ORONO, Maine — The rivalry element of high school sports may not be what it was a generation ago, before players from neighboring towns began playing on the same travel teams during the offseason or neighboring schools began sponsoring cooperative teams.
Old Town and Orono, longtime sports combatants, even combined forces to win the Class B ice hockey state championship last winter.
But never say the athletic rivalry between the schools doesn’t exist when the opportunity arises, as it did Thursday night when the undefeated Orono boys basketball team outlasted Old Town 65-61 in three overtimes.
Connor Robertson, who led Orono with 19 points, knew of old-school rivalries through his father Curtis, the former standout center at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and the University of Maine.
“He was telling me about the Schenck (of East Millinocket) and MA rivalry games back in the day — in ’87 they were throwing M&Ms at him while he was being announced,” said the younger Robertson.
“He was telling me those stories and I said, ‘Dad, it’s not like that anymore,’ but you get the same feeling. Obviously you want to win for your community no matter what, and this is an awesome rivalry and I’m thankful I’ve been part of it during high school.”
Orono, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in Class B North, needed every bit of energy it could muster through the full 44 minutes of play to edge Old Town, which is now 1-4 but has suffered three losses by six points or less.
Sam Martin, quiet offensively for most of the night, came up big for Orono during the third overtime with five points and three rebounds.
After Old Town senior guard Colby Archer broke the 56-56 stalemate through two overtimes with two free throws 17 seconds into the third extra period, the 6-foot-7 junior center scored the Red Riots’ first five points of the extra session.
First came a free throw, then a follow-up shot and finally an inside basket off off a dribble-penetration assist from sophomore point guard Jason Desisto, and Orono had a 61-58 lead.
Willem Crane and Robertson each added a free throw to make it 63-58 with 37.4 seconds left, but Old Town’s Matt Seymour buried a 3-pointer to make it a two-point game with 27 seconds to play.
Old Town got the ball back after two missed Orono free throws but the Coyotes’ Jacob Cyr couldn’t convert on a contested drive to the basket and two free throws by Robertson with 8.4 seconds left finally put the game away.
Desisto finished with 17 points and Martin and Ryan Shorette each scored nine for 4-0 Orono.
Archer led Old Town with 16 points while Cyr scored 14, including 10 during the overtimes.
Orono used its perimeter shooting to build a lead of as many as 12 points during the second quarter. The Red Riots shot 4 of 5 from beyond the arc during the period with four different players — Matt Tozer, Desisto, Robertson and Zack Dill — all connecting from long range as Orono’s lead grew to as much as 26-14 on a low-post basket by Shorette with less than two minutes left in the half.
Old Town’s Bryce Richards answered with a reverse layup, then Dom Mitchell beat the halftime buzzer with a put-back shot to narrow the Coyotes’ halftime deficit to 26-18.
Archer then made three 3-pointers during the third quarter, the third giving his team a 34-33 lead with 2:40 left in the period.
That was the first of eight lead changes and four ties the rest of the way.