Veteran Orono squad hopes to finish strong

The Orono High School boys basketball team is hoping to parlay its extensive experience into a deep postseason run in the Class B North ranks this season.

The Orono High School boys basketball team is hoping to parlay its extensive experience into a deep postseason run in the Class B North ranks this season.

Armed with a familiar roster, the Orono High School boys basketball team is in a familiar place entering the final two weeks of the regular season.

Coach Jason Coleman’s Red Riots entered Thursday night’s home game against neighboring Old Town ranked fourth in Class B North with a 9-3 record and poised to make a deep postseason run.

But for a heralded class of seniors — Nate Desisto, Keenan Collett,
Jackson Coutts and Jake Koffman — that has been making its collective mark on the hardwood and in other sports since arriving on the varsity scene as freshmen, there’s still plenty to be done before tournament time.

“Right now we’re just trying to jell as a team because I don’t think
we really have yet,” said Desisto. “Once we jell and find our groove
we’ll start to look toward the postseason.”

This Orono squad has high expectations, and justifiably so given its
recent tournament experiences.

The Red Riots have won six of nine postseason games during the last
three seasons, advancing to the Eastern Maine Class C quarterfinals in 2014 and to the regional championship game each of the last two
winters before falling to Calais in 2015 and Ellsworth in 2016.

“The first year we made it pretty deep and we were just happy to get
to that point, but last year it was a disappointment when we lost to
Ellsworth,” said Coleman. “Now we’ve been there twice and have had the heartbreak at the end of the season, and this year we finally just
want to end on a good note and win a championship.”

The veteran nature of the Orono lineup, in which sophomore forward Connor Robertson is the only starting underclassman, has resulted in the Red Riots taking almost a professional approach to its season.

“That’s one thing where our experience hampers us a little bit,” said
Coleman, “is because like one of our kids said the other day in
practice, ‘Coach, we know it’s a marathon and not a sprint. We’re
getting ready for February, we’re not trying to win every
regular-season game.’

“But they do understand what we’re trying to do. They know our big
picture is to be peaking about three weeks from now. We don’t have to
win every regular-season game to feel like we’re accomplishing what we need to accomplish.”

Orono’s only losses have all been by single digits, twice to
second-ranked Hermon (70-65 and 59-51) and once to No. 3 Central of Corinth (55-54).

The Red Riots are riding a modest three-game winning streak thanks in part to an offense Coleman believes is becoming more balanced.

Desisto leads the attack at nearly 19 points per game, with Collett
another top scoring threat. But recent games have seen the emergence of Coutts and Robertson offensively, which could make Orono more dangerous as the tournament approaches.

That balance likely will be tested next Tuesday when Orono visits
top-ranked and undefeated Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor for their
only regular-season meeting.

“Things are starting to turn right now, I like where we’re at,” said
Coleman. “Obviously we have a ton of experience going in, and if
things work out the way they should seed-wise, it could be another fun

“I think the Class B tournament’s going to be fun again.”

Desisto to attend WPI

Another member of Orono High School’s “core of four” has determined
his college destination.

Desisto, the Red Riots’ senior guard, plans to continue his
academic studies and basketball career beginning next fall at Division
III Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

WPI competes in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), a league paced by Babson College, the top-ranked team in NCAA Division III.

Coach Chris Bartley’s Engineers, 13-5 this season, have been one of
the top teams in the NEWMAC, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in
eight of last 10 seasons.

“It’s obviously a great academic school but they’re also always in
contention for their conference championship and a trip to the NCAA
tournament,” said Desisto, who plans to study engineering. “Ultimately
I’m there for my education first but playing basketball there will be
a bonus because I love basketball and playing at a high level will be

Desisto’s 19 points per game this season have come on 57 percent
field-goal shooting and a 45-percent effort from beyond the 3-point
arc. Despite missing 13 games as a sophomore due to a foot injury,
he still has a chance to reach 1,000 career points.

“Nate’s drawing a lot of (defensive) attention,” said coach Coleman, “but he’s not really forcing things, which is a testament to how smart he is. He’s very, very efficient.”

Desisto has played point guard at Orono for the last four seasons but
at WPI he’ll likely take on more of a shooting guard role, a position he’s played during the AAU season.

“His basketball IQ is very high, and that’s why WPI will be a great
fit for him because there he’ll be able to play off the ball,” said
Coleman. “He’s not going to have to create everything because he’ll
have other playmakers around him that can run him off screens and get him some open looks so he won’t have to do that all himself.”

Two other seniors on the Orono basketball team, Jake Koffman (Stanford for track and field) and Jackson Coutts (Rhode Island for baseball) previously formalized their college plans, while classmate Keenan Collett currently is narrowing his options.

Midcoast showdown Friday

Two of the top three boys basketball teams in Class A North will meet
for the second time this season Friday night when top-ranked and
undefeated Medomak Valley of Waldoboro makes the short trip up Route 1 to visit No. 3 Oceanside of Rockland.

Medomak Valley (13-0) defeated Oceanside 52-36 in their earlier meeting on Dec. 19, and led by the senior frontcourt tandem of Cameron Allaire and Kyle Donlin the Panthers have an average winning margin of 17.5 points.

Only twice has coach Nick DePatsy’s club won by as little as single
digits, in its season opener on Dec. 9 in a 60-52 victory at No. 4
Gardiner and on Dec. 20 in a 64-58 win at Nokomis of Newport (7-5).

Oceanside, which defeated Medomak Valley in the 2016 Class A North
championship game, is 10-2 with eight consecutive victories since its
earlier loss to the Panthers this season.

Since a 49-39 loss at Brunswick on Jan. 14, coach Matt Breen’s
Mariners have defeated Camden Hills of Rockport, Waterville and Morse of Bath by an average of 32 points.

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.