EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — No wonder the game was sold out three days in advance, for the intensity matched the anticipation at Gillis Gymnasium on Friday night.
And the home folks got what they wanted, as senior guard Aaron Hutchins scored 24 points — including 10 in the fourth quarter — as the Schenck boys basketball team held off rival Stearns of Millinocket 61-52 to avenge an overtime loss earlier in the season.
“A sellout crowd, it just was incredible, a great atmosphere to play in and definitely a big win,” said Hutchins. “We wanted it. We made it a goal to come back and beat Stearns after losing to them in overtime by two. It’s just a great rivalry between Schenck and Stearns, it always has been.”
The win should move Schenck (14-4) into third place in the final Eastern Maine Class C Heal point ratings scheduled to be released Sunday. Stearns (16-2) likely will finish fifth, with both teams earning a preliminary-round bye.
“Stearns is good team with a lot of nice athletes, and [coach] Wade [Duplisea] does a good job with them,” said Schenck coach Steve LeVasseur. “I think a lot of people look at us a little differently, but I think tonight by us winning this game people are going to look at us a little differently again.”
Normally a man-to-man defensive team, Schenck used a 3-2 zone to frustrate Stearns offensively early in the game, keeping the Minutemen on the perimeter and limiting them to a 7-of-24 shooting performance in the first half as the Wolverines moved out to a 24-18 lead.
Forwards Jared Waite and Terry McCafferty were instrumental to Schenck handling the taller Stearns frontcourt players, and they also helped the Wolverines to a 19-11 rebounding advantage during the first two periods.
“The 3-2 really shut them down,” said McCafferty. “We wanted to get out on the 3-point shooters but stay as close to the big guys as we could.”
Schenck then opened the second half by outscoring Stearns 11-3, as Hutchins hit two 3-pointers to help the Wolverines extend their lead to 35-21 midway through the third quarter.
But Stearns fought back, thanks largely to fullcourt defensive pressure that forced 12 Schenck turnovers after intermission.
A follow-up basket by Zach Sadlon, a free throw by Tyler Richards and 3-pointer by Garen Manzo constituted a 6-0 run that pulled the Minutemen into a 43-43 tie with 4:54 left in the game — the first time they hadn’t trailed since 4-4.
But Schenck coolly responded with an 8-2 run to regain control, as McCafferty sandwiched two free throws and a follow-up basket around a runner by Hutchins before Josh Brown stole the ball near midcourt and drove to the basket to give the Wolverines a 51-45 lead with 2:50 left.
Stearns got no closer than five points the rest of the way, as Schenck made 10 of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter, 15 of 18 for the game.
“The only thing that really hurt was our own mistakes, the turnovers,” said LeVasseur. “When we turned it over we gave them chances to score and score again. We’d get up by eight and could have made it 10 or 12, but we’d turn it over and they’d get back to five.
“But this is a young group out there … and this was a big game, a lot of people. I’m happy with how they responded.”
Waite finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four steals for Schenck, while Brown had nine points and seven rebounds and McCafferty had eight points and seven rebounds.
Manzo led Stearns with 14 points, while Brandon McLaughlin scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“We didn’t take care of the ball down the stretch, we had a couple of bad turnovers,” said Duplisea. “I thought we did a good job defensively to get back in the game. Hats off to Schenck, I thought they outplayed us.”