Editor’s note: The second of two stories previewing Eastern Maine Class C boys basketball teams.
HOULTON, Maine — Last year, the Houlton Shiretowners snuck up on some teams.
Coach Rob Moran’s squad survived a key early season injury and a grueling schedule to make the Eastern Maine Class C tournament with an 8-10 record. The Shires advanced to the title game, where they lost to eventual state runner-up Lee Academy.
This winter, with most of its key contributors returning, Houlton is expected to be in the hunt for the regional championship.
“I think that they know that we’re a contender and I hope that they realize what it’s going to take to win the whole thing,” Moran said. “This group of kids is motivated and wants to do well.”
Houlton is expected to be in the mix along with Penquis of Milo and Lee Academy, which were featured in a previous story, along with Sumner of East Sullivan and Calais, who are included in this report.
Houlton’s talented lineup is spearheaded by sophomore Kyle Bouchard, who was an All-Penobscot Valley Conference first-team pick and a BDN All-Maine honorable mention.
“He’s a sophomore but he doesn’t play like a sophomore,” Moran said of the 6-foot-4 guard/forward. “He’s multidimensional. He’s a big, but he can handle the ball and pass the ball.”
The Shires have plenty of weapons, including 6-2 senior forward Dan Swallow, a solid defender and rebounder, along with 6-4 center Elijah Crockett, who can control the paint. Junior Nick Guiod returns for his third year as a starter and can shoot and handle the ball.
Junior guard Kole Buzzeo has been dueling with sophomore Daniel Howe for the other starting spot. Sophomore Jake Drew provides a strong presence at guard and is another good defender, while senior forward Isaiah Straubel and junior Isaac Cone also are expected to provide substantial minutes.
Moran said Houlton gained confidence after several team members played on the Shires’ state championship soccer team this fall.
However, he cautioned that his team must maintain a strong work ethic and a drive to maximize its potential. Houlton also will play a bit of a different system than last year’s youthful ballclub.
“We like to play man and we like to try to get up and down the floor,” Moran said. “ Hopefully, we’ll be a little more multidimensional defensively.”
The Shires should hit tournament time having been battle-tested against the likes of Class B teams Presque Isle and Caribou, solid Class C programs such as Lee, Stearns of Millinocket and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, and Class D entry Hodgdon.
Sumner High is back with a couple of returning senior starters, spearheaded by dynamic guard Tylor Martin and center Justin Chipman.
Martin was an All-PVC second-team selection last season.
“He’s our most experienced player,” said coach Walter Crabtree. “He’s the type of kid that can take over a game some night offensively shooting the ball, but also he can post up.”
Martin combines a long, 6-4 frame with perimeter skills.
“If you’re big enough to guard him, you’re probably not fast enough,” Crabtree said, “and if you’re fast enough to guard him, you’re probably not big enough.”
The Tigers also are counting on 5-6 point guard Tristan Raynor, a speedy senior who is a 3-point threat.
After that, the Tigers are replacing proven veterans with untested upperclassmen.
“We’re fortunate to be pretty deep in support role players,” Crabtree added.
He mentioned seniors Allen Doughty, junior Cruz Moshier, sophomore Sam Smith and seniors Lucas Potter-Harmon and Eric Archer among players who need to make a quick transition to varsity ball.
“We like to play fast, play a lot of full-court, pressure defenses, which requires a lot of energy. Our bench is fairly deep,” Crabtree offered.
Calais is on the hype list of several Class C coaches, perhaps as much for the program’s tradition and coaching as for its returning lineup.
Coach Ed Leeman is trying to reconfigure a club that graduated five seniors, including four starters. Senior guard Devin Hall is the only well-seasoned varsity player.
“I think we’re just trying to figure out who we are. There’s not a lot of expectations,” Leeman said.
Leeman’s son Joel, one of four seniors, also will try to provide leadership. Up-and-comers include sophomore center Tyler Niles, sophomore guard Kyle Johnson and versatile junior Cordell Hold, along with junior Conor McCadden and sophomore Andre Paul.
“We’ve got a good bunch of kids that really like each other and they’re working really hard,” Leeman added.