OAKLAND — On Saturday afternoon, the Messalonskee High School boys basketball team will play Greely in the Class A state championship game at the Augusta Civic Center. It’s the first state championship appearance for the Eagles.

Messalonskee won the Class A North with a 61-40 win over Oceanside in the regional final, but without one of the best comebacks in recent tournament memory, the Eagles wouldn’t have even made it that far. In the regional semifinals, No. 5 Messalonskee trailed No. 8 Skowhegan, which upset undefeated top-seed Medomak Valley in the quarterfinals, by five points with one minute to play.

The Eagles rallied to tie Skowhegan in the closing seconds on a James Kouletsis basket in the final seconds, before winning in overtime. This is a look at how Messalonskee completed the improbable comeback to advance to the regional championship game, and from there, the first state game in team history.

• 54.9 seconds left, Messalonskee guard Nate Violette fouls Skowhegan’s Brendan Curran. The Indians lead 48-43.

Violette: “We saw the clock was ticking down and we saw the margin wasn’t getting any closer, so we’ve to do something different. Let’s put them on the line and see what happens.”

Messalonskee coach Pete McLaughlin: “We have a call that, obviously, we go to when we need a foul. We’d been yelling for it for about 10 seconds before that as a coaching staff. We practice those situations on a weekly basis. Nate reacted really well… It’s a five-point game. If it gets to seven, it gets a lot more difficult for us, but obviously, one and one, we’re playing strategy and we need the ball back.”

• Curran misses the free throw, and Messalonskee’s Griffin Tuttle grabs the rebound.

Tuttle: “I’m just getting the ball and getting it out quick so we can go down and have a possession because there’s not much time left in the game and we’re down two possessions. We’ve got to have fast possessions.”

• Dawson Charles takes a Violette pass in the corner, cuts to the middle, and drives through the lane for a layup. Charles is fouled, setting up the chance to a three-point play to cut Skowhegan’s lead to two points with 47.1 seconds left.

Charles: “I just recognized they were playing me more rip middle, so I kind of ripped middle and went up, and he fouled me.”

McLaughlin: “It’s probably what I love about Dawson the most. I don’t think any situation is too big for him. In his mind, when he gets the ball in his hands, he wants to make a play. With that blur screen coming underneath, the elbow opened up for him, and once he had that lane, I think he long jumped about eight feet when he did it.”

After a timeout, Charles makes the foul shot, and Messalonskee trails 48-46.

Charles: “It was pretty nerve-wracking.”

• The Eagles press, and Tuttle fouls Garrett McSweeney with 44.7 seconds to play. McSweeney makes both free throws to push Skowhegan’s lead to 50-46. McSweeney is a strong free throw shooter, but the Eagles aren’t in position to play favorites.

Tuttle: “Whoever we can get our hands on, whoever has the ball at that moment.”

McLaughlin: “He (McSweeney) was probably their most consistent free throw shooter down the stretch. At that time, it was to whoever the ball comes into, we’re looking to trap, then we need to foul and extend this game a little.”

• 35 seconds left. From a few feet behind the 3-point line, to the left of the top of the key, Violette lets go a high-arcing shot with the hand of Skowhegan defender Marcus Christopher in his face. It goes in, and Skowhegan’s lead is 50-49.

Violette: “(Christopher’s) a little bigger than I am. We were quite a ways out from the 3-point line. I knew on that shot I had to get the shot off over him. He was closing out hard, so I just let it go a little higher, and it ended up going in… I was thinking, ‘Well, we’re down two possessions. We need to score on this one.’ I didn’t realize how far out I was. I just shot the three, knowing we had to cut the lead down. I’m glad it went in.”

• Messalonskee presses and traps, but Skowhegan crosses center court with 20 seconds left. With 18.1 seconds to play, Chase Warren fouls Curran.

Warren: “It was really like Griffin said, whoever got the ball, we’ve got to go for it. I was just going for the ball.”

Curran makes the second of two free throws, and Skowhegan leads 51-49.

• 10 seconds left, Violette misses a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Violette: “It was short. I rushed it. I rushed that shot.”

• 7.7 seconds left, Tuttle is fouled by McSweeney as they both go for the loose ball on the rebound.

Tuttle: “I was pretty surprised they called a foul on that, but I was really glad. I didn’t know what they were calling. I was like, yes, OK. I’ll knock these free throws down.”

Tuttle misses the first one-and-one try, but McSweeney loses the ball out of bounds on the rebound try.

Tuttle: “I don’t know what happened. It felt good, and it kind of rimmed out.”

McLaughlin: “From my point of view, I thought Griffin had a great release point. It hit back rim, richocheted to front. When you hit your shooting target like that, it’s not neccessarily always a bad thing. What I thought was unique was, it came off the pad instead of the backboard. I think McSweeney was expecting it to come off the backboard, and when it came off dead, he kind of reached out for it. Once he reached out for it, he bobbled, and then Trevor (McCray) went immediately to ball pressure to contest, and as he went to contest, McSweeney leaned forward and dribbled out of bounds.”

• Messalonskee calls timeout to set up the inbounds play. McLaughlin decides to run an inbounds play the team has used successfully throughout the season.

McLaughlin: “When we went into that timeout, especially as high school young men, with nerves and everything, I think you go with what they’re comfortable with. We’d put some new things in and prepared, but in that situation, season on the line, you come back from that much (down), you need to do something you know you have really good options out of. In the timeout, we started to move things around a little bit, then 15 seconds in, I said ‘Guys, we’re going to do what we do best.’ There’s a set that has four or five options out of it we really, really like. We walked through it. Guys, this is first option. If this isn’t here, make sure we get to the second option. If that’s not there, we have to get to the third.”

With Tuttle making the inbounds pass, the first option is to Kouletsis, who rolls off a baseline screen set by Violette. If that’s not there, McCray sets a screen to open Violette for a baseline 3-point try.

McCray: “The primary option is to get James the ball on that back screen, but I set a screen for Nathan when he comes in so that he fills the corner to bang that three. It doesn’t usually get to that point.”

The first option is there.

McLaughlin: “Nate set an amazing screen for James to roll off from. We knew they weren’t really going to help off from (Violette) from watching film. With him setting that screen, it was a one-on-one situation with James, and once he held that seal, he’s been a big player for us all year long. I’m more than confident with him banging that shot from four feet.”

With four seconds left, Kouletsis spins to his right, and lets go a short jumper a few feet from the basket. The ball hits the front on the rim, and drops in, tying the score at 51-51.

Kouletsis: “Usually I like to roll off (the screen) off my back shoulder, so it looks like we’re going for McCray. Usually it’s a wide open layup. When (the defender) came underneath, I couldn’t go to the left, so I dropped to the middle for the baby hook. We work on that every day. It’s happened before in the season. It felt good. If you look at the replay, I was trying to draw a foul at the same time, just in case I did miss it. From then, it’s trying to play defense, because there’s still three seconds to go in the game. If they hit some crazy shot, we would’ve been absolutely livid at ourselves.”

• Curran takes a long inbounds pass and gets off a shot from just beyond halfcourt. The shot is wide, and the teams go to overtime.

McLaughlin: “James had a ton of awareness to jump immediately (on that pass) from McSweeney to come in. (Curran) was one, maybe two dribbles, and he caught it just past the foul line. In that situation, it was a halfcourt heave.”

With momentum, the Eagles never trail in overtime, winning 64-55.

McLaughlin: “Down five with a minute to go, we’re talking about things, and the bench is still fired up, still positive, still screaming, The doubt might’ve crept into some people’s minds, but they didn’t let it show. They’re still thinking, how can we come back from this?”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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