Greenville’s Samuel Lane (20) defends Forest Hills’ Jackman Daigle during the first half of the Class D South championship game last Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — It happens every day at Forest Hills High School, like the morning announcements and lunch. Freshman Mason Desjardins walks past the framed Morning Sentinel story, the one published last March recapping the Tigers’ run to the Class D state championship, and he points at the same quote by coach Anthony Amero every time. It’s near the end of the story, and Amero is assessing his team’s chances at a repeat.

“The goal next year is to sneak in at the back end (of the tournament) and surprise some people in February,” Amero said last March when he was thinking less about the 2019-20 season and more about the undefeated run his team just completed.

“Mason points at it every day,” Amero said Wednesday afternoon.

In that moment, Amero didn’t mean to issue a challenge to his returning players, but that’s how it turned out. Three new starters — Mason Desjardins, sophomore Jackman Daigle, and junior Joey Poulin — joined returners Hunter Cuddy and Parker Desjardins, Mason’s older brother, and the Tigers didn’t miss a beat. At 21-0, Forest Hills extended its win streak to 43 games, and will take the court on the season’s final day for the fifth time in eight years.

Forest Hills will play for its second straight Class D gold ball when it takes on Machias at 2:45 p.m., Saturday  at the Augusta Civic Center.

It’s easy to see why Amero thought this might be a rebuilding year for the Tigers. The team returned two proven scorers in Parker Desjardins and Cuddy, who each reached the 1,000-point milestone this season and combined to average almost 53 points per game this season. The loss of a strong senior class led by Jakob Rivas, Brandon Gilboe and Dalton Gregoire, left a void Amero thought could take much of the regular season to fill.

Enter Daigle, Poulin and Mason Desjardins.

“Their commitment level is more than I hoped for,” Amero said. “They play all the time.”

Desjardins and Daigle each have family connections to successful Forest Hills teams of the past. Desjardins, the Tigers’ sixth man as an eighth grader last season, plays countless pickup games with his brother Parker and Cuddy, their neighbor in Jackman. That unstructured competition has helped Desjardins develop his game. He averaged12.2 per points per game and scored 11 points in Forest Hills’ 74-44 win over Greenville in the D South championship game Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.

“I’ve been playing with these guys for a while,” Desjardins said. “My game improved when we work as a team together. I work well off screens.”

The 6-foot-3 Daigle is the third Daigle brother to win a gold ball with Forest Hills, after Tanner (2013) and Dawson (2015). Daigle averages 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, as well as just over a steal per game.

“I definitely wanted to work on my post moves, and scoring layups for my team,” Daigle said about his prep for the season.

Older brother Dawson helped Daigle improve his defense. Older brother Tanner, the biggest Daigle brother at 6-4, helped Jackman improve his offensive game. Working with his brothers made Daigle tougher.

“Jackman grew up at the (Augusta) Civic Center, watching his brothers play in the tournament,” Amero said. “Those backyard games can’t be fun for him. They beat him up.”

Desjardins and Daigle grew up playing basketball, immersed in the game and its connection with their school and town. Poulin moved to Jackman from Saint-Prosper, Quebec in time for his freshman year at Forest Hills. That year, Poulin, who played a little youth ice hockey, did not play basketball.

“We don’t have hockey, so we made (Poulin) play basketball. I credit Parker and Hunter for that one. They convinced him to play,” Amero said. “It wasn’t just that he was raw, he was uncoordinated because he’d grown so much.”

This season, just his second playing organized basketball, the 6-3 Poulin averaged 4.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. In the South regional tournament, Poulin upped his scoring average to just under seven points per game, proof the still-growing forward is learning how to put his body and newfound basketball skills to work.

“It helps me to play against bigger guys,” Poulin said. “I’ve gotten a lot better at post play.”

Added Amero: “He has a high basketball IQ. He will ask questions and you love a kid who will ask questions. He’s always thinking on the court.”

Cuddy and senior Jeremiah Hale are the only graduation losses coming to Forest Hills. The experience the new first-year starters and Parker Desjardins will bring back should make the Tigers a contender again next season. If Amero tries to refer to the 2020-21 season as a rebuilding year, nobody will believe him, and Mason Desjardins will be back to make sure of it.

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