Here are a few thoughts from the boys side of the North region high school basketball tournament as it enters the home stretch:
— The best moment so far? Hard to argue against the buzzer-beating shots from Ellsworth teammates Bryce Harmon and Bruce St. Peter in the same game, but my vote goes to Chris King of Schenck of East Millinocket and his two free throws after time expired in overtime that gave the fifth-ranked Wolverines a 60-59 victory over No. 4 Lee Academy in the Class C North quarterfinals.
While the other plays were both memorable shots that marked the difference between and losing, they took place spontaneously in the heat of the action.
King was left to stand by himself at the free-throw line with no players in the lane, everyone in the Cross Insurance Center looking directly at him, and too much time to think about the ramifications of what he was about to do. Miss both, and your team is eliminated. Make one, and the game continues into a second overtime. Make two, and you’re a hero.
But King stayed true to his routine, with several dribbles before each shot, and both attempts went through the net with little doubt to advance his team to Friday night’s semifinals.
In an age when free-throw shooting at the high school level is often no more than a 50-50 proposition during a game’s, King displayed the importance of that part of the game as well as an enviable amount of personal composure.
— Honorable mention goes to Orono’s Jake Koffman, who made the second of two free throws with 3.8 seconds left in regulation to give the fourth-ranked Red Riots a 52-51 Class B North semifinal victory over Old Town and avenge two regular-season losses to the neighboring Coyotes.
— Through Wednesday’s games, top seeds in the boys tournament ranks have had mixed results. While No. 1 Portland and No. 2 Deering of Portland both advanced in Class AA North, the top two seeds in the South, Thornton Academy and Gorham, fell in the semifinals. In Class A, both No. 1 Hampden and No. 2 Brewer lost their semifinals in the North, as did No. 1 Greely of Cumberland Center in the South. Top-ranked Old Town fell in the Class B North semis, as did No. 2 Fort Fairfield in the Class C quarters – albeit to a seventh-ranked Hodgdon team that had defeated the Tigers twice during the regular season. Also being ousted early was Pine Tree Academy of Freeport, the No. 2 team in Class D South.
— Tournament teams that were moved up a class when the state’s high school basketball format was expanded from four classes to five last spring have fared quite well. Most noticeable was the Midcoast sweep of the Class A North semifinals by former Class B teams Wednesday night when defending Eastern B champion Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and neighboring Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston knocked off Brewer and Hampden Academy, respectively.
Other boys teams to thrive within their upward mobility include Orono, a Class C regional finalist in 2015 that will face Ellsworth in Saturday’s B North final, Schenck, the 2010 Class D state champion that will face No. 1 George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill in Friday night’s Class C North semis, and Hodgdon, a Class D state champion just two years ago and now set to face Bucksport in the other Class C semifinal.
— The Oceanside Mariners have experienced perhaps more than a modest share of postseason heartbreak in recent years, but made up for some of those unpleasant memories with their 66-63 Class A North semifinal upset of 2015 state champion and four-time defending regional Hampden Academy in Wednesday night’s semifinals.
Coach Matt Breen’s club played with confidence from the outset, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and maintaining its composure even when the proud Broncos rallied within a single point with a 10-1 run of their own at the outset of the second half. Eleven 3-pointers didn’t hurt Oceanside’s cause, either.
— Speaking of Hampden Academy, no doubt disappointment reigned in how the season ended Wednesday night, but there’s no taking away the many accomplishments of the Broncos’ senior basketball class led by Nick Gilpin, Branden McIntyre, Jake Black and Conor Moore.
Since Gilpin became a varsity starter as a freshmen and the other three gradually worked their way into the lineup, Hampden compiled an 82-4 record with three Eastern Maine Class A championships, state titles in both 2013 and 2015, three undefeated regular seasons and just two regular-season losses. They never lost a countable game on their home court and went 12-1 in tournament games at the Augusta Civic Center. It’s quite a record.
— As the tourney continues, here’s one question that remains. Does Ellsworth senior center Bruce “Buzzer Beater” St. Peter have one more game-winner left in his arsenal for Ellsworth’s regional final clash with Orono on Saturday afternoon?
St. Peter, the grandson of longtime former Husson University men’s basketball coach Bruce MacGregor, scored as time expired when the Eagles defeated Orono 40-38 in their lone regular-season meeting on Jan. 27 before eliminating Caribou with another last-second shot in overtime of Wednesday’s Class B North semifinal.
— I’ve already read and heard the complaints of Portland-area basketball fans that they must travel the 55 miles up I-95 to Augusta to see Friday night’s Class AA North boys final between Portland and Deering. I’m sure they’ll get no sympathy from Aroostook County basketball players, coaches and fans, whose teams play feverishly throughout the regular season each year for the right to travel as much as three or four hours south to Bangor to live out their tournament dreams.