BINGHAM — All the inspiration for this basketball season came to Dylan Belanger as last season ended at the Augusta Civic Center in the Western Class D championship game, a 40-33 loss to Forest Hills.
“I really wanted to win that game. I saw how happy they looked cutting down those nets, and I wanted that to be me. That’s what really motivated me,” Belanger, a Valley High School senior, said.
Last Saturday, Belanger and the Cavaliers got to experience the joy that comes with a good net cutting following their 50-49 win over Hyde in the regional final. On Saturday, the Cavs will be back at the Augusta Civic Center for the Class D state championship game against Hodgdon.
This has been a strong senior season for Belanger, who always considered baseball his first sports love.
“That’s the way I’ve always been. Growing up (in Bingham), everybody plays basketball,” Belanger said.
This season, he devoted himself a little harder to basketball, and it paid off. Belanger averages 12 points, five rebounds and three assists per game for Valley, and he was selected to play for the Class C/D West team in the McDonald’s All-Star Basketball Game at Husson University in Bangor on March 8.
“I was happy other coaches selected him. The things Dylan does get overlooked in an all-star type game,” Valley coach Luke Hartwell said. “He’s one of those kids that, he’s a stat filler. He gets a lot of rebounds, a lot of steals, but his stats don’t wow you. At the end of the day, you look, another great all-around game by Dylan.”
Belanger said his improvement this season came from an all-around increased commitment to basketball. To be specific, Hartwell saw big improvement in Belanger’s shooting touch. In the Western Maine tournament, Belanger made three 3-pointers. One of those came early in the fourth quarter of Valley’s 50-40 semifinal win over Forest Hills, and helped the Cavs begin to pull away from the top-seeded Tigers. The other two came in the second and third quarters of the regional final against Hyde, when the Cavs were keeping the game close before making their game-winning run late in the fourth.
“It’s incredible. He’s really improved his shot tremendously. More importantly, he’s gotten more confidence in his shooting. That’s been huge,” Hartwell said.
“I’m looking to have the ball more,” Belanger said.
Hartwell also coached Belanger in middle school, and said Belanger’s leadership qualities were evident even then. Hartwell described Belanger as a coach on the floor.
“He comes into practice every day with a smile on his face, but when it comes down to work, he’s all business. I love that about him,” Hartwell said.