Wade Duplisea inherited the job as head boys basketball coach at Stearns High School in Millinocket this season knowing he returned a marquee player in senior guard Derek DiFrederico, but not a lot else with his new team.
“When I first started out I didn’t know what to expect,” said Duplisea, a 1987 Stearns graduate who spent the last two years as a junior high coach locally.
What he’s learned since practices began Nov. 17, he has liked.
With Saturday’s 73-63 victory over Dexter, Stearns is off to a 6-0 start that ranks the Minutemen among the early-season elite in Eastern Maine Class C along with fellow unbeatens Houlton and Washington Academy and once-beaten Penquis, whose only loss was an overtime decision to Eastern B unbeaten Hermon.
DiFrederico has been a catalyst for the Minutemen, scoring his 1,000th career point earlier this month and scoring a season-high 36 in Stearns’ win over Dexter.
“Derek got off to a slow shooting start, but since he got his 1,000th against George Stevens his game has really opened up,” Duplisea said.
DiFrederico, a 5-foot-10 guard, has teamed with 6-4 senior Matt LeGassey to give Stearns a potent inside-outside combination. LeGassey is averaging double figures in both scoring and rebounding, and Duplisea credits his improvement in part to strength training done in conjunction with his role on the Stearns football team that reached the Eastern C title game this fall.
“He’s a machine, a very strong rebounder,” said Duplisea of LeGassey. “Matt’s learned if he gets the ball in the post and kicks it back out, he can get set and Derek will get the ball back to him. They’ve been together so long, they complement each other so well, and that makes it easier for me.”
DiFrederico, LeGassey and 6-0 senior forward Matt Barnett are the most experienced players back from last year’s team that went 12-6 and reached the Eastern C quarterfinals. They are joined in the lineup by 6-0 junior guard Steve Cyr and 6-0 senior forward Craig Jandreau, both first-year starters.
Seth McInnis, a 6-2 junior forward, is the Minutemen’s top reserve.
“The kids work hard, and they do anything I ask,” said Duplisea. They’re real good kids, and they’re playing well together.”
Stearns’ toughest test to date came in a Dec. 15 game against rival Schenck at East Millinocket. The Minutemen trailed by nine points with four minutes to play before rallying for a 57-55 victory.
“That was a good win for us,” said Duplisea. “We were able to shut them down late in the game.”
Many of Stearns’ sternest challenges remain. The Minutemen travel to Houlton on Saturday, Jan. 10, and a postponed game against Penquis at Millinocket has been rescheduled for Jan. 21 – marking the start of a five-game stretch in 10 days with games against Penquis (twice), Schenck, Houlton and Dexter.
“We’ve got a lot of tough games ahead,” said Duplisea, a three-year varsity player during his playing days at Stearns, “but as long as we don’t have any attitude problems we’ll be all right.”
Holiday wrestling feats abound
Christmas weekend was a productive time for several high school wrestling teams that earned top finishes at invitational meets from Howland to Keene, N.H.
Perhaps the most impressive was the work of the four-time defending Class B state champion Camden Hills Windjammers, who edged host Noble of Berwick to win the 21-team Noble Invitational meet. Led by three-time state champion Chris Remsen, who won the 145-pound title, and 103-pound champion Joe McGowen, coach Pat Kelly’s club amassed 209 points for a two-point win over Noble, the five-time defending state Class A champion.
Belfast, which finished sixth in the team standings, had three individual champions in Kyle Bonin (112), Tony Gilmore (119) and Steve Cummings (171).
At Keene, N.H., Foxcroft Academy followed up its win a week earlier at the Dexter Invitational by besting a field of nine challengers from New Hampshire and Massachusetts to win the Keene Holiday Invitational. Coach Luis Ayala’s Ponies got weight-class victories from Ryan Whittemore (135), Caleb Pelletier (152), Randy Briggs (171) and Josh Pelletier (215).
Reigning Eastern C champion Dexter, led by brothers Jeremiah and Chris Barkac, earned a third-place finish at the Bonny Eagle Holiday Tourney at West Buxton. Jeremiah Barkac was the 103-pound champion, while Chris Barkac won at 125 pounds. Coach Dave Gudroe’s Tigers got a third victory from Keith Thompson at 130 pounds.
Class A Bonny Eagle won the meet with 169 points, followed by Souhegan, N.H., with 150 and Dexter with 123.
At Howland, host Penobscot Valley (106 points) placed second to Erskine Academy of South China (145) in the PVHS Christmas Tournament. Madawaska (98) was third in the 13-team field, with Mount View of Thorndike (95) and Hermon (87) completing the top five.
PVHS got individual wins from Jon Southard (125 pounds), Chris Vainio (189) and Doug Dyer (275). Other winners were Lenny Pelletier (103) and Craig Lizotte (119) of Madawaska; Brooks Dow (112) and Chris Fraser (135) of Erskine; Rob Benner (130) of Fort Kent; Luke Robert (140) and Cliff Gardner (152) of Mount View; Joey Bell (145) of Pittsfield’s Maine Central Institute; Allan Avery (160) of Old Town; and Chris Archer (171) and Pat Reardon (215) of Hermon.
Ernie Clark may be reached at 990-8045, 1-800-310-8600 or firstname.lastname@example.org