The Hot Corner: Cougars hit their stride, right on time

0

AUGUSTA — What we learned Wednesday night in the early Eastern Class A boys’ basketball semifinal at Augusta Civic Center:

1. Mt. Blue’s time is now.

2. Edward Little’s time isn’t over.

You might have suspected the first half of the equation. If you doubted the second, you’ve been freeze-dried in a crypt since 2007.

Advertisement

Confirmation came in the form of a frolicking, frenzied, fantastic chess match. Nobody dared cry checkmate until Quin Leary’s attempt to volleyball-spike an inbounds pass through the rim from 25 feet away in three-tenths of second smacked off the fat part of the window and fell harmlessly to the floor.

Paper and conventional wisdom said that Mt. Blue was 10, possibly 15, heck, maybe 20 points better. The light bulbs above center court, forever the lone meaningful arbiter in these discussions, said three: 52-49.

“They’re a great team,“ Mt. Blue coach Jim Bessey said. “I love Mike Adams to death. He’s a great, great coach. He’s owned this building here for the last five years, so it was a very big challenge to beat him today.”

To say there’s more to the story here is to say that Jeremy Lin has a following.

Adams played for Bessey at Mt. Blue. Won the first Mr. Basketball ever awarded in Maine in 1990. They aren’t father and son, merely closer than 90 percent of the fathers and sons you know.

Ten years later, Adams entered the like-family business. He is the embodiment of what happens when a tireless work ethic and a priceless role model rub off on already-great kids.

The narrow loss Wednesday night denied EL a fifth consecutive appearance in the Eastern Maine final. Unlikely by any school’s standards. Unthinkable before Adams arrived at Auburn Heights.

If Adams and the Red Eddies are blessed, Bessey and the Cougars have been just as snakebit.

You can actually trace that pattern back to Adams’ senior year. Mt. Blue reached the Eastern A semis that February, falling in overtime to Bangor at the Rams’ de facto home court, the Auditorium.

Wednesday was the ninth semifinal to come and go for the Cougars in that generation; the fifth in the past six years.

Only once before had they survived to tell about it. The 1997 team — led by Travis Gilmore, Jeremy Bryant and Dustin Ireland — went on and knocked off Bangor in the final in overtime before falling to Cheverus at states.

Seven other times Mt. Blue has lost in the quarterfinal. And we’re talking bizarre circumstances, whatever the round. Overtime losses. Three-quarter-court shots at the buzzer. Different players on the same starting five dealing with the flu and a staph infection, simultaneously.

Bessey had to forgive somebody for having the nerve to ask if he dared dream this day would come.

“Oh, sure. We’re a small high school. Edward Little’s got 500 almost more kids than we do,” Bessey said. “It’s a building process for us. We can do this every six, seven years.

“Nineteen ninety-seven was a long time ago, but we had a couple of teams in there that were pretty good. One year I think we had the best team and we ended up playing Bangor in the semifinals.”

Bangor has been everybody’s kryptonite in this field for decades. Of most recent vintage, however, EL is that gnawing pain in everyone’s neck.

Every summer they suffer graduation losses that would have crippled the program before Adams arrived. Swings of 15-3 one year to 2-16 the next were common.

Now, each February, the Eddies find their way back and threaten to make it rain on everyone’s party.

“Everybody said it was a three-horse race and it was Mt. Blue, Hampden and Bangor. Well, I think EL was playing too,” Adams said. “Tonight everybody said Mt. Blue is going to the Eastern Maine final, and for three quarters it didn’t look like that was going to happen.”

It all played out in hauntingly familiar fashion, both ways.

EL’s Omar Haji-Hersi played the game of his life in his high school finale, scoring 11 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.

Sean Ford completed his transition from boy to man on the basketball court in the space of five days. Quin Leary showed everyone why he’ll probably be a Mr. Basketball finalist in 2013.

And the ball took more inexplicable bounces than a voodoo doll could serve up in the final 30 seconds of regulation.

How do you ultimately overcome all that history, positive and negative?

With balance. Blake Hart, Cam Sennick, Steve Yardley and Eric Berry all scored in double figures.

With experience. All four are seniors.

With continuity. Every school has THAT team, the one that everyone’s talking about in reverential tones before it’s fair to do so.

At Mt. Blue, that team was the Class of 2012.

“Ever since middle school. That’s the first time we ever played together, and we went undefeated our seventh and eighth-grade years,” said Sennick, who survived smothering resistance from Leary, Haji-Hersi and Ford all night. “Like Coach has been saying, we’re all seniors and this is our year. Up to this point it’s been all talk. Now we need to get down to it and actually play to our potential.”

With its tradition, its commitment to the weight room and its pyramid scheme-like baton passing of senior leadership, EL and its loyalists have to be salivating.

Leary and Ford will be seniors next season.

Streaky Nate Alexander is only a sophomore. Freshmen Llewellyn Jensen and Ian Mileikis played a ton, and prospered, during an up-and-down regular season.

They shall return.

So shall Mt. Blue. On Friday night, history be hanged.

It’s their time.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is koakes@sunjournal.com.

Advertisement
SHARE