READFIELD — The Maranacook boys basketball team began the season wanting to show it was the best team in the state.
It was hard to argue then. It’s even harder now.
Cash McClure scored 25 points with nine rebounds, Casey Cormier added 23, and the top-seeded Black Bears beat No. 2 Skowhegan 86-61 in the Class A/B championship game of the central Maine tournament.
Tim Worster added 13 and Joey Dupont had nine and seven rebounds for the Black Bears, who finished the season 15-0. Their whole season was an example in dominance, and so was their tournament — Maranacook beat three Class A teams by an average of 23.6 points.
Thursday night, against the RiverHawks (12-3) and their trio of 6-foot-5 or taller forwards, was supposed to be the exception. Instead, it was just the Black Bears’ loudest statement of the season.
“It feels amazing. This is is our last game all together, last game with these guys I’ve been playing with since I was 5-years-old,” McClure said. “To win a championship, to win a crystal ball with these guys, it feels amazing.”
“We don’t care if there are fans here or not. This means everything to us,” Maranacook coach Travis Magnusson said. “The whole playoffs we were feeling like it was just like last year. We were playing great teams, we were making a statement every game.”
Collin LePage led Skowhegan with 18 points and nine rebounds, while Kyle LePage scored 15 with nine rebounds and Levi Obert had 12.
“They’re a good team. Going into it, we knew that we had to be on our A-plus game and maybe they had to have an off night,” said Skowhegan assistant coach Randy Washburn, who was serving as the head coach for the game. “I think our boys played hard and played well, but we’re young. That showed a little bit tonight against a senior-laden team.”
Washburn was serving in place of Tom Nadeau, who was out due to the COVID-19 protocol.
“It had a little bit to do with (the loss),” Washburn said. “But Maranacook is just a great team. I don’t know how much of a difference he would have made. I’m sure he would have made some.”
Maranacook raced out to a 13-5 lead to start the game, with McClure and Cormier scoring five points apiece. It was just the beginning of an opening surge for Cormier, who had 12 points in the first quarter and 17 in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“I just came in today thinking ‘We need to play hard,’” Cormier said. “It’s the best game we’ve played all year, I think by far. … I just came out and played my role. I was on fire, so I just kept going.”
“He gives us that spark every game,” McClure said. “I consider him the best shooter in the state.”
The RiverHawks answered, however, working the gap down to 22-17 by the end of the quarter as they tried to bring the game back to their preferred halfcourt style.
“We were just trying to keep it close,” Washburn said. “Keep it in hand so maybe in the fourth quarter, if we’re only down by 10, we can try to make a run.”
The momentum was short-lived, as Maranacook took off in the second. A Cormier steal and breakaway dunk on the first possession got it started, and after a Collin LePage basket made it 33-24, the Black Bears embarked on an 11-0 run that made it a 20-point game, getting seven points from McClure, two from Worster and two more from Joe Albert (six points).
The lead was 46-30 at halftime and it only grew from there, eventually reaching 30 when Eljas Bergdahl stole the ball and sent it upcourt to McClure for a dunk that made it 77-47 with 5:25 to play. The RiverHawks couldn’t steer the game away from the Black Bears’ style. Maranacook attacked the basket and earned trip after trip to the line, and its pressure flustered Skowhegan ball handlers and often prevented them from working the ball in to the trio of Collin and Kyle LePage and Adam Savage. Maranacook had 14 steals, 11 in the first half alone.
“Getting the bigs up and down, that tired them a little bit so they weren’t able to get it into the post as much,” said Cormier, who had three of the steals. “Making them play our tempo was the key to winning.”
Asked what allowed the Black Bears to dictate the tempo, Magnusson was straightforward.
“Unbelievable players,” he said. “We’re just so talented. … This team, I think, will be remembered for a long time.”
That was Maranacook’s mission going into the season. Denied by the pandemic a chance to return to a state championship game after falling in double overtime last year, the Black Bears resolved to make this season as impressive as they could. When the central Maine tournament came along, that determination only sharpened.
“(Magnusson said) we’ve got to leave our legacy, after all we’ve been through,” McClure said. “This whole journey, it’s kind of a perfect ending.”