PORTLAND – Leave it to South Portland and Bonny Eagle to save the best for last.
And for their two standouts, Tanner Hyland and Dustin Cole, to have two of the top performances in a Western Class A boys’ basketball final.
There was little to choose between the top two scorers in the region, but in the second half, South Portland’s height was the key.
South Portland went inside to sophomore sensation Jaren Muller in the pivotal third quarter, combining with Hyland’s brilliance to win the Western Class A title Saturday night with a 56-52 victory over Bonny Eagle at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Hyland received the Vinall Trophy as the tournament’s outstanding player after a 30-point performance, capping a personal duel with Cole, who scored 36.
The Red Riots will meet Hampden Academy in the state final at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.
No. 1 South Portland (18-3) outscored No. 3 Bonny Eagle (17-4) 16-4 in the third quarter to go from a seven-point halftime deficit to a five-point lead.
The fourth quarter was wild, with both teams hitting big shots. Hyland scored 11 points and Cole had 15 in the quarter.
It was a two-point game after two Cole foul shots cut the South Portland lead to 47-45 midway through the fourth. Hyland hit a 3-pointer from the side. Cole followed with a layup, but Conner MacVane scored from Hyland to make it a five-point game.
The Scots then missed two 3-pointers but the Riots still weren’t safe, not with Cole. He hit a circus 3 from deep in the corner, falling away with a defender in his face, to make it 54-52 with eight seconds left.
Hyland then made two from the line with 6.9 seconds remaining to clinch it.
Hyland called his duel with Cole “fun”.
“We were 1-2 in scoring in the SMAA,” said Hyland. “We both can hit the 3s. We battled in one game this season and also during AAU ball.”
Cole won the league scoring title with Hyland second. Hyland tied a Western Class A tournament single-game record with seven 3-pointers. Cole blew away the free-throw record in the regional tournament, finishing with 43. He was 15 of 15 from the line in the final.
Bonny Eagle went on a 12-0 run — with Cole accounting for 10 — overlapping the first and second quarters. That turned a three-point deficit into a 26-17 lead.
Hyland hit a 3-pointer to make it 29-22 at the half.
“We were down a little emotionally at halftime,” said Hyland. “We came into the third quarter and got a heck of a run. We wanted to go inside. Jaren and I worked a strong two-man game and he was finishing well.”
Muller, a 6-foot-5 forward, opened the second half with three straight baskets, all inside, to cut it to a point. The Riots then took the lead on a Hyland 3-pointer from the side.
Muller scored eight points in the quarter and Hyland had six. The game stayed tight the rest of the way.
“We have seven seniors and we didn’t want the season to end,” said Hyland. “Ever since the sixth grade we’ve been talking about winning a state title. We have one game to go.”
South Portland last won a regional title in 1993.
“These kids have worked so hard all year,” said South Portland Coach Phil Conley. “We’ve gotten better as the season went along.”
Bonny Eagle lost for the third straight year in the regional final.
“Hyland made some big shots and we didn’t,” said Coach Phil Bourassa. “South Portland’s inside game killed us.”
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: