MONMOUTH — No Mountain Valley Conference schedule. No regional tournaments. No Gold Balls handed out in the middle of another Maine winter dragging itself out into eternity.

It’s quite possible that a pandemic, and the subsequent reset it forced upon programs, was just what the Monmouth Academy boys basketball team needed.

The Mustangs’ blowout 83-21 victory over Temple Academy in the opening round of the central Maine basketball tournament Wednesday night was exactly what Monmouth head coach Wade Morrill wanted to see — and not because it propelled Monmouth into the Class C/D semifinals at Madison on Friday.

Instead, it offered a glimpse into the Mustangs’ future.

Junior Hayden Fletcher scored a team-high 15 points and sophomore running mate Manny Calder added 10 more — all but two of their combined 25 points in the first half, as the starting guards dictated the pace of play and where the bulk of the points were coming from.

“We’re pretty fortunate to have those two (Fletcher and Calder). They’ve developed some chemistry and they’re doing a good job playing off one another,” Morrill said. “They make a nice little one-two tandem. We give up a lot size to some teams, but we have to make up for that with tenacity and intensity.”

Fletcher connected on three 3-pointers in a first half that was every bit as lopsided as the 47-12 scoreline at the intermission. Seven of Monmouth’s 23 first-half rebounds came from the dynamic backcourt duo.

“We played in middle school all throughout with each other. I think we complement each other pretty well,” said Calder, who is in his first season as a starter. “It’s been working so far.”

It’s been a learning process for the Mustangs, who hardly sprinted out of the starting gates this winter.

Granted, there were a couple of pauses in the schedule due to COVID-19 ramifications, and the team was afforded just nine practices in the month of January.

Monmouth’s Gavin Willet (22), left, and Temple Academy’s Peyton Reckards go for a rebound during a Class C/D central Maine basketball tournament prelim game Wednesday in Monmouth. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Morrill said he did everything he could to try and urge the Mustangs into playing at a pace more fitting an undersized team.

“This playoff system is really good for our team,” Morrill said. “We’ve got 13 players, and 11 of them are coming back. Our hope coming into the season, pre-Covid, was home prelim, get back to the ACC and be the team nobody wanted to play this time of year.

“We’re kind of getting it together.”

“At first it was hard, because with this year we didn’t get any summer together,” Fletcher said. “I feel like when we went to Gardiner (an overtime loss on February 24) and we were down by a lot, but we started bring our own energy. I feel like that’s when we flipped the switch.”

Pace wasn’t a problem for Monmouth against Temple, at either end of Foster Gym on Wednesday.

The Mustangs forced the visitors into 27 turnovers, including a stretch of seven over the course of eight consecutive possessions in a third quarter that saw the visitors score just a single point. Monmouth scored 19 points off those turnovers.

Three of those came from Fletcher, who grabbed a transition pass at the top of the key, looked at his feet some four or five feet behind the 3-point lane and calmly drilled his jumper for a 32-6 lead with 5:37 remaining in the second quarter.

“I like to feel like anywhere on the floor I can hit it,” Fletcher said.

Could it be that having no additional pressures from overcrowded, boisterous gyms and every game in the MVC feeling like a pressure cooker with Heal point ramifications benefited a young Monmouth team growing into its collective roles?

Not so fast, Calder said.

“Maybe a little bit, but I’ve always kind of liked the craziness,” Calder said. “It’s super intense. I remember last year we went to (Old Orchard Beach). It was when I first started to get good minutes, and it was super intense with their fans and everything. I really love that stuff.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.