The question I heard more than any other during the 12-day adrenaline rush we call the high school basketball tournament:

How can I watch the games?

I received it by text, by Facebook, by Twitter, by email, and I think at one point by homing pigeon. Clearly y’all need to start reading the paper every day, because the information was out there for about six months and appeared in print more than once.

This was an internet-only party for the first time. Maine Public Television withdrew from everything except the state finals, which will air this Friday and Saturday.

People were disappointed in the loss of this convenience, from what I can tell. Aside from “Netflix and chill,” we still aren’t trained to watch TV on our laptops. We liked the convenience of being able to click the remote after dinner and watch the games from Augusta, Portland or Bangor.

What I missed (and believe it or not, judging from my social media interaction, so did a few of you) were the Kalle Awards. That was my annual, second-Saturday night tournament wrap with sideline reporter Bim Gibson, broadcast live from the press table from time immemorial.

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Well, we can provide the same content here. You don’t get to see me in a suit, and you’ll miss my wildly flailing hands and the stack of notebooks and programs in front of me. But here’s my reasonable facsimile; the best of what I saw at the Class A and AA North and Class B, C and D South tourneys. Congratulations and apologies in advance to all!

Best game, girls: Boothbay vs. Monmouth, Class C South semifinal. On the scoreboard, it was everything I dislike about modern high school basketball: In the teens at halftime, in the 30s at the finish. There was also a little too much zone defense played, for my taste, but I’ve almost reached “acceptance” in the stages of grief over that trend. In the final analysis, it was close all the way, had a delicious chess match element to it, and clearly was the de facto championship game in that bracket. OK, and maybe it doesn’t hurt that I’m an alumnus of one of the participating schools.

Best game, boys: Oxford Hills vs. Deering, Class A North boys’ semifinal. If you didn’t see the first half, you missed the best sequence of basketball played in Maine this winter, and possibly many winters. It was a positively old-school contest of ‘can-you-top-this?’ The Vikings’ array of role-playing perimeter shooters stepped up to complement Andrew Fleming in a huge spot for the Vikings. The Rams showcased their speed to burn and dazzling skills in retort.

Best team, girls: Gray-New Gloucester. Not because they necessarily could beat Lawrence, York or Edward Little more than once or twice out of 10 tries. I just like the Class B South champions because they fulfill the ultimate definition of team. Opponents have no idea whom they need to contain from one game to the next. G-NG won games all winter in which its leading scorer had eight or nine points. The Patriots are predicated on defense and rebounding. They bleed you to death by a thousand little paper cuts. They are substance over style, and I love that.

Best team, boys: Portland. I heard “freakishly athletic” all season long until I started to feel like it was a veiled, backhanded compliment that didn’t do the Bulldogs any justice. This is a great basketball team, folks. They have guards who can fill it up without excessively looking to create their own offense. On the edge are a pair of 3-point shooters who can make you pay dearly for expending your defensive capital elsewhere. And Joe Esposito brings all the toughness and leadership you would expect from football’s Fitzpatrick Trophy winner. Fun to watch is putting it mildly when discussing the ‘Dogs.

Best comeback: (tie) Deering boys vs. Oxford Hills, Edward Little boys vs. Cheverus, Winthrop boys vs. Waynflete. The Rams and Eddies rallied from seven points down late in regulation; the Ramblers from eight. EL gets extra points for making up the entire margin in the final minute of regulation. Deering deserves its nod for accomplishing it in a transcendent game against a terrific, Division I bound player in Fleming. Winthrop merits the respect for pulling it off by sheer force of a will in a final to force overtime (ultimately, they lost, 43-41) when they didn’t have their offensive A, B or even C game.

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Best atmosphere: Class A North finals, Lawrence vs. Messalonskee girls and Medomak Valley vs. Oceanside boys. Put two geographic rivalries in one building for one session for the biggest games of the week and watch the people show up and shout out, no matter when it’s played. Too bad this wasn’t the night session instead of the afternoon session the second Friday, because the Portland-area fans’ “support” of their teams was disgraceful. You had the tournament in your back yard for 100 years, and in the era of a 70 mph speed limit, you can get to Augusta in less than an hour if you’re not riding a bus. Bitterly disappointing to see the way those folks chose not to accept the perceiving slight of having to slum it in Augusta for one year, or maybe two.

Best band: Lawrence. They’re just consistently good, and they turn Augusta Civic Center into Folsom Gym South every February. I love the band director with his Peter Frampton voice box, playing trumpet one-handed along with the kids. Bands in general are pretty much limited to schools that used to play in Bangor. Their contributions to make this feel like a special event each year should not be underestimated. That goes for all of them, the great ones and the ensembles thrown together at the last minute.

Best anthem: Susie Edwards, 9, Boothbay. She hit it so far out of the park prior to the Class C South championship session that it gave me chills. Parents and music teachers taught that lady well. She didn’t countrify or “American Idol” the song beyond recognition. She sang it with reverence from her soul. It was pure, simple and beautiful. From an old guy who loves this country and still loves the tradition of that song being sung before sporting events, thank you.

Best venue: I’ll go off the board and throw Cross Insurance Center of Bangor a bone. I wasn’t up there this week, but the New Aud seemed to corner the market on close games, fantastic finishes and sellout crowds. I’ve said all along that it was the games, the people and the tradition that made Bangor Auditorium what the locals say it was, and I knew CIC would gain ground in a hurry. I still think Augusta is the best place to watch a tournament game when it’s close and when both fan bases are into it, but that didn’t happen enough this week for my liking.

All-tournament team, girls: Nia Irving, Lawrence; Sophie Holmes, Messalonskee; Emily Jacques, Edward Little; Tianna Sugars, Oxford Hills; Page Brown, Boothbay; Blayke Morin, Rangeley; Shannon Todd, York; Anna DeWolfe, Greely. Give me Faith Blethen of Boothbay and one GNG player on my bench and I’ll go 21-0 without a fight.

All-tournament team, boys: Andrew Fleming, Oxford Hills; Terion and Amir Moss, Portland; Cody Laweryson, Valley; Jacob Hickey, Winthrop; Milo Belleau, Waynflete; Riley Robinson, Dirigo; Jack Lesure, Lake Region; Keenan Hendricks, Oceanside. Good thing this is my column and these are my rules, so I don’t have to limit it to five.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. He has covered every regional tournament for the Sun Journal since 1990. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72.


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