Tourney Notebook: Vikings still alive, frayed nerves and all

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The four-overtime thriller in the Class A East girls’ quarterfinals Friday afternoon certainly tried some nerves and some patience.

Though Oxford Hills ultimately won the game, it made for some anxious minutes for players, coaches and fans.

“The game itself was a nightmare,” said Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier. “Winning is obviously a good thing. We had a game earlier in the year when we had three overtimes against Cony. We were on the short end of the stick, so it’s definitely better winning.”

Most of the 16 minutes of overtime were spent in a stall. Skowhegan plays a slow and methodical halfcourt offense as it is, and Oxford Hills was protecting foul trouble and trying to maximize its offensive chances in a defensive stalemate. The stall method was something that suited the style of the game and the circumstances. Though the players didn’t particularly like it, they worked through it.

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“Both us were packed in a 2-3 zone,” Pelletier said. “We’re both really big. The only shots we were going to get weren’t the kind you really going to want in overtime.”

In the fourth overtime, Pelletier told his team they were going to change things up and go for it on the offensive end. That was welcome news for the Vikings, some of whom were visibly annoyed at times when play stood still as Oxford Hills held the ball and Skowhegan sat back in the zone and didn’t challenge.

“It was very stressful,” said senior forward Brooke Murch, who made a key pass and scored a significant 3-point play in the fourth overtime. “I wasn’t too fond of waiting.”

Unlike the loss against Cony earlier in the year, the Vikings were able to battle through the pressure of the situation and win the game, giving the team and its fans something they won’t soon forget.

“It was amazing,” Murch said. “I’m really excited that we were able to pull it off. I think we did pretty good, and we were able to mantain our composure and win.”

It also meant the Vikings (15-4) advance to the semifinals Wednesday afternoon for a game with seventh-seeded Messalonskee (12-7). The Vikings beat the Eagles during the regular season, 51-46.

“We came here last year and it was the opposite,” said junior guard Mikayla Morin, who forced an extra overtime with her tying basket in the closing seconds. “We were the sixth seed and playing the third seed. We came up short. It’s really nice to get the win and move on to the semifinals.”

Tough tourney

Friday’s nights slate of quarterfinals certainly demonstrated that the road to the Eastern A title won’t be an easy one.

The first night of the tourney in Augusta featured five overtime periods and three games decided by a handful of points in the closing minutes.

“Sometimes people think its coach speak when we say that the tournament is wide open, but I think Friday showed that,” said EL coach Craig Jipson. “It started off with a four-overtime game. Then there was the Messalonskee-Lawrence game which was a great game. Cony and Brunswick broke open at the end. It’s a wide-open tournament. I feel very fortunate that we’re going to be able to play on Wednesday.”

After losing in the quarterfinal last year to Cony, the Red Eddies play the Rams again in the semfinals Wednesday afternoon. EL struggled to put away Mt. Blue and needed to gut out that win, 47-45. It’s the kind of game Jipson hopes can develop some mental and physical toughness since the stakes only get higher from here.

“I thought we (showed toughness) in the last two minutes,” Jipson said. “But we talk about playing for 32 minutes. You need that type of toughness. You need that type of attitude.”

One positive sign for EL was the play of sophomore forward Emily Jacques. She had missed the last few games of the regular season with a knee injury and was day-to-day and not active in all practices leading up to opening night.

“I felt good,” Jacques said following the win. “I was a little nervous about it.”

Jacques was tentative early but finished with nine points and seven blocks, including a decisive defensive stop late in the game. Though she was banged up on one play, she flexed her leg, deemed herself okay and kept going.

“It got better as the game went on,” she said. “It was a little tight at the beginning.”

Vikings prepared for Augusta debut

While the Oxford Hills girls have been regular guests at the Augusta Civic Center since the Eastern A tournament moved there in 2006, the boys team made its first tournament appearance on the ACC floor in Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Bangor.

To prepare for the unfamiliar surroundings, the Vikings scrimmaged at Southern Maine Technical College to get used to a bigger court. They also scheduled a practice at Gould Academy’s Farnsworth Fieldhouse to get a fell for the depth behind the backboards at the ACC, but that was scuttled due to Thursday’s snowstorm.

Senior forward Luke Davidson said he instantly felt comfortable on the ACC floor.

“I thought it’d be a lot more different than it actually was,” said Davidson, who had 10 points in the Vikings’ 44-41 win. “I went out there and the floor is so beautiful, it’s amazing. Going out there (for warmups) and shooting and stuff, it felt right.”

Physical preparations aside, coach Scott Graffam was confident his team could handle the tournament pressure.

“We’ve got a lot of baseball players that have been in playoff games. They’ve been in big games, so I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a difference,” Graffam said. “We just told them go up there and have some fun.”

The Vikings last reached the quarterfinals in 2005, when the regional was still played at the Bangor Auditorium. They made it as far as the regional final that year, losing to eventual state champion Hampden Academy. Tournament appearances in 2006, 2009 and 2013 ended in the preliminary round.

Wednesday’s semifinal opponent is second-seeded Brunswick (14-5), which defeated Mt. Ararat in the quarterfinals, 73-54. The Dragons and Vikings met twice during the regular season, with each team winning at home. Oxford Hills won, 57-39, on Dec. 19. Brunswick won, 70-55, on Feb. 4.

Game time Wednesday is 7 p.m.

Promising future

Though Mt. Blue came up short in its hopes to topple the top-seeded Red Eddies Friday, the Cougars showed some promise.

Mt. Blue has grown as a team this year after losing a number of veterans from last year. Only senior Miranda Nicely was a regular returning.

“We’ve got a lot of kids coming back and some good ones coming up,” said Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick. “So we’re excited. I think the program is going in the right direction. We’re going to miss Miranda, Kiana (Thompson) and Emily (Knowles). Emily played huge (Friday) and Kiana played huge. We put it together.”

Though Nicely has been the team’s go-to player for much of the year, including her 29 points in an outstanding effort Friday, the Cougars have players such as center Addie Brinkman, forward Sarah Cummings and  guards Caitlin Kane, Eryn Doiron and Emilee Eustis that took on larger roles this year and did well.

Ready to rise?

After being eliminated from the Class B West playoffs by a school from the Western Maine Conference for the second time in three years, the Spruce Mountain boys can look forward to a beefed-up schedule when they move from the Class C-dominated Mountain Valley Conference to the Class B-heavy Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in 2014-15.

As for how much fighting foes their own size will help with playoff preparation, well, Phoenix coach Chris Bessey pointed out this may not be the best year to use as a sample if you want to stay on the optimistic side.

“It looks like KVAC teams are going down,” Bessey said.

They’re 2-6 overall in the boys’ B tournament. One of those wins was on the West side of the bracket. Right after No. 3 Spruce Mountain lost 77-69 to Poland, in fact, No. 2 Morse defeated No. 7 Lake Region. That required double overtime, however.

The only other KVAC win was courtesy of No. 5 Winslow, 56-46 over No. 12 Foxcroft in the East preliminary round.

Winslow dropped a 63-61 verdict to Caribou in the quarterfinals, joining No. 1 Oceanside and No. 2 Camden Hills on the sidelines. Medomak Valley, Gardiner and Waterville also fell in the prelims, although only Medomak was a higher seed than its opponent.

MVC schools had cracked the B West semifinals each of the past two years — Spruce in 2012, then Mountain Valley by defeating Spruce in 2013.

The Phoenix weren’t able to keep that trend going after falling in a 15-point hole in the first half. Alan Young and C.J. Martin combined for 45 points for the Knights, who never trailed.

“We want to create chaos. We don’t want their best player moving freely in the open court,” Bessey said, referring to Martin. “We usually don’t leave guys that open. Maybe it was a little bit of the jitters. Who knows?”

Three-fifths of the starting lineup will return next season, including Deonte Ring, who erupted for 29 points against Poland, point guard Peter Theriault and center Anthony York.

Fast breaks

• North Haven’s 42-36 Class D West boys’ quarterfinal win over Greenville was the first in school history for the Hawks. At 19 students, North Haven almost certainly is the smallest school ever to win a game on the spacious Augusta floor. It will try to play giant-killer against perennial power Hyde in Wednesday’s semifinals.

• Saturday’s postponement of the night session were the first games lost on the opening weekend of the tournament at Augusta Civic Center since 1988. Extra games were added Saturday and Monday that year after a three-game Friday session was wiped out due to a snowstorm.

• After the Class B boys’ quarterfinals, 2012 champion Yarmouth is the only remaining school in either the East or West B bracket that has played in a state final since 2000.

• The top three seeds in the Class B East boys’ tournament were eliminated in the quarterfinals. That hadn’t happened in any region of the boys’ playoff since 1984. Thirty years ago, also in B East, the four highest seeds — Van Buren, Dexter, Mattanawcook and Camden-Rockport — all were shown the door.

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