Each year the basketball tournament is filled with glorious moments that last a lifetime.
There is also disappointment that lingers. Some teams end their season with a stinging defeat.
Teams like Edward Little, Spruce Mountain and Rangeley all ended the season last year with losses that were tough to swallow. But sometimes, those disappointments are the building blocks of future success. They provide the fuel for the fire that burns the following season.
The Red Eddies, the Phoenix and the Lakers, among many others, are back in the tournament hunt again. They return with high hopes, a little extra determination and seek the glorious result that eluded them a year ago.
Eastern Class A
I’ve seen this as a two-team race for most of the season. Edward Little and Lawrence have been the cream of the crop and the standings have confirmed that.
EL is a more mature version of what existed last year. They’re playing well together and have showed some poise and execution — with nine wins decided by 10 points or less. The Red Eddies have a good inside-outside game and are playoff-experienced. An injury to Emily Jacques is a significant question mark. The fact that she hasn’t been cleared to play and missed practice for much of this week isn’t a good sign. EL can certainly win games without her, but defeating Lawrence with her out of the lineup is a tall order.
Lawrence is playoff-ready, as well. The Bulldogs lost to both EL and Oxford Hills in the regular season. I don’t see them doing that twice. Nia Irving is one of the top talents in the state and she has a solid team around her. Lawrence only allowed 37 points per game, and that’s the kind of defense that can get a team somewhere this time of year.
When the teams were each at full strength, EL edged Lawrence by a basket. It was Jacques defending Irving on the final opportunity. If there is a rematch, I don’t know what Jacques’ status might be, so I think the Bulldogs have the edge.
Western Class B
Lake Region has already won two consecutive regional finals. The Lakers have won 14 in a row and averaged 56 points per game while allowing just 37. They’ve won their games by an average margin of 21 points, and only one win was decided by fewer than 11.
The Lakers have all the makings of a championship team. They have a stellar defense with some outside shooting and a dominant force in the middle with Tiana-Jo Carter.
Spruce Mountain or Wells are the likely foes for Lake Region in the final. Wells has some size and beat the Lakers during the regular season. The Phoenix have a defense that as good if not better than Lake Region’s, averaging just 27 points per game. Both squads could provide Lake Region a challenge, but I think the Lakers are just too experienced and Carter is too great a force in the middle for either team to match up against.
Prediction: Lake Region
Western Class C
This is probably the toughest field to pick from that I’ve ever seen in Western C. I could make a case for why a number of teams could win — or why they won’t.
St. Dom’s is the top seed and have a talented couple of players, but aren’t very deep. Dirigo certainly has the potential to beat them in the first round. The defending champs from Waynflete have some experience back, but still aren’t as potent as they were a year ago. Carrabec has proven to be a tough foe, but lacks playoff experience. Madison is certainly seasoned, but faces an Old Orchard Beach team that returns most of its club that reached the semifinals last year. Maranacook is a question mark coming out of the KVAC.
Three of the four quarterfinal matchups could go either way, and picking a final four is pretty tough, let alone a regional final pairing.
Maranacook should get past Kents Hill, and could beat Carrabec or Waynflete. That would put them in the finals. If the Black Bears get that far, I see them beating whoever comes out of the other bracket. I think Maranacook’s schedule and playing some of the KVAC’s best B teams will be a significant factor. Though the Black Bears are not a veteran tourney team, they’re well seasoned because of a quality B schedule. Against a C field that isn’t as strong as it has been in past year, I think that gives the Black Bears the edge.
Western Class D
With such a dominant Richmond teams in past seasons, this pick was easy. The Bobcats graduating much of last year’s championship team has left an experienced Rangeley team the opportunity to take the next step. Forest Hills changed that this year with a perfect regular season and win over the Lakers.
I think the Tigers and Lakers could meet in the regional final. The Lakers will have to get past Searsport in the semifinals and that may not be an easy task. The Vikings could be a tough out after playing some quality teams in the regular season. If Rangeley can reach the regional final, those previous experiences and their size will pay dividends against a Forest Hills club that hasn’t been to a championship game in more than a decade.