their spark plug. Really looking to kind of get them to be calm, collected and really putting possessions together, and that happens on both the offensive and defensive end.”

In the regular season, Greely allowed an average of 49.8 points per game. In the tournament, the Rangers have been incredibly stingy, allowing just 37 points per game.

“We’re unselfish and selfless. Our defense through the year has been OK. In the tournament, we’ve been able to ratchet it up,” Greely coach Travis Seaver said.

Seaver pointed to containing Violette, who averaged just under 20 points per game in the regular season and scored 21 in Messalonskee’s 61-40 win over Oceanside in the regional final, as important for the Rangers success.

“Violette’s the key. He makes them go. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. They’re playing with a lot of emotion, and they should be,” Seaver said.

Violette and his partners in the Eagles backcourt, James Kouletsis and Chase Warren, have been Messalonskee’s catalysts all season. A trio of big me, Griffin Tuttle, Cole Wood, and Trevor McCray, will be important against Greely’s size. Messalonskee was one of the top defensive teams in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference this season, and allowed 47 points per game in the North tournament.

“Throughout the tournament, our defense is what’s really propelled us. Right now, that’s what’s going to get us to the next level,” Violette said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM