MILO, Maine — Isaiah Bess and Trevor Lyford both got their playing time last winter.
But as freshmen on the Penquis of Milo boys basketball team, much of that time was spent watching others deal with the speed and intensity of the varsity experience, quite a jump indeed from their middle-school playing days.
That baptism, now a year removed, has led to increased responsibilities for Bess and Lyford, and the sophomores this winter have emerged as a significant force in Eastern Maine Class C while leading coach Tony Hamlin’s club to a 4-0 record entering Tuesday night’s game at 3-1 Piscataquis of Guilford.
Bess, a 6-foot-2 forward, has averaged 23.5 points and eight rebounds per contest — a start highlighted by a 38-point explosion during a Dec. 12 victory at Stearns of Millinocket.
Lyford, a 6-0 guard, also has scored in double figures in each of the Patriots’ first four games, averaging 14.0 points and four assists per outing.
The two sophomores have teamed with juniors Jason Durant, Tyler Pelletier, Cody Herbest and Derrick Johnson and seniors Devon Armstrong, Klay Stevens and Albert Smith to spearhead a Penquis defense that has allowed an average of fewer than 40 points a game.
“They’re really two special sophomores,” said Hamlin. “You’ve got to have somebody who can score when you need to stop the bleeding, and these guys can score. We won’t go sustained minutes without scoring because Isaiah and Trevor will be able to get what they want, even outside the context of the offense, which is sometimes their wont to do.
“But they’re young, they’re 15 years old, they’re sophomores. You give them two years and 15 or 20 pounds and somebody’s going to have some issues with them in another year or so.”
Some of the success Bess and Lyford have experienced early in their high school careers has stemmed from their familiarity with each other’s game.
“We’ve always been close on the basketball court, and we know where each other is going to be on the floor,” said Bess. “We kind of have a connection most players don’t have with each other.”
“We’ve been playing together as long as I can remember. We started playing on the same team back in first grade on rec teams, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Their games aren’t exactly the same — Bess can score from the outside but is just as likely to drive to the basket while Lyford is more of a perimeter shooter as well as a quarterback for the offense — but their combination of talent and chemistry has become difficult for opponents to defend.
“We know each other pretty well,” said Lyford. “When Isaiah gets it going he needs the ball because he’s a great shooter, and he knows when I get it going I’ll make a few here and there. Everybody else on the team is really great about getting us the ball and setting screens. They make things happen for us and we’re pretty grateful for that.”
Bess also credits his participation in off-season basketball for much of his individual improvement.
“I think since I’ve been playing AAU basketball all year round and over the summer that I’ve grown a bit and matured and become a bigger, faster, stronger player,” he said. “When I come back to playing kids in Class C instead of kids in Florida who are 6-8 it’s a little bit easier to get my shot off.”
Both Lyford and Bess believe the experience they gained from their roles last season, when Penquis went 14-6 and reached the Eastern C semifinals, has been pivotal in enabling them to adjust to their increased responsibilities this year.
“Last year’s seniors really put in a good work ethic for us and showed us the way on how we should be playing, how we should conduct ourselves and how we should be getting everybody else to play,” said Lyford. “It really rubbed off on us, and we have to give a lot of credit to the guys who played before us because they really did a good job of leading us into this year.
“Now we’ve got to keep improving and hopefully winning some more games.”