A quirk of the calendar has delayed the first meeting of the season between the top two Class D schoolboy basketball teams in Aroostook County until Saturday at 7 p.m. at the "Panther Palace" in Mars Hill.
Central Aroostook and Washburn typically play the first of their two games each winter on the Saturday after Christmas, but with that being New Year's Day this season, the team's first meeting was pushed back until late January.
And adding to the drama is the fact that both clubs are still unbeaten after posting wins Tuesday night, with Central Aroostook improving to 13-0 with a 41-30 win over Katahdin of Stacyville while Washburn moved to 11-0 after outlasting Fort Fairfield 77-76 in overtime.
"I don't think I go anywhere without someone asking me when we play Mars Hill," said Washburn coach Randy Norsworthy.
Close calls have been rare for the two rivals so far this winter, with Central Aroostook getting a hard-fought 61-58 road victory at Fort Fairfield on Jan. 4 and then edging Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook 64-61 just last Saturday.
"It was nice to win that one, and hopefully we'll learn from that game," said Central Aroostook coach Tim Brewer, who midway through his 11th season at the helm of his alma mater is a remarkable 197-28 in regular-season and tournament play. "We didn't play that bad, but Southern Aroostook is a decent team, and hopefully we realize that we've got to play defense and we've got to make our foul shots."
Prior to Tuesday night's survival at Fort Fairfield, Washburn also had a narrow escape against Southern Aroostook, winning 69-68 at Dyer Brook on Dec. 28.
"We've had a great start," said Norsworthy, in his fourth year as the Beavers' head coach. "But we know we had a pretty soft schedule in the first half, that's just the way it was."
Neither team is particularly deep, relying largely on six- or seven-player rotations. Top-ranked Central Aroostook boasts a veteran nucleus featuring senior point guard Logan McLaughlin, 6-foot-3 senior forward Caleb Kelly, junior guard Dan Brewer and junior forward Brendan York. The Panthers also have gotten a big boost from 6-foot-7 junior center Mike McClung, whose presence near the basket has created more offensive opportunities on the perimeter for his teammates.
"He's really made a difference for our team this year," said Brewer. "Because of him we're getting a lot more open looks, and we're shooting better this year but we still have to make more shots."
Steven Decker, a 6-3 sophomore, is a top sub for Central Aroostook.
"This is the most talented group I've ever coached," said Brewer, whose coaching resume already includes three state championships, "but it's not the best team I've ever coached."
Fourth-ranked Washburn counters with a lineup featuring guards Mitch Worcester and Jordan McLaughlin. Worcester, a 6-1 sophomore, is the leading scorer on a team that has averaged 79.0 points in its first 10 contests and scorched the nets for 47 points in the Beavers win at Fort Fairfield on Tuesday. McLaughlin, a 5-11 junior, also has been a prolific scorer out of the Beavers' backcourt — despite the fact, Norsworthy said, that each of his team's first nine opponents has played a triangle-and-two defense against his two guards for at least part of their games.
"Mitch now has a year under his belt, and he's a really good offensive player," said Norsworthy. "Jordan's a tough player, he penetrates well and he scores well. They play together so well, they're probably averaging 45 to 50 points a game between them."
Others in the Washburn rotation are junior center Chase Chandler, senior forward Connor Fitzpatrick, junior forward Mason Turner, sophomore guard Nick Bragg and senior guard Kyle Huston.
Like Washburn, Central Aroostook has had little difficulty generating offense, averaging 74.3 points entering Tuesday's play, so expectations call for a shootout when the teams finally square off for the first time since a preseason meeting.
"My guess is that it won't be in the 30's or the 40's," said Norsworthy. "The game probably will be in the upper 70's or even the 80's, and it won't be because we're not playing defense but because both teams get a lot of their offense from their defense."
Whether both teams enter Saturday night's clash undefeated remains to be determined because each has a game scheduled for Thursday — Central Aroostook at Hodgdon and Washburn at home against Limestone/Maine School of Science and Mathematics.
But no matter how their first meeting comes out, Central Aroostook and Washburn will meet again barely more than a week later, on Monday, Feb. 7, at Washburn at 7 p.m.
'Jammers' McFarland sets mark
Camden Hills of Rockport star Tyler McFarland recently became his school's career scoring leader in schoolboy basketball.
The 6-foot-6 senior center-forward, a two-time Bangor Daily News All-Maine choice and a first-team honoree last winter, scored 19 points during a 69-49 victory over Lincoln Academy of Newcastle, giving him 1,157 career points.
That surpassed the 1,149 points scored by former Camden-Rockport standout Tom Fifield, a guard who scored 1,149 career points before graduating in 1989.
Earlier this season, McFarland became just the sixth boys player in Camden Hills or Camden-Rockport history to surpass 1,000 career points, joining Fifield, Tom Hibbert, Mike Geisler, Jim Wilson and Gordon Fischer.
The school's career scoring leader is Meg Cressler, who tallied 1,376 points for the Windjammers' girls squad before graduating in 2000.
McFarland added 30 points last Saturday as Camden Hills defeated Nokomis of Newport 80-46 to improve its record to 13-0. He currently has 1,187 points for the Windjammers, who are idle until hosting Mount View of Thorndike on Friday night.