AUGUSTA — Alec Byron had heard the talk. And the Hall-Dale senior was ready with a statement of his own.

“I heard chatter about (how) we weren’t going to get past Waynflete, we had the toughest bracket, it was going to be bad, our season was going to be over today,” he said. “I told myself this morning, ‘There’s no way I’m ending my career today.’ ”

Byron then made another statement on the court, scoring 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting and sparking the third-seeded Hall-Dale boys basketball team to a 65-58 win over No. 2 Waynflete in the C South semifinals at the Augusta Civic Center Thursday night.

“That was just an incredible win,” Byron said. “I’m pretty emotional right now.”

Ashtyn Abbott added 17 points for the Bulldogs (19-1), while Austin Stebbins, Josh Nadeau and Tim Cookson added seven apiece.

Finn Scott scored 15 points and Asker Hussein had 12 for Waynflete (17-3), but the Flyers were dogged throughout by foul trouble. Hussein played limited minutes in the fourth and fouled out with 44 seconds left, and 6-foot-7 center Dominick Campbell took his fourth foul with 1:08 to go in the third quarter.

“I thought we were off to a pretty good start. … But things start to (happen), the ball bounces funny, some calls don’t go your way, and the mark of a championship team is how well you weather those kinds of things,” coach Rich Henry said. “And to be honest, I thought there were times where we lost our composure.”

Still, it wasn’t an easy night – Hall-Dale trailed 13-5 in the first quarter and had to weather early foul trouble for Abbott — but it nevertheless ended with the Bulldogs making their second straight trip to the regional final after winning the tournament last season.

“We came out very timid, and it didn’t appear that we were ready for the moment,” coach Chris Ranslow said. “I think we ended up with 18 turnovers, which is not a metric that we’re proud of, but that said, a pretty gutty effort. They played a hell of a second half.”

That second half began with Byron – who had 11 first-half points to help Hall-Dale withstand Waynflete’s early surge — hitting a 3-pointer, and then included Abbott, who committed his third foul with 4:25 to go in the second quarter, scoring the team’s next eight points to turn a 32-30 lead into a 43-35 advantage with 4:13 left in the third quarter.

“We have the genes to keep fighting back,” Byron said. “It’s in our DNA to not give up, and I think we play best when we deal with adversity. And I thought we dealt with it pretty well in the first quarter, and we came storming out in the second half.”

Waynflete hung tough, however, and got within three points at 59-56 with 2:18 to play when Hussein was fouled while hitting a 3-pointer and then hit the free throw. Abbott then hit a free throw, and Austin Stebbins hit a pair of free throws to make the lead 62-56 with 44.6 seconds left.

Waynflete’s desperation shots hit rim, and Byron made three more free throws to ice the win.

“I wasn’t playing my best, but Byron was on his game and picking up the slack,” Abbott said.

Abbott, the Bulldogs’ standout senior forward, was admittedly too aggressive in trying to block shots, causing him to pick up the three fouls and take a seat for the final minutes of the second quarter. But he bounced back to help Hall-Dale separate from the Flyers in the second half.

Hall-Dale’s Tim Cookson looks to get past Waynflete defender Diraige Dahia during a Class C South semifinal game Thursday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“That was horrible defense. I kept trying to block shots, especially on kids that were bigger than I was,” he said. “I just knew in the second half, that couldn’t happen. Coach said you need to stand straight up, especially with three fouls. The refs are going to be watching that.”

The Bulldogs also got timely efforts from their supporting cast. Stebbins and Nadeau hit big shots from the perimeter, and Tim Cookson had six rebounds and three blocks while Patrick Rush added nine boards.

“Tim and Pat are the reasons we won tonight, I think,” Abbott said. “We can score as many as we want … but without Tim and Pat, there’s no way we would have won.”

Hall-Dale will face Winthrop in a rematch of last year’s C South final.

“I want a chance to go back to that Gold Ball game,” Byron said. “I want to say that I’ve had a pretty good career, and I think what would really cap it off, what would really make me happy is if I got that Gold Ball, and today was a big step getting there.”

Drew Bonifant – 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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