AUGUSTA, Maine — For Ben Teer and Bryce Colbeth, Saturday night’s state championship celebration for the Washington Academy boys basketball team was four varsity seasons in the making.
“It’s been our goal for so long,” said Colbeth after scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to help the Raiders turn back Dirigo of Dixfield 70-58 at the Augusta Civic Center to earn the East Machias school its first Class C state title in the sport.
But while the four-year varsity players had to wait until the end of their high school careers to experience that championship feeling on the basketball court — they and many of their hoop teammates had won the 2008 Class C state title in soccer — it had been an even longer wait for alumni and other fans of the program.
Three times before (1980, 1992 and 1998), Washington Academy had won an Eastern Maine Class C championship. Twice before the state finals weren’t all that close, a 91-71 loss to the Hyde School of Bath in 1980 and a 78-61 defeat to Falmouth in 1998 — the second of three straight state championships by the Yachtsmen.
Then there was the crushing 67-66 loss to Winthrop in 1992, when a long 3-pointer by Jeff Love at the buzzer capped off a dramatic comeback by the Ramblers.
The Raiders also have made several other trips deep into tournament play over the years, and last failed to finish the regular season with a winning record in 1986.
Since then, over 24 seasons, the program has averaged more than 13 regular-season victories a year.
Twenty-two of those seasons produced double-figure, regular-season victory totals under coaches Buddy Wood, Chad Fitzsimmons, Kenrick Liburd and current leader Steve Pineo, who guided the Raiders to a 17-1 record and the No. 1 ranking in East ern C during his first year at the helm this winter.
But not until now, with EM tournament victories over Penobscot Valley of Howland, Foxcroft Academy and four-time defending regional champion Calais leading to the win over Dirigo in the state final, has that longstanding regular-season success been reflected in a gold ball symbolizing best in class from Kittery to Fort Kent.
“This is awesome,” said Teer. “This is history for our school.”
For Pineo, getting the Raiders beyond that somewhat bittersweet past may be especially meaningful, given his long relationship with the program.
The 1988 WA graduate played his high school basketball under Wood, then returned to the campus in 1992 to coach under the Down East legend for seven seasons.
“Coach Wood was in the stands tonight,” said Pineo after the state final, “and that was awful special.”
Pineo later went on to Jonesboro Junior High School, where he coached at the elementary and middle school levels as he followed his sons up the ranks before returning to WA as the boys varsity coach after Liburd left to take a college coaching job in Tennessee.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet, but it means a lot to me and to the team, and to the community it’s just huge,” said Pineo.
“There’s always been that monkey that’s been on our back, that no one’s been able to win the gold ball. I think we’ve won as many games, if not more, than everybody else in the tournament over the years but just were never able to win that big one.”