To our readers,

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century type story, ... Click here to continue

High school boys basketball

Part 2: Look back at 1990-91 Lion team from one who lived it

Thirty years ago, BAHS forged team, individual identities in special court campaign
By Frank Joseph | Feb 14, 2021
Courtesy of: Frank Joseph The 1990-91 Belfast Area High School boys varsity basketball team.

Belfast — Editor's note: Frank Joseph of Northport was co-captain and starting point guard on the 1990-91 Belfast Area High School boys varsity basketball team, led by coach James "Butch" Richards. Joseph said he "thought it would be fun and interesting to share with our community as we celebrate our 30th anniversary. I know COVID-19 has restricted winter sports greatly, [so] hoping this look back will help keep people's spirits up, especially athletes and their families who cannot compete." The first of Joseph's two installments was published in December. The following are Joseph's continued thoughts on that Lion season:

It was 30 years ago today ...

As discussed in Part 1, after three opening-season losses in triple-overtime, overtime and three points, respectively, it was bittersweet to finally get a taste of victory with a 70-56 win at a packed Searsport District High School gymnasium against near-town-rival Searsport.

Up next on our 1990-91 Belfast boys varsity basketball schedule was our second home game against longstanding rival Rockland District High School (now Oceanside High). Our rivalry with Rockland ran deep, perhaps deeper than anyone on our schedule. It was the old Lions-versus-Tigers mentality. Our group had been traveling to Rockland since 5th-6th grade playing in youth league tournaments at the Rockland Rec Center, a mecca for coastal basketball. Coming from Belfast, a town without a physical YMCA or rec center at the time, we were delighted in being able to play in such a place. Rockland boys basketball had been a powerhouse in recent years. Under head coach Chris Elkington, Rockland had won back-to-back Eastern Maine championships in 1989 and 1990. Led by its own version of the twin towers, Rich Mazurek and Sean Kalloch, the Tigers were dominant in Eastern "B." By 1990-91 those players graduated resulting in a more guard-centric roster. Led by junior Jeff Woodman and senior Aaron Crossman, we lost to our scrappy rivals, 44-37.

Click to read first installment of Joseph's two-part series.

Now 1-4, we hosted a newer rival, Class D opponent Deer-Isle High School. Instead of playing Eastern "B" teams such as Bucksport, Ellsworth or Mount Desert High School, for example, we had Class C and D teams on our schedule. Because our basketball program had been relatively weak for so long, teams who were perennial tournament teams did not want to play Belfast because they knew we would not carry a lot of Heal Points. Like Rockland, Deer-Isle had become an Eastern "D" powerhouse winning the Eastern Maine championship in 1989. They had given us many problems, mostly defeats the last two seasons. They were scrappy, tough, and played hard-nosed, in-your-face defense. We did as well. In front of our home crowd, we were able to handle the Mariners 59-50 achieving our second win, improving to 2-4.

Our next two games, bac- to-back against a new opponent, Central High School [of East Corinth] was a turning point for us and our season. After a tight first half, we went on one of our UCLA full-court press runs, our fans outcheering the Friday night home crowd, Defense! Defense! We won, 69-60. The very next game was at home against Central. Just like at their gym it was back-and-forth with us trailing for much of this game. At one point we were down by four or five mid fourth quarter. We transitioned back into our full-court press, causing turnovers and easy points for us. Our defensive resurgence paid off giving us a close, 62-61 victory. Finally we were at .500, 4-4!

Our next opponent was against a new team for us, John Bapst High School [of Bangor]. The Crusaders played their home games at the Bangor Auditorium. Perfect for us as it gave us more experience playing on the Auditorium floor. A compromise had been struck between both schools agreeing that Bapst would host both games versus Belfast. We would not host Bapst at home for the second game. The Crusaders were the defending Class C boys basketball champions the previous two years running, 1989 and 1990. Bapst was a very disciplined team. They would not run up and down the floor, but rather run a “shoot-only-if you-are-wide-open-” kind of offensive. We were confident after our two recent wins versus Central, plus first time playing at the Auditorium raised the stakes higher for us. Despite this, we could not overcome the Crusaders disciplined style, losing by five, 41-36.

Now 4-5, we welcomed county rival Mount View [of Thorndike] to our gym for a rematch from the triple-overtime loss we sustained back in the first game of the season. We handled the Mustangs confidently, securing a 74-59 victory this time around, edging us back to .500 and more vertical movement in the Heal Point Standings. We knew we needed to be in the top eight to make it to the tournament. At this point we were on the bubble.

With three wins out of our last four contests, we were in a midseason peak of sorts as we traveled to Camden-Rockport High School (now Camden Hills of Rockport) for a rematch from our second-game overtime loss. Like the previous game against Mount View, we stymied the Windjammers with our full-court press and quick transition game. With a strong contingent of fans on the road, we posted our second 15-point margin of victory in a row, elevating to 6-5.

Next game at home, crosstown-rival Searsport made a return to our den where we were able to go deep into our bench, cruising to a 71-40 win. As we shook hands with Viking players and coaches postgame, one of their assistant’s extended us best wishes in the upcoming tournament. Now 7-5, he too knew we were playing good basketball.

Next we traveled back to the Auditorium and John Bapst to try and avenge a very close five-point defeat the first go around. Like the game before, coach [Bob] Cimbollek utilized his highly-disciplined offensive approach, frustrating us to an 11-point Crusader victory. We did manage to get back on track after another retribution win at home over Messalonskee [of Oakland] 74-65 revenging another early-season defeat. Heading into the last four games of the regular season, we were now 8-6.

George Stevens Academy [of Blue Hill] was another "C" school that we had been playing the last few seasons. Stevens had a very tough forward, high scoring senior Matt Mattson who gave us troubles the previous year as a junior. The Eagles were an athletic, intelligent team and had our number, posting a seven-point win, 51-58. After a tough road loss at GSA, we arguably played our worst game of the season at Deer Isle High School the following game. After only scoring twp points total for the game and fouling out myself, we lost to a rowdy and celebratory Deer Isle, 72-60.

Our next and last home game of the season was versus George Stevens Academy in the return game. Senior forward Chris Flood had been practicing with us all season but was not allowed to play in games due to academic ineligibility. Chris was now eligible as he joined our team for the last few games of the season. Going back to our freshman team, Chris was a great rebounder, defender, and had a knack for putting the ball in the basket. Not a lot of players would stick around and practice if they could not play, Chris was integral. In addition, he gave us another defender for Mattson.

We decided to go with a box-and-one on Mattson with Payson and I on top of the foul line, Morse and Curtis on the blocks. Holland was assigned the tough task of defending Mattson one-on-one. There was a lot of back and forth between us with both teams going on offensive and defensive spurts. Mattson and the Eagles had the last laugh despite our best effort, scoring 44 points on to a seven-point, 70-63, win. We were 8-9 on the season heading into the last regular season game at rival Rockland.

Despite losing three straight to tough "C" and "D" opponents, we were still optimistic we had a chance to get into the tournament. From a Heal Points perspective, we were still on the bubble. A win against Rockland would allow us to get in, a loss, Rockland would get in. Camden-Rockport too was on the bubble, all three Midcoast "B" teams vying for a spot.

As mentioned previously, Rockland was the defending Eastern "B" champion the previous two seasons. We had lost five consecutive games to the Tigers going back to 1988-89, including the seven-point defeat in our fifth game the season at home. It was appropriate that for us and their seniors the season came down to this deciding game. Getting into the tournament was paramount for both teams. Rockland had been on a string of visits to Bangor, we wanted a tournament berth after a two-year absence.

Like every game of the season, the action was very much back-and-forth. Jamie Holland hit a few key free throws late in the fourth quarter, and despite a last-minute half-court attempt by Tiger Jeff Woodman that just narrowly missed at the buzzer, we notched a victory on the road, 49-46. Arguably the biggest game and win for us of the season. We celebrated cheerfully in the guest locker room before a truly celebratory bus ride home. It was an incredible feeling to beat our long-standing rivals on their home court while simultaneously locking in a position to the Eastern Maine Tournament.

For me personally the mystique about playing at the Bangor Auditorium goes back to my youth. Because my parents grew up in Aroostook County, we watched a lot of their schools in the Eastern Maine tournament on MPBN (Maine Public Broadcasting Network). One team we followed were the 1984-85 Katahdin High School boys who won the Class C state championship. Watching the Cougars hoist the gold ball in front of their hometown fans left a big impression. Officially invited to the tournament via a letter from the Maine Secondary School Principals’ Association, we had been accepted as a seventh-seed participant and would play second-seed Orono High School that next Saturday morning at 11 a.m. following the girls quarterfinal game. We had one week to get ready.

It was a celebratory week for our team. We had blue tournament t-shirts with yellow lettering made up that spread like wildfire just as they had for the 1987-88 tournament team. We really didn’t have much of a scouting report on Orono. We watched a few games on VHS, one in particular versus Hermon High School. We knew they had some quick, fast guards in senior Mark Smith and sunior Jamie Beaudoi,n who matched up with myself and Kurt Payson, respectively. Senior center Scott Ismail, at 6 feet 5 inches, matched up with our big man 6-7 Jim Morse. They also had key players in junior Andy Galeati, Dave Best, Scott Hume, and Chad Eddy. As a number two seed, we knew they would be tough. Despite the good times and positivity of earning postseason play, we had our toughest week of practice all season. We were preparing for any kind of Red Riot.

At the tipoff, Orono got possession and scored first. Our first time up the court Mark Smith stole the ball from me, scoring an easy layup plus the foul. We couldn’t get our offense together and our stalwart defense was anything but. They opened with a huge 18-2 first-quarter lead. We were stymied. In the second half we began to press and regain the competitive edge we flexed in other hard-fought victories. Orono came prepared as well having a few trick plays up their sleeve scoring a few easy layups just as we were clawing our way back into the game. Despite outscoring the Red Riots in the second half, the first half deficit was too much to overcome, we lost by 12, 68-56.

In the span of an hour-and-a-half, our season was over. For our team, a disappointing end as we had hoped to get past the first round. We walked out of the side doors of the Auditorium warmly greeted by parents who were still clapping for us, telling us to keep our heads high. We achieved our goal to play in the Eastern Maine tournament. We were the first Belfast team of the 1990s to do so, and only the third team in the previous 20-plus years to play at Maine’s [basketball] Mecca. There would be more, including a fantastic 1995-96 Lion team that advanced to the regional semifinals.

As described in our tournament program by Gene W. Childress, “There is no greater feeling than the one you get when you’re wearing your high school uniform and ride into another town in a yellow school bus.”

For the 1990-91 Belfast boys basketball team, it was a fun and celebratory ride.

Frank Joseph added: Special thank you to junior varsity and assistant coach Jon Cox, who was very much a catalyst for many of our players' preseason by hosting open gyms, letting us hang out in his classroom at break time, and being an overall cool guy. Thanks Jon.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at waldo.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at waldo.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.
Note: If you signed up using our new subscriber portal, your username is the email address you registered with and your password is in all caps