Wade Morrill’s smile was part happiness, part relief. This is Morrill’s fourth season as the Valley High School boys basketball coach. Saturday morning’s 54-34 win over North Haven in the Western Class D quarterfinals was Morrill’s first in the playoffs.

It’s not as if Morrill and the Cavaliers didn’t come close. Last season, there was a one-point loss to Greenville in the quarterfinals. In 2010, there was a four-point quarterfinal loss to Vinalhaven. In 2009, it was a five-point loss to Richmond.

“I would like to say that there’s never any pressure when you coach at a traditionally powerful program like Valley, but there is some,” Morrill said. “To be able to get the monkey off our backs, so to speak, with a tournament win…There’s a lot of pride around basketball in our community. To be able to win in Augusta, to have these kids get their first win in Augusta, it’s just all gravy going forward.”

Morrill’s grin was a pressure release valve.

There was a time, not so long ago, some referred to the Western D boys basketball tournament as the Valley Invitational. From 1998 through 2005, the Cavaliers won eight consecutive regional titles. The first six years of that run, they won a record six straight state championships. There was the 101-game win streak. There was wins over Class A powerhouses like Bangor.

There was, for a time, nothing in the state like Valley basketball.

That’s what the current crop of Cavaliers, who were just children when Valley was the toast of Maine high school hoops, carry with them every time they take the court, especially when they play at the Augusta Civic Center.

“I remember coming down here and watching my cousin, Chris Willer, when I was younger. Watching the run,” senior guard Caleb Wade said.

One of the first things any visitor heading north on Route 201 into Bingham sees on the way into town is the sign in front of the Bingham Motor Inn, celebrating those six gold balls and four consecutive undefeated seasons. This generation of Valley players see the gold balls in the school’s trophy case every day they walk into the school’s lobby. They play under the banners celebrating those state titles.

Their head coach, Morrill, was a Valley player at the start of the streak. Assistant coach Luke Hartwell was a 1,000-point scorer and won four gold balls playing for Valley.

“We talk about it some. They’re no strangers to it. They understand. They see the gold balls the first thing every day when they come into school. They practice every day under the weight of the banners,” Morrill said “They understand they’re different players, and it’s a different generation. They work to meet their goals.”

The Cavaliers take inspiration from their past, rather than intimidation. They know what their predecessors accomplished. They also know they can’t live off games played a decade ago.

“With tradition, of course, there’s always some sort of pressure,” junior forward Josh West said. “I just remember cheering my butt off, wanting them to get those gold balls. They were so fast. It was fun to watch. The athleticism on that team was just stellar.”

The fans still come out for the Cavs, many in their blue T-shirts with the slogan “Fear the Cavalier” emblazoned on the back. There’s pressure on the Cavs to succeed, but success comes in different sizes. This year, getting that tournament win, earning another trip to Augusta, was a goal.

“I’ve been waiting three years for this. We just haven’t been fortunate enough,” junior Carrington Miller, whose older brothers Craig and Curtis played basketball for Valley, said. “We finally got that first game out of the way, and hopefully we can keep rolling.”

Last week, Morrill showed his team the 1998 state championship game. Many of them had never seen the game that started the Cavs’ run. Embrace the history, Morrill said. Don’t let it smother you.

“We’re proud of it. We’re very proud of it. Wearing a Valley uniform is something you should be proud of,” Morrill said. “You can be proud of it your entire life, if you take it with the seriousness that it deserves.”

At Valley, the gold balls and banners aren’t a weight. They’re a goal. No matter how many you have, there’s always room for more.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

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