AUGUSTA — The victory that stunned the state didn’t do the same for the people that pulled it off.

Make no mistake, the Skowhegan boys basketball team was thrilled in the moments following its 54-53 vanquishing of undefeated top-seed Medomak Valley in the quarterfinals of the A North tournament. The beaming smiles and joyous expressions were testament to that. This was a team that needed to play at its peak to survive Saturday night, and one that may have even surpassed it.

But stunned? Shocked? Surprised? Not quite. Long before they jolted the Maine basketball scene with the upset of the tournament, the Indians were convinced they could do it.

“Coming into the game, I had the mentality that we were going to win this game,” senior forward Garrett McSweeney said. “If I had the mentality that we weren’t going to win, then I really shouldn’t be here playing these guys right now.”

The boys and girls tournaments are still in their first days, but it’s difficult to imagine either having a more astonishing development than the one that transpired late into Saturday night. This was a Medomak Valley team that, at 18-0, deserved consideration for the distinction of being the best team in the state. This was a Skowhegan team that, at 10-9, had to survive two overtimes in a preliminary victory over Brewer just to make it to the Civic Center.

On paper, it had the makings of a blowout. Coach Tom Nadeau saw otherwise. He saw a team that lost to Hampden by 33, Brewer, Erskine and Mount View twice during the season, but one that also beat Winslow and Gardiner in its home gym. He saw a team that, sure, could lose to anyone, but could also run with anyone — Medomak Valley included.

“I don’t think we’re the traditional eighth seed,” he said. “I think we’ve been up and down all season. We’ve been inconsistent. We’ve had the capabilities to play well, and play with anybody.”

It took everything the Indians had, and Nadeau got everything. He got a team with a knack for making the exact play — be it a steal, rebound, shot or charge — it needed to keep the Panthers from pulling away and shaking off victim No. 19.

He got a hard-nosed performance in the paint from McSweeney (12 points), Kiel Lachapelle and Cam Barnes, who, while combining for a modest 10 rebounds, challenged shots and won battles for putbacks throughout the night despite giving up inches and pounds to Medomak’s towering trio of Kyle Donlin (6-foot-4), Cameron Martin (6-5) and Cam Allaire (6-7).

And he got a sparkling performance from Brendan Curran, one of Skowhegan’s senior captains, who kept his team’s hopes alive with a game-high 17 points and unyielding perimeter defense that he turned into four steals.

“We have a lot of great players on our team. It doesn’t have to be one particular guy on any given night,” Curran said. “It could be any of us on any night who has a good night, and it just happened to be me.”

It added up to the formula for an upset Nadeau had compiled in his head, then shared with his players.

“This is exactly how I envisioned it if we were going to be able to pull out a victory,” he said. “One possession at a time, battle, battle, battle. I told them, if we just stick with it, stay close toward the end, you never know what’s going to happen.”

There was one other ingredient. Nadeau stressed belief, and confidence to his players that they could win, and would win.

“There was probably no one else who believed we could win that game,” Curran said, “except for us in that locker room.”

The faith never wavered. Not when Skowhegan trailed 17-10 after one quarter. Not as they fought to a 38-38 tie after three. And not when, with just under three minutes to go, Curran stole the ball and went the other way for a breakaway layup, putting the Indians ahead 48-46.

Suddenly, there was a different feeling. The Indians always knew they could win. Now they knew that, by hanging on a little longer, they were going to.

“From the start, we knew we could play with them,” Curran said. “But it was probably a bit into the fourth quarter when we realized ‘Wow, we are right in this.’ ”

With one minute to play, McSweeney stood at the free-throw line, his team up 52-48 and given a chance to inch closer to a win he saw coming from the opening tip. Cool and collected, he buried both, and the anticipation grew.

“I have the mentality that I’m not going to miss,” he said. “Just stay focused, finish the game off. It’s not over until the buzzer sounds.”

And it wasn’t. Medomak Valley hit a 3-pointer to cut the gap to 54-51, two free throws to make it a one-score game, and had the ball after rebounding a missed free throw with 11 seconds left. But the Panthers’ jumper hit iron, McSweeney caught the rebound, and bedlam broke out at the Civic Center as Skowhegan players celebrated and jubilant fans poured down from the stands.

The scene lingered well after the game had ended. Orange- and black-clad fans shared their disbelief at what had happened, while players and coach discussed how they found a way to keep their season alive against — to everyone else — insurmountable odds.

“It’s surreal, really,” McSweeney said. “The whole game, I was thinking ‘We can beat these guys.’ I believe in my players, I believe in my coach.”

There’s that word again.

“We talked about believing,” Nadeau said. “That was our motto the whole time, in practice yesterday. Just to believe.

“It means a lot. The excitement that I saw on the guys’ faces, it’s awesome to see. It’s something that we haven’t had at Skowhegan in a long time.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.