RUMFORD, Maine — What the Dirigo boys’ basketball team already has accomplished this season makes little logical or mathematical sense.
Class C programs don’t twice get within a whisker of winning it all, graduate one Mr. Basketball and another finalist for that award, lose both coaches, bid farewell to almost every nanosecond of their on-court tournament experience and stay in contention.
Just. Doesn’t. Happen.
“Losing five starters, I think a lot of people doubted us this year,” Dirigo junior center Cody St. Germain said.
Actually, those of us who follow the Mountain Valley Conference for amusement, for a living or for both considered the Cougars one of the co-favorites this winter.
Maybe it was a reflection of what is, by honest estimate, a down year in the region. Perhaps it was an homage to the tradition of those six letters across the front of the blue-and-white jersey, if not the unknown names in the scorebook.
We were right. Nobody in their right mind, however, thought we’d be this right.
Forget the overturned starting five and the all-new coaching staff of four. The only number you need to know about Dirigo is one.
The Cougars clinched the top seed in the Western Class C tournament for the third straight year Tuesday night, defeating RSU 10 rival Mountain Valley with authority, 54-40, in the Falcons’ own Puiia Gymnasium.
Go figure. Last year’s gifted, athletic, multi-sport tournament-tested gang couldn’t beat Mountain Valley here, there or anywhere. Mountain Valley hadn’t lost a regular-season game since January 2009.
Notre Dame-bound Tom Knight and one of Maine’s all-time coaching greats, Gavin Kane, couldn’t carry the Cougars to victory in this building two years ago, either.
Yet here were the successors who didn’t know any better, some of them yet to get acquainted with razor blades, winning the only game played away from Augusta or Bangor that most of their casual fans care about.
“It’s crazy. Last year they went undefeated. Then this year they were looking to go undefeated again,” said Dirigo junior Josh Turbide, who scored 14 points. “We wanted to be the team to beat them.”
Dirigo (16-1) did it with a performance that was disconnected at times and dominant at others.
In exhibiting to a nearly packed house why they’re again the team to beat in the region, the Cougars demonstrated why they might be even more difficult to defend than Kane and Knight’s ’09 crew or coach Dave Gerrish, Tyler Chiasson and Nic Crutchfield’s 2010 lineup.
They don’t rely on a single star or a preferred style.
When shooters are left to their own devices, as were Turbide and Spencer Ross too many times in the first quarter, they exact a painful toll. In Mountain Valley’s case, it was a 14-3 deficit out of the starting block.
When outside shots don’t fall, as was the case during a devastating 1-for-15 second quarter, the Cougars can change direction and feed St. Germain, a deceptively quick big man who gets better by the game.
St. Germain scored 11 of his game-high 22 points in the third quarter, when Dirigo transformed a 25-19 deficit into a 36-35 lead.
“I just got into a groove,” St. Germain said. “I didn’t realize all season I could make a foul shot.”
He was 10-for-10 Tuesday night.
And the new Dirigo turns defense into offense even more quickly and decisively than the old Dirigo.
Caleb Turner (seven points, seven assists, two steals) and Ben Holmes (six points, 13 rebounds, six steals, three assists) owned the open floor at the Falcons’ expense.
“We came out (the third quarter) in that halfcourt trap, and that always gets us going,” St. Germain said. “We got a bunch of steals and lots of fast breaks and started hitting our shots.”
Mountain Valley went more than nine minutes without a field goal in the second half.
“That’s just the way our team’s been,” Turbide said. “We go on those runs. Coach (Rebecca Fletcher) has been telling us we’re going to go through those humps where we aren’t doing much. We just always need to keep our composure and things will work out for us.”
Ross was the sixth man on last year’s team, which went 15-3 in the MVC and lost to Washington Academy in the state final.
Arik Fenstermacher is the only other senior.
In charge of it all is Fletcher, herself a state champion point guard in high school and an understudy of Kane for most of her adult life.
During her application and interview process to become the Cougars’ third different coach in three years, Fletcher was the victim of behind-the-scenes grumbling and grousing that was petty at best and sexist at worst.
She absolutely was the right person for the job. And the Cougars, whom logic and sense indicated were a year away, are the most logical and sensible choice to represent Western Maine at the Bangor Auditorium in a few weeks.
But the Cougars are mature enough to understand that they’re miles away from competing for a Gold Ball.
Next up: A chance to clinch a berth in Monday’s MVC championship.
“We’ve got to beat Jay,” St. Germain said. “So one more, and then hopefully a long run.”
Long run? These crazy kids walked right into the middle of one. And so far, they’ve ensured that no end is in sight.
Copyright (c) 2011, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.