The day after. It’s a day that has become an annual tradition for me. It’s a time to digest the feast that was forty-two games of the Northern Maine Class B, C, and D basketball tournament at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center. One doesn’t have to think long when reflecting upon outstanding performances of the week. Players such as Houlton’s Kolleen Bouchard, Dexter’s Megan Peach, and Shead’s Holly Preston will likely be lauded in the days to come for their potential tourney MVP awards. On the boys side MDI’s Riley Swanson, George Stevens Academy’s Taylor Schildroth, and Machias’ James Mersereau garnered much attention during tourney 2017.
The difference between winning and coming up short at the tournament can often be found in the unheralded players. Houlton’s run to their third straight regional title may not have been possible without the clutch shooting of freshman Abbie Worthley. In the Shiretowners’ semifinal match-up with Hermon, Worthley came off the bench to hit a key three-pointer in the final minutes of regulation with her team down five. She also nailed a clutch shot in overtime to spark their 37-33 victory.
Machias rolled through their semifinal and regional title contests. The Bulldogs faced their toughest test in the quarterfinals against seventh seeded Bangor Christian. BC played a triangle and two defense designed to slow down Machias’ top two scoring threats, James Mersereau and Jacob Godfrey. As a result, senior guard Camon Johnson took advantage as he was left wide open on the left wing. He nailed two key three point baskets in the game’s final moments as the Bulldogs pulled out the 49-44 victory.
Here are some other highlights from Tourney 2017 at the Cross Insurance Center:
– At the end of the week, veteran leadership proved to be the winning formula for teams cutting down the nets. Youth was well served throughout the week, however. The Southern Aroostook girls, featuring a team exclusively of eighth graders and freshmen a year ago, advanced a step further this year reaching the regional final. The Warriors came up just short versus defending regional champion Shead 32-29. Southern Aroostook added four more eighth graders to this year’s squad, led by starting center Kacy Daggett.
– A name tourney fans will likely hear for the next three years is that of Hermon’s Isaac Varney. The 6’3″ freshman turned in a stellar performance, scoring 25 points in their quarterfinal victory over Washington Academy. With the Hawks trailing by eight with about a minute and a half left, Varney made several clutch plays both offensively and defensively, helping pave the way to their game ending 12-0 run. He also had a solid effort in the Hawks’ 52-41 semifinal loss to Orono.
– Fans attending this year’s Hermon-Houlton girls contests shouldn’t have made immediate social plans following the games. In the two regular season meetings won by Houlton, the teams went to double overtime at Houlton before playing an overtime tilt in the season finale at Hermon. The third meeting at the Cross Center also went to an extra period with Houlton again prevailing.
– It’s become sort of a familiar utterance come tourney time: It’s tough to beat a team three times in one season. For the record: in this year’s tournament there were eight games in which a team had beaten the other twice during the regular season. The team which won both meetings also won the third meeting in six of those. The Washburn girls were able of avenge two regular season losses to Central Aroostook while the Orono boys were able to vanquish Hermon after losing twice to the Hawks this year.
– Making the tournament is a satisfying accomplishment for all teams who qualify. Perhaps there wasn’t a team that relished the opportunity to compete at the Cross Center more than the Easton girls. It had been twenty-six years since the Lady Bears played in a quarterfinal contest. In 1991 they were sounded defeated by Southern Aroostook. You would have to go all the way back to 1988 when the Easton girls last won a tournament game. That year they defeated Greenville before falling to Washburn in the semis. The coach of that team had a court side seat when Easton made their return appearance this year. Coaching the 1988 Easton Lady Bears was current MPA executive director Dick Durost.
Easton made the most of their appearance this year as they ousted Deer-Isle Stonington in the quarterfinals 45-23. They jumped out to a 12-2 lead in the semifinals before falling to top-seeded Southern Aroostook 48-42.
– The Houlton boys, winners of only two games a year ago rebounded nicely this year, finishing with an 11-8 record, concluding the season with a preliminary round loss at Belfast. The Shiretowners were led by veteran coach Tim Brewer, whose Central Aroostook teams won four state titles under his tutelage. While Houlton fell short of reaching the Cross Center, Coach Brewer’s coaching tree had deep roots at this year’s tourney. The aforementioned Easton girls were coached by Bryan Shaw. Easton’s boys team was coached by Manny Martinez, who also reached the semifinal round. Fans may best remember the diminutive Martinez for his buzzer-beating lay-up over Richmond’s 6’10” John Zaharchuk in the 2008 state title game at the Augusta Civic Center. The shot banked high off the backboard and through the net, leading the Panthers to victory.
Central Aroostook’s boys also advanced to the semifinal round, with former Panther player Jason Woodworth directing the charges. The Fort Fairfield boys, coached by Logan McLaughlin, advanced to their second regional final in three years. The Tigers gave heavily favored George Stevens Academy all they could handle, playing them even for three quarters before falling 59-45. Fort Fairfield won the Eastern Maine ‘D’ crown two years ago.
Justin Norwood, who coached the MDI boys to a regional title, also served as an assistant under Coach Brewer.
– The gustiest performance of the week has to go to Presque Isle’s junior point guard Emily Wheaton. In the Wildcats’ 37-36 quarterfinal win over John Bapst, Wheaton suffered a severely sprained ankle with about four minutes to play and her team leading by nine. The prognosis for a return performance in the semifinal did not look promising. Wheaton would play in the semifinal contest versus Foxcroft Academy, her injured ankle sporting a brace. While the injury appeared to slow her in Presque Isle’s 37-25 loss, the fact she was out there competing shows her grit and toughness.
– Fans looking for lots of scoring would be disappointed by the 2017 tournament. Out of forty-two games played, only three contests had each team scoring fifty or more points. Those three contests, all boys games, were Hermon vs. Washington Academy (55-51), Southern Aroostook vs. Greater Houlton Christian (73-50), and Fort Fairfield vs. Schenck (60-50). In nineteen games the winning team scored less than fifty points.
– The higher seed won 32 out of 42 games at the B, C, and D tournament.
– State championship games typically match unknown opponents. That’s not the case with the Class D boys championship game Saturday at the Cross Insurance Center. Machias and Greenville split a pair of contests during the regular season. Machias opened their season at home with a 57-45 victory over the Lakers. Later in the season at Greenville, the host Lakers prevailed with a 49-47 victory. The contests mark the only losses for each team this season.
Many of the moments that marked the 2017 high school basketball tournament will soon be forgotten. For those who participated, for their fans, and followers these are times which will be cherished forever. No matter the outcome of the games, these players have had, to coin the phrase from March Madness, their one shining moment. That is why those of us who pilgrimage to this event year after year love it so.