H.S. Basketball: Past meets present in boys’ tournament

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Coaches and players often downplay what happened in last year’s high school basketball tournament when talking about the present. And the past can be irrelevant from that perspective, depending upon how much circumstances have changed.

But last year can also serve as a motivator, reminder, foundation or harbinger for the present and future. It can be something coaches and players embrace or go out of their way to ignore.

In places such as Dixfield, Jay and Lewiston, last year holds varying degrees of meaning and value to what they hope lies ahead.

Spruce Mountain will be the lone Mountain Valley Conference representative in the Western B tournament this year. Mountain Valley accompanied the Phoenix to the Portland Expo last year and knocked them out of the quarterfinals. This will also be their last tournament appearance as an MVC team, as Spruce Mountain is moving to the KVAC next year.

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The Phoenix (16-2) have virtually their entire lineup back from last year and coach Chris Bessey thinks that experience, plus a Christmas tournament appearance this season at the Expo, will make his team feel like less of a stranger in a strange place.

“Our kids know what it’s about. They know the atmosphere is different,” he said. “We play on a big floor anyway (at home in Jay), so the floor isn’t really a huge adjustment for us.”

The Phoenix stand out in a field that otherwise consists mostly of WMC teams, starting with top-seeded Greely. That also includes Spruce’s quarterfinal opponent at 7 p.m. next Saturday, No. 6 Poland (10-8).

Despite playing in different conferences, the two teams are somewhat familiar with each other, having squared off during the summer and preseason.

“I think they’re probably more happy with their matchup than we are with ours,” Bessey said.

That’s because the Phoenix played only Class C schools in the MVC. The Knights, on the other hand, come from a conference that has produced the last six Western B champions. Bessey doesn’t think that disparity will put his team at a disadvantage.

“I think we actually could use it as motivation where you play that disrespect card that people don’t think you’re as good as you are because of the conference you play in,” Bessey said. “I think our conference is pretty good. We have some pretty good teams and we have to battle night in and night out as well as the Western Maine Conference teams.”

Last year, Lewiston picked up its first Eastern A tournament victory ever with a quarterfinal upset of Bangor. The Blue Devils fell to eventual state champion Hampden Academy in the semifinals.

To get another crack at Hampden, the eighth-seeded Blue Devils will first have to win Wednesday’s play-in game against No. 9 Lawrence. Both teams will enter Lewiston’s gym with identical 8-10 records, although Lawrence does have the added confidence of having won in overtime on the same floor, 68-65, on Jan. 9.

“It was a great game the last time around,” Lewiston coach Tim Farrar said. “(First-year Lawrence coach) Jason Pellerin has done a great job. He was my coach of the year in our league (and was named the KVAC’s coach of the year). I’m glad we don’t have to go up there for it because that’s a tough place to play. Hopefully, our fans can come out and pack our gym and make it tough for them.”

The winner gets top-seeded and unbeaten Hampden Academy in the quarterfinals on Saturday. The Broncos have won 40 games in a row, with their last loss coming in the 2012 state title game to Deering.

No. 6 Oxford Hills (11-7) and No. 3 Bangor (13-5) will kick off quarterfinal action at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Rams edged the Vikings on Martin Luther King Day, 51-49, in South Paris. No. 5 Edward Little (11-7) and No. 4 Messalonskee (13-5) will tip off the night session at 8 p.m. The Eagles won their only regular season meeting, 63-52, on Dec. 19.

Last year was the first time in five years the town of Dixfield watched the Class C championship from home. Dirigo was ousted from the Western C tournament by Waynflete in the semifinals, ending its 13-game Augusta Civic Center winning streak.

The 17-1 Cougars will try to start a new streak as the No. 1 seed. They will face the winner of the 8/9 prelim between Wiscasset and Old Orchard Beach in the quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. next Monday.

Defending champion Boothbay is the No. 2 seed. The rest of the bracket includes last year’s spoiler, Waynflete from the Western Maine Conference, and Maranacook, which moved down to Class C this year yet still went 13-5 playing Class B teams exclusively in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

Winthrop (14-4) also earned a bye to the quarterfinals. At 7 p.m. on Saturday, the Ramblers will face the winner of the preliminary between No. 5 Maranacook and No. 12 St. Dom’s. Other prelims pit No. 10 Hall-Dale against No. 7 Lisbon, No. 11 Madison against No. 5 Monmouth and No. 9 Old Orchard Beach against No. 8 Wiscasset.

In Class D West, defending state champion Forest Hills seeks a third consecutive regional title. The Tigers’ quarterfinal opponent will be the winner of the 8 vs. 9 prelim between Richmond and Islesboro. No. 10 Buckfield (5-11) faces No. 7 Seacoast Christian (10-8) in another prelim, with the winner advancing to face No. 2 Hyde in the quarterfinals. The Bucks did not face the Guardians during the regular season.

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