Tournament fans come in all varieties. There are those who live vicariously through their beloved teams, coming to the Auditorium or this year to the Cross Insurance Center decked out in their school colors. They can tell you the history of their school’s team from the time they entered those hallowed halls of academia many years ago. There are the fans who have only followed the team because they have a son or daughter competing. Once they are done playing, they will rarely be seen again. Then there are those who just love the tournament. It doesn’t matter who is playing, they are there. For those fans, and I count myself among those, who graduated high school many moons ago and the ties have long since faded, the games have a different feel. Some games in which a team is heavily favored and the outcome is a surety, the contest starts with a feeling of ennui, yet we still go because after all it’s tourney time and that’s what we do.
On occasion, someone forgets to tell the decided underdog they are just that. They hang around and start to believe the impossible is possible. The impartial fan starts to feel a tugging, rooting for history to be made. As the contest continues, the basket starts to appear smaller for the heavy favorite and you have the makings of an upset.
This Friday will mark the beginning of my 29th year attending tournament games. As we look forward to this year’s event, here are my top five girls and boys tournament upsets that I have had the opportunity to witness over the years.
5.- #8 Houlton Defeats #1 Orono in Class C Girls Quarterfinal 2012- The Red Riots were plagued on this day by a tough shooting afternoon, missing a number of close range shots. Samantha Keegan banked in a short shot for the Shires with about 4 seconds left to give them the 45-44 victory.
4.- #1 Presque Isle Eliminated in Quarterfinals in 2004 and 2005- I decided to combine the two in this case because of the cruel irony involved. The Wildcats entered the 2004 tourney as the number one seed only to fall to Camden Hills by a 47-44 score. One year later they lost to Rockland, a school located less then 10 miles away, by an identical 47-44 count. The third time would be the charm as in 2006 they also entered the tournament as the top seed, capturing the gold ball.
3. #3 Presque Isle Knocks off #1 Cony in 1990 Eastern Maine A Final- Cony was the premier program in girls basketball, having won three straight Eastern Maine titles and two gold balls in three years. Under Coach Paul Vachon, the Rams brought to the table an aggressive, in your face style that few had seen in the girls ranks up until this time. Cony had defeated the Wildcats by 18 the year before in the regional final. PI would win this one in overtime and a week later capture the program’s first gold ball. Cony would have to wait until 1995 to capture gold again, as Lawrence dominated the next four years thanks in large part to some girl named Cindy Blodgett.
2. #7 Nokomis over #2 Cony in 1999 Quarterfinal- Nokomis would go on to capture gold two years later. Perhaps this 58-57 overtime win helped serve as a springboard of sorts to that title.
And my top girls basketball upset that I’ve witnessed is:
1. #6 Greater Houlton Christian Academy over #3 Lee Academy in 2006 D Quarterfinal- Now for those of you who may not know the details you are probably asking: how is a #6 over a #3 the greatest upset you have ever seen at the tournament? Of course, as you are probably well aware, Heal Points can be a bit quirky at times. Lee Academy had a large nucleus back from their 2005 state title team, who beat GHCA by 40 in the quarters a year prior. Lee would go on to capture gold in 2007 and then in class C in 2008 but the school Eagles soared in this one 64-61.
5. #9 Orono Defeats #1 John Bapst in 1997 Eastern Maine B Quarterfinal- Now mind you, this may not have been one of the monumental upsets, Orono, who was the defending regional champion, played two competitive games against the Crusaders in the regular season. What makes this stand out was how they did it? John Bapst led by 10 with about 1:45 on the clock. With a Bob Cimbollek coached team game over, right? To this date, the things that took place over this period are some of the most bizarre chain of events I’ve ever seen in a basketball game. Orono misses a free throw, loose ball goes out of bounds, Scott Cunningham sticks a three in the corner off the out of bounds play. An Orono player fouls out, the substitute rebounds a missed free throw and misses a lay-up at JOHN BAPST’S basket. Add three deep three point baskets by Robey Rhoads and the Red Riots pulled off the improbable one point victory.
4. Bangor Knocks Off Deering in 2001 A State Championship Game- How can a team that is the defending state champions and sporting a 20-1 mark coming into this game be such a decided underdog? Well, the Queen City Rams were facing future Maryland Terrapin Nic Caner-Medley, Jamaal Caterina, lighting quick guard Walter Phillips and Deering. Bangor, with Coach Roger Reed donning his green sport coat on St. Patrick’s Day, built a 17-point lead in the first half thanks to deadly perimeter shooting by guard Joe Vanidestine. Deering would come after them with pressure and their length and athleticism gave them the lead in the late going. Some struggles at the line gave Bangor one last chance down one with seconds to play. You know what happened next!
3. #8 Easton Defeats #1 Jonesport-Beals in 2013 D Quarterfinal- Is there a more iconic program in small-school basketball in Maine than Jonesport-Beals? The defending state champions returned First Team All-Maine star Garet Beal, who would go on to win Mr. Basketball. Easton hung tough with the Royals for a half in 2012 before succumbing to their superior talent in the second half. Second year coach Dillon Kingsbury, removed from his high school playing days by only a few years had the perfect game plan. The Bears burned JB’s man-to-man defense for back door lay-up after back door lay-up while working the ball patiently around the perimeter for the open shot against the zone. The most memorable play in the game came with four minutes to play when freshman guard Logan Halverson banked one in high off the glass from the left corner to temporarily thwart a Royals rally, extending the lead to eight. The Bears would have to withstand a 19 point fourth quarter flurry by Garet Beal, he finished with 38, for the 55-53 upset victory.
2. #3 Machias Stuns #1 Central Aroostook in 1995 Class D Final- Jonesport-Beals may be the most iconic name in small school basketball but Central Aroostook isn’t too far behind. The defending state champs scored 90 points in each of their first two tournament games, facing a Machias team that went 10-8 on the season. The Panthers from Mars Hills also owned two decisive victories over Class C state champion Hodgdon on the year. Coronation, right? The Panthers scored fewer points in the game then they did in virtually every half they played that year. Machias used tough defense to bottle up their explosive shooters and patient half court offense for a shocking 35-33 win. They captured the program’s second gold ball a week later defeating Hyde. CA would go on to win gold a year later, scoring an even 100 against Deer Isle-Stonington in the ’96 regional final.
And my top boys basketball upset is:
1. #7 Lawrence Shocks #1 Waterville in 1986 Eastern A Final- Now mind you, I was in eighth grade at the time but I still remember the atmosphere in the Lawrence bleachers that night in the old barn on Dutton Street. Waterville rolled to the 1985 crown and had a strong nucleus back from that team including brothers Dick and Kevin Whitmore, sons of longtime Colby College coach, Dick Whitmore. According to Bangor Daily News columnist Ernie Clark, eight players from the ’85 contingent went on to play college basketball. To make this the upset of all upsets, Waterville had beaten their archrivals by 55 points one week prior to the tournament. Mike McGee was in his inaugural season at his alma mater, a position he would hold for 28 seasons. The key shot was made by freshman, Troy Scott, who hit about a fifteen footer from the foul line extended to send the game into overtime. The Bulldogs would fall to another pack of Bulldogs from Portland in the state final a week later but the image of a young Mike McGee riding across the court on his players shoulders left an indelible mark in tourney lore.
So, there you have it, the top upsets that I’ve seen in 28 years of attending games at the Bangor Auditorium. Starting Friday new memories will be made in a new venue.