The 2015 Maine High School Basketball Tournament begins in earnest with preliminary round games starting Tuesday, February 10th. This final week of the regular season will have a tourney like feel as teams jockey for their postseason seeding. Prelim round byes are up for grabs while some schools will be looking to host those first round contests. Others need to win key match-ups in order to be one of the two-thirds of teams to advance to postseason play.
With the recent deluge of wintry weather, this last week will offer jammed packed action throughout most of the region. Practices for some teams have been scarce and will continue to be so. For instance, the John Bapst boys had their final practice of the season this past Monday. They conclude their season with four consecutive home games at the Cross Insurance Center. With the regular season scheduled to end on Thursday, some schools have already moved contests to the make-up date of Friday. Starting with the girls, lets look at some of the key match-ups in this final week.
The key match-up in class A takes place on Tuesday night at Red Barry Gym as Bangor hosts Lawrence. The winner of this contest will likely be the top seed in the upcoming tournament. The remainder of the class A field appears to be set although Hampden, currently eighth, could jump into seventh if they can win their final two games of the season. They go on the road to face Mt. Blue and Skowhegan.
The top three seeds in B girls receive byes to the Cross Insurance Center. These spots seem secure with MDI, Presque Isle, and Medomak Valley holding down those positions. John Bapst, currently in fifth place, will host MDI and Presque Isle on back to back nights, Monday and Tuesday. The Crusaders likely need to win one of those to replace Camden Hills as the fourth seed. A log jam exists from five through ten as only twelve Heal Points separate six teams. On Tuesday, tenth seeded Nokomis hosts eight seeded Winslow in a contest that will likely decide who hosts a prelim game next Tuesday.
Class C has the potential to see the most movement over this final week. Mattanawook Academy and Calais have been the hardest hit with the recent bad weather. The Lynx and Blue Devils have five contests remaining, so you guessed it, they will be playing every day this week. Calais, currently ranked fifth, have plenty of points left on their schedule with a key road contest against top-seeded Narraguagus. They also have a make-up game with Houlton this week. MA and Calais will face each other on the last night of the season in Calais.
Mattanawcook will be road warriors this week with five contests scheduled, all on the road. Four of those five games are point-worthy match-ups against the likes of Calais, as I mentioned, as well as Orono, Stearns and Schenck. A couple of wins and the Lynx could move up into the top six, hosting a prelim game.
Orono, currently sixth, has four games to play this week. In addition to their home game against Mattanawcook, they play a key road contest at Central, who is presently eighth. George Stevens also has to cram in four games this week, including an important home contest versus Central.
In Class D, undefeated Washburn will enter the tournament as the number one seed. Two through five is only separated by slightly more than three Heal Points. Only Washburn will receive a first round bye. Machias, like some others, will finish the season with five games in five nights. Included in the tenth-seeded Bulldogs itinerary is a key road contest at ninth ranked East Grand. The Bulldogs also have two meetings in the season’s final week with Shead. East Grand could potentially host a prelim if they beat Wisdom at home on Friday.
Moving on to the boys ranks. Class A has proved to be a balanced division all year. Going into the final week, the top six seeds appear to have a spot at the Augusta Civic Center come school vacation week. Seventh seeded Brunswick and eighth seeded Brewer should at the very least host a prelim game next Wednesday night. Bangor, currently ninth, has a huge road contest Monday at tenth ranked Mt. Ararat. They turn around and travel to Fairfield to face Lawrence on Tuesday before finishing the regular season at cross-river rival Brewer on Thursday.
Class B saw a bit of a shake-up in the standings on Saturday night as MCI traveled to Winslow and upset the then top-seeded Black Raiders 52-42. The win moved the Huskies into the eighth spot in the standings. Medomak Valley leapfrogged Winslow into that top spot by virtue of their 61-45 win over Lincoln Academy. Old Town, currently third, only has one game remaining, but it’s a big one as they try to avenge their only loss of the season Thursday night at Hermon. The Coyotes likely will need to win to hold that spot and receive a first round bye. Speaking of Hermon, they have a plethora of Heal Points remaining on their schedule with their home contest versus Old Town as well as big road games at Caribou and Ellsworth. Caribou in addition to their game with Hermon also hosts Houlton on Tuesday.
In Class C, Central has moved back into the top spot by virtue of Saturday night’s victory over Piscataquis. The Red Devils finish the season with tough road contests at Lee Academy and George Stevens Academy. Calais, seeded second, still have four games to get in this week, highlighted by a trip to Lee. Currently ranked third, Houlton could move into the top spot come tournament time if they can knock off Caribou, and/or Washington Academy on the road. George Stevens, in addition to their game with Central, will take on Bucksport and Searsport this week in hopes of hanging onto their top four ranking. Piscataquis is currently fifth but with only one game remaining could end up hosting a prelim game. Washington Academy, in sixth, has a bundle of points left as they travel to Sumner and Orono before wrapping up their season at home against Houlton.
Orono and Lee Academy, currently seventh and eighth respectively are likely to host prelim games next week.
In Class D, Washburn is the likely number one seed with a fifteen point lead over second seeded Easton. Two through four are only separated by little more than two points. Washburn will wrap up the season with home contests versus Central Aroostook, Easton, and Southern Aroostook. Southern Aroostook travels to fourth seeded Fort Fairfield on Thursday night. If you want a little tourney preview in D this week, Aroostook County appears to be the place to be. Sixth seed Machias, like their girls team, will be playing five games this week. The key contests will be back to back games versus eighth ranked Shead on Thursday and Friday.
Of course, another big snow storm is scheduled to arrive Monday to foul things up even further.
This past Friday we lost a great friend and mentor with the passing of longtime coach and educator Andy Frace after a battle with cancer. Coach Frace coached boys basketball and soccer for many years at Hampden Academy where he was also a social studies teacher. He was also a proud military veteran, having served his country in Vietnam.
Years later I got to know Andy on a more personal level as he served as a sub-varsity basketball coach on Mike Webb’s girls basketball staff at John Bapst in Bangor. He also served as the boys varsity soccer coach there, winning an Eastern Maine championship in 2006. Coach Frace was adored by the players. Why? The more I got to know Andy Frace it became immediately apparent. Andy Frace was real. Kids can spot a phony. There was not an ounce of pretentiousness in Coach Frace. For that, I and many others greatly respected him.
If you didn’t know Andy, you most likely have seen his son Lucas. Andy and Lucas were inseparable. For many years in schools that Coach Frace would be involved with, there would be Lucas. Lucas is probably best known for his halftime shooting exploits in which he flings up one-armed shots from half-court. On many nights he usually makes several to the roar of the crowd.
A special recognition also goes out to those at Orono High School who have taken Lucas under their collective wing during Andy’s battle with cancer. Those good folks will continue to do so after his passing. Among those are athletic administrator Mike Archer, boys basketball coach Jason Coleman, and head football coach Bob Sinclair.
Rest in peace, Coach Frace. You are and will be greatly missed.