The Eastern Maine Class D boys basketball field began this winter with a “big three” leading the pack, and the regular season has done little to change those predictions as teams prepare to make their way from the County, Down East and all points in between to the Bangor Auditorium for tournament time.
Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, the defending state champions, Jonesport-Beals and Washburn all finished with just two regular-season losses, and the only defeats to Class D opponents for any of those teams came from the regular-season split between Central Aroostook and Washburn.
That comes as no real surprise, given that all three teams have veteran nuclei back from the squads that made considerable noise during a memorable 2011 Eastern Maine tournament.
Remember Washburn rewriting the record book for 3-pointers with 20 during its semifinal against Jonesport-Beals, only to have Jonesport-Beals survive that onslaught for an 84-72 victory?
Then remember Central Aroostook putting on a defensive clinic in the regional final, holding Jonesport-Beals 58 points under its semifinal total in a stunning 49-26 victory that helped propel coach Tim Brewer’s club to its fourth state championship in the last seven years?
All three contenders are back, and each believes it can win it all this year.
Second-ranked Central Aroostook (16-2) features 6-foot-6-inch senior center Mike McClung along with senior guard Dan Brewer, senior forward Brendan York and 6-foot-3-inch junior forward Steven Decker.
Top-seeded Jonesport-Beals (15-2) is led by All-Maine junior Garet Beal, a 6-foot-5-inch forward who recently eclipsed 1,000 career points, along with 6-foot-6-inch senior center Justin Alley and senior point guard Matthew Alley, both four-year varsity players under first-year head coach Gordon Faulkingham.
Third-ranked Washburn may lack the overall height of Central Aroostook and Jonesport Beals, but coach Randy Norsworthy’s Beavers have an explosive offense led by guards Mitch Worcester and Jordan McLaughlin, both of whom topped the 1,000-point plateau this winter.
But while most observers believe the Eastern Maine champion will emerge from this trio, there will be plenty of other worthy challengers within the Class D field.
Katahdin of Stacyville finished the regular season as the No. 4 seed, and coach Dale Fiske’s Cougars feature a top big man of their own in 6-foot-4-inch junior center Colton Bivinghouse along with frontcourt mate Jesse McNally and guards Bill Livezey and Wyatt Morse.
Hodgdon’s return to Class D from Class C has been an under-the-radar success story. Coach Rob Smith’s Hawks went 13-5 during the regular season, but perhaps two of their most noteworthy performances were a pair of narrow losses to Central Aroostook, 61-56 at home on Jan. 7, and 83-77 at Mars Hill on Jan. 26.
Hodgdon’s attack includes junior guard Nick Lunn, junior forward Josh Hudson, freshman swingman Chris Hudson and sophomore guard Tyler Sherman.
Deer Isle-Stonington has been hardened by a schedule that includes 10 games against Class C opposition, including two losses by a combined six points to Sumner of East Sullivan, an 2011 Eastern C finalist that enters postseason play with a 16-2 record this winter.
Coach Glenn Billings’ club includes guard Sam Grindle, part of a talented junior class that leads the Mariners.
Machias made a strong run to the regional semifinals a year ago before being ousted by Central Aroostook, but coach Jim Getchell’s Bulldogs return 6-4 junior center Dustin Getchell, who erupted for 48 points during a late-season game at Bangor Christian.
And Easton, while finishing just eighth in the final Eastern D Heal points, won 14 games under first-year coach Dillon Kingsbury. The Bears are led by senior guard Reid Clark, senior forward Jonah Bacon and junior guard Jared Hafford.