LEWISTON — Seems the only certainty in this year’s Eastern Class A boys’ basketball tournament is uncertainty.
Lewiston High School knows it has the talent and depth to win it all. The Blue Devils also are wise enough to know that Edward Little is good enough to take them out in the quarterfinals.
One thing is guaranteed. No matter how the ball bounces and the rims behave at Augusta Civic Center, Lewiston won’t panic. That much we know.
That comes with the territory of winning two American Legion state championships, playing in Maine Principals’ Association baseball and lacrosse title games and getting to an Eastern Maine football final.
The best boys’ hoop team to come out of this school in 22 years is a team for all seasons.
“We won the seventh and eighth-grade championships back-to-back in travel league. I honestly thought that by this time guys like Corbin (Hyde) and Luke (Cote) would just be playing baseball,” senior point guard Shawn Ricker said. “They’re terrific baseball players. All these people were just going to stay in their area. I was the only basketball player where it was my favorite sport.”
Cross-training of body, mind and self-confidence have been crucial to turning around Lewiston’s long-suffering hoop fortunes.
While the current seniors were watching their predecessors win two games their freshman year and three their sophomore season, the younger set already was playing — and winning — in other varsity endeavors.
“It’s big. Last year we made the lacrosse final. I’m in the same situation there, playing since freshman year,” junior forward Steven Patrie said. “That was my big change. I didn’t know how to go into things. I’d be really nervous, waiting for that couple of minutes to go by so I could just settle down. Now going into it, it’s just another game I’m playing.”
Cote and Hyde remember the head-spinning experience of meeting Augusta for the Legion title the summer after their sophomore year.
They had two chances to win one game at tourney’s end. The first opportunity was a one-sided loss. It took a colossal comeback to win the nightcap and advance to the New England tournament.
“That first state championship game I was done. I was so nervous,” Cote said. “Probably around the seventh inning I finally got over the nerves.”
Lewiston’s success on grass, mud, dirt and even cross country trails defies the modern-day norm.
Many basketball coaches encourage their players to immerse themselves in the game year-round, from AAU and travel teams in the spring and fall to camps in the summer.
Not Lewiston coach Tim Farrar.
“That’s something we’ve tried to promote. Guys ask, ‘What have I got to do to get better?’ You’ve got to play a sport,” Farrar said. “I want my guys playing football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball and track. I want them doing something. I don’t think you get better just by playing basketball. You’re missing out on the total experience.”
While hockey has dominated the winter landscape at Lewiston long as anyone can remember, Ricker remembers his junior high teams breezing to back-to-back titles. Lewiston assistant coach Dick Martel ran that program and has been with the group from the beginning.
As freshmen, Ricker, Hyde and Cote’s club lost only one game — an exhibition against perennial power Cheverus.
And then …
“The same things that always seemed to happen here were happening. Kids were falling off,” Ricker said. “If that kept happening we expected our senior year to get two or three wins. Having some guys come back and being able to stay together is big.”
Ricker intends to play Division II or III basketball. He’s also a multi-year starter for the Blue Devils on the baseball diamond.
Last week, he read with interest a story that documented Leavitt senior Jordan Hersom’s decision to attend Springfield College and play both football and basketball. Ricker took note of Hersom’s senior year resume: Fitzpatrick Trophy in football; KVAC basketball player of the year; 1,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing; 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
“Athletes are athletes. Corbin’s an athlete. Luke’s an athlete,” Ricker said. “To me, kids that are real athletes are the two and three-sport athletes.”
Lewiston basketball has smothered opponents with that athleticism this season, employing an all-out, full-court style that is a struggle to match for 32 minutes.
Ten different players have led the team in scoring in 19 games. Six averaged between 8 and 10 points per game.
“Most teams there’s this one guy you’re shutting down,” Hyde said. “Every night we have somebody different scoring 10 or 12.”
Much like a baseball lineup in which the No. 9 batter delivers a line-drive single. Or a lacrosse unit whose midfielders are equal to the attackers as scoring threats.
“These guys have had success in a lot of areas, and they also happen to be successful in the classroom,” Farrar said. “It’s no coincidence.”