Bangor’s 1-3 start in boys basketball this winter was enough to make many Eastern Maine observers take notice, largely because few could remember a similar start by the Rams.
An additional month of experience has made that slow start a distant memory, as Bangor had won seven of its last eight games and six in a row, the latest a 31-29 victory over Lawrence of Fairfield on Tuesday night.
“We’ve replaced 11 players from last year,” said Bangor senior guard Nate Frazier after a recent victory over Hampden Academy, “and only four of us played together on varsity last year and we had a few up from the freshman team and a few from the JVs. Now we’re playing together better, executing the plays better and playing a lot better defense.”
That defense has allowed an average of just 34.5 points during Bangor’s current winning streak, which also has featured the emergence of a strong inside game keyed by senior forward Dan Taft and sophomore forward Zach Blodgett.
Taft has been the Rams’ top inside scoring threat since the start of the season, but has been joined recently by Blodgett, who came off the bench to score 16 points in a quality road win at Mt. Blue of Farmington and followed that with a 23-point effort in a win against Hampden Academy and 12 points — including the go-ahead basket — in Tuesday’s low-scoring affair against Lawrence.
“Early on in the season we weren’t shooting very well, so we were looking for someone down low we could pound it in to,” said Frazier. “Dan did it earlier, and now Blodgett’s doing it, too, so it’s really opening up our jump shots which is helping out everybody.”
Frazier and classmates Ryan Larochelle and Mack Susi are providing the bulk of the perimeter play, with junior forward Steve Hall another key contributor.
“Experience is the important thing,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed. “We’ve got a lot of new people who had never played at this level, and a lot of them still haven’t played a lot at this level.”
And while the winning streak has boosted the players’ collective spirit, Bangor’s most recent loss — a 50-46 decision against Edward Little of Auburn on Dec. 23 — also has proven itself valuable.
“That game was a turning point for us because everybody started to understand that if we could play with Edward Little we might be all right,” said Reed. “It’s too bad we didn’t win that game, because it made everybody else alert, too.”
Reed nears new milestone
Bangor’s Reed is approaching yet another coaching milestone.
After Tuesday night’s victory over Lawrence of Fairfield, Reed was just one victory short of 400 for his 24-year tenure at Bangor. Reed owns a 399-91 record as the Rams’ coach, with a 350-76 regular-season record to go with a 49-15 postseason mark that includes seven Class A state championships and nine Eastern Maine titles.
Overall, the Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductee began Tuesday night’s action at 513-189 in 36 years combined at Bangor and Bangor Christian.
Bangor returns to action against Lewiston on Friday.
Incidentally, Lawrence’s Mike McGee earned his 300th coaching victory with the Fairfield school last Thursday with a 46-41 victory at Skowhegan.
McGee began coaching at his alma mater during the 1985-86 season, the same season Reed began his tenure at Bangor High School.
Bissell hopes to face EL
Brewer boys basketball standout Billy Bissell is hopeful of returning to the Witches’ lineup for Friday night’s Eastern Maine Class A showdown at Edward Little of Auburn.
The senior forward, who ranks among the leading scorers and rebounders for the 10-1 Witches, suffered an ankle injury after coming down with a rebound during a Dec. 30 game at Mt. Blue.
Bissell missed the rest of that game — the top-ranked Witches’ only loss — and a subsequent victory over Lawrence before attempting to return to the lineup for a Jan. 6 game at Skowhegan.
Bissell played just briefly in that game and since has sat out Brewer’s last two games, victories over Nokomis of Newport and Hampden Academy.
“A couple of other kids have stepped up, especially Murph [Sean Murphy] filling in for Bill,” said Brewer junior forward Dom Drake. “We’ve been doing pretty well, we just can’t focus on Bill being gone. It’s hard, but we’ve had to do it.
“His rebounding is the big thing we miss, because he can fly.”
Senior Murphy has been inserted into the starting lineup during Bissell’s absence, while starter Tyler Bessette and sixth man Ray Bessette have been among others picking up the slack.
“In the long run, it’s 32 minutes that go elsewhere, so it’s really going to help Sean Murphy and the other people who are rotating in a little bit,” said Brewer coach Clayton Blood after the Witches edged Hampden 53-52 on Saturday.
“Tyler Bessette and Ray Bessette are coming in and getting rebounds against 6-5 kids, so they’re all stepping up like they need to handle that part of the game. We really try to take great pride in our [inside] defense, and all the kids know they need to do that.”
Brewer is idle this week until its rematch against second-ranked Edward Little, now 10-2 after a 67-49 win over Brunswick on Tuesday night.
The Witches edged the Red Eddies 67-64 at Brewer on Dec. 19, a game in which Bissell contributed 11 points.