“It’s all about the game, and how you play it

It’s all about control, and if you can take it

It’s all about your debt, and if you can pay it

It’s all about the pain, and who’s gonna make it”

– Motorhead’s “The Game”

RUMFORD – Mountain Valley will take the Cumberland County Civic Center floor Friday night for the last time to the above heavy metal song. With the lyrics growled by a guy named Lemmy, the song oozes grit, and it defines a group that has been paying debts and grinding through the pain since last summer, without a discernible break, and are one game away from making history.

Going back to summer basketball, they’ve been sweating at practices, traveling up and down and across the state to games, and spending more time with each other than their own families. Twelve of the 13 Falcons that will meet Camden Hills for the Class B championship Friday night (8:45 p.m.) played for the undefeated Class B football champions in the fall (junior reserve forward Bryan Canwell played goalie for the winless soccer team). Basketball practice started two days after they hoisted the Gold Ball at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

There have been personality clashes, some moments when they’ve gotten on each other’s nerves, but infinitely more headlocks have been executed out of brotherly mischief than with malicious intentions.

“There are a lot of different personalities on this team, but we all like each other,” said senior captain and Mr. Maine Basketball finalist Andy Shorey. “You go through a lot of ups and downs, so everybody bands together.”

Obviously, the Falcons have had a lot of time to band and bond. They’ve also made sure they set time aside to release some of the pressure and gauge the team’s psyche. Shorey and co-captain D.J. Gerrish have held occasional team meetings, about once a month, to make sure everybody is on the same page.

“We just go over what’s going on in our heads and what’s on our minds. We’re all really good friends, so it’s really easy to get along with everybody. We’re all like a big family is the way I look at it,” said Gerrish.

“Last year, there was no real communication going on between the captains and the rest of the team. But this year, we’re not afraid to tell each other what’s on our minds, what we’re feeling and what’s going on,” he added. “I think one of the most important things to a team is being able to communicate with each other, just being able to feel you can talk to your teammates.”

If there’s one thing the Falcons learned quickly from their time together is that they all liked the feeling of winning in the fall, and would like to share that feeling again.

“We got that feeling, like ‘Wow, it was great to win that one. Now let’s go and get another one,'” said senior center Matt Lyons, who has provided a spark off the bench for the Falcons in the tournament.

So they all knew they were still hungry to win, but they still had to overcome hitting the physical and mental wall. It wasn’t easy, especially when the wall came sooner than they expected.

“At the beginning of the season, I remember we went down to the South Portland tournament and Coach (Dave Gerrish) said, ‘It’s not football season anymore. This is basketball. You guys have just got to get over it,'” senior guard Brendan Kreckel said.

“They went from getting a Gold Ball in football right into basketball season, and I think it was a bit of a struggle,” Dave Gerrish said. “To me, it’s just the next practice, the practice after that, the next game, hopefully things will get a little better day by day, game by game. I think the grind got to them early. I don’t think that they intentionally made basketball not important. I just think it’s been difficult. I’m proud of them.”

If the Falcons seemed to be treading water early in the season, their biggest setbacks came in the final month, when they were beaten twice by arch-rival Dirigo and once by Boothbay. They dispatched most of the rest of their opponents with ridiculous ease, but it wasn’t until halftime of their late-season win over Winthrop that Gerrish felt like the team had reached fourth gear.

Gerrish runs the team with intensity but also with an even hand and accessible presence. Show him you can play defense, that you can run, that you want to be a good teammate, the players said, and he’ll reward you.

“He brings out the toughness in everybody,” Shorey said. “He brings a lot of fire and a lot of work. He’s fun when you work hard and you do what he wants. If we play bad, we’re going have to go back to fundamentals, that’s for sure.”

Mountain Valley went back to some fundamentals during practice this week, such as taking care of the ball at crunch time. They had a slew of turnovers late in the regional final against Falmouth, so it’s safe to say Gerrish made that a point of discussion this week.

What the coach and the team haven’t talked about is the fact that they have a chance to make history Friday night. If they win the Gold Ball, they’ll become the first school to win titles in football and basketball in the same school year since Dexter won the Class D football championship late in 1985 and the Class C basketball title in early 1986 (Bangor and Boothbay won both championships in 2001, but in separate school years).

“I think they know that they’re working at something without me telling them,” Dave Gerrish said.

“The thing about these guys is a lot of them love basketball, love to play basketball,” he added. “They’re the type of kids that make getting a loose ball or doing the right thing fundamentally important in practice. Where you don’t keep score is where they keep score.”

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