SALEM TOWNSHIP — On many game nights this season, Doug Lisherness pleaded with his team to play with some emotion. He wanted to see their passion, their motivation and their drive to win.

That wasn’t an issue Tuesday night. His Mount Abram Roadrunners rose to the occasion in their Western C preliminary win over Traip Academy of Kittery.

It was a significant playoff victory, but it meant a lot more for the Roadrunners: Lisherness had coached his final home game after 27 years at the team’s helm. 

“It was kind of emotional,” Lisherness said. “I keep telling them, ‘You girls never play with any emotion,’ but they played with a lot of emotion. Knowing that was my last home game, I’ve got all seniors on the team, too, and it was their last home game. So it was kind of special.”

With the Roadrunners’ preliminary-round victory over Traip, Lisherness and his team will get one last visit to Augusta.

“To make it to the tournament is exciting, anyway,” Lisherness said. “Of course, this year, it’s special because it’s not just my last year, but it’s the last year for these seniors. That definitely adds a little extra to it.”

Lisherness said a loss in the prelim would have put a “big black mark” on the end of his coaching career and the playing career of his seniors. Instead, the Roadrunners are preparing for Tuesday’s quarterfinal against Madison, coached by fellow veteran Al Veneziano.

“We didn’t play some very good ball at times during the year, but I have to say we’re playing our best ball right now,” said Lisherness, whose team lost to the Bulldogs twice in the regular season.

“It’s coming at the right time.” he said. “I think the girls’ confidence has picked up a lot. We’ve won four straight. Regardless of what happens down there, I feel like we’re going to be in the game against Madison.”

Lisherness was a standout at Strong High School in the 1960s. He scored more than 2,000 points and set a Class D tourney record for 19 free throws in a game and 35 in a tourney. His teams have always played with a fast-paced, scrappy style, and he has three regional titles and two state championships to show for it.

But it’s time to retire, he said.

“I’m not getting any younger,” he said. “It’s time-consuming. We have a pretty good program during the summer. You’re out late at night during the season. I just think it’s time to step down. I had some great years and some great teams and some great memories.”

In recent seasons, he’s been trying to rebuild a winner, despite low numbers and young teams. This will be Mount Abram High School’s second consecutive trip to the Augusta Civic Center. The Roadrunners lost to Boothbay last year.

“I always get excited when I walk into the Augusta Civic Center,” Lisherness said. “It’s an excellent place to play basketball. All year long, that’s what you work for. Right from the first day, you try to win enough games to get enough heal points to make it.”

Lisherness has fond memories of past tournaments. His Roadrunners won their first state title in 1991.

“We went undefeated and ended up beating Traip in the championship game,” Lisherness said. “They were undefeated at the time, too. That definitely sticks out.”

The Roadrunners won the regional crown in 1992 but lost the state game in Augusta that year. In 2007, the Western Maine team stunned the tourney field with an impressive run to the gold ball, including a win over a potent Dexter team in Bangor.

“We were the underdogs,” Lisherness said. “In 1991 we were undefeated and went in No. 1, but in 2007, we were in (fifth). Those two teams had some good wins down there.”

As much as trophies and tournament memories serve his coaching legacy, one of the biggest benefits to nearly three decades of coaching has been the players.

In Tuesday’s win over Traip, one of his former players came to the game to see his final home game — and to watch her daughter, who plays for Traip.

“I get emails from a lot of my ex-players,” Lisherness said. “Those letters and emails that you get, that keeps you going.”

Lisherness has taken notice of his last trips to various schools and conference meetings. He’s excited about extending the season for another week, but he also knows that his final season is coming to a quick close.

“The clock is ticking, but it seems to be ticking pretty fast,” he said. “It seems to be going by a little bit faster than I wanted it to.”

He doesn’t have any plans for his free time. His wife, Judy, is retiring in the spring. He jokes that she might find things for him to do.

“I know I’m going to miss it,” he said. “This has been part of my life for 29 years. “I’m definitely going to miss it, but I guess it’s time.”

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