The field for tonight’s Eastern Maine schoolboy basketball preliminary-round tournament games is much smaller than a year ago.
The Maine Principals’ Association opted to return to qualifying 50 percent of its teams in each class for postseason play, down from two-thirds in recent years.
But that doesn’t mean that the six boys’ prelims in the region that remain won’t lack for intensity, with some featuring the renewal of local rivalries and others matching unfamiliar foes.
Among the matchups will be a Downeast Athletic Conference clash in Class D of teams meeting for the fourth time this winter when No. 7 Shead of Eastport (13-4) hosts No. 10 Machias (9-9).
These teams met three times during the regular season due to the fact that the DAC has been reduced to just six teams with the recent move of Washington Academy of East Machias to the Penobscot Valley Conference and the decision by Lubec not to field teams in boys and girls basketball this winter.
Shead is 3-0 against Machias so far this season, winning 52-32 and 38-37 at Eastport and 51-37 at Ma-chias in their most recent meeting on Jan. 22.
Shead’s only losses this season have come twice against Calais, the No. 2 team in Eastern C, and twice against Jonesport-Beals, the No. 4 team in Eastern D.
Machias, meanwhile, edged out Katahdin of Stacyville for the final Eastern D playoff berth thanks in large part to a midseason win over 15-3 Jonesport-Beals.
The other Class D prelim sends No. 9 Deer Isle-Stonington (10-8) to No. 8 Greater Houlton Christian Academy. Deer Isle-Stonington is a perennial tournament contender, with its recent run highlighted by the 2007 Class D state champion-ship.
Coach Sam Henderson’s Greater Houlton Christian club, which en-ters postseason play having won three of its last four games, features Chad Duff, a 1,000-point scorer.
In Class C, No. 7 Madawaska (12-5) will host No. 10 Hodgdon (8-10) while No. 8 Penobscot Val-ley of Howland (11-7) will host No. 9 George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill (8-10).
Penobscot Valley is seeking to earn its first trip to the Bangor Auditorium since 1987, during cur-rent coach Jamie Russell’s first tenure as the Howlers’ head coach.
Now in his second season back with PVHS, Russell has guided his team to its first winning season since 2000 and best record since 1993, when the Howlers went 12-6 but finished out of the Eastern C tournament picture in 10th place.
George Stevens Academy has been a more frequent participant in the tournament, and this year coach Dwayne Carter’s Eagles are 8-4 against Class C competition.
Madawaska, ousted in the pre-liminary round by Narraguagus of Harrington last year, is seeking its first trip to Bangor since 2006. The Owls enter their playoff game riding a four-game winning streak.
Hodgdon is back in postseason play for the fourth straight year, but has lost in the preliminary round each of the past three seasons — the last two times in Class D.
In Class B, the two prelim games match opponents that already have met this season.
No. 7 Winslow (12-6) will host No. 10 Rockland (9-9) in a Kenne-bec Valley Athletic Conference affair, while No. 8 Caribou (12-6) will host No. 9 Mount Desert Island (10-8) in a Big East Conference clash.
Winslow and Rockland split two earlier meetings this winter, Rock-land winning at Winslow 57-45 in their season opener on Dec. 4, and the Black Raiders gained revenge with a 53-51 win at Rockland on Jan. 22.
While Winslow has been in the thick of the playoff picture through-out the season, Rockland seemingly had played itself out of contention by losing seven of eight games until it stunned top-ranked and defending state champion Camden Hills of Rockport 67-66 in its regular-season finale.
Caribou and MDI last met on Dec. 28 in Aroostook County, where the Vikings held MDI to a season-low 29 points while earning a 42-29 victory.
That marked the start of a strong season-ending run for coach Chris Casavant’s Caribou club, which enters postseason play having won 10 of its last 12 games since a 2-4 start.
The Vikings are hoping to have better luck this year than in last year’s preliminary round, when as the fourth seeds they were upset at home by No. 13 Foxcroft Academy.
Caribou is 8-1 at home so far this winter.
MDI is seeking to advance to Bangor for the second straight year under coach Justin Norwood. The Trojans had won six straight games before ending this season with nar-row losses to tournament- bound Old Town and Ellsworth.
Islesboro’s Hatch hits milestone
Islesboro Central School is not necessarily known as a basketball hotbed, but Jason Hatch is quietly having a stellar career for the Ea-gles. Hatch just completed his jun-ior season for coach Don Johnson’s club by scoring his 1,000th career point in a 57-33 victory at Pine Tree Academy of Freeport.
Hatch needed 15 points to reach the milestone, and scored his 1,000th on a free throw midway through the third quarter.
Hatch averaged 19.6 points per game and about 15 rebounds per outing this winter, according to Johnson.
“He can do it all,” said Johnson, citing a 32-point outing against Vinalhaven when Hatch made seven 3- point goals. “He’s a good stu-dent, too.”
The 6-foot-3 Hatch, who played center for Isleboro this season after previously playing guard, is be-lieved to be the first Eagle to reach 1,000 points since Zach Conover in 1995.
Hatch has played on the Eagles’ varsity squad since his eighth-grade year, which is allowed under Maine Principals’ Association rules for schools with limited enrollment.
In the most recent enrollment listing used by the MPA for classi-fying schools’ athletic programs for the 2009 and 2010 academic years, Islesboro Central School had just 28 high school students.
Hatch scored 174 points as an eighth-grader, 255 as a freshman and 302 as a sophomore before finishing this season with 276 points for a four-year total of 1,007 points..
Islesboro finished the 2009-10 season with an 8-7 record good for 10th place in Western Maine Class D.
Hatch, already a three-year team captain, will be one of four seniors returning to the Islesboro lineup next winter, along with point guard D.J. Johnson, the coach’s grandson who will enter his fourth varsity season in 2010-11 needing just 179 points to reach 1,000.