MADISON — Even before the Unified basketball playoffs had begun, there was a success story going in.

Sixteen teams are participating in the Maine Principals’ Association tournament, but this will be a whole new experience for one team. Madison is in its first year as its own Unified program, but the tournament newcomers should hardly be taken lightly — all the Bulldogs have done in their first season is win all seven games they played, earning the No. 2 seed in the North region and receiving a bye to the semifinals as a result.

We’re about 50/50 on kids that, to them, being successful and winning is very important. And then we have some kids that are just happy to be there and play and have fun,” coach Josh Bishop said. “We have a whole group of kids that are really excited to play in the playoffs. And they have a goal to try to make a little bit of a run, which is awesome.”

The tournament was scheduled to begin Tuesday with preliminary games in the South region between No. 7 Marshwood/Noble and No. 10 Oak Hill (1-5), and No. 8 Morse and No. 9 Edward Little. The quarterfinals begin Thursday, when in the South region No. 1 Gray-New Gloucester and No. 2 Westbrook will play the preliminary winners, No. 3 Lewiston will face No. 6 Greely and No. 4 Lisbon will face No. 5 Thornton Academy.

In the North region, the quarterfinal matchups Thursday will be No. 3 Bucksport vs. No. 6 Carrabec (3-3) and No. 4 Oceanside vs. No. 5 Foxcroft. The Bucksport-Carrabec winner will play No. 2 Madison, and the other winner will play No. 1 Hampden/Bangor.

After a fine regular season, the Bulldogs are ready to try their hand at the postseason.

I definitely feel like there is pressure there because it is our first year, and we have expectations to meet and we want to meet them,” said sophomore Christian Cabrera, one of the team’s four partners along with Ashley Carrier, Jennifer Dean and Brad Peters. “But at the same time, we’re just having fun on the court. Win or lose, we’re going to have fun.”

Madison had been part of a co-op with Carrabec, but numbers from both schools were healthy enough this season for there to be separate teams.

If we were to combine, we would have had something like 16 players on the team. And that would have been very hard to give everybody a lot of playing time,” Bishop said. “And so ultimately, the whole point of this is to get kids playing time and get kids having fun, and it’s not as much fun sitting and only playing five minutes a game as it is playing 15 or 20.”

There were plenty of unknowns, but from the start, Bishop said the dedication of players like juniors Roger Picard and Scott Sawtelle, sophomore Cameron Ellis and freshman Matthew Estes made the team a competitive unit right away.

You walk into the gym at any free time, and you’ll see our players are always some of the kids shooting,” he said. “If you go to the courts in the summertime, if there are only six or seven kids, three of them are Unified players that are putting in that time and effort.”

I’ll play down at the courts, down by the Irving,” Picard said. “I’ll be down there pretty much all the time in summertime, trying to practice for Unified.”

Bishop said the four partners run most of the practices.

“As partners, from the previous game we’ll say ‘OK, what do we need to work on?’ ” Cabrera said. “Then we’ll just kind of work on whatever we need to. … We’ve worked ridiculously hard to get to this point. We’ve been determined.”

Sawtelle said that teamwork shows itself during the games.

“(It’s) my first year playing Unified, (and) I didn’t really expect it to go this way,” he said. “We have good communication on the court. A lot of ball movement, a lot of passing.”

It didn’t take long for Bishop’s players to start looking ahead to what they could potentially accomplish.

“Almost every morning I had my kids coming up to me asking me to pull up the Heal points and show them where we were at in the Heal point standings,” Bishop said. “Once we got to about 3-0, the thought process started coming. ‘Hey, this could be a pretty special season.’ “

And now that the time his players had been talking about has come, Bishop doesn’t expect them to be nervous.

“It’d be cool to go and win a state championship,” he said, “but at the same time it’s just as cool to be part of something that’s just taken off the last couple of years.”

Maybe Sawtelle said it best.

“Everybody’s ready for it,” he said. “It’s basically a regular game.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

 

Madison’s Jasmine Jewell dribbles a basketball during a unified practice Tuesday afternoon in Madison. Contributed photo

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