ORONO, Maine — With just three weeks left in the regular season, it’s becoming more and more difficult for high school basketball players not to scrutinize every move their teams make up or down the Heal point ratings.
That’s especially so when the teams are battling not only for playoff position but a preliminary-round home game or a first-round bye, and it’s uncharted territory for the specific players involved.
That’s why Orono’s 55-45 victory over Bucksport on Saturday night was so satisfying for the Red Riots, who improved to 8-4 after winning just two games a year ago.
The victory advanced Orono to sixth place in Eastern Maine Class C, just one spot short of an opening-round bye in a division that will send 11 teams to postseason play next month. Bucksport, a winner of just three games as a Class B team last winter, is now 6-8 and ranked eighth in Class C and in the current scenario also would host a prelim.
“The past couple of days we’ve been jumping around from sixth place to ninth to eighth,” said Orono senior forward Tyler Eddy, who scored a team-high 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds as the Red Riots improved their home record to 6-1. “We knew it was all tight and we knew this game would give us a better chance for a home playoff game, at least, so this was big for us.”
The Red Riots avenged a 50-40 loss at Bucksport on Dec. 17 with a game-ending 15-4 run after hanging around for most of the game thanks to an active zone defense and some uncanny 3-point shooting — particularly by junior guard Corey Riemersma, who came off the bench to make all six of his attempts from beyond the arc for an 18-point evening.
“I don’t think he even touched the rim, I really don’t,” said first-year Orono head coach Jason Coleman.
Eddy added two 3-pointers and senior forward Cortland Loring connected once as the Red Riots made 9 of 11 tries from long range while shooting 50 percent (17 of 34) from the field overall.
“We didn’t defend the 3-point line like we normally do,” said Bucksport coach Josh Tripp. “They shot the lights out, so give them credit, but we don’t like to give that many uncontested looks.
“But they still have to make the shots, and they did.”
Bucksport had its own sharpshooter in junior guard Mitchell Burgess, who made 7 of 11 3-point tries while scoring a game-high 24 points. But the rest of the Golden Bucks shot just 35 percent (9 of 28) overall and Bucksport was unable to get its transition game going as Orono effectively got back on defense.
“Defensively I thought we played great,” said Coleman. “We influenced a lot of shots, we blocked a lot of shots, we didn’t give up many second-chance points and we didn’t give up many in transition.”
Neither team led by more than four points through the first 3½ quarters, with Bucksport taking its last lead at 41-40 on a drive by sophomore guard Josh Gray with 3:55 remaining.
But Riemersma answered 10 seconds later with his final 3-pointer of the night and Loring — who scored 10 of his 12 points during the fourth quarter — followed with a basket after grabbing an offensive rebound to give the Red Riots a 45-41 lead with 3:31 left.
Eddy later scored off a full-court inbounding pass by Loring after a timeout to extend the margin to six before Bucksport finally answered when Burgess hit a 3-pointer to close the gap to 47-44 with 1:29 left.
When Bucksport then was forced to foul, Sam Chase and Loring each made two free throws to give Orono a 51-44 advantage, and the Golden Bucks managed just one point in the final minute.
Loring added five rebounds — four during the fourth quarter — to go with five assists and three blocked shots during an active all-around performance for Orono.
“I didn’t do that well in the first half,” he said, “so I just came out in the second half and tried to to my best.”
Senior center Mat Swazey contributed 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds for Bucksport.