Monmouth Academy’s Connor Davies gets a basket over Mt. Abram’s defense during a game Thursday in Monmouth. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

MONMOUTH — The chants of “ACC! ACC!” filled the gym, and the players on the Monmouth boys basketball team broke out into an impromptu celebration as the final seconds ticked off.

One that was five years in the making.

The sixth-seeded Mustangs earned their first playoff victory and punched their ticket to the Augusta Civic Center for the first time since 2014, rallying from a first-half deficit and beating No. 11 Mt. Abram, 68-52, in the Class C South preliminary round.

“We’re going to take some time, we’re going to let this soak in. It’s a good win for our program,” coach Wade Morrill said. “These boys have definitely earned it. This junior and senior class, man, they have taken it on the chin at every single level. And to have this kind of success this season … is just a blessing.”

Grabbing that elusive victory took a group effort. Brock Bates scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Gabe Martin had 17, Connor Davies had 16 and 11 rebounds and Evan Burnell had 15 with nine boards.

“This is probably one of the greatest feelings,” said Martin, who scored 11 points in a third quarter that saw Monmouth (13-6) turn a 32-30 deficit into a 52-40 lead. “I haven’t even watched a (Monmouth) team go to the ACC, ever. It’s really important for us.”

Nate Luce scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Mt. Abram (7-12), while Hunter Warren had 14 points. Kenyon Pillsbury and Jackson Masterson had six rebounds apiece.

“Some of our shots could have fallen, but we were getting our shots and we were getting to the hoop as I’d like,” coach Dustin Zamboni said. “I’m really proud of the way our guys got after it, getting rebounds and playing defense.”

The final score would suggest Thursday night was just a formality, but it was anything but. A Roadrunners team that lost to Monmouth 72-38 during the regular season had no intention of going down so easily this time, working its way to a 26-15 lead in the second quarter en route to going into halftime with the two-point lead.

“We executed better, with a slightly different gameplan,” Zamboni said. “We more so went into man. … We were looking to take them 1-on-1. We scouted them really well this time, last time we had less of a good report on them. We had some mismatches. We tried our best to take care of our mismatches on defense.”

Morrill said Mt. Abram’s ability to generate second-chance points, as well as some uncharacteristic shakiness on the Mustangs’ part, led to the slow start.

“Definitely not the way we wanted to come out and play,” he said. “The playoff basketball atmosphere is something we had to adjust to.”

In the second half, they did. The Mustangs surged out of the locker room, getting six straight points from Davies — two on a breakaway dunk that ignited the crowd — and then a 3-pointer from Martin for a 9-0 run and a 39-32 lead with 4:46 left in the quarter.

Warren hit a pair of free throws to stop the bleeding, but Burnell had a basket and Martin hit another three to bump the lead to 10. Luce countered with a three of his own, but Martin finished in transition after a Dylan Lajoie steal, Bates hit a jumper and then, after Warren hit a three, Martin connected from long range for the third time in the quarter, putting Monmouth ahead 51-40 with 15 seconds left in the third.

Monmouth Academy’s Brock Bates denies Mt. Abram’s Hunter Warren a shot during a game Thursday in Monmouth. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“In the beginning, we were rushing … on offense, and thinking too much on defense,” said Martin, who hit four 3-pointers and scored 15 points in the second half. “It just took us a little bit to cool down, and then over time we realized we’re the team we are, and (we had to) come out and play like we did.”

Bates — whose 10 points in the second quarter helped Monmouth stay within striking distance — added six more points in the fourth quarter to ensure there would be no Roadrunner rally.

“I thought in the second half we did a much better job of taking away those second-chance points, which slowed them down,” said Morrill, who at one point had to move 6-foot-5 forward Davies to point guard to withstand foul trouble. “We got some big charges, and that helped turn the momentum.

“We ground it out. We found a way to win. It was not a pretty game at all, it’s not how we drew it up, it’s not ideally what we wanted. But I thought that, midway through the third quarter to the end of the game, is kind of what we’re all about.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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