AUGUSTA — Todd MacArthur was surprised at what he was watching from his seat near the floor of the Augusta Civic Center. Then George Stevens, as if on cue, began to look like George Stevens.

Back came the fast pace. The tenacious rebounding and blocked shots. The inside-out passing and red-hot perimeter shooting. All the attributes that MacArthur, who took his Winthrop boys basketball team to last year’s Class C championship game and a showdown with those Eagles, got to see for himself.

“I don’t think that was their best game, but I think they’re still firing on all cylinders,” said MacArthur, whose team fell to George Stevens, 47-44, in March. “They’re a tough team. They’re not one-dimensional, they play good D, they get up and down the court quite well. … They look good.”

Augusta area basketball fans got a rare chance to see it for themselves at the Maine Gold Rush Invitational Tournament on Tuesday. The 12-team tournament consists mostly of Central Maine squads, but included in that mix this year are the Eagles, who play an hour and 45 minutes away, have won two straight state titles and, with most of the core from those championship squads back, wanted to get an early look at the venue for this year’s Class C final just in case they’re playing for a third.

“We came because we wanted to play on the floor, and we wanted to play against some teams we never get to play against and some good competition,” said Eagles coach Dwayne Carter, whose team opened with a 73-64 victory over A North Erskine Academy. “To play against Class A is good, we try to play against good competition as much as we can. Win, lose or draw, it’s better for us. It makes us better.”

They’ve been good enough as it is. The Eagles’ two-year run is, by any standard, utterly bonkers. George Stevens went 43-1 on its way to back-to-back titles, with a perfect record against Class C competition. These weren’t senior-laden teams either; Taylor Schildroth, the team’s superb guard and top scorer both years, is back for his senior year, as is Max Mattson, the towering center who snatches rebounds and swats shots with ease while also showing a dangerous mid-range touch.

The result was status as an overwhelming favorite coming into this season, and a bulls-eye on the back the Eagles were more than eager to embrace.

“It’s kind of fun,” Schildroth said. “I don’t mind it, because you know you’re going to get the best game out of everyone. It adds an intense element to it, you know there are going to be big crowds when you go to away gyms.”

With star players back and a solid cast of role players ready to replace the players that did leave, the pieces seemed to be in place for another romp through another flawless season. It took one game into this season for that narrative to be dashed, however. George Stevens finally fell and fell hard, dropping its opener to Lee Academy, 62-47.

The 43-1 juggernaut was 0-1 in its three-peat attempt. Lesson learned.

“I think we kind of thought we were going to show up and win. So it was kind of a reality check,” Carter said. “I always tell them, ‘Everyone’s bringing their ‘A’ game, everyone’s going to play us tough, they’re going to bring their best game. We have to be ready.’ I think that was the reality. ‘Whoa. Coach was right.’ ”

His players had the same takeaway.

“I think we were playing too much of the ‘we’re so great’ card,” Mattson said. “It brought us back down, and made us work harder than we have.”

It was the Eagles’ first Class C defeat since a 2015 playoff loss to Orono, and Carter said it lit a spark with his team — not always an easy task with a two-time defending champion.

“They lost a playoff game their freshman year against Orono, and that was the last time it actually hurt,” he said. “Until we lost our first game of the year. That one hurt.”

Since then, Stevens has won each game by as many as 62 points or as few as three, simultaneously showcasing dominance and grit.

“Practices hadn’t been going as well as they had been, then you go out and get punched in the mouth first game and it’s like ‘All right, wake up,’ ” Schildroth said.

That poise was on display Tuesday. George Stevens stumbled out of the gate, allowing Erskine to jump out to a 22-9 lead, but the Eagles climbed back. Mattson scored eight points and Schildroth tallied five during a second quarter that trimmed the gap to 33-26, and in the third quarter, a 12-0 run gave George Stevens a 54-47 lead going into the fourth. Mattson (23 points) had 13 points and Schildroth (27 points) had 11 in the quarter, and in the fourth, Caden Mattson scored 10 of his 12 points to seal the comeback.

It was an impressive rally from a team that, according to Hall-Dale coach Chris Ranslow, adds some more intrigue to a largely local tournament.

“You’ve got Erskine, who we see a lot. You’ve got Winthrop, who we see a lot,” said Ranslow, whose team is off to its own fine start in C South at 5-0. “Then you get somebody like George Stevens from away that comes down, it just sprinkles in a little something different.”

The Augusta fans might get to see the Eagles again. MacArthur has a hunch they will.

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for what they do with their program,” he said. “If you were to bet against them you’d probably be making a wrong bet, because you’ll probably see them again in the state championship game.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.