Deering junior James Sinclair blocks the shot attempt of Oxford Hills junior Cole Verrier during the Rams’ stirring 73-67 come-from-behind victory in Tuesday’s Class AA North semifinal in Augusta. Deering advanced to set up a regional final showdown with rival Portland Friday night.

Brewster Burns / Sun Journal photos.

More photos below.


Deering 73 Oxford Hills 67

OH- 20 19 11 17- 67
D- 22 14 15 22- 73

OH- A. Fleming 12-0-28, M. Fleming 5-0-13, Keniston 3-1-7, St. Pierre 2-0-7, Beauchesne 2-0-6, Verrier 3-0-6

D- White 7-5-23, Lobor 6-3-15, Salamone 4-2-10, Chabot 1-6-9, Chikuta 3-0-7, Williams 3-0-6, Sinclair 1-1-3

OH (12) A. Fleming 4, M. Fleming 3, Beauchesne, Verrier 2, St. Pierre 1
D (6) White 4, Chabot, Chikuta 1

OH- 17
D- 17

Free throws
OH: 1-7
D: 17-27

AUGUSTA—There is simply no quit in the Deering boys’ basketball team.

And that mentality paid big-time dividends for the Rams Tuesday evening at the Augusta Civic Center in a fabulous Class AA North semifinal against an Oxford Hills squad boasting arguably the state’s best player, 6-foot-6-inch University of Maine-bound senior Andrew Fleming.

Deering faced adversity from the opening tip, but kept rising off the deck and the Rams saved their best for last.

Fleming erupted for 11 points in the first quarter and the third-ranked Vikings built a quick six point lead, but second-seeded Deering answered and behind strong play from seniors Max Chabot, Anthony Lobor and Malik White and junior Raffaele Salamone, took a 22-20 lead after eight minutes after White set up Salamone for a layup late in the frame.

The second period was no less exciting, as the Rams went up by seven on a White 3, but Oxford Hills embarked on an 11-2 run to regain the lead. Deering went back on top on a layup after a steal from senior Ben Williams, but just before halftime, a 3-ball from Vikings junior Cole Verrier gave his team a 39-36 advantage at the break.

Oxford Hills tried its best to break the Rams’ will in the third quarter, but Deering kept counter-punching and when White made successive layups late in the period, the Rams were up four. The Vikings got five quick points from Fleming to retake the lead, but inside of the final minute, a driving layup from Deering junior James Sinclair made it 51-50 Rams heading to a fourth period which would feature them at their very best.

Deering led by a point with seven minutes to play, but over the next four minutes, Oxford Hills went on a 15-7 run, capped by Fleming setting up his younger brother, freshman Matthew Fleming, for a layup and a 67-60 lead.

But just when it appeared the Rams’ title hopes would be dashed, they closed like the champions they hope to become.

A layup from Lobor started the rally. Salamone added two free throws and after a steal, Lobor was fouled and hit two free throws to pull Deering within a point.

The game turned for good with 55.9 seconds remaining, when Chabot was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer. He hit all three free throws to put the Rams on top to stay and their defense did the rest, as Williams stole the ball and made a layup and after several Oxford Hills misses, White clinched it with two foul shots and Deering went on to a spirited and inspirational 73-67 victory.

The Rams closed the game on a 13-0 run, held the Vikings scoreless over the final 3 minutes, 21 seconds, improved to 17-2, ended Oxford Hills’ season at 15-4 and advanced to set up the regional final showdown everyone in the city of Portland was hoping to see, Deering versus top-ranked Portland (18-1), albeit it in Augusta, Friday at 9 p.m.

“I wasn’t concerned at all (down seven),” said Rams coach Todd Wing. “It looked like I was standing there letting it happen, but we have big-time players who make big-time plays in big games. The results speak for themselves. I don’t have to overcoach or interject. I cherish timeouts because I knew it would be close down to the wire. The players made the plays. Hats off to them.”

Welcome to Augusta

Deering’s first countable game in the Augusta Civic Center (at least in recent memory) was billed as a showdown between a strong team against a great player.

The Rams went 16-2 this year, losing only to rival Portland on two occasions. Deering earned the second seed in AA North behind the Bulldogs and after last playing Feb. 4 (beating South Portland on Chabot’s buzzer-beater, 49-47), sat idle until Tuesday night.

Oxford Hills went 14-4, losing only to Bangor, Deering, Portland and Sanford, wound up third in the region, then ousted No. 6 Bangor, 71-47, in its quarterfinal last Thursday.

On Jan. 18, the Rams beat the visiting Vikings, 81-59. Fleming was held to 19 points and Lobor led Deering with 18 points.

The Rams  last met Oxford Hills in the playoffs in the 1964 Class LL quarterfinals (a 76-57 Deering victory).

Tuesday evening, Deering was pushed to its physical and emotional limit, but simply refused to lose.

The first period was as entertaining and free flowing as you’ll see, as both teams’ skills were on display.

It took all of 12 seconds for Andrew Fleming to open the scoring, as he hit a leaner.

The Rams tied things up on a Salamone putback, then, in a foreshadowing of a much bigger situation an hour or so to come, Chabot was fouled while shooting a 3 and he sank all three free throws for a 5-2 lead.

Fleming tied the score with a 3-pointer, but Salamone made a layup. Vikings senior Jake Beauchesne then hit a 3 and Fleming added a floater and just a shade over three minutes in, Oxford Hills was up, 10-7.

Deering drew even on White’s first 3-pointer, but 3-pointers from sophomore Christopher St. Pierre and Beauchesne put the Vikings on top, 16-10.

The Rams then got a lift from junior reserve Manny Chikuta, who hit a 3. After Fleming made a layup, White buried a long 3 to cut the deficit to two, but a Fleming leaner made it 20-16 Oxford Hills.

Deering closed the quarter on a 6-0 run, as Lobor made a layup, Lobor made a reverse layup, then Salamone finished a feed from White with a layup to make it 22-20 Rams after eight minutes.

Deering continued to surge at the start of the second period, as Chikuta scored on a putback and after Fleming set up Matthew Fleming for a layup, Chikuta scored on a spinner with his left hand and White canned a 3 to make it 29-22 with 6:44 to go in the first half.

Back roared the Vikings, as Matthew Fleming banked home a 3 (ending the Rams’ 16-4 run), then Matthew Fleming hit another 3 to cut the deficit to one.

Lobor drove for a layup, but sophomore Atreyu Keniston made a layup and Verrier sank a 3 to put Oxford Hills back in the lead, 33-31.

After White put back his own miss to tie the score, Williams made a layup after a steal, but Matthew Fleming hit another 3.

In the final minute of the half, Sinclair made a foul shot, but another Verrier 3-ball gave the Vikings a 39-36 advantage at the break.

Both teams shot well from the field in the first half. Andrew Fleming led all scorers with 14 points, while Matthew Fleming added eight. Oxford Hills did commit nine turnovers.

For Deering, White led the way with 11 points, while Chikuta added seven. The Rams turned the ball over seven times.

As the second half began, Deering knew it had to stay close and hope its depth would wear down the Vikings late in the game.

The Rams were able to not only stay close, but retake the lead by the end of the third quarter.

After Lobor started the second half scoring with a free throw, St. Pierre made a layup after a steal for a 41-37 Oxford Hills lead.

Lobor made a layup, but St. Pierre countered with one of his own.

Deering then got six straight points, as Chabot hit a 3, White made a free throw and Lobor made a layup for a 45-43 lead.

After Andrew Fleming tied the game with a leaner, his first points of the second half, Chikuta set up White for a layup and White made a layup after a steal for a 49-45 Rams’ advantage.

The delicious anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better continued, as Andrew Fleming went off, scoring on a layup and draining a 3 from behind NBA range for a 50-49 Vikings’ lead.

Sinclair’s driving layup with 31.1 seconds remaining put Deering back on top, 51-50, heading for the fourth quarter.

Where the Rams dug a hole, but ultimately wouldn’t be denied.

After Andrew Fleming scored on a putback, Williams made a layup for a 53-52 Deering lead, but Oxford Hills got it going again.

The surge started when Andrew Fleming set up Keniston for a layup. After Matthew Fleming sank a 3 from the corner, White made two free throws, but Keniston made a layup for a 59-55 lead.

White kept the Rams close with a 3 and after Keniston made a foul shot, Deering junior Jean Claude Butera inbounded the ball to Salamone and a layup for a 60-60 tie.

The Vikings then scored seven straight and seemingly punched their regional final ticket.

A driving layup from Andrew Fleming was followed by a Fleming 3-pointer seconds later. With 3:21 to go, the Fleming combination struck, as older brother Andrew fed Matthew for a layup and a 67-60 lead.

But just when it appeared Oxford Hills had the game in hand, the Vikings wouldn’t score another point and the Rams excelled down the stretch.

With 2:58 to play, Lobor drove for a layup, giving his team life.

With 2:24 remaining, after Williams missed two free throws, yet kept possession alive with an offensive rebound, Salamone was fouled and made both attempts to make it a one-possession game, 67-64.

With 2:04 showing, Andrew Fleming missed two free throws and Deering capitalized.

With 1:29 to go, Lobor was fouled and made both free throws.

With 55.9 seconds to play, after a Vikings’ turnover, Chabot was fouled while shooting a 3 and he wouldn’t be denied at the line, sinking all three attempts.

It was the game’s 13th lead change and put Deering ahead to stay, 69-67.

“We practice free throws every day,” Chabot said. “It’s just routine at this point. I was just thinking, ‘Don’t miss.'”

“Those were big free throws,” Lobor said. “Max is a great leader and a great player and he showed up tonight.”

“When Max went to the free throw line, I brought the guys in and prefaced the situation by saying, ‘When Max makes all three,’ because I knew he was going to,” Wing added. “He’s a senior and he’s been on a big stage and that’s why he was out there.”

The game was far from over, but the Rams’ defense was slowly breaking Oxford Hills’ will.

After the free throws, Williams came up with a steal, raced in and made a layup to stretch the lead to four with 51.3 seconds left.

“That’s who (Ben) is,” Wing said. “Eventually, he’ll be a factor. He’s our captain and he’s been on this stage before. He was going to make a play and he did. Anthony and Ben are our emotional leaders and forces down low. They’re a matchup problem for most teams.”

Andrew Fleming then missed a 3 and Williams got the rebound and was fouled.

Williams missed both free throws and the Vikings got a chance to draw closer when sophomore Trevor Goodrich was fouled with 29 seconds to play, but Goodrich missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Williams got the rebound, but Deering turned the ball over.

Oxford Hills then had four attempts at a 3-pointer which could have made things very interesting, but each was off the mark and with 0.5 showing on the clock, White was fouled.

The competitive phase of the contest was over and the free throws were academic, but White made sure he capped his stellar night in high style by making them both and by virtue of a heroic fourth quarter effort and a 13-0 run to close, the Rams were able to celebrate a hard-fought 73-67 victory.

“We’ve been there before,” Lobor said. “We just had to execute and get stops.”

“This team never quits,” Chabot said. “We can be down by 20 and we’ll keep going and trying to come back. Our whole style is to speed up the whole game. We wanted to tire them out in the fourth quarter and luckily, we went on a little bit of a stretch run. We just played hard and let the game work out for us.

“They came out making 3s like nobody’s business. They were banking in. They have a lot of good shooters. They have probably the best player in the state in Fleming to go inside-out with. They’re a very good team. They’re a very challenging team. I think we caught them off-guard the first time, but they came in more prepared and we were lucky to skate through with a ‘W.'”

“My guys were together,” Wing added. “They knew the situation and played accordingly. They left it all on the floor.”

White had himself a night, draining four 3s, and he ended up with a team-high 23 points. He also had four steals, three rebounds and three assists.

“Malik’s a dead-eye 3-point shooter who led the conference,” Wing said. “I challenged him to take his game to the next level and to get to the rim and he did that.”

Lobor finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and a pair of steals.

Salamone had 10 points, five boards and a blocked shot.

Chabot had nine points and three assists.

Chikuta added seven points, four rebounds and two assists in his limited minutes. Williams finished with six points, four rebounds and three steals. Sinclair had three points and five boards. Butera didn’t score, but had three assists and two steals.

“I love this team,” Chabot said. “We’re a family. We have guys on this team on the bench who would be starting for any other team in the state. That’s amazing to have. We press and run and try to get people tired and our depth helps.”

Deering held a 30-25 rebounding advantage, overcame 13 turnovers, forced 17 Oxford Hills turnovers and hit 17 of 27 free throws.

The Rams had mixed feelings about playing in Augusta, instead of Portland.

“I knew it would be tough here,” Lobor said. “The atmosphere is different here with all the people screaming, but I loved it.”

“(The environment) was much better tonight, but I’ll say it out loud, it’s ridiculous we’re not playing at the Civic Center (in Portland),” Wing said. “The crowd was into it and the fans got their money’s worth. Once the ball goes up, it doesn’t matter. It’s a big court, a big crowd. It felt the same to me as being (in Portland). When you play the game the right way, all you see is the rim.”

For the Vikings, Andrew Fleming bowed out with 28 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and a blocked shot.

The Rams were certainly impressed by Fleming’s performance.

“He’s difficult to guard,” Lobor said. “He jumps really high, hits great shots. We did what we had to do and adjusted accordingly.”

“We focused a little bit more on Fleming in the second half,” Chabot said. “He killed us in the first half. We wanted to try to shut him down a little bit and thankfully, it worked.”

“Fleming is a star,” Wing added. “We played close attention. We got in his face, but he made 24-footers with our hands up, that’s why he’s a Division I player.”

Matthew Fleming had 13 points, Keniston and St. Pierre added seven apiece and Beauchesne and Verrier finished with six each.

In a stat that will haunt all offseason, Oxford Hills made just 1 of 7 free throws.

Here we go again

Each of the past two seasons, Portland has swept Deering in the regular season and despite a strong effort from the Rams in the playoffs, the Bulldogs eliminated them with a third victory.

Deering is hoping to flip that script Friday night in what should be one of the most memorable of the ancient rivals’ 223 meetings (Portland holds a 144-78 all-time edge, taking each of the past eight).

The top-ranked, once-beaten Bulldogs, advanced with an easy 70-43 win over No. 4 Edward Little Thursday.

In the regular season, Portland won at Deering (61-51 Jan. 14) and again at home 15 days later, 74-62.

The teams have met 13 previous times in the playoffs with the Bulldogs holding an 8-5 edge. The first resulted in a 45-27 Rams’ triumph back in 1930. Deering won the first three postseason showdowns, in fact, before Portland took five in a row between 1942 and 1955. Between 1955-56 and 2003-04, the teams didn’t play at all in the postseason, but Friday will be their sixth encounter in a dozen years. The most recent might have been the most memorable, as Amir Moss’ late three-point play produced a 59-57 victory in last year’s semifinals.

The Rams will be the underdog Friday, but that also means they won’t feel a lot of pressure and that might just make the difference as they seek to advance to the inaugural Class AA Final on Saturday, Feb. 27, back in Portland.

“We all remember last year,” Chabot said. “I’ve never beaten Portland. I want to beat them. That’s the number one goal for all of us. Hopefully, we’ll put on a good game for the fans. We have to score more points, that’s the main thing. They always seem to have our number. We have to come out with an intensity and a fire that they haven’t seen before. I’m just thankful to have one more guaranteed game.”

“If we play our game, take care of the ball and play each possession, I’m confident we can give them a game,” Lobor said.

“(Portland coach) Joe (Russo) and I the last two years after the season said, ‘We have to stop meeting like this and we have to get on the opposite side of the bracket’ and we have,” Wing added. “I think we’re setting up for what I’m hoping is a classic showdown. What a great matchup for the city of Augusta.

“Our transition defense has to be better. We have to give all we’ve got. We have to close out on shooters and limit them to one shot. The past two years, versus Portland, we saved our best for last and hopefully that’s the case again.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Deering senior Max Chabot tries to stop dominant Oxford Hills senior Andrew Fleming. Fleming went off for 28 points, but Chabot had nine, including three late free throws to put the Rams ahead to stay.

Deering junior Raffaele Salamone tries to inbound the ball as Oxford Hills freshman Matthew Fleming defends.

Deering junior James Sinclair leans in for a shot as Oxford Hills senior Andrew Fleming defends.

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