Brewer’s starting five is all seniors who have been playing sports together since elementary school.
Each player plays his own role, but collectively they’ve led the Witches to the Class A title game. They play Falmouth at 7:45 p.m. Friday at the Augusta Civic Center.
In 2020, the Witches lost by a shot in the Class A North semifinals to Hampden, ending their season earlier than they thought. The team felt great about its chances the next year, but the COVID-19 pandemic erased that season before it could start.
Last year, Cooper and Ace Flagg were freshmen at Nokomis and ended Brewer’s season in the regional final. The Witches fought valiantly but couldn’t overcome the Flaggs and the Warriors.
This season is the last chance at a state title for many on the team.
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“I think this senior group came into this season knowing it was their chance to make something happen,” Brewer coach Ben Goodwin said. “They came in with that mentality and brought it into every game they played. I think their mindset is their biggest thing, then their defense.”
Brewer started out on fire, winning its first seven games by an average of 37.3 points per game on the way to a 16-0 start.
On Feb. 3, Skowhegan ended Brewer’s undefeated season with a 49-48 win. After the game, Skowhegan and Brewer players exchanged heated words on the court.
Evan Nadeau, Brewer’s point guard, brings confidence and toughness to the Witches and has been an intricate piece of the puzzle for the team.
When Brewer tipped off against Skowhegan in the A North final on Feb. 24, Nadeau was ready to go.
“He’s a hard-nosed player that won’t back down from anybody,” Goodwin said of Nadeau. “One of the things he told me before we played Skowhegan was, ‘Don’t worry, coach. We got this.’ When you have your point guard with that kind of confidence, it really means a lot. I know he’s enjoying every moment of this run we’re on.”
Brewer defeated Bangor to end the regular season before playing Camden Hills in the A North quarterfinals. The Witches found themselves down by seven at the half and needed to refocus. Their run was almost over before it got off the ground.
“We had a great discussion at halftime and we came out and played,” Goodwin said. “We talked about how we can’t turn it on and off, we have to keep it on, and from there they’ve kept it on.”
Brewer ended up beating Camden Hills 59-46.
Forwards Cameron Hughes and Ryder Goodwin have been tough, physical players in the post and while not the tallest, have stood toe to toe with other team’s big men.
“Ryder and Cam are two of the strongest guys I know,” Brewer’s Brady Saunders said. “When they play kids taller than them, they bring that physicality and it really screws with them.”
Brewer also has two Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalists, Brock Flagg and Saunders.
Flagg can fill up a stat sheet. He scored 16 points in the first half against Cony in Brewer’s Feb. 22 semifinal blowout of the Rams, 83-36, and also grabbed rebounds, made the right passes and nabbed some steals like he does almost every game.
“We call Brock the utility guy,” Goodwin said. “One game he will have 20 boards, then the next he can have 20 points. He believes in us so much that he will do whatever it takes for us to win.”
To Flagg, his job is to just help the team.
“My role on the team is to back up Brady on offense and help Ryder on the rebounds,” Flagg said. “Play hard-nosed defense and facilitate things.”
And that leaves Saunders, who started the A North final by drilling his opening 3-pointer, helping kick-start Brewer’s big 70-33 win over Skowhegan.
Saunders averaged 21.6 points per game in the regular season and can score from all over the court. His confidence has stood out to Goodwin, who said that his star senior wing has the green light because he always makes the right play.
“He’s playing with such confidence that it’s amazing,” Goodwin said. “We all know he’s a great player, he defends the other team’s best player, but I think offensively shooting the ball he has come into the season with confidence he didn’t have before. He’s taking shots I’ve never seen him take before and he’s making them, so I think that’s the biggest difference in him.”
During tournament week in between games, Saunders said he and the team have spent time together hanging out, watching playoff games at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center and practicing. It’s a tight team, which is the secret to their success.
“We do everything together,” Saunders said. “We have a special bond.”
The team is excited for the A title game. Hughes said the players celebrated the A North title, but have now refocused on their last career basketball game together.
“This is something we’ve been talking about long before we got to high school,” Nadeau said. “This is really a dream come true. We didn’t talk about winning the northern Maine [title], we talked about winning the state so that’s what we’re focused on. It would mean the world.”