The holidays are over, and now the long wait begins for high school basketball fans with an eye toward February vacation and the final Eastern Maine B, C and D tournament to be held at the venerable Bangor Auditorium.
But a glimpse at Saturday’s schoolboy basketball schedule reveals at least five regular-season matchups of postseason quality that may be worth a drive to check out for anyone wanting to get a head start on tourney fever.
Three of the contests have 2:30 p.m. varsity starts — Deer Isle-Stonington at Bangor Christian, Presque Isle at Hermon and Houlton at Lee — followed at 6:30 p.m. by Calais at Jonesport-Beals and at 7 p.m. by Hodgdon at Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.
The Deer Isle-Stonington at Bangor Christian matchup features a veteran Deer Isle-Stonington team considered one of the preseason favorites in Eastern D on the road at perhaps the surprise team of that division in unbeaten Bangor Christian.
Deer Isle-Stonington (5-1) has lost only an overtime decision at defending state champion Jonesport Beals and features top point guard Sam Grindle, a senior who already has surpassed 1,000 career points this winter.
Bangor Christian (6-0) not only is unbeaten this winter, but many of its players are coming off an undefeated soccer season and fourth consecutive state championship in that sport last fall as well as a run to the Class D state title in baseball last spring.
Presque Isle and Hermon have emerged as two of the top teams in the Big East Conference Class B ranks through the first third of the season, with Presque Isle at 6-1 and Hermon at 5-2. Presque Isle edged Hermon 54-49 in Aroostook County early in the season, but after opening with losses at Presque Isle and Lee Academy, the Hawks have rebounded with five consecutive victories.
Presque Isle, meanwhile, is undefeated against Class B competition, with its only loss against Class C Houlton.
Houlton’s trip to Lee marks a rematch of last winter’s Eastern C championship game in which Lee rallied in the fourth quarter to win its second straight regional title while ending the Shiretowners’ Cinderella run from an 8-10 regular-season finish.
But it’s Cinderella no more for this year’s Houlton team. As is the case with Bangor Christian, several of the Shiretowners are coming off a state championship run in soccer, a contingent led by sophomore forward Kyle Bouchard.
Top-seeded Houlton already has equaled its regular-season win total from a year ago — this time without a single loss to date — while a new-look and second-ranked Lee team brings a 6-1 record into the contest.
Another Class C contender, Calais, challenges University of Maine-bound senior forward Garet Beal and reigning Class D state champion Jonesport-Beals in a Down East battle of the unbeatens.
Calais (5-0) has been led offensively by high-scoring senior guard Devin Hall, but coach Ed Leeman’s Blue Devils are an otherwise youthful club fairly reliant on a deep sophomore class.
Beal, meanwhile, is averaging a walloping 35.7 points per game for coach Gordon Faulkingham’s 6-0 Jonesport-Beals club after a 44-point explosion in a win over Machias earlier this week.
The Hodgdon-Central Aroostook clash matches two of the top five-ranked teams in Eastern D. Central Aroostook is enjoying a 7-0 start, with the Panthers led by sophomore guard Chandler Brewer and senior center Steven Decker.
Hodgdon (6-1) also is unbeaten against Class D competition, its only loss coming in overtime at Houlton. The Hawks feature a tall, deep lineup that includes 6-foot-5-inch sophomore Chris Hudson, 6-4 senior Devin Logie and 6-3 classmate Josh Hudson along with senior guard Nick Lunn and junior guard Tyler Sherman.
So take your pick. No predictions here, other than the entertainment value of any of these games should be high.