The day after tourney. It’s a day filled with a bit of melancholy, that’s for sure For those of us who religiously attend the annual high school basketball tournament our lives return back to the normalcy the other fifty-one weeks offers. For one special week in February we do nothing else but eat, sleep, and watch high school basketball. For myself, if you think about calling on the phone, forget about it unless it’s a dire emergency. Want to see me? You need to come to the Cross Insurance Center. The day after is one of reflection. The endless sights and sounds of whistles blowing, shots flying, and fans screaming can be hard to fully digest all at once.
Those of us who make this annual sojourn come away with our own experiences and highlights. We may have a relative who plays or we go to cheer on the ‘ole alma mater. Perhaps we go just to cheer on members of the community. Then there are those of us who keep coming back because that’s just what we do each year during February vacation week.
Having attended all forty-two games in the inaugural Northern Maine tournament in Bangor, here are some memories of this year’s event:
Tourney 2016 was a bittersweet moment for Deer Isle-Stonington’s Allison Eaton. Going into the Mariners’ quarterfinal contest with Shead, the senior forward needed ten points to reach the thousand point milestone in her career. Of course of utmost importance was trying to help the team advance to the semis. While her DI-S team fell 34-22 to the Tigerettes of Eastport, Eaton eclipsed the threshold late in the third quarter with a driving shot to the hole.
Here are a few numbers from this year’s B-C-D Northern Maine tournament: high seeds won 31 of the 42 games in Bangor. The semifinal round is where the upset bug really hit as the lower seed won seven of the twelve contests. Championship Saturday held true to form as the higher seed won all six regional title games. Five games were decided in overtime, while only twelve games had a margin of fifteen points or greater. It was a very competitive tournament indeed. Of the six champions crowned in Bangor, there were three number one seeds, a number two seed, and two number three seeds, who came away victorious. Despite the critics, it appears as though Mr. Heal’s system still works pretty well.
Speaking of late game heroics, who will forget the clutch free throw shooting of Schenck’s Chris King? With his team trailing Lee Academy by one in overtime in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, the six foot forward grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled in the act of shooting with no time left on the clock. With ice water in his veins, he calmly sank two free throws propelling his team onto the next round.
Ellsworth needed two buzzer beaters to survive their semifinal showdown with underdog Caribou. After the Vikings Donovan Savage sank two free throws to put his club up three with 3.8 seconds to play, the Eagles Bryce Harmon drove the length of floor, pulled up, and nailed a thirty footer to send the game to O.T. In what had been a scoreless extra frame, Ellsworth’s Bruce St. Peter hit a shot just inside the foul line, allowing the Eagles to escape and move on.
It’s tough to beat a team three times in a season, or is it? This year’s tournament featured fourteen contests in which the winner of two or more regular season meetings was faced with this arduous task. The team that swept the regular season series won ten of the fourteen games. Over the years, the team that has won twice during the season wins that third match-up approximately 80-85 percent of the time. It should be noted though, in a number of cases that third victory came much tougher. In the semifinal round, Ellsworth had handled Caribou by double digits both times. Easton had also taken down Washburn quite handily in the regular season before facing their own overtime survival. Southern Aroostook’s boys rolled over Central Aroostook twice during the regular season by thirty plus in each meeting. C.A. played S.A. much tougher the third time around before falling 51-45.
Dynasties are meant to fall at some point. This is especially true in high school sports when rosters turn over most years due to graduation. The Washburn girls, winners of five straight state championships took a fourteen point lead into the half against a valiant Katahdin squad in their quarterfinal match-up. Katahdin would rally to take the lead in the final minutes before falling 67-62. Shead would finally break the historic run in the semifinals in a 38-35 fashion.
Everyone coming into the tournament has the goal of taking down the nets by week’s end. For some teams, just making the tourney field is a major accomplishment in itself. The Belfast boys made their first quarterfinal appearance since 2001, while the Wisdom boys last made the field in 2000. The most recent showing by the Wisdom girls prior to this year netted the Lady Pioneers a gold basketball. For that effort you would have to go all the way back to 1998, when UMaine bound Tracy Guerrette helped lead the way to a state title. All three aforementioned teams entered tourney play as the number eight seed before falling in their contests. The Wisdom girls did take the top seeded Southern Aroostook girls to overtime before coming up short 38-32.
Speaking of Wisdom, head coach Scott Pelletier following the girls loss Monday afternoon took to the lieutenant’s chair for the boys nightcap with Easton. The head coach for the Pioneer boys is Kayla Daigle. Daigle is believed to be only the second female head coach to guide a boys team in the Eastern or Northern Maine tournament. Joanna Hamilton led the Woodland boys to four straight tourney appearances from 1995-98. Daigle also serves as the assistant coach for the Wisdom girls squad.
For the Houlton girls, they wrapped up Tourney 2016 the way they finished off the 2015 Eastern Maine Tournament. Albeit in a new classification, the Shiretowners found themselves celebrating once again holding up the championship plaque. For the other winners on championship Saturday, the experience was quite unfamiliar for themselves and even their communities. The George Stevens boys last won a regional title in 2003, while the Shead girls last claimed the coveted hardware in 2000.
For the remaining regional title winners on Saturday, you would need to go well beyond the turn of the century. The Ellsworth boys, a perennially strong program, needed a bit of a miracle in the semifinals to capture this year’s title. Their previous Eastern Maine championship came in 1988 when they needed a miracle comeback in the final versus Mattanawcook Academy. Dubbed the “miracle minute” Tim Scott led an improbable comeback in that year’s final.
For the Easton boys, you’d have to go back to 1980 when they last played in a state championship game. There must be something in having a first year head coach who played at Central Aroostook. Manny Martinez, in his first year at the helm, guided the Bears from the sideline, following up the feat accomplished by Logan McLaughlin a year ago at Fort Fairfield.
The Narraguagus girls entered the tournament a year ago as the number one seed only to be bounced in the quarterfinals by Mattanawcook Academy. This year the third seeded Lady Knights made an impressive run to the regional championship, their first in school history.
Staying the girls class C, how about the experience on the bench in Tuesday night’s quarterfinal when longtime coaches Larry Gardner and Bob McShane guided Fort Fairfield and Calais, respectively?
Was there a better session of the tournament than Wednesday evening’s class B boys semifinals? We already mentioned Ellsworth’s come from behind victory but Orono avenged two regular season losses to rival Old Town in the nightcap. Jake Koffman, with the score tied, knocked down the second of two free throws with a few seconds remaining. Freshmen Connor Robertson also nailed a big three from the corner to get the Riots going as he cut a seven point deficit to four with less than four minutes to play. Just a few of the clutch moments in this year’s tourney.
I haven’t seen the final totals but attendance appears to be up significantly at this year’s tourney in Bangor. The weather cooperated most of the week and the games were not televised, which may have played a role in the uptick. This year’s tournament did seem to feature communities which have historically supported their teams. The class B semis and finals nearly filled the arena. By the way, the atmosphere at those two sessions was as good as there’s been in either venue, the Cross Insurance Center or the Bangor Auditorium.
Speaking of fans, I’ve cemented this observation during tournament week: those who say the most and are loudest in general know the least.
The “Cinderella” team of the tournament would have to be the Hermon girls. With only two seniors on the roster they took care of #2 MDI in the quarters before downing #3 Presque Isle in the semis. The hung around with Houlton for a half before falling 51-35.
Speaking of youth, while we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, Southern Aroostook and Machias boys should have a good chance to meet in the 2017 regional final. Neither team has a senior on the entire roster. Fans of the Warriors should make their plans to spend a lot of time at the CIC next February as their girls, who reached the semifinals this year, consisted entirely of eighth and ninth graders.
Part of the beauty of tournament time is the emergence of unlikely heroes. Throughout the week, many teams employed various defensive schemes in an attempt to slow down the opponent’s star players. The Southern Aroostook boys in their regional final vs. Easton keyed on containing the Bears senior tandem of Logan Halvorson and Drew Sotomayor. Stepping up was 6’3″ junior center Jordan Doody. Doody scored what is believed to be a career high 20 points as the Bears triumphed in overtime.
On a more personal level, my highlight of tournament week didn’t happen at the Cross Insurance Center. As many of you who follow this space regularly may know, a member of our John Bapst basketball family was diagnosed with cancer last July. Since that time, Jon Bowman has undergone many treatment sessions as he fights this disease. Jon was able to attend some games the first weekend before checking in for a week of treatment on Monday morning. This past Thursday I sat with him by his hospital bed. I came away inspired by his tremendous spirit as he fights on. I am reminded each time I think of him how insignificant this game of basketball really is. Despite our passion for the game, it still is after all just a game.
Prior to tournament week, our boys basketball team held their end of season awards night. In recognizing Jon, head coach Rick Sinclair said that despite not wearing a uniform all year he was always in our hearts. No truer words could have been spoken.
Perhaps the reason I keep coming back to the tournament is because this is much more than a basketball event. Most of the players we see each year aren’t earning a college scholarship and no one will likely make their living playing this game. Maybe that’s the beauty of the tournament. It’s about watching kids in their one shining moment representing their communities. It’s the communities in turn supporting their own. That’s why we love this one week in February so much. .