OLD TOWN, Maine — Playing with a big lead has been unfamiliar territory in recent times for the Old Town boys basketball team, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising when a 16-point first-quarter advantage fueled by reigning Big East Conference player of the year Garrett Libby gradually dwindled Wednesday night.
But the Coyotes persevered, using a strong fourth-quarter performance to hold off Washington Academy of East Machias 61-51 at MacKenzie Gymnasium.
That effort, which included a 10-0 run after Washington Academy had closed to within two points early in the final period, came on the heels of a similar strong finish Saturday in a season-opening, come-from-behind victory at Ellsworth and gives Old Town a 2-0 start to its season.
“I just figured we’d be able to compete better this year,” said Old Town coach Brian McDormand, whose team finished 5-13 a year ago. “You can’t guarantee wins or losses, but last year we were just undermanned physically and this year we have the guys with Garrett and he’s picked right up from last year.
“But every night is going to be tough, there are no easy teams in the Big East Conference.”
Libby made five 3-pointers and scored 19 of his game-high 21 points in the game’s first eight minutes as Old Town jumped out to an 18-2 lead and maintained a 28-12 advantage by the end of the opening period.
Then Washington Academy turned to a box-and-one defense with Andrew Cox drawing the primary defensive assignment on Libby.
The tactic produced immediate results, as Old Town went scoreless for the final seven minutes of the second quarter as the Raiders pulled within 31-22 by intermission.
“I told Garrett in preseason that we’re going to see that, but it’s different when you see it in a game against a quality opponent,” said McDormand. “We weren’t as patient as we needed to be because we’re not used to being ahead. We’re a team that’s usually climbing out of a hole, so it was a new experience for us.”
Senior point guard Tyler Varney sparked Washington Academy’s continued comeback with eight points in the third quarter before the Raiders finally drew as close as 43-41 on teammate Andrew Farnsworth’s 3-pointer with 6:19 left in the game.
Old Town refused to relinquished the lead, getting big contributions late in the game from senior point guard Cam Archer, junior guard Garvey Melmed and junior center Zach Bartlett.
Archer ignited the Coyotes’ decisive 10-0 run with a 3-pointer that extended their lead to 46-41, and he then fed Bartlett for a layup to make it a seven-point game.
The 6-foot-3-inch Bartlett provided the Coyotes an inside presence against WA’s two 6-4 sophomores, Austin Seavey and Gage Feeney, late in the game, scoring twice on offensive rebounds while posting six fourth-quarter points.
“No one works harder than Zach,” said McDormand. “We’ve worked on a lot of stuff down in the post area with him, and he’s gotten into really good condition this year and his jumping level for a kid his size is tremendous. He’s a fighter, a gamer, and he can see what he needs to do inside this year.”
Melmed helped preserve the Old Town lead by feeding Adam Richardson for a layup and making all six of his fourth-quarter free throws.
And Libby contributed in other ways, including a steal and pass to Archer for a fast-break layup that gave Old Town a 57-43 cushion.
“I knew I just had to move around on the court a little bit and see if it would open up things for other players and just go from there,” said Libby. “The other guys work really hard in practice and they know some teams might key on me a little bit so they’re ready for the challenge.”
Bartlett finished with 12 points and Melmed 11 for the Coyotes, while Archer scored five of his seven points in the final period.
Varney paced Washington Academy (1-1) with 18 points and six steals, while Seavey had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Farnsworth contributed eight points and five rebounds.
“When you get down 18-2, it’s a tough hole to dig out of,” said Washington Academy coach Steve Pineo. “In thinking of a positive, we certainly outplayed them for three quarters and battled back, but we ran out of gas at the end.”