Historically speaking, this North Haven team specialHawks win first tournament game in Augusta in program's 60-year history
Augusta — There is an adage that states when one finally sheds themselves of a heavy burden that they finally got the monkey off their back.
If that is true, then the North Haven Community School boys basketball got a 60-year-old, 800-pound gorilla off its shoulders on Saturday morning, Feb. 15 at the Augusta Civic Center.
And the Hawks and their dedicated fans can now take a deep breath and generations of North Haven boys basketball players can smile as the 2013-14 version of the island team has accomplished something none of them could.
Namely, win a regional tournament game at the Augusta Civic Center.
That victory celebration finally came on the fabled court Saturday when the No. 6 Hawks (17-2) defeated No. 3 Greenville (15-4) 42-36 in a Western Class D quarterfinal playoff game.
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The history-making win was witnessed by about 100 wildly-cheering island fans, most from North Haven, but some from neighboring Vinalhaven.
And, for all Hawks, past and present, it was sweet vindication.
Especially for one family, the Coopers, who have been central figures in this on-going saga for about 60 years, including Hawk coach Roman Cooper, who once scored 38 points in a tournament game in Augusta in the 1980s — and the Hawks still lost.
Cooper's family, along with his brother, Shaun, and his dad, David, a former Hawk player in the 1950s and coach for years, along with generations of island court student-athletes, could, on Saturday morning, stop, savoir, smile and shed a few joyous tears at what this year's team has accomplished.
"We have done everything but win a game at the Augusta Civic Center and now that is behind us," said Roman. "Check it off."
"The goal for three years has been to get to this arena and win a game," the coach said. "This year we put those boys to the test and they rose above the occasion. They said, 'We are going to do this. This is going to be our year' and they made it happen."
In all the games over the years, the Hawks never have come close to winning a playoff game at the Augusta Civic Center, often going in as a lower seed and being beaten by a higher-seeded opponent.
North Haven, which also earned a 70-31 prelim playoff win over No. 11 Pine Tree Academy of Freeport on the island Feb. 12, will have a much more difficult time winning a second straight playoff game in Augusta as the Hawks face No. 2 Hyde School of Bath (17-2, including a 69-35 quarterfinal winner over No. 7 Seacoast Christian, 11-9), on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 10 a.m. in a semifinal game.
But that game, and task, is in the future and the Hawks and their fans want to hold onto a memorable, historic victory.
The Hawks do not play Pine Tree Academy, Greenville or Hyde School during the regular season.
On Saturday, before the celebration began, there was work to be done by the Hawks and, at times, it was a challenge.
North Haven led 15-12, 25-18 and 31-28 at the quarter breaks, but did trail 36-35 with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter, before charging back for the historic victory.
Keying the Hawks were Aidan Emerson (15 points, including three 3-pointers, 4-of-4 from the foul line, 7 rebounds, 5 offensive boards, 2 assists, steal), Ethan Mao (11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals), Avery Waterman (10 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals), Dalton Hornby (3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, steal) and Zeb Campbell (3 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, assist).
Emerson had 11 points, including all three of his treys, and Waterman eight points in the first half, as both players proved instrumental in the early going. However, Mao was the difference in the second half, especially fourth quarter, with his inside play, as he scored nine points in the pivotal final 16 minutes.
The islanders made 7-of-15 free throws (47 percent).
For the Lakers, Howard Stone tallied 16 points and was a tough inside, while Matthew DiAngelo added 13 and Trevor Richards seven. Greenville did not make a 3-pointer and netted 10-of-17 foul shots (59 percent).
"Amazing," said Mao on how it feels to win an historic game. "We have been working for this, all of us, for four years now. It is such a rush to win, finally. I have been in tournament games the last three years and lost. This time we won and I am just so happy for my team and all the hard work we have put in, especially my coach, for teaching us everything we know. It is just a great feeling. One of the best feelings of my life."
"Crazy," said Waterman of his thoughts on winning such an important game in the school's history. "We have been up here three years in a row and had not had great games. We knew if we had a good first half we always have a better second half. We were a little shaky in the third quarter. Our defense just fell apart a little bit. We weren't nervous. Ever since the first quarter we had confidence."
Emerson said the team threw the ball around in the third quarter and that "shook us up a little bit. Once we got back in there and started scoring again, we could go on runs. The crowd here helped us a lot … It was exceedingly loud and electric. I love playing here. It is always great."
As the final seconds wound off the clock and the realization that they had made history settled in, Emerson said, "For me it was a little bit overwhelming, so many people and so loud."
The players said they kept reminding one another that the game was not over until the final buzzer sounded.
"As coach told us [after this win], the rest is gravy," Waterman, who became a 1,000-point scorer this season, said about how the islanders may perform the rest of the tournament.
Waterman's eight points, including a hoop in the final 10 seconds, and five points from Emerson gave the islanders a 15-12 lead after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the play of Stone kept the Lakers in the game, but Emerson drilled two 3-pointers and Campbell added a late hoop to give the islanders a 25-18 halftime cushion.
And when the Hawks walked to the locker room for the midgame break, Roman raised his arms and pumped his fist to the cheering North Haven fans, signaling to them that this could be the day, the year, the Hawks would win a game at the Augusta Civic Center.
North Haven struggled a bit in the early stages of the third quarter as Stone and DiAngelo helped the Lakers climb within 25-23 in the first few minutes of the stanza. Mao had a hoop and foul shot in the quarter for the Hawks, but Stone added two late hoops to bring Greenville within 31-28 at the break.
The tide continued for the Lakers early in the fourth quarter as Richards converted on his own miss and Stone scored inside to give Greenville a 32-31 edge. In fact, that Laker edge grew to 34-31 with 5:35 left before North Haven took a timeout.
After the short break, Mao and Richards traded inside hoops to make it 36-33. Mao then scored inside with 3:37 left to make it 36-35 and, 37 seconds later, he banked in a shot to give the Hawks a 37-36 lead, a cushion they would not relinquish.
"They just gave me the ball and I tried to work as much as could in the post and it worked out," Mao said, adding he would not have been in position to score and help the team win without the help of his teammates and coaches. "I just love them all."
Down the stretch, Emerson iced four free throws and Campell one to get the islanders over the historic hump.
"We had a game plan going into this and it was executed by those boys on the floor with precision," Roman said. "There were mistakes, of course there were. But, for the most part it was executed to absolute perfection."
The coach said the Hawks knew the Lakers had Stone inside and DiAngelo to drive the ball to the hoop. "We made up our minds to work on a certain kind of switching defense that was going stifle that … And these boys [from North Haven] owned it today because those boys from Greenville never got it going. We were able to shut off their drives every time they came in."
The coach said Mao "played a phenomenal defensive game in the post."
Roman said even though the Hawks fell behind in the fourth quarter, at no point was he worried the islanders would not be able to pull out the victory. "I never doubted for one second. I look up at the score and I said, "Alright boys, time to dig a little bit deeper … Don't worry about it."
And when the final horn sounded, there was no worry, just smiles of happiness from the Hawks and their fans.
Tough Hyde next
Coach Cooper said it will be a tough challenge for the Hawks to beat the Phoenix in the next round. Hyde has a well-rounded, skilled team that includes several tall players, including 6-foot 6-inch Akim Sanni, 6-4 Warsame Mohamed and 6-3 Frederik Lasson, all of whom can dunk the ball.
"We have to stop their big kids," Roman said. "If we don't stop them, that is it. It is all under the boards. We are going to have to do all kinds of things so differently defensively than we have ever done [to give us a chance to win]."
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Ken Waltz has been member of the media 30 years and has received hundreds of Maine Press Association and New England Press Association awards for his writing, photography and page design. He studied journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. He lives in South Thomaston with his wife, Sarah. The couple has an adult son, Brandon.
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