It has been an up-and-down ride so far for the St. Dominic Regional High School boys’ basketball team in its new league, the Mountain Valley Conference.

The Saints are .500 through their first four games, knocking off Georges Valley and Lisbon on the road but dropping home games against Hall-Dale and Livermore Falls.

Coach Ryan Deschenes said if his team has learned anything about its new league so far, it’s that there are no automatic wins on the schedule.

“There is a lot of parity in this league,” Deschenes said. “Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. We’ve got to bring it every night.”

The MVC has earned the reputation as one of the most physical leagues in the state, although Deschenes feels the jury is still out regarding whether it is any rougher than the Saints’ old stomping grounds, the Western Maine Conference.

“The Livermore game was, for sure,” he said. “Other than that, we still have to see.”

St. Dom’s led Livermore Falls by nine points in the first half before fading in the fourth quarter. 

Sophomore guard Peter Keaney sat out the final three minutes against the Andies after bumping his knee during a collision. That sequence inspired Deschenes to holler at nobody in particular, “Football season’s over,” while attending to his player.

“It’s definitely a lot more rough,” Keaney said. “We just need to be more mentally tough.”

Keaney and Kurt Johnson are thriving in the Saints’ spread offense, which is designed to stretch the defense and open up lanes to the hoop for the Saints’ slashing guards and, if the defense collapses on them, get open looks for their teammates.

“Kurt and I can drive and we have shooters in Nate Poulin and Chris Bryant, so if me and Kurt can get to the hole early, then later in the game we can get open threes,” Keaney said.

Mustangs moving up

Monmouth Academy won three games last year, and that seemed like a pretty good haul considering how much the Mustangs had struggled since moving up to Class C early in this decade.

With a new coach and a new attitude, the Mustangs had already eclipsed last year’s win output before most of their holiday gifts were wrapped. Monmouth improved to 4-1 Wednesday with a 50-39 victory over Lisbon, its fourth straight victory.

New coach Lucas Turner vowed to start with the basics when he took over at Monmouth after a stint as an assistant coach at Gray-New Gloucester, and it has paid off quickly. 

“Just preaching fundamentals,” Turner said. “It started on June 15 with these guys. We changed the atmosphere with intense practices, working on the fundamentals and it will pay off in the long run. Focus on the defensive end and the offense will take care of itself.”

Players point to a more cohesive unit as another reason for the quick turnaround.

“We’re definitely playing more as a team,” senior guard Ryan Baillargeon said. “Last year, we had a couple of guys just hucking up shots.”

“We’re low in numbers on the varsity team (with nine players), but the team that we have, we’ve just meshed so well,” senior forward Corey Dyke said. “Everyone came in wanting it to be a different season and a new Monmouth basketball program and I think everyone just totally bought into it.”

What helped them buy in? After an opening night loss to Boothbay, the Mustangs began their current winning streak with an impressive 35-point win over perennial powerhouse and next-door neighbor Winthrop.

“That win against Winthrop started them believing they can win,” Turner said. “If we would have started 0-2, 0-3, 0-4, they might not have kept believing that defense wins.”

Dog days of winter

Another MVC squad still looking for that breakthrough win and the resulting confidence is Lisbon.

The Greyhounds haven’t celebrated a victory since the 2006-07 season. But playing well in losses to Winthrop (37-30) and Monmouth is an indication that things are slowly turning around under first-year coach Eric Hall.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games,” Hall said. “We’ve got a lot of growing pains this year. We do a pretty good job defensively, but we shut down one or two guys and it seems like somebody else steps up. We’ve got to be aware of that.”

Scott Eck, who hit three 3-pointers and made six steals against Monmouth, has been a spark plug at both ends of the floor for Lisbon. Mike Degou was a double-digit scorer off the bench Wednesday, as well.

Next up for Lisbon is Jay, off to a 3-1 start after a five-year tournament drought.

“That’s another team that want to be playing beyond February,” Hall said. “The way the divisions are in the league this year, anybody can win on any night. Pretty much everyone is on an even keel with players. We’re going to see Winthrop again, and we’re going to see Monmouth again.”

Filling the void

Graduation and injuries have given the less tested half of last year’s Eastern Class A championship roster a chance to shine at Edward Little early this season.

Nobody has taken advantage quite like Brandon Giguere. Primarily a JV player last season, Giguere erupted for a career-high 11 points Tuesday in the Red Eddies’ 63-41 win over Lewiston.

“It’s no secret. We have guys commit to our summer program, and Brandon is one of those guys who was in the weight room at 7 o’clock every morning,” said EL coach Mike Adams. “He was here every afternoon, every night, every game. And that pays off. It’s made him a better player, and in turn it has made him a more well-rounded student in the classroom.”

Four of EL’s five starters against Lewiston were not in last year’s lineup, joining veteran guard Yusuf Iman.

Bowen Leary led the Eddies with 21 points and 14 rebounds. EL also received big nights from relative newcomers Timothy Mains, Steven Giorgetti and Cody Nicholas.

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