This is not a story about the juggernaut Valley High School boys basketball team from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Maine high school hoops knows the Cavaliers came out of Bingham running and pressing and winning. Valley won 101-straight games, a state record currently so far out of reach it’s hard to imagine a team that could challenge it. After the Cavaliers did lose late in the 2002 regular season, they reeled off a 47-game win streak before losing again in the 2004 Class D state championship game.

In February 2001, just a couple weeks before winning a fourth consecutive state title, Valley was featured in Sports Illustrated. Players graduated, and the Cavaliers kept winning. Strong challengers stepped up, and the Cavaliers kept winning. Valley won a state-record six consecutive state championships, played in eight straight state finals, and made people wonder what the heck was it about Bingham that made those boys love basketball so much?

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, Valley’s 101-game win streak is still the sixth-longest high school boys basketball win streak in national history.

No, this is not a story about the Cavaliers. This is a story about what it was like having to play them.

The streak began with the first game of the 1997-98 season, an 86-73 win over Monmouth. The following season, Tip Fairchild was a freshman playing for Monmouth, and he got his first taste of playing against the now-defending Class D state champion Cavs. In 2001, Fairchild and Monmouth played Valley in the Class D West regional championship. Valley won, 87-52, for its 83rd straight win.

Valley’s Luke Hartwell lays flat out for a stolen ball and quickly calls timeout to maintain possession of the ball against Waynflete. Morning Sentinel file photo

“If you asked me to name their starting five, I think I could. Nick Pelotte, the Hartwell twins (Jason and Luke), (Brian) Andre, and Chris Willer,” Fairchild said. “How good is a high school team when you can name their starting five 20 years later? It’s easy to remember that team.”

The Cavaliers won with stifling fullcourt defense and speed, often scoring in transition before the opponent could get their bearings.

“When we had a good, athletic team my junior year, we thought we might hang with them for a while. We lasted for a quarter. They were too fast for everybody else,” said Fairchild, who after pitching for the University of Southern Maine baseball team was drafted by the Houston Astros, reaching their AA affiliate. “We were loaded with athletes. With baseball and soccer, we won state championships. They were loaded with basketball players.”

The start of Anthony Amero’s tenure as head coach at Forest Hills coincided with Valley’s ascension. Located in Jackman, Forest Hills is 50 miles from Bingham. Amero’s Tigers played Valley 10 times over the course of the 101-game win streak. Amero was trying to build his program. He didn’t try to pump his team up with grandiose rah rah speeches about knocking off the superteam an hour’s drive south on Route 201. Amero made the goals smaller, digestible.

“That wasn’t our goal, to knock them off. We were just looking for growth in our team. If we lost by 40, we wanted to lose by 39 the next time,” Amero said.

Valley’s average margin of victory over the course of the streak was 34 points. The Cavs scored at least 90 points 34 times. They broke the 100-point mark six times, 114 points in a win over Greenville late in the 1998-99 season the high mark. Valley was impossible to prepare for because nobody could match the Cavs’ pace. Few could come close. The Cavs could work the ball from one end of the court to the other without so much as one dribble. The passes were crisp and perfect, the result of hours and hours of practice and pickup games.

Valley’s Nick Pelotte drives into the East Grand defense to score in the first half of the Class D state championship game on March 1, 2001. Portland Press Herald file photo

“It was all speed stuff. Can we slow these guys down or actually run with them? The answer to both was no,” Fairchild said. “Twins are a different breed, anyway. They’d make these passes to each other, and you’re going, ‘how’d he know he was there?'”

“They had a set play off the tip, Andre would tip it to one of the Hartwells, who would sprint for a layup. We knew they were going to do it. They scored 3 seconds into the game,” said Jamie Russell, who coached the Piscataquis Community High School of Guilford boys basketball team in the early 2000s. “We didn’t play anybody else like that on our schedule.”

Russell’s team was the loser in game 98 for Valley, late in the 2001-02 regular season, a cross class game between two strong teams. PCHS lost the Class C state championship game to Boothbay the previous season, and was a contender again. Valley was Valley. The Cavaliers small gym was packed so tightly with fans Russell and his team were forced to wait for the completion of the preceding girls varsity game in a classroom. Valley won 65-44.

A couple weeks later, though, PCHS did what nobody had done since Waynflete in the 1997 Class D West quarterfinals. It beat Valley, 80-75 in overtime, in the 2002 regular-season finale. Russell would like to tell you it’s because he prepared his team perfectly, that he dissected the film of the previous matchup with the Cavaliers and pinpointed weakness in the Hartwell twins and Andre.

“I tell people, so much for prep. We didn’t practice the night before. We had a makeup game versus Foxcroft,” Russell, now the girls basketball coach at Central High School in Corinth, said. “We ran a triangle and two defense, and it worked, and they got into foul trouble.”

The Valley boys share their fourth-straight Class D state championship basketball trophy with their approving fans late in Bangor. staff photo / jim evans Morning Sentinel file photo

The celebration that erupted in the PCHS gym rivaled any for a state championship. As fans stormed the court, Russell lost sight of his 9-year old son Bryan. After a second, he saw his son, riding the shoulders of a PCHS player. Valley shook off the loss and refocused, winning a fifth straight state title with a 67-66 win over Bangor Christian, then a state record-setting sixth in a row in a rematch with Bangor Christian in 2003. The Cavs didn’t lose again until the 2004 Class D state game, a tight, 72-69 loss to Calvary Christian.

The Cavs didn’t dwell on the loss, and Russell thinks that came from their coach Dwight Littlefield, who always carried himself with the same calm demeanor whether his team was up 30 points or trailing.

“I think it made (Littlefield’s) kids tougher. We went the other way. We lost to GSA (George Stevens Academy) in the semis,” Russell said of the streak-breaking win. “You always talk about the way teams take on the attitude of their coach. They weren’t like that. They’re out there going 110 miles per hour, diving all over the place, running, and Dwight’s over there, his legs are folded. He might hold up a couple fingers to give them a play.”

In that regard, staying cool when chaos was everywhere, Valley certainly took on the attitude of its coach. That calmness helped Valley win the few close calls they saw throughout the streak. Down five points to North Yarmouth Academy with 42 seconds left in the 1998 regional final to win by 11 in overtime. A 96-92 win over Jonesport-Beals in the 1998 state final. A 90-81 win over East Grand in the 2001 state championship.

Valley’s streak ended almost 20 years ago, but that team’s influence is still felt. That commitment to year-round basketball that was rare at small schools in the late 90s is now commonplace. Valley’s commitment to weight training also influenced opponents. If you wanted to beat the Cavs, you had to at least work as hard as the Cavs.

“I think they were ahead of their time, as far as playing AAU and lifting weights is concerned. They were playing (basketball) year round when i was fighting to get kids in the gym in the summertime. Because of Valley’s strength and conditioning program, they had a physicality nobody else had. It was like playing a college team. They had a quicker first step. If you boxed them out well, they were jumping 6 inches higher than you and getting the rebound anyway,” Amero said.

Ameros’s players at Forest Hills hit the weights, and began playing summer ball against tough competition. The Tigers entered this season with a 44-game win streak and the last two Class D state championships. Since the 2012 season, Forest Hills has played in the Class D state championship game five times, winning titles in 2013, 2015, 2019 and 2020. Richmond, after suffering blowout loss after blowout loss to Valley for years, won five regional crowns in six seasons.

“We had to put in the work. If we weren’t going to do it, we couldn’t cry about losing,” Amero said.

That’s the real legacy of Valley’s dominant run. Yes, the Cavaliers pummeled opponents, ran them off the court with precision and speed few high school basketball teams can muster. But Valley inspired some of those teams to get better. It can be said Valley’s dominance made Maine Class D basketball better.

That’s the undercurrent of the win streak. Opponents had to get better, or get beat.

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