AUGUSTA — Ask him about his game-winning shot, and Merrick Smith says his mind is a blank. No worries; he’ll have plenty of chances to remember thanks to social media videos.

Messalonskee’s 6-foot-9 sophomore connected on a perfect hook shot at the buzzer to send the seventh-seeded Eagles to a shocking 50-48 upset of No. 2 Nokomis in the Class A North quarterfinals Saturday in front of a spirited crowd at the Augusta Civic Center.

After Nokomis tied the score on a Madden White jumper with 12.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Messalonskee took the ball upcourt before first-year coach Pete McLaughlin called a timeout with 4.4 ticks on the clock. Jacob Love inbounded the ball to 5-3 point guard Walter Fegel, who found Smith, whose graceful hook found nothing but net as the buzzer sounded.

Smith’s teammates immediately mobbed him at center court as the Messalonskee fans roared in delight.

“I don’t really remember,” a beaming Smith said with a laugh. “All I remember is Walter passing me the ball, I remember going up, I remember my team on top of me, and that’s about it.”

“I’m really excited. We came here a seventh seed playing a two-seed. I don’t know how many people expected us to win (Saturday), but we expected ourselves to win.”


Smith — whose name wasn’t even listed in the game program — finished with team highs of 14 points and 10 rebounds, five in the fourth quarter.

Nokomis swept the regular-season series with Messalonskee, winning 61-52 on Dec. 29 and 47-33 on Feb. 7. But McLaughlin said his team didn’t change much strategy-wise from those games.

“There was a wrinkle or two, but we stayed true to our principles, and really just focused on executing and being as efficient as we possibly could, and looking at their weaknesses and how we could maximize our potential in those weaknesses, and I think we did that tonight,” McLaughlin said.

“That was a complete team effort throughout that entire game with guys stepping up and making huge plays that put us in that huge situation for Merrick to make that huge bucket at the end.”

Messalonskee players and fans react after Merrick Smith, center, hit a game-winning shot as time expired in a Class A North quarterfinal boys basketball game against Nokomis on Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Messalonskee (8-11) will face No. 3 Skowhegan, a 68-44 winner over Lawrence in Saturday’s quarterfinal, in the semifinals  Wednesday night at the Civic Center. The Eagles were swept by scores of 68-50 and 59-56, but that was early on, when they started 1-8 and the season appeared to be a lost cause.


Instead of panicking, Messalonskee won five of its next six, including a 72-71 double-overtime win over Cony on Jan. 12 that McLaughlin said was a turning point to the season.

“That win was the one that kind of motivated us to be like, ‘Look, we can play with the best in this league and really compete,'” McLaughlin said. “Those guys came to practice believing in themselves. (Saturday, we were facing) the defending state champs, they’ve been here before — I couldn’t be more proud of my guys.”

Dan Parent had 11 points for Messalonskee, including three 3-pointers. Grady Hartsgrove led Nokomis with 14 points, followed by  Dawson Townsend and Alex Grant with 11 apiece. White, the Warriors’ Mr. Basketball semifinalist, was held to six points and four rebounds.

“They’re a very good team,” Nokomis coach Earl Anderson said of Messalonskee. “We looked very close at their season; they’re a very talented team. We knew that winning two games in the regular season meant nothing, and it would be a battle. And it was a battle.”


Down 14-11 in the first, Nokomis went on an 11-0 run to take a 22-14 lead in the second, including a nifty steal-and-layup by Hartsgrove. Shortly thereafter, Messalonskee went on a 9-0 run, including 6 points from Smith, and the teams went into the half tied at 26.


“We were just trying to stop their shooting, because their 3-point shooting has killed us in the past two games we’ve played them,” Smith said. “I think then it was just a matter of boxing out and grabbing the ball.”

Nokomis never led in the second half, but was never down by more than four points. Five times the Warriors tied the score; five times the Warriors couldn’t find the go-ahead basket, including twice in the final minute.

Messalonskee led 46-43 with 45.1 seconds left on a pair of Fegel free throws. Nokomis’s White found a wide-open Townsend, whose 3-pointer knotted the score at 46 with 36.9 seconds left. After Grant was fouled, Drake Brunelle converted two more free throws with 23.4 seconds left. White’s jumper tied the game seconds later, and the rest is history.

Messalonskee fans cheer for their Eagles late in a Class A North boys basketball quarterfinal Saturday at the Augusta Civc Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Nokomis (14-5) faced plenty of doubters after losing freshmen sensations Cooper and Ace Flagg from last year’s Gold Ball winners. But Anderson shifted players around to new positions and kept the Warriors among Class A’s upper-echelon teams.

“We had a better season than I think people thought we were going to have, and that’s a tribute to these guys,” Anderson said. “They’re a great group to coach. Every day they were the highlight of my day. They conduct themselves the way you’d want them to, on and off the floor.”

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