HERMON, Maine — The early part of the 2009-10 season produced the growing pains the Caribou boys basketball team anticipated after graduating nearly all of its key players from last year’s 14-4 tournament entry.
But from a frustrating 2-4 start this season has come a solid midseason stretch for the Vikings, whose 46-41 victory over Hermon on Thursday marked the seventh win in their last eight games.
“We let a couple of games slip away early, but we’ve bounced back,” said Caribou coach Chris Casavant. “We hadn’t beaten a good team on the road yet, but this Hermon club is a good team so this is a huge step in our process of getting better.”
Caribou, which began the day ranked eighth in Eastern Maine Class B, never trailed during this rare midweek trip south from Aroostook County, thanks early on to junior center Ted Walker.
Walker scored his team’s first nine points, including a three-point play off a pass from Chris Nadeau that gave the Vikings the lead for good at 9-6 with 2:18 left in the first period.
“We were a lot bigger in the post, so we tried to work the ball inside,” said Walker, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Caribou built its first-half lead to 21-14 on a jumper by Matt Till with 2:28 left in the second quarter and held a 21-16 edge at intermission.
Hermon (6-7) refused to go away after the break, but was able to get to within one possession of tying the contest just once, at 27-24 on a drive by Taylor Gross 52 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Caribou responded with perhaps the most pivotal offensive sequence of the game, as Nadeau scored a layup off an inbounding pass from Cameron Anderson and Walker then took a bounce pass from sophomore point guard Chad Caverhill in for a layup to restore the Vikings to a 31-24 lead.
The Vikings’ biggest lead of the evening followed when Till made two free throws after being fouled on a 3-point shot to give Caribou a 35-26 edge with 4:37 left.
But Hermon’s Colton Gross scored from the lane and on a drive, then hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to pull the Hawks within 41-37 with 1:02 remaining.
That comeback was thwarted by some solid free-throw shooting by Caribou. The Vikings, who began the day shooting 49 percent from the line for the season, made 5 of 6 in the final 52 seconds, as Caverhill and Nadeau each made two shots and Anderson went 1 of 2.
Caribou finished the game making 16 of 23 free throws compared to 4 of 7 for Hermon.
“One of our goals at the end of each game is to look at the free throws and say we made more than you attempted, and the only way you do that is by pounding the ball inside,” said Casavant.”
Nadeau added 12 points and 10 rebounds for Caribou, while Till scored 11 points.
The Vikings’ other starters, Caverhill and Anderson, played key defensive roles against Hermon’s brotherly backcourt tandem of Colton and Taylor Gross.
“Colton and Taylor are really, really tough matchups for us,” said Casavant, “because Taylor’s quicker than Cameron and Chad’s a sophomore guarding a senior who’s really quick, but I thought they did a really nice job against them.”
Colton Gross finished with 12 points and five assists for Hermon, while Taylor Gross scored 10 points.
“Tonight we were just on the edge of having a shot or two go down that would have made a big difference,” said Hermon coach Mark Reed. “Colton had one [3-pointer] that was halfway down but came back out that was a big one to not go in because it would have cut the lead and put us in a situation where we would have been in a little less of a forcing type of situation.
“It seemed like every time we cut their lead, they either went back and scored or we fouled and they made the free throws that pushed them over the top.”