The ride home following the state championship is one of the best parts of winning the Gold Ball. The Lawrence girls got the escort from Augusta to Fairfield after beating Thornton for the Class A title on Saturday, and the Forest Hills boys journeyed back to Jackman after defeating Fort Fairfield in the Class D game in Bangor.

“Oh, the Eastern Maine parade and reception was great, but this was five times better,” Lawrence coach John Donato said. “We had more police. We had more fire engines. We had more people along the route. If you were there, you would have known that all Lawrence was there. They just packed the place. That’s a tribute to the community.”

“We need to have a chorus program for the boys,” Forest Hills coach Anthony Amero said. “They were singing the whole way home. We play basketball a lot better than we sing.”

The Forest Hills contingent stopped at Pizza Hut in Newport, where they happened to run into the Valley boys, who were on their way back to Bingham after receiving the Western D sportsmanship banner. Amero indicated a few fans stopped off Exit 157 as well.

“Rumor has it they bought out the fireworks store in Newport,” Amero said. “When we came up on Main Street (in Jackman), it looked like Fourth of July. The streets were lined with people on both sides. There were police, border patrol, ambulances, logging trucks. I think there were a couple plow trucks.”

• • •

When Amero was 19 years old, he applied for the seventh-grade boys basketball coaching job at Williams Elementary School in Oakland. He was given the eighth-grade girls job instead.

At age 25, the varsity girls job at Messalonskee opened up. Amero applied and was told by Duke Albanese that he was the runner-up. Instead of Amero, Messalonskee hired a veteran coach named John Donato. Amero ended up serving as Donato’s assistant for one season.

“That was a great year for me,” Amero said. “I learned a lot of junk defenses under him. That was the first time I heard the word ‘junk.’ We were going to play Cony, and John’s like, ‘Let’s throw some junk at them.'”

• • •

Donato has coached for nearly 40 years and won over 500 games, so it’s probably not surprising that he has connections to a few of Saturday’s other state champions.

The Houlton girls edged Maranacook for the Class C title, and freshman Kolleen Bouchard led the Shiretowners with 18 points. Donato coached Bouchard’s mother, Karen Spurling, at Houlton High School.

“I also coached Marty Bouchard, the father, in baseball,” Donato said. “The Gilpin players from Hampden, I coached their mother.”

• • •

Nia Irving is always a big element of Lawrence’s game plan, and that was especially true against Thornton, which plays a man-to-man defense. If Irving had made every single one of her field goal attempts, and each of her foul shots, she would have scored 32 points. She actually scored 27 for an amazing display of efficiency.

“(The game) came down to getting the ball inside to Nia,” Donato said. “They had no answer defensively against Nia.”

Irving shot 71.4 percent from the line during the regular season, and made 11 of 12 on Saturday. When Thornton was called for a technical foul, Donato chose Irving for the foul shots, and she hit both.

“I don’t know her stats for the week, but she must have shot 90 percent for the tournament,” Donato said.

• • •

Amero was hoarse when he was interviewed by phone from his home on Sunday afternoon.

“The phone has rang all day,” he said, “and it’s a good thing, because I remember when we lost the state game, it didn’t ring very much.”

The Tigers had 12 players on their roster for Saturday’s game, and that’s with a total high school enrollment of 54 students.

“It’s just part of the culture up here,” Amero said. “I think it’s an honor to play basketball here. I really do. With the older kids, the younger kids kind of gravitate toward them. Next year, I don’t know what I’m going to do with them all. We could have more than 15.”

The dozen players was a program record, Amero said.

“It was weird in practice,” he said. “I had to change all my drills. We ended up playing a lot of 4-on-6.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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