PORTLAND – Andy Shorey leaned against the wall outside the Mountain Valley locker room following the Falcons’ 48-38 victory over Camden Hills in the Class B championship and reflected upon more than six months of toil that brought two glorious, golden rewards – state championships in football and basketball.

“It was a lot of hard work, but now, I’m going to sit back and relax a little bit,” he said.

The respite is well-earned, given how much the Falcons had poured into the school’s first championship season since 1994. They became the first Western Maine team to win the Class B crown in seven years (and the only Western Maine boys’ team to win it this year) while displaying the kind of resiliency and blue-collar work ethic worthy of their own home towns.

Not that there weren’t concerns in Rumford and Mexico during the regular season. After jumping out to a 7-0 start and playing well at a Portland Christmas tournament, the Falcons suffered a rare home loss to rival Dirigo. They recovered to win the next four, but then dropped two out of their last five games of the regular season, to Boothbay and, again, Dirigo.

The 15-3 regular season still had a lot more highlights than lowlights. Shorey joined Matt Gaudet, Andy Bedard and Jamie Belskis in the 1,000-point club and went on to pick up his second straight Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year award. The Falcons beat defending Western Class C champion Winthrop twice. They held six opponents to 21 points or fewer, including back-to-back games where Mt. Abram and Madison managed just a dozen points apiece.

On average during the season, they surrendered 33.8 points per game by playing relentless man-to-man defense. The energy they exerted at the defensive end often paid off at the other end of the floor.

“We like to think that our offense comes from our defense,” senior co-captain D.J. Gerrish said. “If we can get stops on defense, then we’re able to get into our offensive sets and run what we want to run, and then we’re dictating the pace.”

They continued to set the pace as the third seed in the Western B tournament, running No. 6 Freeport off the Portland Expo floor with a 74-46 win in the quarterfinals. They then took their defensive clamps with them when the tourney moved to the Cumberland County Civic Center, tightening them on Cape Elizabeth (62-33) and top-seeded Greely (39-32) to successfully defend their regional title.

While their physical style translated well to the regional. some expected the Falcons to have matchup difficulties with a tall and athletic Camden Hills squad in the state game. But the opposite turned out to be true.

“We did a lot of scouting and watched a lot of tape, and this matchup was nice for us, because we knew everybody could play somebody,” Coach Dave Gerrish said. “Our guards matched up well against their guards and they couldn’t penetrate. It was just a game where we felt like we could be competitive.”

They were more than competitive. They shut down Camden’s top scorers, took control with a 10-2 run in the third quarter and pulled away with a 9-0 outburst in the fourth.

The final buzzer set off their second victory celebration in Portland in a little more than three months, with embraces all around, including father and son Dave and D.J. Gerrish.

“It’s pretty cool,” Dave Gerrish said, “because when you’re coaching your own kid, the one thing you want to have happen is for them to have some fun while they’re playing, and the last week or so has been really fun.”

There could be more fun next season, even though the Falcons will lose their best player, Shorey, and their floor general, Gerrish, plus two other seniors, Matt Lyons and Brendan Kreckel. Two starters and two of their top scorers, junior forward Owen Jones and sophomore guard Justin Staires, will be back, along with another starter, junior guard Dean McCrillis, and key reserves Bryan Canwell, Matt Laubauskas and Andrew McCann.

Some of the key personnel may change, but if Mountain Valley is to hold on to its crown, its defense will again come down to defense.

“Coach told us every game this season that we could do it with defense,” Jones said. “That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s what we’ll keep doing next year.”

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