Gavin Blanchard knows what he is on the basketball court. More importantly, the Erskine Academy junior knows what he is not.

“I’m not really a shooter or scorer, so I pick up the role that’s easiest to me,” Blanchard said.

When Erskine’s dominant big man Noah Bonsant went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, Blanchard knew his role would change. Although just 6-foot-1, Blanchard had to become a force on the boards for the Eagles, and he did. Averaging just over nine rebounds per game, Blanchard led the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A division in rebounding. While Blanchard is not going to score a lot of points, he is going to do the little things Erskine needs to win games.

“Gavin Blanchard will have two points in a game, but he’ll set seven screens for my shooters to get open and he’ll have 14 rebounds,” Erskine coach Tim Bonsant said. “At 6-foot-1, he’s extremely undersized, but he’s extremely powerful and pretty aggressive on the boards.”

Blanchard is a glue guy, the type of player every team needs, especially in the tournament. While the scorers grab much of the attention, it’s the glue guys doing the dirty work that often doesn’t show up in box scores that are invaluable for a deep tournament run.

“They’re what make good teams good,” Cony boys basketball coach T.J. Maines said. “Every team has one star. If you’re lucky, you have two. It’s that next group of kids that separate you from everybody else.”

Waterville girls basketball coach Rob Rodrigue said he sees fewer athletes willing to sacrifice personal stats for team goals than in the past. Rodrigue said he’s fortunate to have two such players with the Purple Panthers, senior guard Aly Drew and junior forward Hannah Leclair. Waterville enters Friday’s Class B North quarterfinal game against John Bapst on an 11-game win streak, and the play of Drew and Leclair has been key to that run, Rodrigue said.

“They may not get all the notoriety on the court, and I’ve had this conversation with them multiple times, casual fans don’t understand the role of these kids. They see them step on the court for eight, 10 minutes a night, and they have no understanding of the commitment they have to the program, just how instrumental they are to us getting where we’re at right now,” Rodrigue said.

Drew said her role is to be a button pusher, a player who comes off the bench and turns up the Panthers’ energy level. In a midseason game at Mount View, Drew did that, coming into the game late and helping Waterville hold on for a 35-32 win.

“We were starting to get a little tired, and it was noticeable,” Drew said.

Leclair said she sees her job being able to recognize “what needs to happen when it needs to happen.” That could mean making an extra pass to find an open shot, setting a screen, or simply playing tough defense. When Ellsworth made a run and narrowed a Waterville lead in Tuesday’s preliminary round game, Leclair felt like she needed to push her teammates to cut off the Eagles’ rally.

“It was important to push our teammates. We can do one more up and down the court. We can do one more offensive run. Keep saying push push push, and that’s what we need to do in every practice,” Leclair said.

Added Rodrigue: “They want to make our best scorer work in practice. They want to fill in any role to get on the court, whether that means they’re a guard and they have to slide into the post position for a couple days if a kid is down with an injury. It’s the effort they practice with every single day. I’m not really easy on kids, and listening to me crab at them isn’t easy for four years, three years. But they come in and enjoy being here and work very hard. I value those kids a tremendous amount.”

Richmond girls coach Mike Ladner said his glue player is sophomore Lindsie Irish.

“She’s our team mom. She’s very organized,” Ladner said of Irish. “She’s getting loose balls, she’s covering the other team’s best post player. She averages three or four points per game, but when she does score, it’s usually in a big moment.”

Ladner pointed out a scoring binge Irish went on in a game late in the regular season. Irish made a 3-pointer, then a layup, and the Bobcats were once again in control of a close game.

“She changed the momentum for us in a big way,” Ladner said.

At Nokomis, Brock Graves was one of the top shooters in the KVAC this season, making around 52 percent of his attempts. In the Warriors’ offense, Graves is at best the fourth option on most possessions. Not because he can’t shoot, but Nokomis need Graves more as a low post defender. Accepting his role, Graves helped Nokomis go 12-6 in the regular season and earn the two seed in the Class A North tournament.

“He plays around the rim for us,” Nokomis coach Ryan Martin said. “He just does his role well. He doesn’t take a lot of shots, but he takes smart shots. He’s pretty critical to our success.”

Coach Bonsant said he gives his team a short basketball IQ test. He asks, would you rather scored 35 and lose, or score two and win?

“I’m looking for a kid who’s not interested in his stats. He’s interested in his team winning,” Bonsant said. “I guess I’m guiding them with the answer… I’ll pick the kid who’s going to give me everything they have, whether they play great defense or box out and rebound. The ultimate goal is to win. I don’t want kids who are looking at their individual stats. You don’t win with kids like that.”

Erskine’s state championship-winning team in 2004 had stars like Matt Donar and Josh Jones, but when Bonsant thinks of the state championship game win over Gorham, he thinks of Kevin Haskell. If there’s a Glue Guy Hall of Fame, Haskell is enshrined.

“I think he had five points in the state game, but he had 17 rebounds. At 6-foot-2 I don’t think he could touch the rim, but to grab 17 rebounds in the state game? He was just the glue of the team,” Bonsant said.

Maines feels two of his glue guys with Cony this season are Ian Bowers and Brian Stratton, and pointed to their versatility. Bowers is a rebounder who has developed a shooter’s touch, Maines said, pointing out that as a sophomore last season, Bowers did not score one point from the floor all season. Stratton has evolved into a dependable outside shooter and one of Cony’s strong defenders.

“They’ve come along like gangbusters,” Maines said.

With the tournament starting, the scorers will grab a lot of attention. The glue players will continue to do their hard work. If it’s not noticed in the stands, it certainly will be noticed on the sidelines.

“We talk about sacrificing yourself for the greater good of the group. Aly and Hannah do a wonderful job exemplifying that,” Rodrigue said. “They do a tremendous job coming out and supporting their teammates, and giving it everything they’ve got when I call their name. They’re ready. They’re flying off the bench.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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