LINCOLN, Maine — Expectations are high at Houlton High School this winter, and justifiably so.
Just one player from the core rotation of last winter’s boys basketball team that advanced to the Eastern Maine Class C championship game graduated, leaving what was a young team a year ago returning this winter as a still-young team now armed with some high-quality postseason experience.
And that experience isn’t confined to basketball. Many of the same Shiretowners are coming off winning the Class C state championship in soccer.
“It never hurts,” said Houlton boys basketball coach Rob Moran after his team’s 68-21 victory at Mattanawcook Academy on Saturday afternoon. “Success breeds success, no doubt about it. The soccer team had a great run, and hopefully some of it will carry over. I think it has.”
Indeed. While the soccer team went 15-0-1 in its last 16 matches to claim its gold ball, the basketball team is now 5-0 in its quest to win its own postseason spoils.
One common denominator is sophomore Kyle Bouchard, the Shiretowners’ second-leading scorer in soccer and the leading scorer in basketball this year after earning co-MVP honors at last winter’s Eastern C tournament.
The 6-foot-4-inch forward scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against undermanned Mattanawcook Academy along with three assists and three steals while sitting out most of the fourth quarter.
“Right now we’re playing solid but not how we can,” said Bouchard, the youngest starter in a Houlton lineup that also includes one senior and three juniors. “That’s good and bad because we’re not playing to our potential right now but it means the best is yet to come and hopefully we will make a run deep into the tournament this year.”
Houlton spotted 1-4 Mattanawcook Academy a 3-1 lead on a 3-pointer by Aaron Goodine 75 seconds into the contest, then scored 19 unanswered points to take control.
Bouchard scored 11 points during the opening period as the Shiretowners built a 20-5 lead and finished the first half with 19 points.
“Last year at this time Kyle was a freshman and it took him awhile to spread his wings and become a leader,” said Moran. “He’s stepped into it from Day 1 this year knowing that he’s going to be the leader of the team along with Dan Swallow, a senior who’s done a great job for us. I think Kyle is more comfortable in that role now. I think he did it last year, but I think he’s more comfortable doing it this year.”
Sophomore forward Daniel Howe came off the Houlton bench to add 13 points — including three 3-pointers — while Swallow had eight points and nine rebounds.
Freshman Gunner Maxwell — one of nine different Mattanawcook Academy players to score — finished with a team-high six points. The youthful Lynx were playing without junior forward Trysten Pelkey, sidelined by illness.
Houlton, which is expected to battle the likes of defending regional champion Lee Academy, Penquis Valley of Milo and Calais for the Eastern C crown come February, faces a major rivalry game at home Wednesday night against Hodgdon. The Hawks are off to a 4-0 start this season and are expected to be among the top contenders in Eastern Maine Class D.
“I think we see the goal we can reach,” said Swallow, “so we’re more motivated this year to go after it.”