AUGUSTA — James Kouletsis had to admit it. With under a minute to go in the A North boys basketball semifinals, the Messalonskee senior could see the end coming.

“It was probably going through my mind, as well as everybody else’s,” he said. ” ‘Holy crap. We’re about to go down.’ ”

Not so fast. There’s more basketball to play for the Eagles. And Kouletsis himself got to be the big reason why.

Kouletsis hit the game-tying shot in the closing seconds of regulation after a game-saving Nate Violette 3-pointer, and No. 5 Messalonskee outlasted No. 8 Skowhegan in overtime to come away with a pulse-pounding 64-55 victory in the A North semifinals at the Augusta Civic Center.

“We just didn’t stop knowing that we could pull this out,” said Violette, a senior captain who led Messalonskee with 25 points. “We knew that if we all came together, we could achieve what we’ve wanted to achieve from the very beginning.”

The dramatic finish continued a season that seemed to be on its last legs, as Skowhegan — looking for another upset after stunning No. 1 Medomak Valley in the quarters — led by five points with 1:53 to play and four points after a pair of Garrett McSweeney free throws with 44 seconds left.

But Violette, as was the case all night, had the answer. He brought the ball up and hoisted a high-arcing shot that splashed for his fifth 3-pointer with 32 seconds to go, cutting a 50-46 lead to 50-49 and putting the Eagles right back in charge of their own fates.

“My dad’s always telling me, when it comes down to that time, that’s money time,” he said. “I knew, being a senior, this is it. If I want to live to see another day and I want to let my teammates live to see another day, that shot has to go in.”

After a Skowhegan free throw, Messalonskee had a chance to tie the game at the line with 7.7 seconds left, but Griffin Tuttle’s free throw rimmed out. McSweeney was the first to the ball but stepped out in the process, returning possession to the Eagles and giving them a final try with 6.7 seconds remaining.

Even in the din of the moment, Messalonskee had the play in mind. Tuttle inbounded the ball to Kouletsis underneath the basket, and the senior calmly hit the shot off glass with four seconds left.

“We’ve been running that play all season,” Kouletsis said. “We’ve been getting open layups for me, Violette, we’ve had people hitting threes on the back end. … You’ve got to compose yourself right there, and I was able to put it in at the right time.”

It was a new game at 51-51, and McLaughlin knew the momentum was with his team.

“Once overtime hit, I knew we were going to pull this out,” coach Pete McLaughlin said. “You can’t come back like that and give it away in overtime.” He was right. Baskets by Violette, Trevor McCray and Kouletsis (13 points) and two free throws from Chase Warren (13 points) put Messalonskee ahead 59-53, and Skowhegan couldn’t climb back in the final minutes.

“We did a pretty good job of continuining to carry the momentum from our game against Medomak into tonight, in just believing in each other and competing,” coach Tom Nadeau said. “Sometimes, things just don’t go your way.”

Skowhegan eked its way to 25-24 and 37-36 leads at halftime and after three quarters, and got 26 points from Cam Barnes and 12 from McSweeney to work its way to the late lead.

“Cam’s a great player, and he has the capabilities of playing like that on a given night,” Nadeau said. “When he’s locked in, he does good things for us, and we needed every little ounce.”

Messalonskee had an answer in Violette, who dueled with the Skowhegan sharpshooter and scored eight points in the fourth quarter to keep the Eagles alive.

“Nate Violette had a huge, huge game,” McLaughin said. “Every big shot. I felt like Nate just kind of put us on his shoulders. … He played like a senior with his back against the wall, wanting to play another game.”

They will have another game, in the regional final against No. 3 Oceanside. But that can wait.

Wednesday night was about basking in a special moment.

“It’s been a while,” McLaughlin answered when asked when he last saw such an ending. “I could not be more proud of my guys. Our backs were against the wall about as much as they could be. … Right now, it’s kind of a slow blur, to be honest with you.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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