AUGUSTA — One half was workmanlike; the other was flashy.

The two worked in conjunction — and now the Skowhegan boys basketball team will play for a chance to cut down the nets.

Skowhegan claimed a 54-34 win over Messalonskee in a Class A North semifinal showdown Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center. The River Hawks combined solid defense in the first half with dunks, sensational moves and other bits of flair they’re known for to book a spot in Friday’s regional final against Brewer.

Although neither team established much of an offensive rhythm early, third-ranked Skowhegan (14-6) led 12-5 after one quarter of play with Messalonskee struggling more from the field. The Eagles answered in the following period with three Merrick Smith baskets, but a key five-point stretch from Kyle LePage kept the River Hawks in front as they led 20-14 at the break.

“You’re going to have off-nights offensively, but you can’t have an off-night defensively, and we’ve said that from the beginning,” said Skowhegan head coach Tom Nadeau. “Defensively, we played very well, for the most part. There were a few hiccups here and there, but holding them to 14 in the first half was a big deal.”

Skowhegan held a slight lead for much of a third quarter that saw fans go wild on a Smith dunk and an Adam Savage block on Messalonskee’s Sam Dube. Although the No. 7 Eagles (8-12) cut the deficit to 27-24, the River Hawks immediately answered with triples from Savage and Patrick McKenney to push it back to nine.


Up 33-28, Skowhegan got baskets from LePage and Savage before another McKenney 3 put the River Hawks up double digits. It was the start of a 19-0 Skowhegan run to put the game away that saw Savage nearly connect on one dunk — then jam it home successfully on another to send the 3,000 fans in the building wild. 

“I thought I had Merrick Smith trailing me right on my butt, so when I went up and dunked it, I thought I had to hang on so I wouldn’t swing and kick him in the face,” said Savage, who was assessed a technical foul on the play. “That’s what I was trying to explain, but I didn’t make my point very good, I guess.”

McKenney, Savage, Kyle LePage and Collin LePage all finished in double figures, with McKenney and Savage scoring 12 points each and the LePage brothers each scoring 11. Kyle LePage had eight rebounds, Collin LePage and Savage had six each, and McKenney brought down five.

The key to the 19-0 run that opened up the game, McKenney said, was Skowhegan’s ability to dominate the game through its big men down low. That helped open things up for players such as McKenney, whose 3-pointers were key to turning a tight game into a lopsided one.

“We knew our bigs were better than theirs, and that was something we had to take advantage of,” McKenney said. “It was close, and I knew my team needed me. Our team just wanted this so bad; we worked too hard to go out like that. I think that motivation kept us all going.”

Smith had 14 points and seven rebounds to lead Messalonskee, and Dan Parent added eight points and four rebounds. The Eagles, who had upset Nokomis to reach the semifinals, went 7-4 over their final 11 games of the season after going 1-8 to begin the campaign.

At 6-foot-9, Smith isn’t an easy player for many in Class A North to stop. Yet Skowhegan has some size of its own with Savage and the LePage brothers all standing 6-5, and the River Hawks showed physicality against the Messalonskee sophomore down the stretch in the victory.

“He’s a good up-and-coming player, and we knew we had to be physical with him, be smart with him and not let him get position inside down low,” Nadeau said. “If you can push him out a little bit, you can make things happen, and we were able to do that.”

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