A challenging early season schedule and a key injury haven’t deterred the Houlton Shiretowners, who entered Wednesday night’s schedule with the second-most Heal points of any Eastern Maine boys basketball team, regardless of class.
Houlton’s 30.5556 tournament index was good for first place in Class C by a wide margin over second-place Washington Academy of East Machias (18.8272), and only undefeated Class A leader Hampden Academy, at 45.6790, had a higher tournament index in the region.
The Shiretowners are 8-0, including wins against WA, third-ranked Calais, Eastern D-leading Hodgdon and Class B third seed Caribou — all on the road.
Those four opponents have a combined record of 25-6, but they’re 25-2 against teams other than Houlton.
“We’ve played some good teams for sure,” said Shiretowners’ coach Rob Moran, whose club also owns victories over Fort Kent, Madawaska, Schenck of East Millinocket and Class B Presque Isle. “The schedule has helped us the last two years. We haven’t achieved the ultimate goal yet, but we’ve made it to the Eastern Maine final two years in a row and with a schedule like we’ve had, it makes you battle tested.”
Houlton also has had to overcome the loss of senior guard Kole Buzzeo to a knee injury during the team’s season-opening 61-53 victory at Calais on Dec. 7.
Buzzeo figured to be one of the team leaders along with Bangor Daily News All-Maine junior forward Kyle Bouchard and senior point guard Nick Guiod.
“Losing Kole was a big loss for us,” said Moran.
The versatile Bouchard, a Division I college prospect, has picked up where he left off a year ago and is averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5-inch third-year team captain scored his 1,000th career point last week during a 36-point explosion against Washington Academy.
“Kyle’s healthier for sure than he was last year,” said Moran, “and he’s shooting the ball much better. He just does so many things for us.”
Guiod, a fourth-year starter, is averaging 16 points per game, but more important to Moran has been his ball distribution as he has averaged seven assists per outing.
“One of the things that makes me happiest about Nick is that he has really picked up his game as far as making other people better,” said Moran.
Junior Christian Crane and senior Elyjah Crockett, both at 6-4, join Bouchard and 6-2 junior Jake Condon to provide Houlton considerable front-line depth, while senior Isaac Cone has replaced Buzzeo in the lineup and 5-foot-10 junior Jake Drew is another significant contributor.
The Shiretowners should get even deeper in the coming weeks with the return to action of junior forward Daniel Howe, a quality shooter who has not played yet this winter due to patella tendinitis.
But the schedule doesn’t get easier for Houlton, despite having six of its final 10 games at home. The Shiretowners are scheduled to host highly regarded Calais on Friday night, then face Stearns of Millinocket for the first time next Monday before their rematch against 8-1 Hodgdon on Jan. 15.
“I believe we’re in the [Eastern C] mix,” said Moran of his team’s prospects to win the program’s first regional and state titles since 2004. “But I think it’s a little deeper this year.”