Two teams with losing records a year ago will play for the Class AA boys’ basketball championship Saturday night at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

The similarities between North champ Bangor (19-2) and South winner Bonny Eagle (18-3) don’t stop there.

Each team has a first-year coach in his late 20s. Brad Libby, 29, of Bangor was an assistant at Husson University for six years; John Trull, 28, of the Scots was a Bonny Eagle assistant the past three years.

They both preach playing defense with a tough, swarming on-the-ball approach that makes simple entry passes difficult. In three playoff wins, Bonny Eagle has allowed 128 points; Bangor has given up 129.

“Both teams play with a lot of energy, toughness, grit on both sides of the ball,” Libby said. “Defensively we like to be up and pressure, and they do the same, and (Bonny Eagle has) tough kids. And I would relate that to our guys, where they’re full of energy, full of heart.”

Both teams have rallied from deficits and shown they can win close games.

“I see two teams that have had success most of the year, two teams that really don’t feel like they’re ever out of their games,” Trull said. “Two teams that have high basketball IQs and are just competitors.”

The differences start with the size and style of each team’s offensive leader.

Bangor has 6-foot-6 Matt Fleming, who averages 21 points per game. He’s equally adept near the basket or beyond the 3-point line with classic skills – a smooth jumper, the ability to catch-and-shoot and good post-up moves. Fleming has a 52.3 shooting percentage and 41.7 percent on his 3-point attempts. In the AA North final against defending champ Edward Little, he had 27 points with five 3-pointers and 11 rebounds.

Bonny Eagle counters with 5-10 guard Zach Maturo (17.3 points per game), who darts in and around bigger players. He probes for open spaces off the dribble, creating shots with improvisational flair. A 36.5 percent shooter in the regular season, Maturo made 11 of 18 shots and scored 26 points in the South semifinal against South Portland and carried his team with 12 first-half points (20 overall) in the regional final against top-seeded Thornton Academy.

“When we go in scoring lulls he does a great job getting us out,” Trull said of Maturo. “He’s done a great job in the tournament, a great job all season. He’s our guy.”

But the biggest difference has to do with expectations.

Bangor, playing in a state final for the 25th time, was 9-10 a year ago with a regional quarterfinal loss at Windham. But with Fleming, point guard Damian Vance, 6-4 shooter Henry Westrich and the unsung Noah Missbrenner, it had four talented starters returning this season. The Rams added a quality fifth starter when guard Isaac Cummings transferred from Brewer.

“We had no seniors on the team last year so everyone knew our goal this year, what we wanted to accomplish,” Missbrenner said. “It pushed us so hard in the offseason to get better and it’s paying off now.”

“They have a Mr. Basketball finalist in Fleming,” Trull said. “They were kind of pegged as a top team all year.”

After going 7-13 with a quarterfinal win in 2018, Bonny Eagle was expected to improve with Maturo and center Will Hendrix back. But the Scots were still projected as a middle-of-the-pack team in Class AA South behind defending champ Scarborough, Thornton and South Portland.

“Nobody expected this,” Hendrix said.

Sophomore 5-8 guard Jacob Humphrey has been a big part of the success. A purer outside shooter than Maturo (37 percent on 3s), Humphrey averages more than 12 points per game, and is a tough defender and surprisingly good rebounder.

How much impact have the coaches had on turning around teams with losing records? Libby and Trull both deflected the credit to their players’ willingness to embrace change.

“I focus a lot on the defensive side of the ball and the guys did a great job of buying into my philosophy,” Libby said.

Trull added a regular in-season weight-lifting schedule, lengthened practice time commitments and taught his players how to study video.

“Basketball is as much mental as physical, and understanding the importance of game-planning and knowing your opponent, and they’ve made big strides with that,” Trull said. “They’ve really always had it deep down inside of them so this year we just had to bring it out.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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