Randy Norsworthy sees and hears the criticism his basketball team receives for its high-scoring ways and lopsided victories.
During an era in which many high school basketball teams struggle to score 50 points in the face of increasing defensive attention and decreasing shooting percentages, the Washburn boys have averaged 86.3 points while allowing just 47.5 points per contest this winter on their way to a 12-1 record entering Tuesday night’s Class D home game against Ashland.
But Norsworthy says his focus isn’t on point totals or margin of victory, but preparing his team for what it hopes is a deep and successful postseason run next month.
The players have done their part, he adds, including a core group that has arisen early in the morning two or three times a week for a self-imposed “boot camp” of strength and agility training.
“I know what people say about us running up the score,” said Norsworthy. “But I’ve got three seniors and two juniors starting this year, and I don’t think it’s fair to those kids who have gotten up at 5 in the morning to put themselves through boot camp and I can only play them 12 or 14 minutes a game. So I’ve changed my philosophy a little this year and decided to play them a little longer.
“I’ve taken a little bit of a beating because of it, but they still aren’t playing together that much.”
The starters got a full workout Saturday evening when the Beavers upended defending state champion Central Aroostook of Mars Hill 74-64 in a much anticipated showdown before a packed house at Washburn.
Junior guard Mitchell Worcester led the way with 39 points as Washburn built up a lead and then withstood a Central Aroostook rally in part by making 22 of 26 free throws for the game.
“I thought we played a great game,” said Norsworthy. “We defended very well as a team and took them out of their offensive set. We didn’t shoot the ball well, but we played well.”
Washburn is known for its long-range shooting skill — the Beavers set tournament records last year with 20 3-pointers during a semifinal loss to Jonesport-Beals.
Washburn made a relatively modest seven 3-pointers against Central Aroostook, opting instead to work the ball inside more against a defense anchored by 6-foot-7-inch center Mike McClung.
“Mitchell determined that he wasn’t shooting that well, so he took it to the basket in the second half,” said Norsworthy “One of the rubs we take is that we aren’t that big, but we’ve played teams with bigger players and done pretty well.”
Washburn’s offensive might begins on the perimeter, particularly in Worcester and 5-11 senior Jordan McLaughlin, both of whom eclipsed 1,000 career points earlier this season.
“They’re joined at the hip, they’ve been playing so much together since middle school,” said Norsworthy, who added that the duo has combined to average more than 46 points per game this winter.
Worcester is on pace to reach the rarefied air of 2,000 career points, having surpassed the halfway mark at the outset of his junior season.
“Mitchell’s played a lot of AAU basketball, but the big thing is that he’s grown again this year, and he’s now a 6-2 point guard,” said Norsworthy. “He’s a difficult matchup. He’s so quick with his first step, he’s a good perimeter shooter and when he gets into the paint he also sees the floor well.”
Other starters for the Beavers are senior Mason Turner, another 3-point shooting threat, classmate Chase Chandler, one of the team’s primary interior players, and junior Nick Bragg, a defensive catalyst.
“Nick’s usually the quickest player on the floor, he’s the engine defensively that gets us going,” said Norsworthy. “We’re not just Mitchell and we’re not just Jordan, we’re a team,” said Norsworthy. “Last year we didn’t have quite the balance we have this year. This year we’re a little more intelligent, a little more seasoned.”
Second-ranked Washburn is in a three-way battle for the top spot in Eastern Maine Class D with top-seeded Central Aroostook and No. 3 Jonesport-Beals, and that race is important for at least two reasons. With 15 schools qualifying for postseason play in Eastern D, the top seed will be the only team in the division to draw a preliminary-round bye.
And the top seed likely would have to face only one of its two primary challengers on the road to a regional title, while the second and third seeds would match up in the semifinals if the seedings hold up.
“Finishing No. 1 is really important in Class D,” said Norsworthy, “and any of the three teams could finish there.”
How that three-team battle shakes down at the end of the regular season could be determined next Tuesday night, when Washburn travels to Central Aroostook for their rematch.