The members of the 2015-2016 Valley boys basketball team were raised in a culture of winning.

They grew up on the stories of the Cavaliers’ dynasty on the hardwood. From 1998 through 2005, Valley made eight consecutive trips to the Class D final. They won six consecutive Gold Balls from 1998-2003, and were the owners of a 101-game winning streak.

A standard was set for years to come in Bingham. And the 2015-2016 Valley squad was ready to make its mark in the program’s lineage.

Valley had come close two years earlier, falling 51-46 to Hodgdon in the 2014 Class D final. Entering the 2015 Class D South playoffs as the No. 2 seed, the Cavaliers fell 61-47 to No. 4 Hyde in the semifinal round.

For the 2015-2016 season, Valley was hungry to get back to the final and reverse its fortunes, in a dominant way. The Cavaliers had the right coach to lead them in Luke Hartwell, who was a member of four state title teams for Valley and a 1,000-point scorer for the program.

“We wanted to go out and play for him, give him our best game every night,” said Dillon Beane, a sophomore that season. “Prove to him that we were worthy of the greatness that gone through the program before, including him, his brother (Jason Hartwell), Brian Andre, Nick Pelotte and those guys.”

“The expectation at Valley is — especially for basketball — is to go out and win a state championship, at least go to the playoffs and win a few games,” said Cody Laweryson, a senior during the 2016 season. “We were definitely looking to win a state championship. We had the right team, we were built to win. The last few years probably gave us a little bit of motivation. We had some good teams there, we just fell short. We didn’t play our best game (in the 2014 state final), but we were definitely built to win (in 2016).”

The Cavaliers were led on the floor by Laweryson, who made the switch from guard to forward during the 2016 season. The 6-4 Laweryson had no issues with the move, as he averaged 24.5 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks per game. He also joined the 1,000-point club in the regular-season finale against Richmond, a game in which Laweryson scored 31 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. Valley was far from a one-player show, however. Collin Miller (12 points per game, 10 rebounds per game), Austin Cates (11 ppg) and Luke Malloy (6 ppg) all proved to be offensive weapons for the Cavaliers, with Beane helping provide defensive relief.

“Cody obviously could score better than anybody in the league, I think,” said Malloy, who was one of the team’s tri-captains, along with Laweryson and Miller. “But we had guys that just filled their role real well. Austin Cates would score, and he defended probably better than anyone else, too. Collin Miller was a great post guy. He wasn’t the biggest, but he definitely made a huge impact. The other starter was Dillon Beane, who really was a workhorse for us, he did all the dirty work.”

Finishing the season with a perfect 17-0 record, Valley cruised to victories over Rangeley (62-33) in the quarterfinals and Greenville (60-45) in the semifinals. Despite the dominant wins, Valley was not playing up to the expectations of its coach.

“We were going into the playoffs with a lot of confidence,” Beane said. “We go into that Rangeley game, and we had beaten them really easily starting off the season. Something that Coach Hartwell told us was that our first quarter was a little sloppy, in that first game against Rangeley in the playoffs. That’s something that he rode us hard on. He said we’d need to have four quarters of full-on, elite basketball being played if we were going to make it to the top. That was just his expectation. He expected a lot from us, and we always wanted to deliver. He rode us hard, but that was only because he saw the potential in us.”

Valley responded, going toe-to-toe with a tough Seacoast Christian team in the D South regional final. Down six points in the second quarter, Valley went on a 10-0 run to take a 22-20 halftime lead. The Cavaliers never looked back, beating the Guardians 52-45 for its second regional title in three years. Laweryson — who was awarded the John Messina Award as the tournament’s most outstanding player — led the way with 26 points, including six 3-pointers. He also grabbed 10 rebounds and had three blocks.

The Cavaliers would meet D North champion Easton in the state final at the Augusta Civic Center. The Bears were searching for their first Gold Ball since 1965.

“I remember Easton came out and played a triangle and two (defense) on me, and I think Austin Cates,” Laweryson said. “They were trying to shut down our best perimeter playmakers. I think we knew we had them, because we knew we had five guys, plus some guys on the bench that could score all the time, if they wanted to. If you give our post guy, like Collin, any chance to score inside, he’s going to do it all night.”

Valley and Easton battled back and forth in the first half, and the Bears managed to pull within two points of the Cavaliers at halftime. Despite tremendous defensive pressure, Laweryson finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Valley’s depth proved to be too much, as Miller finished with 16 points and Cates added 11 points. Valley would pull away with a 55-44 victory, and Laweryson put an exclamation point with a late dunk, the final basket of his career. The Cavaliers finished the season with a perfect 21-0 record, and locked up the seventh Class D title in program history.

“I remember just looking up (at the stands) and basically seeing the whole town there,” Malloy said. “It wasn’t even just the Bingham area, it was surrounding towns that were there, too. It was definitely the loudest I ever heard (a game) before. It was definitely something I’ll never forget. I remember there were firetrucks that led (the bus) into town, and then we had a little gathering up at the high school.”

It would prove to be a bittersweet victory, as Hartwell announced his resignation as coach two months later to spend more time with his family. In three seasons, Hartwell led the Cavaliers to a 53-10 record, along with its two regional titles and the 2016 Gold Ball.

“It gave me the most confidence in the world (having Hartwell as coach),” said Laweryson, who went on to a successful baseball career at the University of Maine, and is currently a pitcher in the Minnesota Twins farm system. “And I think I can speak for everyone else, too. He’s been there and done that. He did it four times in a row, lost one game (in his playing career). He knows how to win basketball games. Us, as the players, put trust in his hands to either draw up the right play or have the right game plan that day. It made it a lot easier for us to just go out and play basketball.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.