Perhaps no schoolboy basketball team statewide has thrived more out of the limelight this winter than the Greenville Lakers, who will enter the tournament ranked No. 1 in Class D South with a 17-1 record.
Coach Bill Foley’s club has represented the Moosehead Lake region in South/West regionals for years, yet a switch from the East-West Conference back to the Penobscot Valley Conference for scheduling purposes beginning with the 2015-16 campaign has meant the bulk of Greenville’s regular-season slate now is played against North region opponents.
That includes three Class C foes (Piscataquis of Guilford, Penquis Valley of Milo and Penobscot Valley of Howland) and four Class D North rivals (Bangor Christian, Katahdin of Stacyville, Deer Isle-Stonington and Machias), leaving just traditional western Maine rivals Valley of Bingham and Forest Hills of Jackman as Class D South teams on the Lakers’ schedule.
“I think it works more to our favor than it is a distraction,” said Foley. “By the time we get to the tournament we’re battle tested.”
Greenville, which finished 13-5 and reached the Class D South semifinals last winter before being ousted by eventual state champion Valley, will enter its Class D South quarterfinal at the Augusta Civic Center against the winner of Wednesday’s play-in game between No. 8 Islesboro and No. 9 Pine Tree Academy of Freeport riding a 17-game winning streak since a season-opening loss at Machias on Dec. 10.
That streak includes one stretch when the Lakers won six games in eight days — highlighted by victories over Valley, Piscataquis and Machias.
On another occasion the Lakers won three games in as many days over Valley, Katahdin and Penquis Valley.
“My philosophy is one game at a time anyway,” said Foley. “But you tend to dream and with six Class C games and two with Machias, and figuring Valley was going to be tough, I thought we’d be better than last year but I didn’t think we’d be 17-1.
“The kids don’t seem to be nervous, and it’s been an adjustment for me. I keep thinking they’re not focused and they are.”
Greenville is led by two juniors who have been playing varsity basketball together since their eighth-grade year — the school has just 91 students in grades 9-12.
The coach’s son, guard Nick Foley (19 points per game), and forward Connor DiAngelo (12 points, nine rebounds per game) are two of four juniors who have played for Bill Foley since the third grade.
Nick Foley and DiAngelo, two of seven basketball players who also helped the Lakers win the Class D South soccer championship last fall, are joined in the starting lineup by three other juniors, guard Noah Pratt, forward Evan Bjork and center Devin Boone, who moved to the area from Kansas last summer.
“He’s 6-3, 200 pounds and he likes to do all the dirty work, rebound and box out,” said coach Foley of Boone. “It couldn’t have worked out any better. He just kind of fell into our lap.”
Swingman Matt Mendes, the team’s lone senior, is first off the bench along with sophomore Nick Caiazzo and freshmen Noah Bilodeau and Chris Caiazzo.
“We’re not one dimensional any more,” said coach Foley. “Last year Nick did 75 percent of the scoring and when he wasn’t doing the scoring he was doing the playmaking so it was real easy to box-and-one us and take Nick away.
“This year teams can’t do that because we’ve got decent size, we go inside with the two big kids and everybody on the team is shooting better from the outside. This team is much more multifaceted.”
Greenville’s two victories over third-ranked Valley (11-7) by an average of 12 points and two wins over No. 4 Forest Hills (12-6) by an average of 26.5 points offer further evidence that the Lakers are the team to beat in D South.
But the fact those are the only teams Greenville has faced that will join it in Augusta lends an air of mystery to the proceedings.
“We’re kind of up here in no-man’s land,” said coach Foley. “We’re South but we’re not in the south and we’re not North, but that’s OK. I like being under the radar.”