AUGUSTA — Play straight-up, well-intentioned man-to-man against Dirigo and you’re probably going to get trounced.
Old Orchard Beach dropped into a 2-3 zone almost as quickly as it walked through the Augusta Civic Center doors this week.
So at least the Seagulls have that going for themselves as they try to spoil some folks’ foregone coronation in tonight’s Western Class C boys’ championship.
No. 1 Dirigo (19-1) seeks its fourth consecutive Western C title, something Falmouth (1996-99) is the only other school to accomplish. No. 6 OOB (13-7) knocked off No. 3 Boothbay and No. 2 Waynflete to reach its first regional final in 18 years.
The program that wowed fans of yesteryear with the talents of Francois Bouchard and Bob Davies has rolled through the early rounds in its own right, this time without that star power or ballyhoo.
“They’re a good team. They’ve shot the ball very well in this tournament,” Dirigo coach Travis Magnusson said. “I’ve been really impressed with them the past two games. I was very impressed with Waynflete and they took care of Waynflete, so we know it’s going to be a battle.”
Comfortable as the Seagulls may appear in this environment, the Cougars have pretty much placed a lien on the property.
Dirigo hasn’t lost a regional tournament game since the 2008 final. Since a 46-41 loss at Spruce Mountain in the final game of the regular season, the Cougars have played an MVC championship and two tournament games at the civic center, winning by an average of 37 points.
“We seem to feel pretty comfortable here. It’s like our home court basically,” Dirigo senior center Cody St. Germain said.
While most teams have a bread and butter, the Cougars unveil a smorgasbord.
When St. Germain isn’t putting away layups and baseline jumpers, Josh Turbide and Ben Holmes are draining 3-pointers or Caleb Turner and T.J. Frost are directing a deadly fast break. Big man Mitch Stanley and defensive pest Hunter Ross have provided strong minutes off the bench.
All were at the top of their game Thursday night, when Dirigo exploded to a 26-1 lead in the first six minutes and cruised to a 90-31 rout of Hall-Dale.
OOB was equally impressive in dismantling Waynflete, a rangy, athletic team against whom it suffered a pair of regular-season losses. The Seagulls have won 11 of their last 12 games.
Boothbay and Waynflete struggled to match up with burly center Quincy Grace. And when they did collapse on the 6-foot-3 junior, guards Andrew Fleury and Joe Gildard and wing man Anthony Langella-Laws made them pay from the perimeter.
“They have that one big, big guy. They have guys who can knock down shots,” Turbide said. “They’re probably going to be one of the tougher teams we’ve seen this year. We have a lot to expect.”
Dirigo also must beware of a half court trap that OOB has successfully employed throughout the tourney.
The Cougars didn’t play up to their own standards of satisfaction in a first-round victory over Sacopee Valley. Even then, Dirigo still won going away, 68-37.
If you take stock in comparative scores, Sacopee beat OOB, 40-39, three nights before Christmas.
Although the Cougars understandably approach the game without fear, they do have a healthy respect for the unknown.
“One of the benefits of playing an MVC team (in the semifinals) was that we knew what to expect,” Turbide said. “We’re going to practice on movement against the zone and practice a lot of shooting.”
An astonishing part of Dirigo’s consistent success has been its prosperity through constant change.
Magnusson would be the fourth different coach to lead Dirigo to a regional title in the four-year run, following Gavin Kane, Dave Gerrish and Rebecca Fletcher.
Two years ago Magnusson was on the receiving end when Dirigo knocked off his Livermore Falls team in the title game.
“They love this gym,” said Magnusson, who also played in a Western C final as a senior at Georges Valley in 2002. “I’m totally confident we’re going to shoot the ball well on Saturday too, but that’s going to be a big key.”