Familiar favorites, deep divisions loom in North boys regional tournament
Five defending North region champions are ranked among the upper echelon for Tourney Week 2019, which begins in earnest Friday and continues through Saturday, Feb. 23.
Three of those squads, Class AA Edward Little of Auburn, Class B Hermon, and Class C George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, were all crowned 2018 state champions while Class A Hampden Academy and Class D Woodland each came up a single point short of the gold ball.
Class AA North looks somewhat different this year, as while the scene for semifinal and championship-round matchups remains at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, the participants will feature three Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schools and just one from the Southwestern Maine Activities Association.
That’s because top-ranked Bangor scored its first postseason victory since 2012 with its 68-36 quarterfinal win over Lewiston, enabling first-year head coach Brad Libby and the Rams to join second-seeded Edward Little and No. 3 Oxford Hills of South Paris in the divisional final four along with the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between No. 4 Deering of Portland and No. 5 Portland High School.
This regional also could highlight three of the top contenders for the state’s Mr. Basketball Award in Bangor’s Matt Fleming, EL’s Wol Maiwen and Deering’s Ben Onek.
Semifinals are set for Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Class A North looks to be wide open from top-ranked Cony of Augusta to eighth-seeded Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and its 12 victories.
Cony will be tasked to put together three straight games of its fast-paced tempo anchored by junior point guard Simon McCormick, while No. 2 Hampden Academy could be boosted by the return of senior center Marc Hutchings, who was cleared to return to practice Wednesday after being injured in a Jan. 9 motor-vehicle accident.
HA coach Russ Bartlett said Hutchings may not be ready for the Broncos’ quarterfinal against No. 7 Skowhegan on Saturday but could return to action if the Broncos advance beyond first-round play.
Perhaps the darkhorse in the field is Erskine Academy of South China, at 12-6 the No. 5 seed and winner of six of its last seven games. Sixth seed Brewer is another threat for a first-round upset in a rematch against No. 3 Mt. Blue of Farmington after upending the Cougars to earn its way into the tournament in the final game of the regular season.
The four quarterfinals are scheduled for Saturday afternoon and evening at the Augusta Civic Center.
The Class B North tourney kicks off late Friday afternoon with one of the signature moments of postseason play, the performance of the theme to “Jesus Christ Superstar” by the Mount Desert Island band in advance of the third-ranked Trojans’ quarterfinal against Hancock County rival and sixth-seeded Ellsworth.
That game should bring some immediate energy to Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center even though this division boasts a clear favorite in top-ranked Hermon.
The Hawks bring a 40-game undefeated streak into the regional tourney thanks to one of the state’s top defensive teams regardless of class.
Coach Mark Reed’s club, led by seniors Cody Hawes and Garrett Trask and junior Isaac Varney, has allowed an average of just 32.0 points in its last eight contests. Overall, Hermon has allowed 36.7 points per game save for its outlying 97-94 triple-overtime win at Oceanside of Rockland on Dec. 21.
Fourth-ranked Oceanside, led by senior guard Cooper Wirkala and his 26 points per game, looms as the top threat from the KVAC while the new, faster-tempo ways of second-ranked Caribou is another contender under first-year coach Kyle Corrigan. The 15-3 Vikings are riding a 12-game winning streak.
Class C North has a new leader amid a deep field, with Central Aroostook of Mars Hill on top of the Heal Points in just its second season since moving up from Class D.
Coach Jason Woodworth’s Panthers went 12-0 against Class D opposition and 3-3 against Class C teams this winter.
No. 2 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and three-time defending state champion George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill also finished 15-3 and split two regular-season outings, with GSA’s loss at MA the Eagles’ lone defeat to a Class C opponent.
Another team with just one Class C loss is fourth-seeded Houlton, while the longest winning streak in the division at the end of the regular season belonged to the school with the best overall record, 16-2 Penobscot Valley of Howland. Coach Jeremy Durost’s fifth-seeded Howlers entered their play-in game with 11 consecutive victories.
One big play-in upset came in the division when No. 11 Calais trekked to the St. John Valley and ousted No. 6 Fort Kent, a 14-win team during the regular season.
Dexter (14-4), Sumner of East Sullivan (11-7) and Fort Fairfield (12-6) also posted double-figures wins entering postseason play.
Class C North quarterfinals are set for Tuesday, Feb, 19, at the Cross Insurance Center.
The Class D North regular season concluded in familiar fashion to last winter, with defending champion Woodland back in the top slot at 17-1. That effort two victories over No. 2 seed Jonesport-Beals and a split of two games against Class C Fort Kent.
Coach Ben Maloney’s Dragons are led by senior point guard Drew Hayward, who followed up a record-tying 127-goal career on the soccer field last fall by eclipsing 1,000 career points in basketball this winter.
Third-seeded Greater Houlton Christian Academy matched Jonesport-Beals’ 15-2 regular-season record while No. 4 Schenck of East Millinocket with its Class C-heavy schedule always looms as a serious threat in the division.
The Class D quarterfinals begin Saturday night Bangor.
This article originally appeared on www.bangordailynews.com.