The Hot Corner: Team for the ages caps special week

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AUGUSTA — Twenty-four dollars worth of ducats entitled the masses to wander through the Augusta Civic Center auditorium doors this week and see something special.

Not perfect. Not unbeatable. Not the undisputed best team in the state, although the Dirigo Cougars are in the conversation.

Just positively, refreshingly, often frighteningly good.

Good enough to win the Western Class C boys’ basketball championship four years in a row under the guidance of four different coaches.

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The second half of that equation probably is unprecedented in the history of the Milky Way galaxy, never mind Maine.

How rare is the first half? In the recorded history of Class C regional hoops, only two teams — Sumner (winners of five straight Eastern titles from 1969-73) and Falmouth (West, 1996-99) — had ever done it.

Drop Dirigo’s name on that list after a scintillating smackdown of a geographically scattered bracket that was defeated before it boarded buses to the capital.

So dominant was this Dirigo team that even the momentary lapses when it looked like, gadzooks, a normal Class C team felt magnified.

On Monday night, Dirigo mauled Sacopee Valley. Beat them convincingly on both sides of the court. Forced an entire Christmas tournament’s worth of turnovers. Won by 31.

And to a player, they skulked out of the north end locker room as if somebody had kidnapped their cats.

Semifinal night was a smoke show, to the degree that anyone with a shred of humanity felt genuine sorrow for Hall-Dale. The game commenced with a 26-1 run, during which time the Bulldogs tallied more turnovers than successful passages of the time line.

It was name your score. Dirigo chose 90-31.

Saturday’s coronation was more grinding than godlike. But for all its eventual ebb and flow, this one was over in 99 seconds.

Ben Holmes, putback.

Josh Turbide, 3-pointer from the shadow of the Old Orchard Beach bench, punctuated by his patented, Ric Flair-inspired war cry.

Holmes, bonus ball from the corner.

Eight-zip. Two-time tournament MVP Cody St. Germain hadn’t taken a shot yet. The salt hadn’t even had time to cement itself to the side of a just-purchased, concession-stand pretzel.

Game over. OOB bravely chiseled a 13-point lead to four midway through the second quarter. Then came the inevitable two baskets by St. Germain and flurry of free throws from T.J. Frost. Back to 10 in a heartbeat.

Caleb Turner’s steal and layup pushed the advantage to 22 early in the fourth quarter, colorfully completing the demonstration of why trying to derail Dirigo is a dubious task.

Too much time. Too many weapons.

The Cougars cleaned up the Seagulls, 69-38.

Three wins by a combined 121 points. Thus continued one of the historic runs in the century-old photo album of Maine high school basketball.

True, the Cougars haven’t yet won a state title in this sequence. They’ll try to correct that on their super-comfy, home-away-from-home court next Saturday night.

Perhaps their descendants will need that Gold Ball to validate their greatness a hundred years from now. In the precious present, there’s little to prove.

Dirigo won Western Maine in 2009 with a legendary coach, Gavin Kane, and a Division I center, Tom Knight.

The Cougars defended that title by borrowing rival Mountain Valley’s former boss, Dave Gerrish, and flaunting a starting five that was most at home on the football field.

They made it trophies in triplicate with something the state had never seen: A wide-eyed gang of juniors under the leadership of a female, Rebecca Fletcher.

Now comes the best team yet with the best coaching fit yet. Travis Magnusson’s 20-something spirit and his recent achievements as both a player (Georges Valley, UMF) and coach (Livermore Falls) melded mightily with a virtual all-star team.

As seconds ticked away in the final, Magnusson pulled his starters one at a time, furnishing each a deserved, individual standing ovation.

They’re the complete package. On the court: Mobile big man; deadly shooters; speedy, defensive-minded guards. Off it: Good students; winning personalities; great families; tireless community support.

Dirigo boys’ basketball 2012 was, is, and forever will be, something special. In a class of their own.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His e-mail is koakes@sunjournal.com.

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