The Eastern Maine basketball tournament seemingly had it all this year — good crowds, tightly contested games, upsets and dramatic moments.
There also was a growing sense of nostalgia for those attending the B-C-D tourney at the Bangor Auditorium as they passed by the framework of the new arena that is scheduled to become home to the annual mid-February pilgrimage come 2014.
Through it all the Heal points stood tall, with six of the eight No. 1 seeds winning regional titles. The Hampden Academy, Lee Academy and Jonesport-Beals boys and the Cony of Augusta, Presque Isle and Washburn girls were joined by two No. 3 seeds, the Gardiner boys and Central of Corinth girls.
As anticipation builds for this weekend’s state championship games, here’s a look back at some of the best in the East.
Player of the Tournament: Sigrid Koizar, Stearns: The unassuming 5-foot-8 American Field Service foreign exchange student from Austria — who also just happens to play for that country’s 18-and-under national team — epitomized both unselfishness and the value of understanding the game’s fundamentals in leading Stearns to the Eastern C final. She forever endeavored to create scoring opportunities for her teammates, but took on a more prominent offensive role when needed and averaged 24.3 points per game during tourney play. And as much as she will gain from spending her junior year abroad in north-central Maine, the region’s basketball fans have gained from having the chance to watch her play.
Shot of the Tournament: The Houlton boys had the ball in the final seconds of their semifinal against Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln trailing 39-37. While a two-pointer would send the game into overtime, sophomore Nick Guiod had other ideas, so he made his way toward the left corner of the court behind the 3-point arc. Teammate Kyle Bouchard controlled the ball near the top of the key, and when he noticed Guiod’s defender coming to double-team him, the freshman alertly recognized his point guard would be open. The pass was accurate, and the shot was perfect as the buzzer sounded to give coach Rob Moran’s club the stunning 40-39 victory. Honorable mention: Brian Fickett’s layup with less than four seconds left to give Hampden Academy a 46-44 win over Mt. Blue in the Eastern B boys final.
Youth is Served: While experience usually is pivotal in achieving the ultimate tournament success, high school basketball in Eastern Maine looks well stocked for the next two or three years if the play of the freshmen and sophomores in this year’s event is any indication. Two freshmen, Houlton’s Bouchard and Washburn’s MacKenzie Worcester, were among the tournament MVPs while Presque Isle freshman Hannah Graham also was a worthy contender for that award in Eastern B — and the list of impact underclassmen just begins with that trio. Isaiah Bess and Trevor Lyford of Penquis of Milo, Parise Rossignol of Van Buren, Carsyn Koch and Carmen Bragg of Washburn, Zach Gilpin of Hampden, Kory Norcross of Edward Little of Auburn and Boubacar Diallo of Lee Academy all were impact sophomores, as were such freshmen as Brianna Skolfield of Central of Corinth, Maddy McVicar of Calais, Chandler Brewer of Central Aroostook of Mars Hill and Tianna Harriman of Edward Little — and the list goes on.
Cinderella Revisited: Take your pick of Shiretowners here. The eighth-ranked Houlton girls stunned No. 1 Orono in the quarterfinals, with a blind shot from the lane by sophomore Samantha Keegan — “That was the luckiest shot in my life,” she said. “I just chucked it up there. I didn’t even look at the basket, I didn’t know where it was at all. Luckily it went in.” — in the final seconds giving the Shiretowners the 45-44 win. The seventh-ranked Houlton boys, largely a collection of underclassmen, upended 2011 Eastern C finalist Sumner of East Sullivan in the quarterfinals, then stunned Mattanawcook Academy at the buzzer thanks to Guiod’s shot of the tournament before finally falling in the fourth quarter to top-seeded Lee Academy. Honorable mention: The sixth-seeded Deer Isle-Stonington boys, who knocked off No. 3 Washburn and No. 2 Central Aroostook — the defending state champion — before falling to Jonesport-Beals in the Eastern D title game.
Profile in Perseverance: The Presque Isle girls had entered both the 2010 and 2011 Eastern B tournament as the No. 1 seed, only to lose to Nokomis of Newport in the semifinals. So here the Wildcats were again this season, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Eastern B and seemingly on a collision course with Nokomis from the start of preseason practices in late November. That collision came in the regional final, where this time it was Presque Isle’s turn to celebrate as coach Jeff Hudson’s club used a decisive second-quarter run to fuel a 52-40 victory and earn its first trip to the state final since winning it all in 2006.
Comeback of the Year: This isn’t about a single game in this year’s tournament, but about how the Jonesport-Beals boys team regrouped after a devastating loss to Central Aroostook of Mars Hill in the 2011 regional final. The Royals, who also suffered a two-point loss to eventual state champion Schenck of East Millinocket in their 2010 semifinal, came back more determined than ever this year as seniors Matthew and Justin Alley and junior Garet Beal led the team on an impressive run through the Eastern D tournament. Coach Gordon Faulkingham’s club defeated its three opponents by an average of 18.3 points per game en route to the program’s first EM title since 1999. Honorable mention: The Central girls, unbeaten a year ago until losing to Washington Academy of East Machias in the Class C semifinals, bounced back this year despite graduating two 1,000-point scorers to win its first regional title since 1984.