AUGUSTA – “I can’t believe it,” said Terry Doyle again and again as he worked to slow his wildly beating heart. “I can’t even talk about it.”

All around him, neighbors and friends from tiny Jackman hugged and yelled and tried to make sense of what they just witnessed. Forest Hills High just beat Hyde School 61-60 for the Western Class D championship.

No one saw this coming.

“We have no chance,” Doyle said after walking into the Augusta Civic Center. “Are you kidding me? They have a professional basketball coach. (No, Peter Rowe doesn’t need to wear as many hats as Anthony Amero at Forest Hills.) They recruit their players. (If Hyde did, that recruiter should be fired. Hyde has won one state title in 30 years.)

“They’re a private boarding school. They’ve got 150 kids. We have 54. We’ve got eight players on the whole team. (True, true, true and true.)

“They have busloads of fans. (Hyde students are bussed to games.) We’ve got 800 people in our whole town.”

Not every Forest Hills fan was as vehement about their team’s chance of upsetting a very athletic, deep and taller team, which was 17-1 and the tournament’s top seed. But they weren’t overly optimistic, either.

This is small-town basketball played on the state’s biggest stages. So the crowd maybe numbered in the hundreds, much less than the thousands expected at the Cumberland County Civic Center later Saturday night for the big-school finals. So what?

“Our kids are playing for their school, their town,” said Doyle. “Who is Hyde playing for? (Their community, which is the school.)”

To that point, Forest Hills fans hung a large sign behind the team bench displaying a team photo and the words: Forest Hills Tigers. “Made in Maine.” Hometown pride is still very much on display in Jackman or Bingham or Vinalhaven, or wherever small towns look to each other for support in the best times and the worst.

Everyone in town knew Evan Worster, Derick and Brandon Ouellette, Matt Turner and their teammates. Where they lived and what they ate for breakfast.

They all awoke early Saturday in their own beds. Outside there was a fresh 12-inch blanket of heavy wet snow.

“My father shoveled,” said Evan Worster, whose 33 points helped bring Forest Hills back from a 19-point deficit. “It was his favor to me.”

Jackman is near the border with Canada. Driving southeast over snow-covered roads added another hour to the trip to Augusta.

“I looked outside and thought it looked pretty sketchy,” said Worster, who set a tournament three-game scoring record with 106 points. “I didn’t know if we’d get to play the game or not.”

But they did, winning a game that will be retold and replayed for years. “How did we win this game? I can’t tell you,” said Worster.

Did Hyde bring out the best in him and his teammates? “Playing at the Civic Center brings out the best in us. It’s the tournament.” Life outside stops.

Forest Hills Coach Anthony Amero couldn’t explain how his team won, either.

“It’s the will to win. I played six kids. The average age on this team is 141/2. When I called a timeout and looked at the faces, I saw they had more energy.”

Amero went to teach and coach at Forest Hills some 15 years ago. His plan was to spend two years in Jackman and move on. “It’s a tough place to live. The winters are so long. Most of the work is in the woods.”

Amero was talking old-school stuff. The work ethic thrives in Jackman. His players have known each other and played with each other for as long as they can remember. The town gets through life on teamwork. Stands to reason the town’s children do the same.

“I’d hate to need an ambulance in Jackman right now,” said Doyle. “Almost everyone in town is here.”

A voice behind Doyle said the ambulance might be needed at the Civic Center. Hearts were still beating too hard from the victory no one expected.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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Twitter:SteveSolloway

 


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