CALAIS — This was supposed to be the season when everyone caught up to the Calais boys basketball program.
The Blue Devils ran through several classes of players en route to three Class C state titles and four regional crowns during the last five years, as well as another trip to the Eastern Maine final last February.
Then last spring All-Maine forward Cam Shorey opted to transfer to prep school, and last fall senior guard Ryan Cavanaugh was lost for the winter with a knee injury.
But nobody told the players who were left that the glory run was over — as evidenced by Calais’ hard-fought 61-55 victory over Jonesport-Beals on Monday night that improved the Blue Devils to 5-0 at the outset of the new year.
“At the beginning of the season everyone was saying ‘Calais lost Cam, Calais lost Ryan, they don’t stand a chance,’ but that really fired us up,” said Jeremy Beers, one of eight juniors on a Calais roster that includes just one senior.
Junior forward Joe Mitchell led the Blue Devils offensively with 17 points, and Calais got a big boost off the bench from 6-foot-3 sophomore Darin Clement, who scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked two shots and made 7-of-10 free throws, including 6-of-8 in the fourth quarter.
“Darin’s very active and very athletic, he just needs to learn to play within himself at times,” said Calais coach Ed Leeman. “Tonight, he had a great game and had some big-time stats for a kid coming off the bench for us, and he made some big foul shots down the stretch, too.”
Clement and Beers, who grabbed 12 rebounds, helped Calais grab a 39-25 domination of the backboards that gave the Blue Devils plenty of second chances on offense while limiting Jonesport-Beals’ ability to get its fast break started.
“I just thought we got outrebounded bad,” said Jonesport-Beals coach Vincent MacLean Jr., whose team dropped to 5-1 after outscoring their first five opponents by an average of 36.8 points. “That was the difference. If you don’t rebound, you can’t run.”
Jonesport-Beals, one of the preseason favorites in Eastern D, scored the game’s first eight points — six by 6-foot-6 junior Justin Alley, who led the Royals with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
But Calais used zone defensive pressure to slow the Royals and scored the final seven points of the first quarter to take a 15-14 lead. The Blue Devils then maintained a 23-20 halftime edge before moving out to a lead of as many as 12 points in the third quarter as junior guard Jeff Jones scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, including two 3-pointers.
“We knew we were going to come out and try to go with them and then see what happened,” said Leeman. “We got down early, but then we settled in and got a little confidence and knew that we could play with them, and then it was just a gunfight.”
Two free throws by Clement enabled Calais to maintain a 48-37 edge with 4:50 left in the game, but Jonesport-Beals ripped off seven unanswered points during a 34-second spurt, with Justin Alley hitting a pull-up jumper, Matthew Alley making a layup after a Calais turnover, and Garet Beal knocking down a 3-pointer after another Calais turnover to close the gap to 48-44 with 4:07 left.
Jonesport-Beals later drew within 50-48 on two Justin Alley free throws with 1:55 left, but Clement made a follow-up basket and Matt Cummings took a feed from Devin Hall for a layup to restore the Blue Devils to a six-point cushion.
Matthew Alley made a 15-foot jumper to close the gap to four points, but the Royals were forced to foul and Calais made 7-of-10 free throws during the final 1:11, including four by Clement and two by Beers, to preserve the victory.
“I think we had them on their heels a bit because they couldn’t just run up and down the court on us,” said Leeman. “I knew they were going to make a run at us because they’re a great team, but our kids hung in there and persevered.”
Jones finished with 11 points and seven rebounds for Calais, while Beal had 13 points and four steals and Matthew Alley scored 11 points and dished out five assists for Jonesport-Beals.