Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of our series, “Catching Up With,” in which we catch up with some people we’ve covered over the last few decades.

It seems to almost be tradition now at the Augusta Civic Center.

Every February, the Forest Hills boys basketball team travels the 107 miles from Jackman to Augusta, usually for a deep run in the Western Class D playoffs. A large contingent of fans taking up a corner of the arena, wearing orange trucker hats with “Jackman” adorned on the front. And every couple of years — lately, the last two consecutive years — the Tigers are the last ones standing, bringing another Gold Ball home.

But just over seven years ago, the Tigers were still in search of their first state title. A hungry, unselfish unit had the drive — and improved play — to beat Central Aroostook 55-48 at the Bangor Auditorium to finish with a 20-2 record and capture the program’s first Gold Ball.

The Tigers had reached the Class D final during the 2011-2012 season, but were soundly defeated 83-45 by Jonesport-Beals. In order to get back to the state final and win, Forest Hills had some work to do.

“We were very confident,” sophomore Tanner Daigle said. “We just knew, with (head coach Anthony) Amero coaching us, and the thought of reaching the state game again, we were just going to do it. We had big parts coming back, and we were ready to work harder, get better and come out on top.”

“In 2013, it was more of a mission to prove (ourselves) type of atmosphere,” sophomore Matt Turner said. “I was a part of the team that got crushed by Jonesport. Coming into 2013, it was more of a ‘OK, Jonesport had their turn, now it’s our turn,’ type of atmosphere.”

Forest Hills gained momentum, and confidence, during the regular season after victories over Greenville and Valley, which proved to be a tough opponent throughout the season.

“(Valley) had pieces that matched us,” Daigle said. “But I think some of it was just, our bench — though it wasn’t big — our bench had just a little more experience, and conditioning-wise, we were just a little more on top. We were able to rotate players onto star players, like Carrington (Miller of Valley). We’d have Brandon (Ouellette) — who’s small and quick — guard him. I guarded Carrington, and I’m a little bit larger, not as quick as Brandon, but still quick on my feet. So Amero would try to throw him off by throwing different (defensive) matchups, and we were able to rotate and do our part.”

The Tigers cruised through the playoffs, beating Richmond 74-41 in the quarterfinals, along with a 78-50 win over A.R. Gould in the semifinals.

“The Gould game, I think that’s when my brother and I dropped 51 (combined points) together,” sophomore Brandon Ouellette said. “Everything at that point was just flowing.”

Forest Hills was led offensively on the floor by senior Evan Worster, who averaged over 19 points per game during the regular season. However, on any given evening, any of the starting five could end up the leading scorer. Derick Ouellette averaged 20 points per game during the playoffs and was named the Western Class D tournament most valuable player. Brandon Ouellette scored 19 points in the win over Gould, and Ryan Petrin scored 17 points in the victory over Richmond.

“We were very well-rounded,” senior Derick Ouellette said. “We just played really well together. It was just a fun team to be on. Everybody was good that year.”

Forest Hills would meet Valley in the Western D regional final. Derick Ouellette would lead the Tigers with 19 points, while Petrin added 11 points for a 40-33 win and a second consecutive regional crown.

“The biggest thing was my brother coming up clutch in the fourth quarter, shooting free throws,” Brandon Ouellette said. “That’s what got us out of the hole and take back the lead.”

The Tigers would meet Eastern D champion Central Aroostook in the state final at the Bangor Auditorium. It was one of the final games played in the historic building, which was demolished just three months later.

“We made a trip (to Bangor) just to get a feel (of the building),” Daigle said. “Playing there, it just felt super old school. You had this super glossy, dark floor, with the wooden benches. It was kind of old school NBA. It wasn’t modern. When we found the dead spots (on the floor), we just looked at it for five minutes and went ‘We need to make sure we don’t hit this spot.'”

“We watched a lot of tape (before the state game),” Derick Ouellette said. “We wanted to be faster. That was our main goal all year, to be faster than everybody else, just run and gun. We had scorers, we had 3-point shooters. So we were just trying to be as fast as possible, play the best defense.”

While it was not the best game of the Tigers’ season (Forest Hills was 16 of 35 at the foul line, a 46 percent success rate), they never trailed in the game. Worster fouled out with just under four minutes to play, and the Panthers pulled to within three points of the Tigers. But a late 6-0 run — led by a free throw and layup by Turner, who finished the game with 16 points — helped seal the 55-48 win and Forest Hills’ first Gold Ball. Finally, a basketball school and its rabid fan base had a title of their own.

“It means a lot to have that much support from the town,” said Derick Ouellette, who finished with 13 points in the state title game. “Everybody comes out. Nobody is in town when the tournament is going on, it’s a great time. To see everybody when we get back (after winning the title), they fill the roads. It’s a very big deal to have their support.”

“It means a lot,” Turner said. “Being able to walk through the halls (of the school) and see all the photos and the memories of it, all the basketballs from the games. I’ll always remember it. Hopefully, when I have children and they’re roaming through the halls, they’ll see that and go ‘Hey, that’s my dad’ and everything else. It means a lot.”

The program has gone on to win three more Class D titles since then (2015, 2019 and 2020), but members of the 2013 team take pride in setting the tone for how the program is today.

“It was a big honor,” said Daigle, who has since had two younger brothers — Dawson and Jackman — also win titles with the program. “Just being looked at as the first (to win a title), it’s just a great feeling, because you know you set the tone. Every year, seeing these young kids going at it every year and competing, you can just sit there and be like ‘They’re competing this hard to go back to where we first started everything.’ To see it all come full circle, from being a player, to now being an alumni, working with them and helping them get better. To see them push for what we did and reach the final goal of another Gold Ball is always a blessing and an honor to see.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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