AUGUSTA — The Skowhegan boys basketball team lost its first game. Then five of its first seven. Then nine of its first 14.

And yet, all along, even as the season inched closer and closer to becoming a lost cause, coach Tom Nadeau preached the same thing to his players.

“We told them, we reminded them on a daily basis,” he said. ” ‘Fellas, we’re better than our record. We know this. You’ve just got to be patient, got to stick with it.’ ”

They did, and now the Indians are reaping the benefits. A seventh seed with an underwhelming 8-10 record coming in, Skowhegan has nevertheless become the Class A North tournament’s Cinderella, beating higher seeds in No. 2 Hampden Academy, 68-63, and then No. 6 Brewer, 58-46, to reach the regional final.

Asked if he agreed with the label, Nadeau smiled.

Sure. A little bit, right?” he said. “People said it right from the beginning, anybody in A North could win it. One through eight. It’s just one of those things.”

Perhaps, but it was a stretch to envision Skowhegan being one of those eight teams during a frustrating start to the season, one that, standings-wise, reached a nadir with a 57-54 loss to Brewer on Jan. 25 that dropped the Indians to 5-9.

At times we were getting a little frustrated,” senior forward Marcus Christopher said, “but coach kept telling us to fight and scrap.”

Skowhegan senior Marcus Christopher (4) drives the lane against Mt. Blue High School during a game earlier this season in Skowhegan. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Nadeau kept stressing the point because he believed it. The Indians were losing games, but they weren’t getting blown out.

Honestly, our record wasn’t indicative of how good we actually were,” he said. “We lost seven games where, at the two-minute mark, it’s a two-possession game.”

As frustrated as the players were getting, junior guard Carter Hunt said there was never an urge to give up on the season.

“We hated losing those close games, and coach did too,” he said. “He let us know that we’re capable of winning and a good team, better than our record shows. … Coach pushed us every day in practice and guys showed up ready to practice and ready to push themselves too.”

Then, the breakthrough happened. Skowhegan beat a Class B tournament team in Winslow, a Class A contender in Messalonskee and then a high seed in Class A in Lawrence, clinching a spot in the A North field for the Indians and confirming what Nadeau had been saying all along.

“Our backs were against the wall. We told the boys that,” he said. “We told them ‘Two weeks left. Our playoffs start now. If you want to get in and take care of business, you’ve got to do it yourselves, and not rely on anybody else.’ ”

With those wins, the Indians’ confidence, which had never gone away, began to climb.

“The teams we were beating, Lawrence, Messalonskee, those were teams that were fighting with the top teams every single night,” Christopher said. “When we were able to beat them, we were like ‘All right, maybe we’ve got a chance to go on a deep run in the tournament.’ It’s paid off.”

They were in, but the Indians’ road wasn’t an easy one. Skowhegan’s first test, the second-seeded Broncos, have been an A North power for years, were the defending champion, and were arguably the favorite once again coming in.

But the Indians had Christopher, one of A North’s best players all season, and he carried his team again, scoring 28 points, notching basket after basket to keep Hampden at bay, and going 7-for-10 from the line in the fourth quarter to bring Skowhegan to the finish line.

“The end of the season definitely boosted our confidence, but that win the other day just gave us even more,” Christopher said. “All of it together has just given us a lot.”

Skowhegan had another challenge ahead in Brewer, a lower seed, but also a team that had beaten the Indians in both matchups in the regular season.

That narrative changed too — Skowhegan had Brewer beat from start to finish, leading by eight at halftime, 10 after three quarters and 12 at the final buzzer. Christopher scored a team-high 18 points.

“We just came in confident. We knew everyone was going to doubt us, we had nothing to lose,” said Hunt, who scored 17 points. “The pressure was on them to close it out and win, so we came out with all the confidence in the world and we fought as hard as we could.”

Skowhegan’s hoping the run has a little more magic left in it. In Lawrence, the Indians get a team much like themselves — a team that is also confident, also battle-tested, and also ready to thrive in this moment.

The Indians always knew those traits applied to them. Even when few others did.

“I always knew it was there deep down,” Hunt said. “Some games it didn’t come out, and some games it did. Just to see it come out here, in big playoff games, is really special.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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