Eddies escape Eagles to reach Final

PORTLAND — Edward Little senior Austin Brown has been to enough regional finals to know that it doesn’t matter how a team gets there. So when he was asked how it felt to have punched a ticket to the fourth regional final of his career, Brown seemed a bit conflicted.

“(It feels) great, but a win is a win,” said Brown, a three-year starter. “Can’t complain.”

No. 4 Windham gave top-seeded Edward Little plenty of reasons to feel uncomfortable during Wednesday’s Class AA North boys basketball semifinal before the Red Eddies’ defense shut the Eagles down for the final 3:43 to emerge with a 49-41 win at Cross Insurance Arena.

Cam Yorke scored 14 points to lead the Red Eddies (18-2), who will face No. 3 Deering in the region final at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at CIA.  Max Creaser added 11 points and R.J. Nichols chipped in off the bench with nine points on three big 3-pointers.

Eric Weisser led Windham (8-12) with 15 points.

The Red Eddies beat the Eagles twice during the regular season by an average of 17 points, but their packed-in 2-3 zone made EL’s inside-out offense work to find openings inside and sometimes out.Advertisement

“They are good defensively,” Edward Little coach Mike Adams said. “Nobody else in our conference plays a 2-3 zone the whole game and does the things that they do with it. They’re long and the top of their zone is athletic and aggressive. It just gave us fits.”

“Edward Little poses problems with its shooting and its ability to get it into (center John) Shea, and we did a good job of packing the paint on him and not letting him go too crazy on us,” Windham coach Chad Pulkinnen said. “They hit shots when they needed to.”

Edward Little’s defense also clamped down when it needed to.

Hayden Bilodeau’s inside bucket that tied the game 41-41 with 3:43 left proved to be Windham’s final points.

Creaser’s hoop off an interior pass from Shea (seven points, nine rebounds) put the Eddies in front with two minutes left. Shea blocked a similar Windham shot attempt at the other end, and Yorke and Asutin Brown (eight points) combined to shoot 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 33.6 seconds to seal the victory.

Windham played the inside-out game more efficiently at the start, scoring eight of the first 10 points, and led 12-9 at the end of the first quarter.Advertisement

“That’s kind of our way of playing,” Pulkinnen said, “getting space and opportunities at the rim to create some shots for our shooters. We have some young guys that can shoot it and we have guys that trust each other. Tonight, they really wanted to win this game and we came out with everything we had.”

Shea (six offensive rebounds) helped the Eddies survive 3-for-9 shooting in the first quarter by creating some second chances.

“Part of that was they are really good defensively, and I thought our big guys didn’t do a very good job of establishing position,” Adams said. “We just couldn’t get anything. We like one of our keys being winning the battle in the paint, and I don’t know if we really did tonight.”

“Their zone was tough, but we missed some guys and we missed some cutters,” Brown said. “We should have done a better job.”

The best way to open up the paint is to make outside shots, and Nichols started firing from long range, giving Edward Little its first lead, 23-22, with his first trey of the second quarter. The Eagles regained the lead and extended it to 28-22 on back-to-back hoops by Weisser (12 points in the first half) before Nichols hit his second 3 to make it 28-25 Eagles at half.

“Hey, he’s a great shooter,” Adams said. “When you play zone against a great shooter, that’s what can happen. He helped open up the inside for us a little bit as the game went on. It was a huge game by R.J.”Advertisement

Nichols said his teammates started to put some pressure on the interior of Windham’s zone. That opened up the outside for the shooters, which made it easier for guards, such as Brown and Yorke, to find more open passing and driving lanes to the paint.

“Usually, they know I’m a shooter so they bring their people out more,” Nichols said. “That opens up lanes for the guards. (Windham’s zone) was tough. They pack it pretty tight.”

“If people are closing out harder (on shooters), it’s easier to rip and go by,” Brown said. “It creates more lanes to get inside.”

Five was the magic number for the Eddies to start the third quarter as they forced five Windham turnovers and five missed shots in the first five minutes to spark a 7-0 run and take a 32-28 lead. Kaleb Cidre (eight points) finally ended the Eagles’ drought with a layup with three minutes left in the quarter.

Brown sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers, including one just before the horn, around one by Weisser to give the Eddies a 38-35 lead heading into the fourth.

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