SCARBOROUGH — From the outside glancing in, things looked bad for the Scarborough High boys’ basketball team about 13 months ago.

The Red Storm, perennial afterthoughts in the SMAA, were 0-10 to start the 2016-17 season.

It certainly wasn’t the way first-year coach Phil Conley wanted a season to start, but he said he never was down or discouraged.

“I told them on day one I believed in them and in turn, they believed in me,” Conley said. “Even when we were 0-10. They kept working hard and that team last year set the groundwork for this year’s team.”

Turns out that foundation was pretty solid.

Friday night, Scarborough (17-4) will face Edward Little (17-4) in the Class AA state championship game at the Cross Insurance Arena. It comes one week after the Red Storm appeared in and won a regional title for the first time.

That Scarborough beat South Portland 55-43 in the regional final had extra significance. Conley resigned as South Portland’s coach in May 2015 when told he wouldn’t be rehired despite an eight-year record of 108-51 and the 2013 Western Class A title.

He didn’t coach the next season.

“It was tough to go through what I went through, but (Athletic Director) Mike LeGage and the administration at Scarborough took me in and believed in me, and I’m so happy to be here in Scarborough,” Conley said. “The community has been great. My players have been great.”

Since the 0-10 start, Scarborough has gone 24-7. This season it has beaten Portland, the two-time defending state champion, and South Portland, the two-time defending AA South champ.

In midseason the Red Storm ground out a series of close wins, including one over visiting Edward Little, 61-56.

“We’ve seen a total shift in culture,” said junior forward and leading scorer Nick Fiorillo. “Our whole mindset this year is different because of the work that we’ve put in, and what Coach Conley’s done to our team and our town.”

Fiorillo, senior guards Morgan Pratt, Jaquan Seme and Tyler Gobeil, and senior forward Reece Lagerquist are the key returners from last season.

“We knew when (Conley) came in he had a really good reputation,” Pratt said. “We certainly felt we had the talent to be competitive in this league, particularly as seniors. We just felt really confident in Coach.”

Conley stressed two key tenants for success: tough defense and rebounding.

The results show up in the statistics.

Opposing teams shoot 33 percent from the floor and less than 30 percent from behind the 3-point arc against Scarborough.

While Scarborough has good outside shooters in Fiorillo, Pratt and sophomore Brian Austin, it is committed to getting the ball inside, leading to the Red Storm taking nearly 100 more free throws than opponents.

And rebounding? Scarborough has grabbed 200 more rebounds than its opponents, an average advantage of 9.5 more per game.

Fiorillo leads the team with 8.3 rebounds per game compared to 4.9 as a sophomore. He’s also bumped his scoring average from 14.4 to 20.1 points per game.

Pratt grabs five rebounds per game. Forwards Lagerquist and Paul Kirk both get more than four. Zoltan Panyi, a quarterback who hadn’t been on the basketball team before this season, comes off the bench and gets another three or four rebounds each game.

Speaking of football, Conley said there’s been a positive effect from Scarborough’s first Class A football title. Panyi, Lagerquist, Gobeil and Seme were starters on the football team.

“They’ve won so they have that confidence,” Conley said.

“Winning the first Class A championship (in football) definitely gave me confidence going in,” Seme said. “It’s just knowing that as long as you work hard every day and push yourself and your teammates, anything is possible.”

That includes a first basketball title, just a little more than a year after the program lost 10 straight games.

“With Scarborough, we’ve had a really successful athletic tradition and basketball really hasn’t been a part of it,” said Pratt. “When you see other sports in the school doing really well, it inspires you to want to be a part of it and I really think that can go a long way.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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