Monmouth’s Hayden Fletcher (22) takes the ball to the hoop as Waynflete’s Nico Kirby (2) and Henry Hart (4) defend during a Class C South boys basketball semifinal Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

AUGUSTA — Wade Morrill walked toward the locker room at the Augusta Civic Center, opened the door and the celebration began, with the Monmouth boys basketball coach and his players erupting into cheers upon seeing each other.

This moment took a while to get here.

The scene took place moments after Monmouth, a fifth seed in the Class C South tournament, earned its first trip to a regional final since 2001 with a smothering 44-27 victory over Waynflete.

“That’s a long time coming for our boys program,” said Morrill, whose team will play No. 3 Dirigo in the regional final Saturday. “No one really counted on us to be here. We were preseason 10th in the MVC, and here we are. It really has been a long road to this point, and our boys have done all the work to get here.”

Long in the sense of the 21-year gap between final appearances, but also long in terms of the route the program has taken in recent seasons toward becoming a Class C championship contender. Monmouth has grown more competitive as a program since Morrill took over in the 2016-17 season, but that path has been a rocky one, with disappointing seasons and tournament blowouts suggesting the Mustangs might never get to have their moment in the postseason.

Now, it’s arrived.


Monmouth’s Sammy Calder (11) drives to the hoop against Waynflete during a Class C South boys basketball semifinal Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“My freshman year, we were always trying to build to get to this point,” said guard Hayden Fletcher, the only senior in the starting lineup. “It’s been a long process, but we always kept working hard. Our goal was to get to this point, and we’re just happy we’re here and (get to) keep going.”

“When I took over six years ago, these boys were in fifth or sixth grade, and we started working with them then,” Morrill added. “We tried to turn our program into a team that could make a regional final, and we’re excited for the opportunity. We’ve worked hard to get here, and hopefully we can string together one more good game.”

It took Monmouth two years to make the tournament after Morrill arrived, and even then the Mustangs kept getting reminded on the big stage that they were more of an also-ran than a Gold Ball threat. In 2019 as a sixth seed, Monmouth was shredded in the quarterfinals by Hall-Dale 83-57. In 2020, Monmouth won a preliminary game against Old Orchard Beach but was again dismantled at the Civic Center, this time by eventual champion Winthrop, 53-24.

For all the progress, Monmouth still looked a million miles away.

“I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel frustrated some nights,” Morrill said. “(But) I always knew. I knew what we had, and I know how our community is. Once you show them a product worth supporting, you get all the support you need.”

This season, Monmouth appeared in line for another good-but-not-good-enough season. The Mustangs started 4-0, but lost three straight to Dirigo, Lisbon and Hall-Dale. Given the preseason prognostications, it looked like Monmouth was sliding back to the pack.


Monmouth’s Gavin Willett (12) battles for the ball with Waynflete’s Hunter Frost during a Class C South boys basketball semifinal Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Instead, it was the turning point. Monmouth won six of its last seven games, all but one of them coming after a run-in with COVID that kept the team out of games for 18 days.

“Being 4-3 at the start of the season was kind of humbling,” junior Manny Calder said. “But we’ve been turning it up ever since.”

Calder said the team’s embracing its identity as a grind-it-out group sparked the turnaround.

“I think just our defense and our defensive rotations, we just kept working at it and kept working at it,” he said. “We decided that we were just going to out-work everybody, basically. It started working, so we never stopped.”

Thursday provided a perfect example. Up against a Waynflete team that was in total control in a quarterfinal victory over Winthrop, Monmouth took command in the second quarter and didn’t let up. Calder led the way with 17 points, but a host of players in white and maroon did what was necessary to ground the Flyers, whether it was grabbing a rebound, making a steal or making the right pass to set up an easy basket.

“We’re not a team where we’ve got one or two superstars,” Morrill said. “We don’t have a superstar in our group. We’ve just got a bunch of guys that play well together, they execute what we put in front of them to do, and they work their tails off. Non-stop.”

And now it means one more game to play, with a state championship berth at stake. It’s a game Monmouth has been waiting decades to play, and one these particular Mustangs have been eying for a while as well.

“It definitely means a lot to this team and everybody, our whole community for sure,” Calder said. “It’s really nice to come here and prove everybody wrong.”

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