After winning a localized regional championship during the limited COVID-19 pandemic season in 2021, the Brewer boys basketball team seemed poised to claim a 2022 Class A North crown when the Maine high school basketball team returned in full force.
But then Nokomis of Newport’s Cooper Flagg burst onto the scene.
Despite defeating Nokomis 57-46 early in the regular season last year — and becoming the only team to beat Nokomis all season — the Brewer Witches fell to the Warriors 68-58 in the Class A North final.
Now the Witches are ready to run it back with three returning starters and seven total seniors this year, with the goal of winning the team’s first regional championship since 1988. And the experience of playing against Nokomis in the packed Augusta Civic Center will be a valuable tool for the Brewer squad this winter.
“If we get there again, we’ll have the experience,” Brewer’s Brock Flagg said. “That game was just a great memory. It was awesome, being able to play in that environment, play against Cooper Flagg, it’s a great experience.”
But Cooper Flagg and his twin brother, Ace, have left Nokomis this season, and the Witches have their eyes on a different team this winter: Skowhegan.
When the Class A North coaches recently voted for how they expect the region’s standings to pan out, the Skowhegan River Hawks received seven first-place votes. Brewer followed with two.
When asked about the poll, Brewer coach Ben Goodwin said he didn’t think much of it.
“The kids enjoy looking those things up and talking about them and it’s fun for them,” Goodwin said. “I think the kids looked at us being voted number two — which is fine with me — but the kids looked at that and I think they want to come out and show some teams that maybe they should’ve been voted a little bit higher.”
On the court, the Brewer players don’t give the poll much credence.
“For me, personally, I block all that out and focus on the season,” Saunders said. “Skowhegan is going to be a tough team this year, and we know that every game is going to be a challenge for us, and we just decide to focus on the next one up.”
Brewer put the poll to the test Friday on the road at Skowhegan.
The Witches beat the River Hawks, 60-37. The Witches looked like the 18-3 team from last year, while the River Hawks had players working their way back from injury.
Brewer wing Brady Saunders scored 22 points in the win.
“He gets a lot of hype, and he deserves it,” Goodwin said of Saunders. “He’s worked really hard over the years to get all the hype. He brings a player that can score inside and outside. I think a big thing for him is his defensive tenacity.”
It wasn’t just Saunders. Teammate Ryder Goodwin scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Brock Flagg also pulled in four boards and scored seven points.
The versatility of Brewer is a huge advantage for this group.
“Brock Flagg has done a great job improving his basketball game, and also Ryder Goodwin has done a great job and gives us a big presence inside,” Ben Goodwin said. “Brock can play inside and out and will surprise some people. Ryder does the little things that a senior captain does.”
Many of the players on Brewer have been playing together for years, with Saunders saying he’s played sports with Flagg since they were both young.
“I am very excited about how this team has come together already as a team this season,” Ben Goodwin said. “They enjoy each other and have fun playing and it makes it easy as a coach to run practice and go to games.”
Brewer’s next game is its home-opener against Messalonskee on Tuesday.
“This year we’re going to have a shooting team, and I think it’ll be exciting,” Saunders said. “We’re higher-paced and up-tempo, and I think people like to watch that.”