AUGUSTA, Maine — Brandon Starr figured he’d already seen his 30 seconds of action earlier in Medomak Valley’s Class A North boys basketball semifinal against Nokomis of Newport on Wednesday night.
So as crunch time approached, the 5-foot-8 freshman guard who was playing in middle schools along the Midcoast last winter was prepared to watch the rest of the comfortable from his comfortable seat on the Panthers’ bench.
“I was the second on the bench ready to go in for defense, but I didn’t think I’d go back in,” said Starr.
But as Nokomis scored nine straight points to move out to a 37-24 lead late in the third quarter, veteran Medomak Valley coach Nick DePatsy knew he had to do something fairly radical.
So he called timeout and put the two shortest players on his roster, Starr and 5-foot-8 junior Christopher Bowman, back onto the floor to defend against Nokomis’ guard-oriented offense.
It was a game-changing move.
Nokomis added a 3-pointer out of the break to build its lead to 40-24, but from there Starr and Bowman helped put the clamps on talented guards Josh Smestad and Zach Hartsgrove while No. 6 Medomak Valley of Waldoboro went on a 16-0 run that evolved into a 25-4 game-ending domination good for a 49-44 victory over the second-ranked Warriors.
“We just had to go with a smaller lineup, they were killing us,” said DePatsy. “It wasn’t that our bigs weren’t playing well, we just didn’t match up well. We went with a smaller lineup and Bowman and Starr gave us a huge boost off the bench defensively. They really bothered Smestad and Hartsgrove, but it was a total team effort. We rebounded well, they were one and done and then (Gabe) Allaire took over inside and had some big, big shots.”
Starr was fouled shortly after returning to the game and made both free throws — his only points of the game. From there, his job was all about defense.
“(DePatsy) told me don’t let (Smestad) get the ball,” he said. “I did the best I could.”
Nokomis went more than seven minutes without scoring as Medomak Valley gained control of the momentum and eventually the scoreboard.
And when Starr eventually left the game to the roar of crowd, he got a good taste of the big difference between middle-school playoffs and tournament time in Maine.
“It’s a lot different, a lot more people, but it feels pretty good,” he said. “You don’t notice it when you’re out there. You notice it when someone else comes in for you and you hear everybody.”
The second straight second-half surge — Medomak Valley closed out its 63-31 quarterfinal win over No. 3 Skowhegan with a 38-6 blitz — advances the Panthers to Friday night’s regional final against top-ranked Hampden Academy just a year after DePatsy’s more experienced and top-ranked 2017 club was upset in the first round.
“You don’t explain it,” he said. “These kids are loose, they’re mentally focused and the big thing is they’re playing tough and they’re playing both ends of the floor. They don’t care who steps it up. They’re just playing really relaxed and with a lot of confidence.
“That was a great comeback,” he added.