EAST MILLINOCKET — The Stearns of Millinocket boys basketball team was severely undermanned for much of the second half of Wednesday night’s clash with the rival Schenck Wolverines.
From illness that had sidelined one starter to an ankle injury that sidelined another and foul trouble to two other key players, the Minutemen were struggling to find enough players to hold off a succession of Schenck comebacks.
Fortunately for coach Greg Marter’s club, Brandon McLaughlin and Billy Eurich were constants on the court in leading Stearns to a 60-55 victory at Margaret H. Gillis Gymnasium.
McLaughlin scored 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds while Eurich scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and also grabbed 10 rebounds as Stearns finished its regular season with a 12-6 record that should earn it either the fourth or fifth seed in the upcoming Eastern Maine Class C tournament.
“We had lost a couple, but now we’re on a two-game winning streak and momentum’s building,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin shot 9 of 14 from the field, and his work on the boards helped the taller Minutemen score seven field goals directly after grabbing offensive rebounds.
“Brandon is not only a very good basketball player but a very smart basketball player,” said Marter. “Night in and night out, that kid is a double-double if not very close to a double-double. He is just a very solid basketball player and he’s obviously our go-to guy. He makes things happen, and toward the end of the game when we knew the pressure was coming, we wanted the ball in his hands.”
Stearns spotted Schenck a 2-0 lead but never trailed again, using its strength on the offensive boards and full-court defensive pressure to build a 29-21 halftime lead.
“Obviously, playing in a very tough gym, we felt it was imperative that we set the tempo right from the start,” said Marter. “We were able to put on some pressure and create some turnovers, and some great things happened for us in the first half.”
The Minutemen extended their margin on several occasions during the second half but could never put Schenck away as Wolverines’ senior guard Brandon Theriault scored 20 points over the final two periods.
Stearns was able to maintain its lead despite losing starting point guard Brian Bouchard to a right ankle injury with 5:44 left in the third quarter, with contributions off the bench coming from Cody Wallace, Cody Herring and Riley Whitney.
At one point midway through the fourth quarter, the Minutemen extended their lead to 55-48 when starter Ethan Michaud returned to the game after sitting with foul trouble and immediately hit a midrange jumper, and Whitney then came into the game for the first time and immediately scored on a putback after he rebounded a missed free throw by McLaughlin.
“We were scrambling with Brian Bouchard going down early with the ankle sprain and the foul trouble we had,” said Marter, whose team also was without senior forward Brandon Bouchard, sidelined with mononucleosis. “But the bench stepped up.”
Schenck rallied to within 55-53 with 1:48 left thanks to a three-point play by sophomore forward Nathan Cram and two Theriault free throws.
Coach Steve LeVasseur’s Wolverines then got the ball back again, but an inside shot by Eric Theriault and a followup attempt by Zach McLaughlin both missed, and Eurich made two free throws with 55.3 seconds remaining to restore the Minutemen to a four-point edge.
A free throw by Zach McLaughlin narrowed the gap to 57-54, but Brandon McLaughlin made 3 of 4 from the line in the waning seconds to give Stearns its second five-point victory of the season over Schenck.
Jared McCleary added 10 points and five blocked shots for Stearns, while Brandon Theriault led Schenck with 30 points, six steals and six rebounds. Cram added nine points and eight rebounds for the Wolverines, and Zach McLaughlin had eight points and seven rebounds.