MILLINOCKET, Maine — The basketball magic may be back in the Magic City.
The Stearns Minutemen, on the outside looking in at postseason play since 2004, improved to 8-0 Tuesday night by outlasting rival Schenck of East Millinocket 56-54 in overtime before a big crowd at Wentworth Gymnasium.
“I’ve never heard it as loud as this before,” said Stearns senior guard Garen Manzo, who scored 20 points and dished out seven assists. “I don’t know that if it wasn’t for the fans we would have had the same intensity. It was unbelievable.”
The win was the first by Stearns over Schenck since 2003, but just as important as local bragging rights were the Heal points that come with the win.
Despite its fast start, Stearns was ranked seventh in the first official Heal point ratings released Tuesday, two spots behind Schenck, now 5-2.
“We weren’t really concentrating on who we were playing, but we knew they were worth a lot of points,” said Stearns coach Wade Duplisea. “Our biggest goal was to come out and get the victory and get some points because the strength of our schedule has been keeping us down.”
Senior center Tyler Richards, who missed the front end of a one-and-one with two seconds left in regulation, scored the winning basket with 1:10 left in overtime.
Stearns had taken a 54-50 lead on a jumper by Manzo and a runner from the lane by sophomore Brandon McLaughlin.
But Schenck coach Steve LeVasseur called time, and the Wolverines responded with a jumper by Joshua Brown and a Terry McCafferty layup to tie the game with 1:29 left.
Richards scored from the low post on Stearns’ next possession for the margin of victory.
“We needed that because it’s been so long since we’ve had a big win,” said Duplisea. “All 12 of our players had never been in a game as big as this one or in front of a crowd as big as this one before, and I was very pleased with how they handled themselves down the stretch.”
Richards finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Stearns, while McLaughlin scored 10 points.
McCafferty led Schenck with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Brown, Aaron Hutchins and Brandon Theriault each scored 10, with Theriault adding seven steals and five assists while Hutchins had four steals and Brown grabbed 10 rebounds.
“We turned the ball over at really, really crucial times,” said LeVasseur. “You just can’t give them too many opportunities, and we’re lucky they shot poorly at the foul line [8 of 23] because we could have been really out of the game.
“We’re young, but we’ll figure things out as we go.”
Hutchins, one of the higher scoring guards in Eastern Maine, was the focus of Stearns’ defensive attention and managed just four field goals in 22 attempts from the field. The Minutemen played a triangle-and-two against Hutchins and Theriault for most of the game before switching to a half-court trap in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did a good job with the triangle-and-two for the first three quarters,” said Duplisea. “I thought they were starting to figure out how to break it, so we decided to go with a 1-3-1 and I thought our quickness made them struggle as far as handling the ball.”
Schenck used an 11-2 second-quarter run to take a 27-23 halftime lead before McCafferty gave the Wolverines their largest lead with a followup basket 16 seconds into the third quarter.
Stearns’ biggest lead also was six at 47-41 after the Minutemen scored 11 straight points midway through the fourth quarter. That run, fueled by Schenck turnovers, featured a steal and drive — with a wrap of the ball behind the back to avoid a defender along the way — by the 6-foot-4 Richards and a 3-pointer by Manzo.
But Theriault came out of a Schenck timeout with a steal and a layup and then a 3-pointer to close the gap to 47-46, and a layup by McCafferty tied the game at 50-50 with 41 seconds left.