The Sanford High boys’ basketball team got off to a 1-4 start and Coach Paul Nolette wondered if his Spartans would win another game.
But then came a seven-game winning streak that ended Thursday night with a loss to unbeaten and top-ranked Portland at the Portland Expo.
The game was a makeup from a Jan. 3 weather postponement.
Sanford (8-5), ranked sixth in the Heal point standings, has positioned itself to make the Western Class A tournament.
“Our defensive effort reached the level it needed to be in those wins,” said Nolette. “We’re an undersized team so all five guys on the floor tightened up what we had to do. It led us to becoming a rebounding team first.”
Nolette added that being the shorter team on the floor is nothing new.
“We don’t worry about size. We focus on what we do well, like pressuring the ball. Our commitment to rebounding after the Thornton game has been pretty good,” said Nolette.
Sanford lost to Thornton Academy 65-47 on Dec. 20 in Saco, then won its seven straight, starting with a 66-63 victory against Noble at North Berwick.
That was followed with victories over Biddeford, Gorham, Marshwood, Cheverus, Massabesic and finally Deering on Tuesday night.
“The last six of those wins, we held our opponents under 50 points,” said Nolette.
Sanford dealt Deering (8-5) its third straight loss with a 52-45 win at Deering. The Spartans, who led throughout, were led by John Morgan with 16 points while point guard Evyn Nolette added 15. Jordan Tranchemontagne chipped in with 13 points and had three steals that led to layups.
“It was a big win against Deering, worth a lot of Heal points,” said Nolette. “In the SMAA, they’re all big ones because this season Nos. 4 through No. 13, anyone can beat anyone else.”
Nolette said Morgan has been the team’s offensive mainstay; the 6-foot-1 senior is averaging 17 points.
Evyn Nolette, the coach’s son, is averaging 14.5 points, 6.1 assists and 2.5 steals.
“Evyn is our floor general. We go as far as he goes,” said the coach.
Prior to the Portland game, Evyn Nolette had made 14 3-pointers in the last three games. The other players also filled their roles nicely in the winning streak.
“Jordan Tranchemontagne has been that third scorer that we’ve needed. Josh Schroder has done the work inside, guarding the other team’s center and getting rebounds. Chase Smith-Roberts does the little things that often go unnoticed. He leads us in taking charges. It seems someone always steps up,” said Nolette.
Nick Love is the biggest player at a rugged 6-foot-4, and Josh Allen plays off guard and, like Smith-Roberts, does things that go unnoticed.
The Heal point standings can have a lot of movement in the final two weeks as teams swap positions.
Last week, Sanford played once and dropped from fifth to ninth, but this week has gone back up to sixth.
“The fourth, fifth and sixth teams are pretty close,” said Nolette.
Sanford has five games remaining, starting with a home game Friday night against Biddeford. The Spartans host Noble on Tuesday, then play at Scarborough that Thursday. Those games are huge for all three teams.
Sanford then plays at Marsh-wood on Feb. 4 and ends the regular season at home against Massabesic on Feb. 6.
Sanford has a chance to finish fourth, which would mean a direct path to the quarterfinals at the Portland Expo. A year ago, Sanford beat Marshwood in a preliminary-round game before losing to South Portland in the quarterfinals.
“It’s too early to think about getting the No. 4 ranking,” said Nolette. “There’s still a lot of basketball to be played.”
PORTLAND SHOT into first place past Falmouth and Bonny Eagle with its victory against Scarborough.
The Bulldogs are in the driver’s seat for the top seed for the tournament if they keep winning. They may even be able to afford a loss and gain No. 1. The team is thinking only of finishing unbeaten.
“We want the top seed and the feeling that we’re the team everyone has to beat,” said senior Travis Godbout, a starter for the first time as a varsity player and making the most of it.
Several players have stepped up their games. Godbout, who can be deadly from 3-point range, is one of them. So are Steve Alex and Matt Talbot.
Talbot was a key for the Bulldogs’ championship hopes entering the season, but the 6-6 center has taken his game up a notch or two. Lately he had dominating performances against Bonny Eagle, where he scored the first 11 points of the third quarter; Deering, where he scored 20 points and blocked a couple of shots, including one at the start of the game that prevented a layup; and Sanford, where he scored 26 points.
Coming down the homestretch, there’s a battle for the 12th and final qualifying spot in Western Class A. South Portland is in 12th, four tourney index points ahead of Kennebunk in 13th. Marshwood is in 14th, less than nine points out of 12th with key games remaining.
In Western Class B, Greely and Morse are 1 and 2, separated by just over a point. York holds the 10th and final qualifying position.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: