AUGUSTA — Merrick Smith didn’t sugarcoat it.

“We really wanted to win badly, but obviously we didn’t,” the sophomore said after his Messalonskee boys basketball team lost to Cony 71-55 on Tuesday night in the Capital City Hoop Classic at the Augusta Civic Center. “I’m looking forward to when we can get on the court with them again.”

For those just tuning in, this past offseason had the sort of drama usually reserved for NBA free agency. The Rams are coached by Isaiah Brathwaite, who had been a Cony assistant since 2015 before he accepted the head spot at Messalonskee, a Class A North rival that went 4-16 in 2021-22 and reached the conference quarterfinals.

But weeks later, Cony head man T.J. Maines stepped down to become the Rams’ athletic director — and Brathwaite decided to return to Augusta, where he still lives with his family.

Messalonskee, meanwhile, brought back Pete McLaughlin, who had guided the Eagles from 2010-19 and won a Class A North title in 2017.

So yeah, maybe one can see why Smith was a little miffed Tuesday.


There’s no complaining on Cony’s end, though. The Rams, who reached the Class A North semifinals last season, are off to a 5-1 start, with the only setback a 94-44 loss to Class A finalist Brewer last Thursday. Down 17-13 after the first quarter, the Rams used their full-court press to end the second quarter on a 7-0 run and take a 35-28 halftime lead. In the third, Cony outscored Messalonskee 14-0 during a 5:11 span in which sophomore Jordan Benedict came off the bench to score seven of his 10 points.

“Basically, once a team goes up against us in the first half, it’s all about how you play the rest of the game,” said Cony’s Parker Sergent, who netted a team-high 20 points, 10 in the fourth quarter when the Rams put the game away. “Don’t hang your heads, and come together as a team.”

Sergent was part of a balanced attack in which Alex Fournier (13 points), Brady Hopkins (12), Kam Douin (10) and Benedict all scored in double digits. The 6-foot-3 Douin also pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds.

“It’s a team where nobody cares who scores and they’re all for everybody, so that’s kinda nice to have,” Brathwaite said.

Cony’s Kam Douin, left, defends Messalonskee’s Merrick Smith during a boys basketball game Tuesday in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Cony needed everything in its arsenal to overcome Messalonskee’s Smith, who at 6-9 makes a basketball resemble a softball in his hands when taking a pass or sliding the ball into the hoop. He had game highs of 26 points and 13 rebounds. While Cony couldn’t stop Smith completely, the Rams did hold him to only four points in the pivotal third quarter.

Drake Brunelle, like Smith a sophomore, added 13 points and six rebounds for the Eagles (1-3).


“They definitely tried to insert their inside presence with Merrick and everything, but we just tried our best to limit his catches and limit what he can do after his catch,” Brathwaite said.

As for the coaching situation, the players seem satisfied with how it has turned out so far. Sergent said the addition of Brathwaite is “definitely more fun” and adds spice to the rivalry with Messalonskee. (The teams meet again Jan. 12 in Oakland.) “He has to be a little more strict on us, but it’s great having him back,” Sergent said.

On the other sideline, Smith had nothing but praise for McLaughlin. “I like him,” Smith said. “He brings a lot of energy, and the coaching staff he has brought on has given us energy and has given us a lot more purpose. I’m pretty hopeful for the rest of the season.”

For Brathwaite, who got to know the Eagles well during summer sessions before his sudden departure, there are no hard feelings.

“I love all those guys over there,” said Brathwaite, who played for McLaughlin at Mt. Blue. “I just wish them the best. It was a little different being on the other side, but at the same time, it was good to compete.”

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