The day after his team lost a game by 92 points, Mike Hartford might have been angry.
Instead, the Washburn District High School boys varsity basketball coach was philosophical.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about it and to be honest I don’t want to make a big deal out of it or a big story out of it,” said Hartford, whose rebuilding Beavers fell to 0-5 this season after its 108-16 homecourt loss to Fort Kent on Wednesday night. “The opposing coach did what he felt he needed to do. I may or may not agree or disagree with it but it is what it is and we’re just going to keep playing games and go from here.”
Fort Kent raced out to a 30-6 lead after the first quarter and held a 65-11 halftime advantage.
The Class C Warriors then outscored Class D Washburn 30-0 in the third quarter and 13-5 over the game’s final eight minutes.
After the game, Hartford and Fort Kent coach Derrick Cooper shook hands.
“I’m not going to be anything but cordial to an opposing coach,” Hartford said. “He did what he felt he needed to do and whether I agree or disagree is beside the point. We’ll talk and shake hands and be pleasant with each other the next time we play.”
Cooper, whose team was on the other end of a rout just two years ago when it lost to George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill by 45 points (73-28) in a Class C North quarterfinal at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, now has his veteran team building for what it hopes is a deep tournament run come February.
But as the Warriors’ game against Washburn quickly became one-sided he adjusted the game plan.
“I played my starters the whole first quarter and half of the third,” said Cooper. “We worked on our press for the first quarter and that was it, not even a press but picking up man-to-man full-(court) to give my guys a workout.
“Then I took the press off and let my subs play. I run a seven-man rotation most of the time when we’re in competitive games so my subs usually don’t play that much, but this was an opportunity for them to also play hard.”
The 3-1 Warriors played half-court defense for the final three quarters, focusing on getting hands in the passing lanes to generate deflections and steals.
“What we could have done differently is steal the ball, run down the court, not take the layup and then run a play that wouldn’t have been realistic,” said Cooper. “As an athlete I would be even more (upset) if I was playing a team and they were doing things like having an wide-open layup and not taking it.
“I can’t tell my guys to play different based on the competition because now I’m telling them to change the way they play.”
Blowouts not uncommon
Fort Kent will play two games against Class B competition (Caribou), six Class C games (Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, Fort Fairfield and Madawaska) and 10 games against Class D opponents (Ashland, Van Buren, Washburn, Wisdom of Saint Agatha and Woodland) during the regular season.
The Warriors Class D foes were a combined 6-15 entering Thursday night’s schedule, despite top-ranked Woodland’s 3-0 start.
“We play an up-and-down schedule but we need to get ready so when we go back to Bangor it isn’t a shock,” said Cooper. “All we did against (Washburn) was do what we do. We played hard defense and cut passing lanes and when you do that you get steals, but everything was out of a half-court defense after the first quarter.”
While Fort Kent’s basketball fortunes are on the upswing Washburn, which reached the D North semifinals two years ago and the regional championship game in 2015, is working to get back into postseason contention after finishing 5-13 and out of the tournament picture last winter.
And while the loss to the Warriors was by far the most one-sided to date this year, it wasn’t the Beavers’ only setback by a significant margin. After dropping a 52-46 decision to Van Buren in their season opener, Washburn lost games to Madawaska, East Grand of Danforth and Easton by a combined 87 points before hosting Fort Kent.
“It’s been a struggle,” said Hartford, whose youthful roster consists of one senior, five juniors, one sophomores, three freshmen and two eighth-graders. “We’d already lost some lopsided games and we’re going to have a lot of other lopsided games that we’re going to end up losing, I’m sure.
“We’ve got a very tough schedule with five Class C opponents that are all decent teams. It’s the hardest schedule I could have potentially had for a rebuilding team. That’s just the reality of it and we’ve got to play the games.”
Washburn is not the only boys varsity basketball team statewide to experience lopsided defeats early this season. With steady declines in overall enrollment and interscholastic sports participation that have left many schools to drop some sub-varsity teams, Fort Kent will play only eight junior varsity games this winter because of a lack of available opponents.
The girls varsity team at Washington Academy in East Machias has dropped its first five games by an average of 61 points and the Lee Academy girls fell by an average of 44.8 points during their 0-5 start.
Among the remaining winless boys and girls teams around the state, 48 different varsity games were decided by 40 points or more through Wednesday’s play — less than two weeks into the season — with eight of those blowouts coming by at least 60 points.
Focusing on the future
For the teams enduring those defeats, the immediate goal is focusing on the future rather than dwelling on the past.
“Nobody likes losing games like that,” said Hartford. “Nobody likes losing games by 20, either, but we’ve got to figure out a way to keep our heads up and our morale high and keep plugging away and playing hard.
“I only have one senior so most of the team is coming back next year and we just need to keep getting better at the little things we’re not doing well and hopefully that will pay dividends the following year.”
For Fort Kent, the future is now as the Warriors aspire to overcome a regular-season schedule short on Heal Points to pursue a deep tournament run.
“We’ve been through our trials and tribulations,” said Cooper. “We lost a prelim last year that was heartbreaking (64-62 to Woodland) and George Stevens beat us by (45) in Bangor two years ago.
“Now we’re finally at a point where we need to get better and quickly, and our mindset needs to be the same whether we’re playing Washburn or Presque Isle or Caribou or anyone else. We have to have the same game plan and mindset or we’re taking a step backward.”
Fort Kent is scheduled to host Washburn in their final meeting of the season on Jan. 30, 2018.
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