May 28, 2020
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Witches unwavering in quest for ‘A’ crown

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see on the basketball court that makes much of the difference.

This year’s Brewer boys basketball team certainly offers plenty to see — considerable quickness with and without the ball, superior guard play, and an up-tempo style that has been at the same time crowd-pleasing and successful.

“They’re fun to watch,” said first-year Brewer coach Ben Goodwin, who made the move to the Class A ranks after six seasons at Class C Orono. “You sit back as a coach and feel awfully lucky to have these guys. They’re a lot of fun to watch play, a great basketball team.”

But the Witches’ success in earning a trip to tonight’s Eastern Maine Class A final is also much about the intangibles.

Nothing seems to faze them.

Goodwin is the team’s third varsity coach in the last three seasons, but instead of being frustrated by the constant change, the players seemingly have embraced it — with their current product a blend that is part Goodwin, part Clayton Blood and part Mark Reed.

They also have been undeterred by the attention heaped on their rivals — for even though Brewer is the top-ranked team in the standings, they have played somewhat in the shadows.

Hampden Academy, its entire roster back and supplemented by a high-profile transfer, was seen by many as the most talented team in the region. Tradition-rich Bangor was seen as the most physically imposing.

And Edward Little of Auburn is the nouveau riche of the division, with its 2009 regional title and another appearance in the Eastern Maine final the year before that.

Brewer, meanwhile, hasn’t collected any basketball hardware since 1988, when the seventh-ranked Witches persevered in one of the wildest Eastern A tournaments in history by defeating No. 8 Presque Isle in the regional final.

If anything, the Witches — picked fourth behind Hampden, Bangor and Edward Little in this year’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference preseason poll — have used the focus on others as motivation for their own championship cause.

Consider Brewer merely the top-ranked underdogs.

Then there’s the additional motivation of avenging previous disappointment. In Dom Drake, Nate Carson and brothers Ray and Tyler Bessette, the Witches returned a nucleus from a 2008-09 team that thrived during the regular season, only to suffer deep disappointment with a first-round loss to 10th- ranked Lawrence of Fairfield.

There’s nothing like going one-and-done to get back to work on not letting that happen again — and this year it certainly hasn’t.

All these intangibles have added up to a level of composure that defies their collective youth, not in a high school basketball sense but in a coping with adversity at any age sense.

That composure has been on distinct display throughout this tournament. When No. 8 Skowhegan entertained thoughts of pulling off a quarterfinal shocker by drawing within four points of Brewer midway through the fourth quarter, the Witches stood their ground.

And when Hampden Academy broke out to a 14-point second quarter lead in Wednesday night’s semifinals, Brewer calmly but steadily rallied, with spurts at end of both the second and third quarters leading to the comeback victory.

Brewer will be a top-ranked underdog once more Friday night against No. 2 Edward Little in the EM final. The Red Eddies edged the Witches twice during the regular-season — then beat them a third time in the KVAC championship game.

But overcoming such odds is nothing new for this Brewer team — and for their fans seeing truly is believing.

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