The Jonesport-Beals boys basketball team is in familiar territory as tournament time nears — highly ranked in Class D North.
But the Royals are usually judged relative to their school’s hoops history, which includes 10 state championships and 14 regional crowns, beginning with a run of five straight gold balls in 1970 after the consolidation of Jonesport and Beals high schools.
Those trophies remain a reminder of annual aspirations that have largely remained constant within the program throughout the last five decades.
“With Jonesport-Beals there’s always an expectation,” said head coach Skipper Alley, who played on the Royals’ state championship teams in 1983 and 1985.
The Down East school’s championship tradition has produced at least one state title in each decade beginning in the ’70s except for the 2000s. The most recent came in 2012 by a team led by two-time Maine Gatorade Player of the Year Garet Beal.
As a new decade unfolds, an undefeated Jonesport-Beals team, led by seniors who have competed together since qualifying for the Little League Baseball state tournament as 9- and 10-year-olds, is determined to complete its own gold-ball mission after reaching the last two North regional finals.
“Ever since grammar school we’ve had that same goal, that same dream of winning a gold ball,” said senior forward Ryan Alley, son of the head coach and one of four captains, along with classmates Kaiden Crowley, Adam Robinson and Brady Reynolds. “That’s the ultimate goal for us. Unfortunately for us we’ve fallen short, but this year it’s all business for us. We want it.”
This group has been close. Two years ago when Jonesport-Beals finished the regular season with a 14-3 record, good for second place in the final Class D North Heal point ratings and then advanced to the regional title game before being edged 40-37 by top-seeded Woodland.
The Royals then went 15-2 during the 2019 regular season and returned to the North final before being outplayed by Schenck of East Millinocket 70-47.
“I felt terrible for the kids, I really did,” coach Alley said. “But they’re just high school kids and that’s the way it goes sometimes. The year before when we played Woodland, that game could have gone either way.”
This season there’s a sense of urgency inherent in this being the final chance for the six seniors on a close-knit Jonesport-Beals team that, with its 11-0 start this winter, is 45-7 since the start of the 2017-2018 campaign.
“We’ve learned how to handle a lot of adversity,” Crowley said. “Last year we didn’t play as well as we really wanted to. We’ve really learned that hard work goes a long way and we’ve just got to keep working like someone’s chasing us.”
Jonesport-Beals has averaged 79 points per game through Friday night’s 70-42 victory over Bangor Christian.
Junior Alvin Beal leads the balanced attack at 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game and is closely followed by seniors Crowley (13.5 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists), Ryan Alley (13 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 assists), Robinson (11.5 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) and Marc Crowley (9 ppg).
But perhaps more important to the Royals’ postseason hopes has been their defense. It has yielded 53.9 points per contest — a number inflated somewhat by a 90-72 victory over Narraguagus of Harrington.
“We’ve grown a lot,” Robinson said. “We’ve gotten stronger mentally and physically and I think that’s helped our game.
“We’ve really worked on defense and rebounding, boxing out and getting stronger.”
The recent victories over Narraguagus — one of five Class C opponents that account for 10 of Jonesport-Beals’ 16 regular-season games — and Bangor Christian were not the team’s strongest efforts of the winter, part of what coach Alley calls the “January grind” with nearly three weeks left before tournament seedings are determined.
But he also knows his team is focused on peaking at tournament time, and there’s no questioning his players’ work ethic.
“If we have a practice at 5 o’clock, at 4 or quarter-past 4 they’re all right there and ready to go,” he said. “I’ve never had an issue with a player or anything close to one. They’re a close group that works really hard at practice.”
Jonesport-Beals enters this week with five games left, and there are no guarantees beyond that in what coach Alley considers a deep Class D field. The Heal Points are led by 10-2 Van Buren and a 10-1 Schenck team riding a nine-game winning streak.
“A lot of people would say there is a lot of pressure on us, but I don’t feel like there’s any pressure,” Ryan Alley said. “I just feel like if we come out every day, do our job and work hard good things are going to happen for us and we’ll get where we want to be at the end of the day.”
But if you play for Jonesport-Beals, tradition suggests the Royals also are competing for hardware.
“Definitely,” Crowley said. “I think every night we want to come out and make a statement. It’s all about putting trophies in the cabinet.”