What separates a contender from a champion in high school basketball often has little to do with skills specific to the sport.
Both Washington Academy of East Machias and Schenck of East Millinocket have been contenders in recent years, but their rise to Eastern Maine champions this winter reflects both talent and teamwork.
“Being a team has been the difference,” said first-year Washington Academy head coach Steve Pineo, whose 20-1 Raiders will face 18-3 Dirigo of Dixfield for the Class C state championship at the Augusta Civic Center tonight at 8:45.
“There certainly has been great, great talent here the last couple of years, but the lack of being a unit made them come up short. But this year they really didn’t care who got the accolades. It’s been a point of emphasis this year, but they already knew it.”
A similar scenario has played out at 20-1 Schenck, which faces 19-1 Richmond for the Class D state title in Augusta today at 2:45 p.m.
“Last year we had a pretty good team,” said Schenck coach Steve LeVasseur, “but everyone had to understand that if you rely on only one person it isn’t going to happen. This year everybody has contributed.”
Washington Academy is seeking its first state title with a veteran lineup featuring Eastern Maine tournament MVP Ben Teer, fellow all-tourney choices Noah Von Rotz and Bryce Colbeth, senior forward Justin Morren and junior forward Sam Stevens.
Depth has come from several sources, including senior forwards Keith Farren, Derrick Porter and Jonathan Mallar.
“Our bench has been big for us all year,” said Pineo. “The first time we played Calais [a 72-63 win in December] we got into some foul trouble and our bench held it together until we could get them back.”
While the Raiders are coming off winning their first EM title since 1998, Dirigo is back in the state final for the second straight year after falling to Calais by a point a year ago.
The Cougars have a new coach in Dave Gerrish — who led Mountain Valley of Rumford to the 2007 Class B state crown — and a veteran nucleus fresh from winning the Class C football state championship last fall.
Dirigo, which last won a basketball state title in 1983, is led by Western C tournament MVP Tyler Chiasson, a 6-foot-2 senior point guard who is the team’s tallest starter and led the Cougars with 16.5 points per game during the regular season.
Guards Tyler Gates and Nick Bolduc and forwards Nic Crutchfield and Kyle Hutchinson join Chiasson in the Dirigo lineup.
“They don’t have a lot of size,” said Pineo, “but I think they’re like us in that they like to get up and down the floor. They’re a good ballclub.”
Schenck, which last won a state title in 1994, is led by Eastern D tourney MVP Brandon Theriault, a junior point guard, along with senior forwards Jared Waite and Cody LeVasseur, junior guard Eric Theriault [Brandon’s twin brother], and junior forward Zach McLaughlin.
Valuable sixth man Terry McCafferty, a senior center, joined Brandon Theriault and Waite on the EM all-tourney team, while senior guard Ryan Thompson is another top reserve.
“What’s been great the whole year is that one night it might be Brandon or Jared stepping up, or another night it might be Terry or someone else,” said LeVasseur, whose team has allowed just 42.2 points per game this season.
Richmond is back in the state final for the fourth time in five years while seeking its first title since 1986.
Richmond returns eight players from the 2009 team that lost to Woodland in the state final, including 6-4 senior center Bruce Carver, the team’s leading scorer at 12 points per game, 6-2 forward Tom Carver and guards Mike Christie, Nick Woods and Eric Murrin.
“They’ve got a couple of quick guards and a big guy inside,” said LeVasseur. “They’ve got a nice team.”