More than two weeks after the first high school basketball game was played in Maine this winter, the Old Town Coyotes finally got their chance to play someone else on Tuesday night.
And despite having its preseason delayed by COVID-19 concerns, coach Garrett Libby’s club looked ready to go during its 65-62 Class B victory at Hermon.
“I know I had a few jitters wondering how we’d do,” said Libby, now in his second year as head coach at his alma mater. “But leading into this week we had a really good practice Saturday and a really good practice Monday and I think it gave everyone some comfort.”
Senior guard Shawn Hoogterp led the Coyotes with 18 points on just seven field-goal attempts along with a 6-for-8 performance at the free-throw line. He and the other six seniors on the roster wanted to make the most of their season debut — even if there were no fans on hand because of the state-mandated 50-person limit for indoor events.
“We had a break right before tryouts that pushed everything back a week, so we’ve been itching for this for a while,” Hoogterp said.
Old Town also received some key performances from its younger players, most notably sophomore guards Gabe Gifford and Braydon Brown.
Brown came off the bench to contribute nine points and six rebounds, while Gifford emerged after a quiet first three quarters to make four of five 3-point tries and score 13 of his 14 points during the game’s final eight minutes.
“Gabe did a tremendous job of staying engaged,” Libby said. “He played really hard on both ends of the court and didn’t let his lack of makes in the first three quarters affect him. For a sophomore coming into his first year of varsity to go out there and have that type of mental toughness to just keep playing and let the shots come to him, that was a huge key for us.”
Hoogterp said the Coyotes also got a boost from their bench, not only in on-court contributions from the likes of Brown, junior forward Kyle Paradis and junior guard Isaac Hayes, but the vocal support it provided in the otherwise quiet gymnasium.
“It definitely was different,” Hoogterp said of the fanless atmosphere, “but I felt like our teammates on the bench really made it feel like a game, cheering every time and clapping, and that helped a lot.”
Tuesday’s victory marked the Coyotes’ first game since the same teams met more than 11 months ago when 12th-ranked Old Town topped No. 4 Hermon 47-42 in a Class B North quarterfinal on Feb. 15.
“It’s been almost a year really since I’ve been on the court,” Gifford said. “It felt really good to get back out there.”
The victory in the rematch against Hermon didn’t come easily for the Coyotes.
“I think we all felt pretty confident that even though we hadn’t played yet that we weren’t coming in too rusty,” Libby said. “We definitely have a lot to work on still but considering how we started out the year with no games until [Tuesday] I’m very happy.”
While the Coyotes are focused on the rhythm of improving from day to day and making the most of this winter’s abbreviated 12-game schedule, still overshadowing every program to some degree is the rhythm of a typical season.
“Here we are, it’s the end of January and we’re usually getting close to the postseason now in a normal season, so they’ve been ready to go,” Libby said. “And credit to them, that’s a big part of why they’re ready to go. I think they’ve been anxious just to get on the court and play.”