RUMFORD — If you don’t believe timing is everything in life, you never broke a bone in the middle of your senior basketball season.
Jake Littlefield suffered the fractured right wrist on Jan. 6. The moment he was given the customary six-to-eight-week recovery window and left the hospital, the Poland Regional High School big man’s entire world was focused on whittling that number to five.
That targeted Tuesday night and the preliminary round of the Western Class B tournament. Sure enough, Littlefield played, and his emotional value probably even trumped his physical contributions in No. 9 Poland’s convincing 53-35 win over No. 8 Mountain Valley at Puiia Gym.
“He’s a presence out there,” said Poland’s Drew Peterson, himself only rounding back into shape after missing half the season with a calcium deposit in his leg. “Even if he wasn’t scoring, he made a difference.”
Littlefield’s totals: Six points, seven rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and one standing ovation from the Knights faithful, who gave him a raucous reception when he entered the game with four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
At full strength, Poland (11-8) will be a dangerous foe for first-ranked Falmouth (18-0) when they meet at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals at Portland Expo.
Littlefield averaged 18 points per game his junior year as a Western Maine Conference all-star and was on that pace again when he suffered the injury at Cape Elizabeth. Poland was 5-2 at the time.
“Jake did a good job of adjusting to the game,” Poland coach Tyler Tracy said. “The first half he came out and tried to play the way he plays. The second half he settled in and realized what he was giving us and settled in. He was a force in the game defensively.”
Ricky Bryant led all scorers with 15 points for Poland, eight of them in largely uncontested fashion down low in the second quarter. He hauled down a team high nine rebounds.
Peterson put up 12 points. Logan Nichols nailed six of his 11 points from the line in the fourth quarter to help the Knights clinch only the second tournament win in school history. Poland posted its previous preliminary triumph in 2005.
You can count on one hand the number of times Mountain Valley has missed the quarterfinals in its existence, but a 13-for-53 shooting night — including a season-low three 3-pointers — sealed that fate.
Junior Jacob Theriault led the Falcons (11-8) with 13 points.
Zak Radcliffe added 10 points and five assists and Andrew Child chipped in nine points and eight rebounds. They are Mountain Valley’s only two seniors.
“We had a puncher’s chance,” Mountain Valley coach Rick White said. “Our outside shots didn’t fall. Being (at home) I was hoping was going to help us. We had a nice shoot around today.”
Bryant’s domination down low pushed Poland to a 21-18 halftime cushion.
Mountain Valley took its last lead on back-to-back hoops by Theriault and Child to start the second half. Poland fought back with seven straight points, including a 3-pointer by Nichols and four points and a steal from C.J. Martin.
“Our team has definitely grown since we’ve been out,” Peterson said. “Everybody’s scoring and making a lot more contributions.”
Theriault’s jumper kept it 35-30 with 5:22 to go in the fourth. Bryant began an ensuing 8-0 Poland push with a 3-point play.
Littlefield scored one basket in each of the first three quarters. His threat alone created space in the middle for Peterson, Bryant and Martin against the smaller Falcons.
“I’m just getting used to the game right now. That was pretty good,” Littlefield said. “I’ll be able to practice more now. Three weeks I’ve been able to shoot around. Last week I could practice non-contact. Now it’s good that I can play games.”
Mountain Valley practiced one day as if Littlefield would play and another day as if he would not.
What they couldn’t anticipate was the unkind iron in their own building. Some of that was due to Poland’s length and attention to detail on the perimeter.
“We made an effort to really get out on their shooters and tried to make them drive,” Bryant said.
The next drive is Poland’s — on a bus to the Expo.
“It means everything,” Peterson said. “It’s what we’ve been working toward since eighth grade.”