One champion features the most highly recruited player in this year’s senior class.
Two others are looking to redeem themselves after falling just short of a state title last winter.
And the fourth already has had a breakthrough season, and wants to take that final step toward securing its first gold ball.
They are the best of the West: Dirigo of Dixfield, Cape Elizabeth, Richmond and Thornton Academy of Saco, and each is poised for this weekend’s schoolboy basketball state championship games.
CLASS A: Thornton Academy will make its first appearance in a state final when it squares off against Edward Little of Auburn at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday night.
The Trojans (18-3) emerged from the No. 4 seed in Western A, stunning undefeated and defending state champion Cheverus of Portland 47-41 in the semifinals before edging No. 6 Portland 49-43 in the regional final.
Defense has been a key factor as Thornton has survived three close tournament encounters — the Trojans tipped Deering of Portland 51-48 in the quarters — as sixth-year coach Bob Davies’ club has allowed just 44 points per postseason game.
Thornton features one of the state’s premier guards in 6-foot-1 senior James Morse, who averaged 17.3 points per game during the WM tournament and showed his mettle by making nine of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter of the final.
Morse is complemented by good size in 6-3 senior John Trull and 6-4 senior Ian Barwise, a transfer from Cheverus looking to win his second straight state championship. Forwards Andrew Shaw and Tom Littlefield and guard Mike Guerin are other key contributors for the Trojans, who reached the Western A final last year.
CLASS B: Cape Elizabeth ended a 20-year drought in the state final a year ago and led Maranacook of Readfield in the third quarter before falling victim to the Black Bears’ 3-point shooting in a 56-46 loss.
Sixteen-year head coach Jim Ray’s club is looking to win its first gold ball since 1988, and returns three starters from a year ago who will lead the way in the Capers’ effort to break through at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center on Friday night against undefeated Eastern Maine champ Camden Hills of Rockport.
Senior forward Alex Bowe, who led the Capers in scoring in last year’s state game with 15 points, was the MVP of this year’s Western B tournament. He averaged 20 points a game, including 24 as the fourth-ranked Capers defeated No. 2 Falmouth 58-48 in the final.
Another returning starter, junior forward Andrew Dickey, had the shot of the WM tournament, a buzzer-beater to knock off top-seeded Greely of Cumberland Center 46-45 in the semifinals. Dickey also scored in double digits in each of Cape Elizabeth’s three tournament games, averaging 10.7 ppg.
Senior John Messina is a returning starter in the backcourt, while Conor Moloney is a top 3-point shooting threat and Conor Lawler also plays a key role for the 17-4 Capers.
CLASS C: Dirigo has a coach who has been through championship week plenty of times before in Gavin Kane, who guided the school’s girls basketball team to 11 Western Maine titles and six state championships before shifting to the boys’ program in recent years.
The Cougars also have 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Thomas Knight, who last fall accepted a full basketball scholarship to Notre Dame after a recruiting war that included several high-profile programs nationally.
Dirigo (20-1) will compete for its first state championship since back-to-back titles in 1982 and 1983 when it faces four-time Eastern Maine champion Calais on Saturday evening at the Bangor Auditorium.
The top-ranked Cougars rolled through their three regional tournament games, defeating No. 9 Waynflete of Portland, No. 4 Traip Academy of Kittery and No. 2 Wiscasset by an average of 26.7 points per game.
Knight, who chose Notre Dame over Rutgers, Davidson, Maine and Northeastern, averaged 21.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game during the regular season while earning Mountain Valley Conference player of the year honors. He then continued to fight off double- and triple-teams to average 26.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.0 blocked shots per game during the tournament.
Other top players for the Cougars are junior point guard Tyler Chiasson, 3-point shooting threats Aaron Fenstermacher and Tristan Franchetti, defensive-minded Eric Bolduc and forward Nic Crutchfield.
CLASS D: Richmond (17-2) is back in the state final for the third time in four years, but will boast a new look when it takes on Woodland at the Bangor Auditorium on Saturday afternoon.
Nearly all of the Bobcats’ key players from a year ago have graduated, and the team has a new coach in Phil Houdlette.
Eric Murrin, a 6-foot junior guard, is the most experienced Richmond player, and he is one of the team’s primary defensive stoppers. Bruce Carver, a 6-3 junior, is a top inside threat, with 28 points and 16 rebounds in the Bobcats’ 57-38 semifinal win over Elan of Poland Spring.
Junior Nick Woods and sophomore Mike Christie, who combined for 33 points in No. 2 Richmond’s 41-30 win over No. 1 Forest Hills of Jackman in the regional final, comprise an all left-handed backcourt, while 6-2 senior Eric Curtis and 5-10 senior Josh Brown also play key roles for a Richmond team seeking its first state title since 1986.