MILO, Maine — So much has changed within the Penquis Valley High School boys basketball program since its run to the Class C state championship last winter.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the Patriots’ relentless approach to defense.
Penquis limited rival Piscataquis of Guilford to 28 percent shooting from the field and forced 20 turnovers Monday night to earn a hard-fought 42-30 victory over the Pirates at Oakes Gymnasium.
“We’re all just a bunch of hard workers and we like to play defense like every other Penquis team has,” said Penquis senior guard Colton Larrabee. “We’ve got a lot of new people, but we’re doing all right.”
All right may be an understatement. Despite the retirement of head coach Tony Hamlin, the graduation of six seniors that were key members of last season’s playing rotation, and the transfer of Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team honoree Isaiah Bess to Class A Hampden Academy for his senior year, Penquis is now 8-3 after securing its fifth consecutive victory.
“This is still a learning process for a lot of these guys,” said Jason Mills, the former John Bapst of Bangor head coach who took over at his alma mater this season after serving as an assistant under Hamlin for the last three years. “But we’re coming along.”
The Patriots’ defensive effort was most effective during the first half, when they limited a Piscataquis team off to a solid start of its own this winter — the Pirates are now 6-3 at the midpoint of its schedule after winning just three games a year ago — to just three field goals while building a 27-12 cushion.
“The first half defensively is probably the best we’ve played all year,” said Mills. “We’re not very fancy defensively, we just sit down and play man to man. We don’t have the bodies to do things all over the court, but in the first half we did a good job of sitting down and when a shot went up we contested it.”
Penquis did absorb some foul trouble in the process, and when senior standout Trevor Lyford had to sit down after drawing his third and fourth fouls within a 53-second span late in the third quarter, Piscataquis sought to make its move, using pressure defense of its own to force several turnovers.
The Pirates went on a 9-2 run to cut the deficit from 34-16 to 36-25 on a Jeremy Bell layup with 5:01 left in the game, but with Lyford returning to play a stabilizing and foul-free fourth quarter they got no closer — particularly after leading scorer Tristan French and teammate Ben Morrill both fouled out.
French, who lit up Penquis for 24 points during Piscataquis’ 53-39 win at Guilford in their earlier meeting on Dec. 3, managed just five points in the rematch thanks to a defensive effort led by Larrabee.
“Knowing that he had seven 3s the last game I just planned to face guard him and not let him get the ball or any 3s this game,” said Larrabee. “He only had one 3, so I’m pretty happy with it.”
Lyford led a balanced Penquis attack with 12 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, while Larrabee scored 10 points and Cody Cobb, Noah Allen and Justin Larry each added six points.
Burns scored a team-leading nine points for a Piscataquis team beset by cold shooting both from the field, where the Pirates made just 10 of 36 attempts, and from the free-throw line, where they were an icy 7 of 23, or 30 percent.
Cody White grabbed eight rebounds for the Pirates, who have just one senior among their 11 varsity players.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Lyford. “They beat us over there pretty handily, and we started the season pretty slow because we’ve got a new roster and we had to reinvent ourselves. But we’re figuring it out.”