READFIELD — The Maranacook boys basketball team needed a few minutes to heat up in its quarterfinal victory over Gardiner in the Class A/B bracket of the central Maine tournament.

On Tuesday, the Black Bears were ready from the first possession.

Cash McClure scored 35 points, 23 coming in the first half, as No. 1 Maranacook took down No. 4 Messalonskee 98-79 in the semifinals at Maranacook Community High School.

Joe Albert scored 14 points off the bench for the Black Bears (14-0), who will play No. 2 Skowhegan on Thursday in the final. Tim Worster, Casey Cormier and Nick Florek each had nine.

“(Tuesday) was fantastic,” Maranacook coach Travis Magnusson said. “We’ve talked about it all year. When we got to practice (Monday), when we got to the gym (Tuesday), it felt the same as when we played Wells last year in the southern Maine final. That’s how we’re treating it. We were focused, we were ready.”

And determined to take their season, as was the case last year, to the last day of the season.

“We didn’t want to go home tonight,” McClure said. “It was a wake-up call last game, we knew we had to come out with way more energy this game. I think we did a great job with that.”

Messalonskee (9-4), which struggled from the field from the beginning, got 13 points from Nate Love, 12 from Reece Gardner and 10 apiece from Matt Parent and James Smith.

“I think playing in this type of atmosphere, to get this far in the tournament, we just weren’t used to it,” Messalonskee coach Jay Dangler said. “We played tight. You could tell. Offensively, we weren’t doing the types of things we typically do.”

There was plenty of reason for intrigue, considering the game matched up a pair of Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalists in McClure and Parent, but the Black Bears caught fire from the start. McClure scored six quick points as Maranacook got off to an 8-2 lead, and then threw in a three-quarter length heave at the buzzer as the Black Bears ended the quarter up 18-9.

Maranacook senior Cash McClure shoots against Messalonskee during a central Maine tournament semifinal game Tuesday in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The lead grew in the second, with McClure scoring 12 points as Maranacook surged to a 46-28 halftime lead. The Black Bears then scored 21 of the first 31 points of the third quarter en route to a 72-44 lead after three.

As was the case at the start of the Gardiner victory, McClure fueled the Black Bears in another impressive showing. When he hit a three that made it 29-11 and prompted a Messalonskee timeout with 6:24 to go in the second, he tilted his head back and screamed as he returned to the bench.

There was plenty more to come.

“We did not want tonight to (be the) end,” he said. “I got really excited, and that’s just how I express my emotion. Everybody makes fun of me for my flex, they call it the ‘Penguin flex’ whenever I do that.”

McClure wasn’t the only Black Bear having a big night. Albert had what McClure and Magnusson both called the best game of his career, scoring eight points by halftime and adding four more in the third.

“That’s the most I’ve scored in my entire high school career. I don’t know. I was on tonight, I guess,” Albert said. “Wherever the ball was, I was finishing well.”

Maranacook senior Eljas Bergdahl, left, gets advice from coach Travis Magnusson during a central Maine tournament semifinal game Tuesday in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Albert, McClure and the rest of the Black Bears attacked the basket all night, racking up 22 free throws over the first three quarters to the Eagles’ nine.

“We try to talk a lot about making somebody else better, and how we do that is getting to the rim and dishing off to somebody,” Magnusson said. “That was a big focus of ours tonight. We wanted to continue to make other people better and get to the rim.”

The team also got a lift from Worster, who got the responsibility of sticking with the high-scoring Parent.

“We mostly wanted to make him not shoot threes,” Magnusson said. “We think he’s one of the best 3-point shooters in the state, so (we wanted to) try to make him do something different. … We did a nice job on him.”

Dangler tipped his cap to how well Worster and the Black Bears defended his star senior.

“They were face-guarding him, that was pretty clear,” he said. “Anytime he came off a screen, whoever the guy we set the screen for was helping off him. They were checking him everywhere he went, they played physically with him.”

Dangler also acknowledged the difficulty of trying to reset and bounce back after Maranacook’s push, which saw the Black Bears up by 20 before the midpoint of the second quarter.

“You get down like that, and you feel like you have to make it all up in one or two possessions,” Dangler said. “We’re trying to make passes that aren’t there, we’re trying to take shots that aren’t typically there, we’re trying to hit threes instead of getting quick twos or easy looks and then getting stops.”

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