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.

The Maranacook boys basketball team was running through a drill at the beginning of its 2005-06 season when sophomore guard Ryan Martin, feeling good about what he was seeing, decided to say as much to his coach.

“I told him ‘We’re going to win the state championship this year,’ ” Martin said. “I remember saying that and no one really taking it seriously.”

Maybe Martin was feeling confident. Perhaps he was messing around.

Whatever he was doing, however, he was right.

Maranacook in 2006 went 21-1 and won the school’s first boys basketball championship, finishing the journey with a 73-58 victory over Mountain Valley in the Class B final at the Bangor Auditorium.

It was just the beginning for Maranacook — the Black Bears won again in 2008 — but that first title season, given the few people around the state who saw it coming, was special.

“It kind of came out of nowhere,” said coach Rob Schmidt, who guided the Black Bears until stepping down after the 2018-19 season. “I knew we had potential, we had those young superstars. … But I’m not sure anybody thought they were ready as sophomores. So we sort of took the league by storm, and we took the state by storm.”

Maranacook’s sterling sophomore class was led by a player who was on his way to becoming the biggest star in the state. Martin, who would win the Mr. Maine Basketball award in 2008, was already turning heads in his second varsity season, showing an incredible ability to shoot and score from anywhere on the floor.

“He could shoot from 10 or 15 feet behind the 3-point line, so you had to guard him from so far out,” Schmidt said. “So either he was open from deep and he could hit those shots, or guys came out and guarded him and he was quick enough and strong enough to get by them and finish at the rim. Even as a freshman, he was very strong.”

Martin, now the coach at Lake Region, wasn’t tall at 5-foot-8, but he effortlessly shot around and over the taller defenders near him.

“He knew how to score, in a variety of ways,” sophomore forward Will Bardaglio said. “High-percentage shooter, could drive and get to the basket. When he got fouled, he never missed a free throw. That’s the best way to describe him. He could score anywhere on the floor at any time. And when he got hot, he got hot.”

He had help in his class. Bardaglio was a dangerous shooter, and Mike Poulin was the point guard running Maranacook’s up-tempo attack and getting the ball to the Black Bears’ scorers in just his second varsity year.

“We logged a good amount of time in our freshman year,” Martin said, “Mike, Will and I, we did a lot of winning growing up, so I think we had a lot of confidence in ourselves.”

It was the senior class, however, that turned a collection of talent into a championship team. Small forward Jimmy Palmer was the team’s vocal leader, and Bryce Spaulding, the starting center, and Dylan Collins also led the way in guiding a team with young players in key roles to its highest level.

Fourteen years later, Schmidt still marvels at how a senior class prioritized winning by letting the kids get the spotlight.

“(I think about) how unselfish the seniors were that year,” Schmidt said. “We had a couple of tremendous captains in Palmer and Spaulding. Those guys had no egos whatsoever, and they let the sophomores have a lot of glory that year. It really paid off.”

“They deserve way more credit than they get,” Bardaglio said. “Their leadership, their willingness to defer in a way to sophomores. … We were talented, but there are so many teams that are talented that, if they don’t play together as a team, they don’t accomplish anything. Those are the guys that really kept us together and made sure we stayed level-headed.”

Maranacook’s Jimmy Palmer gets a hug from fellow senior Nathan Mason (13) following the Black Bears’ 69-57 win over Presque Isle High School in the 2006 Eastern Maine Class B final at the Bangor Auditorium. Morning Sentinel file photo

That dynamic came in handy after Maranacook went into the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the East, and after wins over Mattanawcook and Medomak Valley found itself in the regional final and a tough matchup with an experienced Presque Isle team. The second-seeded Wildcats took an early 10-point lead on the Black Bears, and during a timeout, Palmer provided his teammates with a spark.

“I remember walking back to the bench, feeling like it was going to be tough to come back. All our energy was sucked right out of us,” Martin said. “I remember Jimmy Palmer picking all three of us up. Just the look in his eyes, the little things he said to us, they made a huge difference.”

The comeback began soon after. Martin finished with 35 points, and the Black Bears overcame Greg Whitaker’s 27 points and Matt McGlinn’s 21 to beat the Wildcats 69-57.

“I don’t know if we would have been able to (win) without the leadership of Jimmy when we were down,” Martin said. “We were sophomores, we were young, and we didn’t know if we could come back. But Jimmy believed in us.”

There was no need for a motivational speech in the state final. The Black Bears had the answer for Mountain Valley, relying this time on a different sophomore. Bardaglio picked a perfect time for his biggest game of the season, making six 3-pointers and scoring 25 points.

“It was one of those games,” he said. “I felt like the basket was the ocean, and no matter what I put up, it would go in. … We were used to the Auditorium by the state championship, and…I don’t know. I don’t know what it was. But whatever it was, I’m glad I was able to be on for that game.”

Martin scored 21, but there were no attempts to disrupt Bardaglio on what was becoming a career night. His last two threes came at the start of the fourth quarter and were a crippling blow to the Falcons’ hopes for a rally.

“He had it in him, but he didn’t have an ego. If Ryan were to score more points in a game, Will just wanted to win,” Schmidt said. “I think that was just Will’s moment, and he stepped up big time. Everybody was happy for Will. It was just his night.”

And just Maranacook’s year, earlier than everyone expected.

Well, maybe not everyone.

“I think the talk around town was that we were going to be really good,” Martin said. “But I don’t think people thought it was going to happen that soon.”

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