MONMOUTH — Mountain Valley Conference boys’ basketball might be appropriately renamed the Fab Five this winter.
With the quintessential quintet of Boothbay, Dirigo, Winthrop, Hall-Dale and Madison likely levitating above the pack, not necessarily in that order, any game between two teams in the next echelon is a donnybrook in the gotta-have category.
So far, anyway, Monmouth Academy — “varsity young,” as coach Lucas Turner repeated two or three times in Friday’s postgame — is getting them all. The Mustangs held on for a 52-49 win over Mountain Valley High School at Stuart Foster Gym, improving to 3-1.
“It really think it’s have and have-nots,” Turner said. “It’s like who’s the best of the rest? Who’s going to win those? I think on any given night, any of us could win those.”
With its one-two punch of senior center Kasey Smith and all-purpose sophomore Hunter Richardson, Monmouth might be the sleeper capable of throwing a scare into the big dogs on a good night.
Mountain Valley (1-3) spent most of its defensive capital on Smith, holding him to 14 points, about nine beneath his average. That opened the door for Richardson, who erupted for 19 points, 19 rebounds and six steals.
“They were big-time keying on Kasey,” Richardson said. “I usually run point, but tonight Coach put me on a wing to make cuts and get open and shoot.”
Richardson was 10-for-13 from the free-throw line, where the Mustangs went 20-for-32 compared to the Falcons’ frosty 5-for-16 showing.
Tom Marshall led Mountain Valley with 12 points, including two 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds before the Falcons’ rally ran out of time. Brad Marshall and Caleb Gauvin each added 10 points, with Gauvin grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds.
“Twenty-three fouls? That’s not going to work. Playing lazy defense and not closing out properly and letting kids get in the lane,” Mountain Valley coach Tom Danylik said “We made an adjustment in the second half to give them a step and try to (draw) outside shots. I thought that worked pretty well in the third quarter, but we just didn’t make shots.”
Monmouth never trailed after Mountain Valley missed its first 10 tries from the floor. Nick Sanborn’s drive to the basket and five points by Richardson, including a 3-pointer, staked the Mustangs to a 9-1 lead.
Luke Thombs also connected from beyond the arc in the final minute of the quarter, and Sanborn slashed to the hoop again for two, countering a pair of late baskets by Gauvin for a 15-8 cushion.
Sparked by the trio of Andrew Cote, Jordan Pilgrim and Eduardo Esteban off the bench, Mountain Valley sliced the deficit to two points on three separate occasions in the second period.
Smith and Richardson combined for 13 in that session, however, and Monmouth held on for a 29-25 edge at the half.
“I thought we did a good job moving the ball around, waiting for them to slip up a little bit and get the ball in,” Turner said. “They definitely slowed down Kasey. They did a nice job on him, but that opened up Hunter, and this was his best game getting to the rim.”
“He did a great job. Especially in the first half, he got to where he wanted to get to in the lane,” Danylik added. “That was the reason for a lot of our fouls, because we didn’t rotate quick enough, and we fouled him.”
Mountain Valley had its best chance to make a move when it held Monmouth scoreless for the final three minutes of the third period.
Tom Marshall scored the only points for the Falcons in the meantime, though, and Nick Menice’s 3-point play with 3:01 left held up for a 36-31 advantage.
The Falcons used a 5-0 run to get within four, 40-36, on a Gauvin free throw with 5:02 to play. But then came a three-minute drought, while Thombs, Richardson and Avery Amero combined for six points from the line and pushed it back to double digits.
“We only turned the ball over 14, 15 times, which for us is where we want to be, but I think we had four or five of those at crucial moments of the fourth quarter,” Danylik said. “The kids didn’t quit. The effort was there and stayed up. I like that we battled back in the fourth quarter and made it a game at the end, because it could have gone the other way.
Monmouth has won consecutive games over Carrabec and Mountain Valley after beating Lisbon and losing at Winthrop. Mountain Valley prevailed opening night at Wiscasset before running into Dirigo and Winthrop.
“It’s a good win to try and keep them behind us in the Heal Points,” Richardson said. “Definitely there’s a lot of improvement still to be done. We want to finish before Christmas with a positive record.”