Many Mainers have endured two months of below-zero temperatures and a succession of snowstorms for this evening — when cabin fever turns to tourney fever for the next 10 days.
Here are a few of the story lines to follow in Eastern Maine schoolboy basketball circles leading up to Championship Saturday on Feb. 26.
Class A: Bangor, Hampden Academy and Edward Little of Auburn have won the last six Eastern Maine Class A championships, and they’re the top three teams again this year so there’s little reason to expect change.
But which of the three will emerge victorious? There’s Bangor with its dominant frontcourt, Hampden with its dominant backcourt, and Edward Little somewhere in between.
Bangor brings a 17-game winning streak into Saturday’s quarterfinals — save for a loss to Hampden in Monday night’s KVAC championship clash — and the Rams would have to defeat just EL or Hampden to claim its first regional title since 2008 if the seedings hold up while EL and Hampden would have to defeat each other and then Bangor to advance to the state final.
Here it says it’s too close to call.
Players to watch: Zach Blodgett, Bangor; Spencer Carey, Lawrence; Bo Leary, Edward Little; Graham Safford, Hampden Academy; Cam Sennick, Mt. Blue.
Class B: Some are calling this the Camden Hills Invitational, as the unbeaten Windjammers seek their third straight regional title behind imposing 6-foot-6 seniors Tyler McFarland and Keegan Pieri.
Coach Jeff Hart’s club was a dominant force in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, winning its 18 games by an average of 33.5 points — and the KVAC has won the last 10 regional titles in Eastern B.
Ellsworth was the best of the Big East Conference this winter, going 18-0 with many of the same athletes who had an undefeated regular season in soccer that led to an Eastern B title. Presque Isle isn’t far behind the Eagles, its lone loss a five-point decision at Ellsworth in late December.
Players to watch: Andrew Austin, Ellsworth; Chris Braley, Nokomis; Travis Dyer, Presque Isle; Mike McCann, Winslow; Tyler McFarland, Camden Hills; Keegan Pieri, Camden Hills.
Class C: Lee Academy (17-1) and Penobscot Valley of Howland (15-3) each set a program record for most regular-season victories in a year and established themselves as the top two contenders in the division.
Penobscot Valley has a premier player in 6-foot-7 Joe McCloskey, but Lee has a blend of talent and depth that makes coach Randy Harris’ Pandas the pre-tourney favorite to win their first EM title.
Players to watch: Jerell Arefein, Penquis; Deejay Gendreau, Madawaska; Bryan James, Lee Academy; Joe McCloskey, Penobscot Valley; Brandon McLaughlin, Stearns; Joe Mitchell, Calais.
Class D: Unbeaten Central Aroostook may be on a mission after a rare quarterfinal ouster last year. All five starters are back for coach Tim Brewer’s club, including big men Caleb Kelly and Mike McClung.
Jonesport-Beals narrowly missed a regional title a year ago, losing to state champion Schenck of East Millinocket by two points in the semifinals, and the Royals feature talented sophomore Garet Beal. And no one should count out Schenck with last year’s tournament MVP, Brandon Theriault, running the show.
Washburn is another contender after a 16-2 season, while Fort Fairfield and Katahdin of Stacyville are legitimate darkhorse threats.
Players to watch: Garet Beal, Jonesport-Beals; Colton Bivinghouse, Katahdin; Caleb Kelly, Central Aroostook; Travis Noyes, Fort Fairfield; Brandon Theriault, Schenck; Mitch Worcester, Washburn.