The trip to Augusta typically has begun with a detour for the St. Dom’s girls’ basketball team.
The Saints have traditionally had to win a playoff preliminary game to earn a place in the final eight teams at the Augusta Civic Center.
That’s not the case this year. For the first time in their history, St. Dom’s is the top seed in Western C and that has earned them the luxury of sitting out the play-in game.
“Being the first No. 1 seed in the history of St. Dom’s is a special accomplishment for our team,” said coach Jon Berry. “We went through the entire regular season without having a 10-player practice. We persevered through numerous come-from-behind and overtime games so we’re battle-tested and will be prepared for Augusta.”
The highest ranking the Saints have ever had was third in 1985 when the team went 14-2. That team and the 2010 squad are the only other St. Dom’s teams to reach the quarterfinals without playing a prelim game.
St. Dom’s (15-3) didn’t earn an easy matchup though in the quarterfinals. The Saints will play the prelim winner of Monmouth (11-7) and Dirigo (11-7). Both are familiar MVC foes that gave the Saints a battle. The Cougars even beat St. Dom’s the second time around. Only one St. Dom’s team has ever won a quarterfinal game and that came in 2008 with a win over Hebron.
First, the Saints get to prepare with the MVC championship game against undefeated Spruce Mountain Monday at 5:30 p.m at Spruce Mountain.
“The team agreed unanimously during our final team meeting at the end of last season that the MVC game would be one of our team goals,” Berry said. “So we played a more challenging schedule during the summer, preseason and Christmas break, and I think that was a factor in preparing us for the battles we’ve gone through.”
In Eastern A, the Edward Little girls earned their second straight top seeding. That’s after losing in the first round last year and graduating a pair of key veterans from the club.
EL went 17-1 this season, losing only to Oxford Hills. The Red Eddies get a quarterfinal matchup with Tuesday’s prelim winner of Lewiston (5-13) and Mt. Blue (8-10). EL swept both teams in the regular season.
“I told the kids that we want to be playing very intense but relaxed,” said EL coach Craig Jipson, whose team lost to Cony in the quarters last year. “I think the last couple of years we’ve been way too tight.”
The 17-1 record is the best mark for EL since earning the top seed and going 17-1 in 1992.
The Red Eddies get their own tuneup Monday with the KVAC championship game at the Augusta Civic Center against Lawrence at 5 p.m. EL may be without forward Emily Jacques. She has been out of action with a knee injury.
“She probably won’t play Monday and we’re praying she’ll be able to play next Friday, but we don’t know yet,” Jipson said.
For Lewiston, it is the first playoff appearance since 2005. The Blue Devils won a prelim against Hampden and reached the Eastern A quarterfinals before losing to Cony at the Bangor Auditorium. Lewiston was the eighth seed that year.
“How old were these kids then?,” said Lewiston coach Mike Labonte, whose team lost to the Cougars in the regular season by a point at the buzzer. “They were probably just starting to play basketball.”
“We’re very comfortable right now. We’ve played pretty much everybody but the top two teams really tough,” he said.
Also in Eastern A, Oxford Hills finished 14-4 and earned the third seed. They’ll play Skowhegan in the quarterfinals, a team the Vikings beat 36-32 last month. It’s the highest seeding for the Vikings since being third in 2006.
“The way we started off this year and where we are now, it’s been a huge growth for our team,” said Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier, whose team beat the top two seeds, Edward Little and Lawrence, during the regular season. “We’re just excited to get to the playoffs. The funny thing is, they’re not done. At practice we see things you haven’t seen yet on the court from people. When it comes around, they can be very dangerous.”
In Western B, Spruce Mountain didn’t earn the top seed, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The Phoenix went 18-0 but landed second, behind Lake Region (17-1).
“I’m very pleased with our kids and happy for them to go through another regular season undefeated,” said Spruce Mountain coach Gavin Kane, whose team went 18-0 last year before losing to Wells in the quarterfinals. “To go through an 18 game schedule and not slip up at all is a credit to them. It’s not an easy accomplishment. Now it’s time to really get prepared for the tourney.”
The Phoenix beat St. Dom’s during the regular season and get the rematch in the MVC game Monday night. Then Spruce Mountain awaits the prelim winner between Poland (9-9) at Fryeburg (11-7). The Knights split with the Raiders during the regular season.
Another prelim in B features seventh-ranked Oak Hill (14-4) against York (11-7). Gray-New Gloucester (11-7) secured the sixth seed and avoided the play-in game. The Patriots will play third-ranked Wells in the quarterfinals. Gray-NG lost to the Warriors in the prelim last year but beat them in the regular season.
In Western D, Rangeley went 17-1 and finished second overall. Forest Hills took the top seed with an 18-0 season, including a win over the Lakers. Rangeley draws the prelim winner of Greenville (6-12) at Valley (8-10).
Staff writer Randy Whitehouse contributed to this report.