BY ERNIE CLARK
OF THE NEWS STAFF
EAST MACHIAS — Could there be a changing of the guard in the Eastern Maine Class C boys basketball world?
That won’t be determined until tournament time, but the Washington Academy Raiders made a strong case that change may be in the offing Tuesday night with a 78-41 blowout of defending state champion and four-time regional titlist Calais.
The win should put coach Steve Pineo’s club in position to secure the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Eastern C tournament with a win in its regular-season finale at George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill on Thursday.
Calais is likely to finish second.
“It was a definitely a statement game,” said WA senior guard Ben Teer, who scored a game-high 20 points against the Blue Devils. “Of course, we haven’t proven anything yet, we’re just taking it one step at a time.
“But every obstacle that we didn’t overcome last year [when WA also entered the tourney as the No. 1 seed only to be ousted by Stearns of Millinocket in the semifinals] we want to overcome this year.”
It was Senior Night at Gardner Gymnasium, and the Raiders’ collective experience advantage over Calais was on full display.
In addition to Teer’s 8-of-16 shooting performance, eight rebounds and five assists, classmate Bryce Colbeth finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds and senior guard Noah Von Rotz scored 13 points. Senior forward Justin Morren helped spark a trapping defense that limited Calais to 33 percent shooting (17 of 51) from the field and induced 28 Blue Devil turnovers.
“We’re really good with the traps because we have fast, athletic players,” said Von Rotz, “and we really shut them down.”
Junior center Cam Shorey paced Calais with 15 points and six rebounds but largely was forced away from the basket by WA’s interior defenders. Forward Josh Gillespie, one of just three seniors on the Blue Devils’ roster, finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Calais (15-2) struggled throughout the evening with Washington Academy’s half-court zone pressure and was unable to generate many high-percentage shots from the game’s outset.
The Blue Devils shot just 6 of 22 from the field before intermission, while Teer scored 11 early points as WA moved out to a 29-15 lead at the break.
“A big part of what we did tonight was that we held them to 15 points in the first half,” said Von Rotz. “That’s amazing defense, and that was the key to this game.”
But WA (16-1) had led by 18 at halftime of its earlier meeting at Calais on Dec. 28 before the Blue Devils mounted a second-half rally that just fell short — and the memory of that second-half slump was in the Raiders’ minds.
“The last time they got back within four points,” said Colbeth, “but tonight it was our last game at home, it was Senior Night and we hadn’t beaten them two times in one season, and we came out and had a statement game.”
The Raiders had at least a statement opening to the second half, scoring 11 unanswered points to put the game away.
The run featured WA’s defense, with back-to-back Calais turnovers producing a fast-break layup by Keith Farren and one of Teer’s four 3-pointers on the night.
By the time Calais ended a drought of more than six minutes without a field goal on a layup by Shorey with 4:10 left in the third quarter, the WA lead was 40-17.
WA’s Sam Stevens and Colbeth followed with back-to-back baskets off the offensive glass, and the rout was under way.