BANGOR - They have played together since the second grade for an opportunity like this - time winding down and an Eastern Maine Class C boys basketball title on the line. Such was the senior leadership top-ranked Dexter brought to this year's tournament, and it was the composure inherent in a veteran team that enabled the Tigers to rally from a 12-point second-half deficit to edge Penquis of Milo 42-37 in the regional final at the Bangor Auditorium on Saturday night.
"I've said all this year that with this group the total is greater than the sum of its parts," said Dexter coach Peter Murray. "We don't rely on just one facet of the game, and we got a little bit from everybody and just gutted it out."
The win gives Dexter (19-2) its first EM crown since 1986, when the Tigers went on to win the Class B state championship. Dexter will face Western C champion Hall-Dale for the 2005 state title on Friday night at the Bangor Auditorium.
Penquis, which brought a 12-game winning streak into the final, finished 18-3.
Senior forward Jordan Allen scored 14 of his game-high 17 points in the first half to stake Penquis to a 25-16 lead, and teammate Devin Perkins opened the second half with a 3-pointer to give the Patriots an even more significant cushion.
"We were upset at halftime," said forward Chris Rabideau, one of six seniors in Dexter's playing rotation. "Then coach came in and said, 'I don't care if we're down 20, I have so much faith in you guys that you can overcome anything.'"
Dexter quickly erased most of its deficit by scoring 10 unanswered points, most of them after Allen picked up his third and fourth fouls within a two-minute span.
"Without Jordan on the floor, we kind of lose our composure," said Penquis coach Tony Hamlin. "Dexter's trap, their pressure hurt us after Jordan picked up the fouls."
Rabideau, who sat for much of the first half with foul trouble of his own, scored six straight points for Dexter, then fed senior center Tim McCarthy for a layup. When senior guard Mark Pullen converted a steal into a layup, the Tigers were within 28-26 with 3:32 left in the third and Penquis needed a timeout.
"Coach told us at halftime to work it inside and try to draw some fouls," said Rabideau, who finished with 10 points and six rebounds. "We knew Jordan had a couple of fouls and so did Devin, and we knew if we could get an inside game going, the outside shots would come."
Dexter didn't take the lead for good until senior guard Matt Murray, the coach's son, hit a 15-foot jumper with 1:43 left in the game, just after the Tigers called time.
"The thing you worry about when you come back like we did is that you expend a lot of energy," said coach Murray. "I was afraid we were going to take a lazy shot because we might be a little tired, so we took a timeout to get reorganized and refocused."
Dexter worked the ball around for about 20 seconds until Eric Day fed Matt Murray for the jumper that gave Dexter a 37-36 lead with 1:43 left.
"We were really talking about how we needed penetration instead of just shooting 3s, and I saw somebody coming at me and I pump-faked and just got an open look, got myself set for a shot, and knocked it in," said Matt Murray, who scored a team-high 11 points.
Murray added two free throws with 52 seconds left, but Allen went 1 of 2 from the line 12 seconds later to cut the gap to 39-37.
When Murray made the first of a 1-and-1 with 20.7 seconds left but missed the second, Allen rebounded and the Patriots had a chance to tie.
Allen drove the length of the court against pressure from Murray, and leaned into his defender for a 3-point try. The shot missed, and Dexter's Ryan Martin rebounded, was fouled and made two free throws with 9.6 seconds left to put the game away.
"This was just a gut-check game in a big, big way," said coach Murray, "because you don't come back like that against Tony Hamlin's teams very often.
"It takes to take a special team to do that."
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