AUGUSTA — Given what was returning, it was an expectation amongst those in Dixfield that the Dirigo boys basketball team would be back playing in a championship game this winter.

It took everything the Cougars had in their semifinal game to get there — but they are there, back in the Class C South title game against the same foe they took down a year ago.

Dirigo claimed a 71-63 over Mt. Abram in a regional semifinal Friday at the Augusta Civic Center. The Cougars trailed for much of the game before taking control in the fourth quarter to advance to the regional final Saturday night at 7:45 against a Monmouth Academy team they beat for the C South crown last year.

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said Dirigo head coach Cody St. Germain. “We had that fourth-quarter run that we keep getting used to, and it’s driving me a little nuts, but we were able to get out with a win in a hard-fought game.”

Early on, Dakota Tompkins and Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalist Charlie Houghton had top-ranked Dirigo (19-1) in control. With Tompkins hitting a pair of 3-pointers and Houghton making one of his own and driving the lane, the Cougars led Mt. Abram 20-8 with just over a minute to go in the opening quarter.

Yet Mt. Abram made it a one-possession game almost immediately with a 10-0 run to end the period that culminated with an off-balance buzzer-beater from Tucker Plouffe to end the first quarter. The No. 5 Roadrunners (17-4) then continued their surge in the second quarter to take a 32-26 lead into halftime.


Houghton, who had gone scoreless in the second quarter, returned to form in the third as he scored 13 points to pace Dirigo. Mt. Abram, though, would remain in front as Plouffe, Payton Mitchell and Kaden Pillsbury led an offensive effort that had the Roadrunners up 49-43 after three.

“We went out in the first quarter and played great there for five minutes, and then things just kind of went downhill for a while,” St. Germain said. “They traded a bunch of hoops and were able to keep the edge going into halftime, and they held it for the third quarter as well.”

Fortunately for Dirigo, the fourth quarter was one in which it forced an avalanche of turnovers and produced a strong effort on the offensive end. The Cougars took the lead midway through the period as it used an 8-0 run to go ahead 51-49 and, with Houghton and Tompkins leading the charge, pulled away as the former hit free throws down the stretch.

“I just try not to think of it as a free throw so there’s no pressure with it,” said Tompkins, who was 8 of 9 from the line overall. “I think I’m shooting 86 percent (from the line) over the year, so I have a lot of confidence stepping up there. When you show Coach you can hit those, it feels really good.”

Houghton posted game-highs in points (27) and rebounds (12) for Dirigo, and Tompkins finished with 22 points, 12 of which came with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. The Cougars also got six points, six rebounds and four assists from Trenton Hutchinson.

Plouffe was the team leader in points (16) and rebounds (seven) for Mt. Abram, which also got 15 points each from Mitchell and Bryce Wilcox and 12 points and five rebounds from Pillsbury. The Roadrunners managed to largely stay with Dirigo on the boards, bringing down 25 rebounds to the much-larger Cougars’ 29.


“I thought our kids battled all game and worked really hard getting rebounds,” said Mt. Abram head coach Dustin Zamboni. “They committed, and they listened to the game plan well. … (I’ll remember this group for) the way they worked together and how they always stayed together no matter what.”

The game was the third tight contest this year between Mt. Abram and Dirigo, the latter of which won the regular season battles by scores of 67-65 and 75-70. Such a back-and-forth game was to be expected, Zamboni said, given the styles and complexions of both teams.

“Both teams have scorers in a bunch of positions, and we’re both athletic teams that are able to run,” Zamboni said. “We can both rebound really well. … They just hit some big shots down the stretch when they needed it. We committed too many turnovers, and that hurts.”

Dirigo, as noted, had Gold Ball expectations this year with the bulk of last year’s state championship-winning roster returning and possibly the Mountain Valley Conference’s best player in Houghton. The Cougars are now one win away from their seventh state championship game appearance in 14 seasons.

To get there, though, they’ll have to take down a No. 2 Monmouth Academy team (17-3) that will have revenge on its mind after falling to the Cougars in last year’s regional final. The Mustangs were also the lone team to beat Dirigo this year, beating St. Germain’s squad 71-56 on Jan. 30.

“That’s the one team that was able to knock us off this year,” St. Germain said. “Coach (Wade) Morrill had them ready to go that game, and I know he’ll have them ready to go again. We’ll have to be ready for them, too.”

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