AUGUSTA – The Cony boys basketball team returned to the locker room after its A North quarterfinal, and some of the players couldn’t hold back the tears.

Not over a postseason loss. Though it certainly appeared the Rams were headed that way.

“We went in the locker room, and kids are crying,” coach T.J. Maines said. “And we just won.”

The emotions, instead, were over a season-saving comeback, one in which the top-seeded Rams, struggling and scuffling much of the night, erased first an 11-point deficit late in the third quarter and then a three-point margin in the final minute to beat No. 8 Medomak Valley 73-71, with the winning points coming on a Simon McCormick layup in the final seconds.

The basket was a cap to a stellar night for McCormick, who came alive when the Rams (15-4) needed him and finished with 28 points, while Dakota Dearborn scored 18 and Kyle Douin had 14.

Cony fans and its bench celebrate as time runs out in their 73-71 win over Medomak in a Class A North quarterfinal on Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Freshman Patrick McKenney led the Panthers (12-7) with 14 points, while Trevor Brown had 10 and Ryan Creamer and Brandon Starr had nine apiece.

“We just played with heart,” said senior forward Ian Bowers, who had the steal and assist on McCormick’s final basket. “We’ve been saying it all season … and right then, we just played with heart.”

This one wasn’t easy. Not after a slow and sluggish start forced the Rams to spend the end of the third and start of the fourth climbing out of a double-digit hole, and not when that rally seemed to be for naught when a relentless Medomak opponent fought back from a 65-57 deficit to take a 71-68 lead with 52.9 seconds to play.

Matt Wozniak gathered a missed McCormick free throw, however, and found the junior guard for a 3-pointer – his third of the quarter – to tie the game at 71 with 37 seconds left.

Medomak was set up for the final possession, but Bowers – even with Cony in the bonus – wasn’t prepared to sit back. He pressured the ball and came away with the steal, then looked up and found McCormick all alone, with nothing but the basket in front of him.

“I didn’t really know what the time and score was,” Bowers said. “I knew I had to (get) it up the court.”

Cony’s Simon McCormick drives towards the basket as Medomak’s Gabe Allaire defends during a Class A North quarterfinal on Saturday in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

McCormick went in on the breakaway for the layup with seven seconds left. Medomak, with no timeouts, was forced to try a desperation shot that fell well short.

“I wasn’t thinking at all. … I knew it was an easy layup. I’ve made a thousand of those,” McCormick said. “We all thought they were going to call a foul on Ian. We’re lucky they didn’t call it. It would have been hard.”

A foul would have sent Medomak to the line. Maines said his team, aggressive defensively all season, wasn’t going to get tentative with the game on the line.

“It’s not who we’re going to be,” he said. “For Ian to make that play was very fitting. He’s been a leader all season.”

The play made official a victory that seemed on the verge of slipping away when Cony, which fell behind 40-36 at halftime after going 2-for-18 from the 3-point line, fell behind 53-42 with around a minute and a half left in the third.

Maines called a timeout, and told his players what was at stake.

“(I said) ‘No matter what happens from here on out, I’m always going to have your back, coaches are, your teammates, you’re always going to be together. But I want to keep practicing,’ ” he said. “They were like ‘We want to practice, we want to practice.’ I’m like ‘Okay. We’ve got it right now.’ ”

Cony got the break it needed, with Brian Stratton getting a steal and a score, and McCormick hitting a three to make it 53-47 by the end of the quarter. Cony kept up the push in the fourth, with Douin connecting from deep and McCormick hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to suddenly put the Rams back in front, 56-53, with 7:12 left.

Cony coach T.J. Maines and the Rams bench react to a play during a Class A North quarterfinal against Medomak on Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“Our energy was flat in the second quarter, into the third. It was bad,” McCormick said. “And then we got it back at the end of the quarter, it kept going and we kept feeding off of it.”

For Maines, it made sense that McCormick was leading the push.

“I wasn’t surprised Simon did that,” Maines said. “I think he’s the best player in central Maine. I think he’s one of the best players in the state.”

Cony maintained the surge, building its lead to 8 with 4:36 left, but Medomak wasn’t finished. Jacob Bickmore – a freshman – hit a jumper, Creamer had a pair of free throws and Starr had first a basket and then a 3-pointer, putting the Panthers back in front 66-65 with 2:53 left.

Douin responded with a jumper and Dearborn had a free throw to put Cony up 68-66 with 1:38 to go, but Bickmore hit a jumper, Creamer had a pair of free throws and Gabe Allaire added another, giving Medomak its 71-68 lead – and also setting the stage for Cony’s final rally.

“I’m very proud of the way we played,” coach Nicholas DePatsy said. “I can’t be any more pleased. We just didn’t catch the breaks at the end there, but that’s just the way it is.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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