MADISON — One of the best high school basketball games the state will see in this pandemic-shortened season came Wednesday afternoon in Madison Area Memorial High School’s Veneziano Gym. Played in front of almost nobody, as every game in Maine is played this season, defending Class D state champion Forest Hills held off a valiant Madison rally for an 88-85 win.

Pick a player of the game. Is it Forest Hills senior Parker Desjardins, who scored a game-high 36 points? To show you what kind of basketball zone Desjardins is in this season, 36 points is his season-low. The Bulldogs are the first team to hold the guard — who is now 93 points from the rarified air of 2,000 career points — under 40 this season.

“It makes me play stronger. I’ve got to be more aggressive than I’m used to, and not backing down from the physicality,” Desjardins said, relishing the chance to play a full four quarters against a Class C opponent. Against usual challengers in Class D, Desjardins typically punches out for the night at the end of the third quarter.

How about Mason Desjardins, Parker’s younger brother? He scored 21 points, and his two free throws with 5.5 seconds left sealed the win for the Tigers. Or you could go with Madison’s Callan Franzose, who scored 33 points and sank eight 3-pointers.

“I haven’t had a shooting game like this in a while,” Franzose said.

This was a game played at speed metal tempo, with both teams running up and down the court as if they were late for a calculus final. Two good teams giving no quarter. Twice in the second half, Forest Hills pushed its lead to 11 points. The first time, the Bulldogs scored 14 points in two minutes to retake the lead. The second time, Madison carved the Tigers’ lead to a single point with nine seconds left.

“I love playing those guys, because they play at a fast pace. They play at a faster pace than anyone in the Mountain Valley Conference. They’ve got guys who can shoot it from about 25 feet,” Madison coach Jason Furbush said.

This game was evenly-matched and as entertaining as any high school basketball game you’ll see. Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to make it possible, and as great as it was, when things are back to normal (or as back to normal as they can get), Forest Hills vs Madison will be a COVID-19 anachronism.

To get in a season, teams were forced to ignore conference affiliations and focus on geography. Forest Hills is in Jackman, up in northern Somerset County. In a typical season, it drives right through Madison numerous times on its way to games against other members of the East/West Conference or Class D teams in southern Maine. Madison is a member of the Mountain Valley Conference, a league of Class C and Class B schools that stretches from Telstar High School in Bethel — not far from the New Hampshire border — to Boothbay on the coast.

Forest Hills’ Mason Desjardins finds an opening to pass the ball between Madison defenders, including Cameron Cobb, left, during a game Wednesday in Madison. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

As much sense as it would make to have Madison and Forest Hills play each other every season, members of the MVC have traditionally been locked into a conference-only schedule. While other conferences have worked out non-league competition, the MVC has built a wall around itself.

“We have (thought about it) for many a year. I don’t know why it never happens. I know our league’s tried to get over there, but the problem then becomes, their league is pretty spread out across the state,” Forest Hills coach Anthony Amero said. “I think they’re concerned about protecting some of their remote schools, as are we. We’re as remote as they get, so we’ll play anybody… It feels more like a tournament game. These games are a little tighter. The intensity level goes up a little.”

“It’s good for us. It really shows what we’re made of, you know? We have to push ourselves. We should play them every year, I think,” Parker Desjardins said. “We go by them every time we go to Skowhegan. We should definitely take advantage and play the teams that are nearer.”

A trip to Madison is still 70 miles each way for Forest Hills, and there’s no guarantee the game between a small Class D school and a Class C opponent will be competitive each season. Class C teams typically have more depth than their friends in Class D with smaller enrollments. We saw that Wednesday. When Forest Hills lost starting forward Jackman Daigle with five fouls early in the fourth quarter, its depth took a hit. Madison, on the other hand, had players like JJ Currier and Evan Cameron ready to come off the bench and hit clutch threes to contribute to the rally in the final minute.

“You can see the physicality. The bench, that’s the biggest difference I see. Madison’s got a very good bench and they know how to use it, so they can wear you down. Conditioning factors into it for us. Today we got into foul trouble. We’re running pretty much a six man rotation. We’re not quite as deep as some of the C schools, that’s for sure,” Amero said.

Wednesday’s game was the second of the season between Forest Hills and Madison. The Bulldogs went to Jackman and won, 68-61. There’s a chance they will meet for a third time in the upcoming central Maine tournament. That tournament will have a Class A/D division and a Class C/D division. Madison and Forest Hills, along with defending Class C state champ Winthrop, will be the favorites in the C/D group.

Maybe there’s a way to satisfy conference commitments and play these regional games in the future. How about expanding the regular season from 18 to 20 games, with 14 conference games and six non-conference? That way every school can play its league schedule and get in some games like we saw Wednesday. Fans would enjoy it. The players certainly did.

“I’ve been playing against kids like Mason Desjardins since around seventh grade. We knew what to expect. They’re a great team. So are we. Just play it to the end and battle it out,” Franzose said.

This would be state tournament week, if there wasn’t a pandemic ripping normal to pieces. There hasn’t been much to enjoy this basketball season. Let’s enjoy games like this, and hope we get more of them in the future.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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