Players to watch: Sr. F Cam Cousins, Wells; Jr. G Matt Sherburne, Wells; Sr. G Finn Bowe, Cape Elizabeth; Jr. C Andrew Hartel, Cape Elizabeth; Sr. F Nolan Hagerty, Yarmouth; Jr. G Noah Eckersley-Ray, Yarmouth; Sr. G Brett Frey, Spruce Mountain; Sr. G Mason Shink, Spruce Mountain; Sr. G Josiah Rottari, Gray-New Gloucester; Jr. G John Martin, Gray-New Gloucester; Sr. F Silas Mohlar, Maranacook; Fr. G Cash McClure, Maranacook; Sr. G Michael Park, Mountain Valley; Jr. F Keegan Davis, Mountain Valley; Jr. G Eriksen Shea, Freeport; Jr. F Toby Holt, Freeport.
Virtually everyone agrees there is no prohibitive favorite in this year’s tournament. Wells gets the nod because of its status as defending champion and because it emerged from a tough Western Maine Conference schedule as the top seed. Sherburne and Cousins were key contributors to last year’s team, and several players were also part of last fall’s football dominance. But the Warriors (12-6) proved vulnerable in regular-season losses to Yarmouth, Gray-New Gloucester and quarterfinal opponent Freeport.
Dark horses: Everybody else.
Since no team truly stands out as the favorite, it would seem everyone is a dark horse. And as Freeport’s 52-37 win over Wells on Feb. 6 showed, anybody can be beaten in this field.
Among the local teams, whoever comes out of the Spruce/Gray-NG quarterfinal will be dangerous. The Phoenix have a game tailor-made for the bigger floors at the Portland Expo and Cross Insurance Arena, and at least one player who loves shooting at the former. In last year’s quarterfinals, Shink set a tournament record with eight 3-pointers and 38 points. Gray-New Gloucester, meanwhile, has a pretty deadly shooter of its own in Martin, who is half of a formidable backcourt with Rottari. They also have size and depth, and picked up valuable tournament experience last year.
Mountain Valley is similar to last year’s Gray-NG squad — young, deep, talented but lacking tournament experience. The Falcons seemed to be taking flight down the stretch, winning six of their last seven.
Overview: One of the overlooked factors of the B South tournament is that it is played in two very distinct venues — the Expo for the quarterfinals, the CIA for semifinals and final. Teams that look like world-beaters at the more intimate Expo sometimes struggle to adjust to the bigger, less (ahem) atmospheric former Cumberland County Civic Center. It’s tough to know how any of these teams will react. The bigger professional courts also affect teams differently. Up-tempo teams such as Spruce Mountain and Maranacook may find its more suited to their playing style than a team that plays a more deliberate style.
The Western Maine Conference has historically dominated the region, and never more so than the last 10 years. Mountain Valley was the last non-WMC team to win in 2007. The WMC has at least a couple of advantages — playing closer to home and playing a regular-season schedule that sprinkles in games against Class A teams.
Given that this appears to be one of the most balanced brackets in the tournament’s history, Spruce Mountain, Maranacook and Mountain Valley can’t be ignored. It’s also not difficult to imagine someone from the lower half of the bracket making a similar run to the 2014 Poland team that emerged as the sixth seed to win the region.
Prediction: Gray-New Gloucester
Spruce Mountain’s Brett Frey pushed down the court past Oak Hill’s Cohen Donnell during a game at Oak Hill earlier this month. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)