PORTLAND — Even when he’s not at the top of his game, Dustin Cole manages to make a lasting impression.
Despite struggling from the field, Cole found a way to break a tournament record Wednesday night, leading Bonny Eagle to a 54-38 victory against Thornton Academy in a Western Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Third-seeded Bonny Eagle (17-3) advanced to its third consecutive regional final — each of Cole’s three years — and will face top-ranked South Portland (17-3) at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Civic Center.
The Scots suffered three-point losses to Deering in 2012 and Cheverus in 2011 in their last two attempts to reach the state championship game.
Bonny Eagle met South Portland once in the regular season, dropping an 82-77 double-overtime thriller at home on Jan. 21.
Cole shattered the Western Class A tournament record by making 18 free throws in a game. The previous record of 14 had been done six times.
He also broke a 25-year-old record for free throws in a Western Class A tournament with 28 in two games.
Not bad for a player who went 1 of 10 from the field in the first half.
“We can always rely on him to do something,” said C.J. Autry of the Scots. “He never has a game where he doesn’t have an impact. It’s great to have a guy like that on the team because he always gets everybody involved and makes it a team game.”
Autry helped pick up an offensive slack for Bonny Eagle with four 3-pointers in the first half. He hit back-to-back shots in the first period to help the Scots into an 11-8 lead.
Jeff Gelinas, who scored 15 to pace the seventh-seeded Trojans (13-8), answered with a 3-pointer to make it 11-11. The second of two first-period 3-pointers by Zach Dubiel and two free throws by Cole closed out the opening quarter and gave the Scots a 16-11 advantage.
Bonny Eagle continued to connect in the second period, going 3 of 4 from long range — finishing 7 of 10 in the first half — to extend its lead.
Autry had two more, giving the Scots a 31-22 advantage with 47 seconds left in the half. Cole finally made his first shot from the field with 2.3 seconds left to give Bonny Eagle a 33-22 halftime lead.
“(Cole) struggled from the field, no question,” said Bonny Eagle Coach Phil Bourassa, “but you know, he helps out our shooters and he found those guys tonight. He plays the way he needs to play for us to win and that’s what’s most important. Sometimes it’s ugly and tonight might have been one of those games, but he did what it took.”
Foul trouble and more strong play from Cole took out the Trojans in the third period. Gelinas and Evan Wright went to the bench midway through the period with four fouls each.
“They dribble, drive and get people in the air, and draw fouls,” said Gelinas. “Especially Dustin and Ben (Malloy), they can get wherever they want whenever they want. They’re good players so it’s tough.”
Cole, who missed only twice from the line in the game, kept piling on the free throws in the third quarter. He drained eight more and accounted for 12 points as Bonny Eagle outscored the Trojans 15-3 to take a 48-25 lead into the final quarter.