Forty-two games are in the books and the curtain has come down on the 2015 Eastern Maine B, C, and D basketball tournament at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center. As with every year, the tournament featured exciting finishes, teams just excited to be there, as well as the drama that unfolds as squads play for the ultimate goal, a championship. There were also plenty of upsets, none bigger than the ninth-seeded Gardiner girls knocking off top-seeded, undefeated, and defending Eastern Maine champion MDI.
In the Tigers’ 62-50 quarterfinal triumph, Gardiner defied conventional wisdom in how to knock off Goliath. They did not slow it down, they did not try to limit possessions, they didn’t use a special defensive scheme in trying to take the Trojans out of their game. The Tigers instead threw caution to the wind, did a masterful job of aggressively attacking the pressure, and played loosely and confidently.
As the game progressed I felt my mind and emotions caught in a conundrum. Mind you, most of the game I don’t generally pull for or against particular teams, I just want the games to be interesting. With each passing moment, I could feel history being established. I can never remember a more monumental upset in a girls tournament game. MDI hadn’t been significantly challenged all season, albeit a tough game in Presque Isle, which broke the Wildcats seven year home winning streak. Part of me found myself caught up in this historical moment. Yet, I often feel worse for the favorite who is on the wrong end of these match-ups than I do ecstasy for the team who pulls off the grand feat.
You see, MDI had everything to lose in this game. Many will say the players “choked”, a term I absolutely hate. Coaches get second guessed. By the way, MDI had been a trapping, pressing team all season. Yes, Gardiner to their credit did a fantastic job handling MDI’s pressure but MDI was what they were. Coach Barker and his staff had to be counting on that quick 12-14 point run eventually like they had been getting all year. It just didn’t happen on this day. When a favorite loses, issues that had been latent all season seen to all of a sudden rise to the surface. Had they have won I’m sure many of the issues would not have been problems at all or discussed.
With absolutely no disrespect meant to Gardiner, with no dog in the fight I generally like to see the two titans on Championship Saturday. The Tigers absolutely deserved to be there, however. While the Tigers hung around and were pesky for awhile against Presque Isle, as a neutral fan you can’t help but wonder what might have been.
Here are some other thoughts and observations from Tourney 2015:
The Presque Isle girls, I believe, are the only team to have won an Eastern Maine championship without having beaten a top eight team the entire tournament. To win the title the Wildcats knocked off #10 Winslow, #11 Hermon, and #9 Gardiner. The plaque in the trophy case, however, will not state who they beat but it just says Eastern Maine Champions. Congratulations to Presque Isle on their third regional title in four years.
Two players reached the 1000 point career plateau during tournament week. Machias’ Logan Wood eclipsed the mark with his thirty point quarterfinal performance versus Easton. He also poured in another thirty in the Bulldogs’ loss to Washburn in the semifinal round. Presque Isle’s Krystal Kingsbury also passed the 1000 point mark needing 21 in the Wildcats’ Eastern Maine title game victory over Gardiner. Kingsbury finished the contest with 23 points.
The box and one defense proved to be an effective weapon during the week in shutting down key players for the opposition. On opening night, Old Town Coach Brian McDormand utilized the strategy on Caribou’s Dayne Savage, holding the Vikings’ star to only six points on the night. When the elder Savage was out of the game the Coyotes used the same strategy on his brother Donovan.
On Monday, Fort Fairfield’s Logan McLaughlin used the same tactic to essentially shut down Schenck’s Justin Thompson. Thompson was limited to four points in Fort’s 55-39 triumph.
Speaking of McLaughlin, Fort Fairfield got a find when they hired him to be their boys basketball coach. His coaching, particularly his sideline demeanor impressed me the entire week. What most astonished me was how he let the players have the spotlight following their Eastern Maine title victory over Washburn. How many 21-year-old rookie head coaches would be out in the middle of the floor celebrating with their teams, acting well, 21? Not McLaughlin, he stood in front of his team’s bench taking it all in, acting like he had been there before, which he has. McLaughlin was a standout player for Central Aroostook’s 2011 state title team.
With the absence of traditional boys powers like Central Aroostook, Bangor, Camden Hills, Jonesport-Beals, and Presque Isle, a number of schools ended long tournament and title droughts. The Fort Fairfield boys regional title was their first since 1988 and will be looking for their first ever state crown when they take on Forest Hills Saturday in Bangor. In Class C, Orono advanced to the regional final for the first time since 1996. The Central boys also advanced to the tournament for the first time since 2006. Their win over Piscataquis in the quarterfinal was their first since 1999, when they advanced to the regional final.
On the girls side, Houlton won their first title since 1993, when they were in Class B. Also in Class C, Piscataquis picked up their first quarterfinal win since 1987 with their resounding victory over Washington Academy. In Class D, East Grand made the tournament for the first time since 2002.
Every team needs a spark plug. It can be someone who doesn’t light up the stats column but is invaluable to a team’s success. Claire Petersen from Hermon fits that description. Having missed a good part of the season due to illness, Petersen was instrumental in her team’s 42-30 quarterfinal victory over Medomak Valley. She seemed to get every loose ball and long rebound. Even though she only scored eleven points in two games, she was on my all-tournament ballot.
If the five class proposal goes through for next year, this could be the last time we see teams like Medomak Valley, Gardiner, Camden Hills, and Oceanside in Bangor. Those schools will probably be in the second largest classification with their Eastern Maine tournament most likely played at the Augusta Civic Center.
The players in the Medomak-MCI boys quarterfinal game had a little bit of extra margin of error with their shots over the first minute twenty seconds of their game. The game ball was not switched out following the previous girls tilt so subsequently the smaller ball was used. With Medomak leading 4-2, the error was found when the referee administered a free throw to an MCI player.
Tournament week was always supposed to be a harbinger of spring. I can’t remember a tourney week consistently as cold as the one we just experienced. Hopefully the weather as well as the action on the court heats up as we head towards state championship weekend.