Southern Aroostook upsets top-ranked Van Buren for divisional title

VAN BUREN, Maine — The Southern Aroostook boys basketball team took home the Division II championship March 9 after beating top-ranked Van Buren 55-41. 

The No. 3 Warriors of Dyer Brook (11-4 overall) were able to keep the talented No. 1 Crusaders at bay thanks to a balanced scoring attack. The Warriors will play Division I champion Caribou Vikings (14-0) Thursday night at Caribou High School. 

Van Buren ends its respectable season with an 11-3 overall record.

For Southern Aroostook, scoring was spread relatively evenly among players. Hunter Burpee led the way with 12 points, followed by Chris Caswell with nine, Xavier Morales and Buddy Porter each had eight, and Jacob Brooks, Graham Siltz, and Drake Weston all had six.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders’ Manny Deschaine led all players with 17 points, followed by Casey Bellamy with nine; Isaiah Morales, seven; Blake Martin, six; and Noah Martin, two.

Although the home team Crusaders scored first, Southern Aroostook put up an early lead and was able to hold onto it for the entire night. Van Buren struggled to penetrate the dominant Warrior defense, often resorting to shooting behind the three-point line. Deschaine sunk a few impressive threes in the second quarter to keep the Crusaders in it going into the half. 

But the points difference only stretched into the second half, as the game spread out, with both teams making longer passes and faster drives down the court. Southern Aroostook’s aggressive play helped them create numerous turnovers and the team capitalized on numerous loose balls for easy layups.

And while Van Buren had a number of opportunities on foul calls, they struggled to sink free throws. Van Buren converted only 8 of 16 free throws (50 percent), while the Warriors fared much better, sinking 7 of 8 foul shots (88 percent).

“They’re a good team,” Van Buren head coach Steve Lapierre said. “We missed a lot of free throws, we missed some bunnies. It all makes a difference down the stretch, so you’ve got to finish those easy ones.”

Meanwhile, Southern Aroostook head coach Brett Russell tipped his hat to the Crusader team, which he said “battled” for the championship. For Russell, no game is a freebie, but especially not the upcoming final against Caribou.

“The next game is going to be a behemoth for us,” Russell said. “We’re going to have to keep our pace, we’re going to have to rebound offensively, defensively, we’re going to have to control the turnovers, and that’s just to have a chance.”

The win came one day after Southern Aroostook’s girls took their own divisional title on Monday, making Dyer Brook a winning town this week. Russell’s daughter, Madison, played in that game, and he said Tuesday night’s win was “icing on the cake” for him as a father.

Van Buren’s Isaiah Morales launches a 3-pointer in the March 9 divisional championship against Southern Aroostook. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

Points leader Manny Deschaine (right) of Van Buren looks for a pass in Warrior territory during the March 9 Division II championship. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

Van Buren’s Blake Martin jumps for a layup at the March 9 Division II championship against Southern Aroostook. (Hannah Catlin | St. John Valley Times)

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