PORTLAND—When Mike Gilman drained a buzzer-beater three for the Eagles vs. EL on Friday evening, Feb. 23, he sent the teams to the sideline at the end of the third tied 32-32. When Windham and the Eddies returned to the court, however, the latter seemed to sail away with the AA North title.
Somehow, Edward Little outpaced the Eagles 18-3 in the waning eight minutes, claiming victory 50-35 in a shocking finale.
“Our guys came in pretty confident, pretty prepared,” Windham head coach Chad Pulkkinen said. “Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in, and sometimes things don’t work out. I was proud of our guys’ effort.”
The game, the AA North Championship, unfolded at Cross Insurance Arena. For Windham, the trip to the big stage meant the world: The Eagles hadn’t been to the Regional title bout since 1966, according to Pulkkinen.
The teams traded blows through the first: Windham hopped on top 5-0 to start, thanks to an early player-control foul by Eddie Wol Maiwen-Diing, a Nick Curtis feed to Cory Hutchison for two in transition, and a Gilman three. Curtis put the Eagles ahead 7-2 before EL caught up again and surged out front: Maiwen-Diing made it 9-8 on a pair of frees and 11-8 on an inside jumper.
“They’ve got a really good player over there in Wol,” Pulkkinen said, adding that Windham’s defensive scheme for Maiwen-Diing was roughly to “keep him away from the basket, as far as we could.”
“He does a good job of sealing, and wrapping up into the paint,” Pulkkinen said. “[Nate Watson] was giving up some inches, but Nate’s a heavy, strong kid. We felt we could use that to our advantage, and get [Maiwen-Diing] away from the hoop a little bit, so he had to shoot jumpers.”
Curtis brought Windham within one at 11-10 on a couple successful foul-shots at the start of the second, but EL shortly snuck ahead again. The Eddies maintained a small lead through to the break, hitting 15-10, 17-12, and 19-15 before the buzzer.
Edward Little inched further ahead to begin the third, Tyler Morin sinking a two for 21-15. The Eagles pulled closer, then: Gilman added a two for 22-17 and – following a Curtis three-point-try, a Cam Brown rebound, and a nimble duck around a defender – he a crowd-pleasing three as well. 22-20.
EL controlled the next few minutes, dashing to 32-25, but Windham controlled the few minutes after that: Curtis flew end-to-end for two and Gilman hashed a pair from the line.
Time winding down, Curtis stood dribbling at the the top of the Eddies’ zone, looking to kill 30 seconds or so – looking to give the Eagles the last attempt of the quarter. He made his move; found himself double-covered; kicked to Gilman, lingering beyond the arc. Gilman dropped in a baseline three just as time expired.
Windham, and their fans, erupted.
Still, the Eagles had another eight minutes to go: Another eight minutes of fending off the Eddies. They needed to be on top at the end of those minutes, but EL started the stretch hot. Darby Shea hit an Eddies two, as did Ibn Khalid – Khalid, in fact, hit two twos. 39-33. Maiwen-Diing bucketed, Shea nailed two frees; now on fire, Edward Little shoved Windham back on their heels.
“Just a lot of different things,” Pulkkinen said, asked what went wrong for his boys in the fourth. “Some things didn’t go our way in the game…Shots weren’t falling, we turned the ball over way too much tonight. Can’t do that against a good team.”
Curtis tore a tiny bite from the Eddies’ lead with an end-to-end run for 45-35. But as the contest’s conclusion neared, Windham simply fell short. EL added five more from the line before the buzzer, leading to the 50-35 final.
Maiwen-Diing finished with the game-high, 22. Curtis led Windham, tallying 16, and Gilman had 14. Naylor added four and Hutchison two.
Windham entered the bracketing seeded fourth, at 13-5. They offed No. 5 Bangor in the quarters, and pulled off a fantastic upset against No. 1 Portland – the defending State Champs and the favorites to repeat – in the semis. They thus retire till next winter at 15-6.
15, by the way, is the most wins in Windham history.
“When I took this program over, three years ago, these guys were sophomores,” Pulkkinen said of his six seniors: Curtis, Gilman, Watson, Hutchison, Mitch Budroe and Nazari Henderson. “Those guys were just ready to work. Super-coachable, and young, and they gave me everything they had for three straight years. Off-season, early mornings, late nights. They believed in me and I believed in them. The season’s just a mirror image of these kids. They don’t give up, they fight till the end; they’re super-talented because they work super-hard. They love each other.”
“That’s contagious when you have pretty talented guys behind them, in our junior class and our sophomore class,” Pulkkinen said. “When they see guys like Nick Curtis waking up at five in the morning to lift weights and get shots in, they want to do that.”
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.