WALES — It’s been more than a decade since the Oak Hill girls basketball team won a playoff game.

In fact, nobody can even remember exactly when the last one was. It came before the 2010-11 season — that much we know. The Maine Principal Association’s online tournament archives go back through that winter at the very least.

For the second consecutive season, the Raiders — who ran away to win over Monmouth in their final home game Thursday night — are lining up to enter the Class B South regional tournament as the No. 2 seed. Last winter, Oak Hill didn’t make it out of their quarterfinal round.  The year before that, bounced again in the quarters.

The prior year spared Oak Hill; the Raiders didn’t qualify for the postseason.

In each of the 2015 and 2016 tournaments, Oak Hill fell victim in the preliminary round.

To say it’s been a habit the Raiders have tried to break would be an understatement.

“The girls have really made it a goal of theirs and talked a lot about in during the preseason. ‘How are we going to win a playoff game?’” Oak Hill coach Mike Labonte said prior to Thursday’s game. “It’s a challenge. They’re aware of the situation. Maybe some of that is in their heads. We just talk about working hard, being positive and getting better every day. For the most part, that’s what we do.

“We really thought last year we had a good chance, but if we get the right matchup, we might have a good chance this year, too.”

But Labonte also has some perspective here. He was part of a team that once had no regular season success of any kind, let alone of the postseason variety.

“When I started coaching in Lewiston (in 2009), we lost like 70 games in a row, “ Labonte said. “We were getting killed every night. If we could have played in a division where we could have won a few games here and there, I certainly would have taken it.”

Make no mistake, he’s competitive and he’d love to see his girls celebrate a tournament win in front of a big crowd on the big stage at the Portland Expo — but he knows what the Raiders are up against.

Oak Hill is a longstanding member of the Mountain Valley Conference, where 11 of its 14 teams line up with an eye on the Class C South regional tournament. With its student body enrollment (399 in 2019, according to the MPA), Oak Hill is one of the three MVC teams only eligible for Class B postseason play in girls basketball.

Mountain Valley and Lisbon are the others.

What that alignment has meant, more often than not, and in sports like soccer and softball, too, is that the Raiders pile up wins (Thursday’s win was the team’s 30th in the last two years combined) while realizing that there’s much bigger fish lurking the regional tournament waters.

Freeport. Wells. Yarmouth. Cape Elizabeth.

“I think we really are a C South school, but the enrollment doesn’t say that,” Labonte said. “We’re not heads or tails above (the other MVC teams), and they’re not heads or tails above us. It just is what it is. The athletic director and the school council decided they wanted us to play in this conference so the kids would have a little more success during the regular season, and I can’t argue with that.”

Nobody has fewer losses than Oak Hill in the regular season this winter in B South, but those teams are lining up against one another with the Raiders squaring off many nights against — with all due respect — struggling programs like Wiscasset or Telstar.

When Oak Hill has met the iron of the MVC, teams like Winthrop, Boothbay, Monmouth and Madison — they’ve fared well. In fact, the Raiders’ three losses this season are by a combined seven points. With the MVC’s three-tiered scheduling system pairing opponents in the second half of the season based on expected strength, the Raiders close the year with a five-game stretch including Class B programs in the conference, the defending Class C state champions and current top seed in Class C South Winthrop.

Labonte hopes that helps with tournament preparation. He also plans on trying some new things during the 10-day layoff between the final game of the regular season at Winthrop on Wednesday and the Class B South quarterfinals on Feb. 15. In each of the last two seasons he’s tried scrimmages, altering practice plans, playing Oak Hill’s boys team, anything and everything to try and have his squad ready for the rigors of the regional tournament.

So far, nothing has produced that elusive postseason victory.

“I don’t have the magic pill for it, because if I did we wouldn’t be talking about it now,” Labonte said with a laugh. “But how many teams make the playoffs across the state? Almost every team that has a really good season (and goes to the postseason) loses its final game. If you’ve had a decent season, you’re going to lose your last game. Is it a colossal failure? No. Is it disappointing? Yeah. Anybody who loses a game in the tournament is going to be disappointed. But we don’t harp on that part of it.”


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