MILLINOCKET, Maine — Kyle Bouchard was relegated to the Houlton bench at the outset of Friday night’s Penobscot Valley Conference boys basketball game against the Stearns Minutemen.
It was a first-time high school experience for the 6-foot-4-inch All-Maine junior forward caused by a scorebook mistake but a very brief experience.
Bouchard entered the contest 53 seconds into the opening quarter and went on to contribute 30 points, seven rebounds and four assists as the undefeated Shiretowners improved their record to 13-0 with a 70-49 victory at Wentworth Gymnasium.
“I was trying to get him sixth man of the year award,” joked Houlton coach Rob Moran, whose Eastern Maine Class C top seeds return to action Saturday with a home game against Madawaska.
Class D Stearns, which had won four straight games since losing at Houlton two weeks ago, is now 6-7 and will host Bangor Christian on Saturday.
Bouchard entered the contest after Stearns had controlled the basketball for nearly a minute, and he quickly scored seven of Houlton’s first nine points — on a follow-up shot, a loose-ball layup, another second-chance basket and a free throw after a steal and drive — as Houlton used a blend of man-to-man and zone traps to dominate the game’s first half defensively.
After Stearns hung within 9-6 thanks to three early baskets by junior guard Kacey McVey, the Shiretowners outscored the Minutemen 23-1 during the ensuing six minutes and 20 seconds of play to build a 32-7 cushion midway through the second quarter.
“They were going to be a little deliberate, so we picked up the pace and tried to force the issue a little bit,” said Moran. “We trapped them a little and got into an up-and-down game, and that helped. We played real well defensively in the first half, I was real pleased.”
By that point of the game, Houlton had forced more Stearns turnovers (10) than points allowed.
“We wanted to come out and pressure them,” said Bouchard, who recalled the last time he didn’t start a game coming as a freshman playing up two age groups in the AAU ranks. “We’ve had trouble in past games when we’ve jumped on teams in the second half but really haven’t come out and played well from the start. We’ve had our feet in mud a little bit at the beginning of games.
“But in practice we’ve really focused on coming out with intensity and playing hard, and tonight, I thought we did that.”
Houlton’s lead was 37-11 at intermission, with Bouchard totaling 17 early points on seven of 14 shooting.
“We noticed they came out in a triangle-and-two to start, and that we hadn’t seen much of, so we looked to get the ball to Jake [Drew] and swing it around because on the back side they were leaving Kyle open,” said Houlton senior point guard Nick Guiod. “It’s hard to match up with Kyle.”
Practically all of the Shiretowners’ starters were successful converting Stearns turnovers into high-percentage offense as they collectively shot 58 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the first half and 59 percent (30 of 51) for the game.
“We like to run, and we got a lot of opportunities to run,” said Guiod, who contributed six points and four assists. “And we capitalized either by scoring or making them commit a foul.
“That’s what we like to do, we like to turn up the pressure and then get out [offensively] because we’re hard to guard. We’re athletic.”
Senior center Elijah Crockett added 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field, while senior guard Isaac Cone scored seven points, junior forward Christian Crane scored six points and Drew had five points, five rebounds and three assists.
Junior guard Marc Morneault led Stearns with 15 points and five rebounds, while senior guard Seth Brown scored 13 — all in the second half — and McVey finished with 10 points.