What is the purpose of life now that #Tourney17 is over?

I’ve typed that hashtag so much over the past three weeks that I don’t even know what else to call the MPA high school girls’ and boys’ basketball tournaments.

What I do know, though, is that it was a good time.

Nothing in sports beats a basketball tournament. And to win a win-or-go-home tournament is one of the greatest feats in sports. It takes talent, yes, but it also requires endurance, will and, sometimes, great timing.

One of the top players in the state perfectly stated why winning a high school state tournament is so special. Gorham senior Emily Esposito is moving on to play at Villanova next season. But after she led the Rams to a second straight Class AA championship Saturday, she had this to say:

“I know I’m going on to play college basketball, but it’s not going to be the same. When you do it with your friends, people you grew up with, and some of of your best friends, it’s a whole different … I mean, you enjoy it more, you laugh more, you know each other so well, so that’s why it’s so special to me.”

To earn a second consecutive gold ball Saturday, Gorham had to survive Oxford Hills.

The Vikings turned the AA final into their type of game, and except for a killer stretch late in the third quarter, they even contained Esposito.

The only problem was that the Vikings couldn’t buy a shot in the second half, and they ended up losing 45-31 in a game that was closer than the final score and closer than pretty much everyone expected it to be. There should be pride in Paris for how the team played.

The Gray-New Gloucester and Monmouth Academy girls both won the first state championships in their programs’ histories with balanced, unselfish approaches and players who have been playing together for years.

Gray-New Gloucester’s Class B girls’ championship provided the ending to a perfect story of perseverance.

Each of the preceding three seasons, the Patriots advanced a step or two farther into the postseason than the previous year. Each time, the new experience got the best of them, but each time, they bounced back and conquered the level the following year.

And, the story isn’t over. Two of Gray-NG’s six main rotation players, sophomore Bri Jordan and freshman Jordan Grant, will be back for two more years together, along with a crew of underclassmen that spent this year watching and practicing against a state championship team.

Everybody will be back to defend the Monmouth girls’ Class C championship. The Mustangs didn’t have one senior this season on a roster that went nine or 10 players deep. But the repeat won’t be easy, because the best players on Monmouth’s top contenders in C South, Boothbay and Richmond, also will be back.

Then there’s this. Warning: it’s painful.

The Winthrop boys lost to George Stevens Academy in the Class C title game on a 3-pointer made by an unlikely player. It’s impossible to not also point out that Winthrop/Monmouth missed out on reaching the Class D state football championship because of a miraculous pass play to an unlikely player.

Life is not fair.

Along the way to the state championships, a lot of teams made great memories before bowing out.

Spruce Mountain’s Mason Shink went absolutely nuts against Lisbon in the B south quarterfinals. He hit seven 3-pointers and scored 25 of his 38 points in the first half of the Phoenix’s 88-66 win.

After the game, Spruce coach Scott Bessey called Shink “one of those no-conscience shooters.”

To that, Shink said, “Yeah, I don’t have a conscience.”

In the game that followed that, Oak Hill point guard Evan Boston took over when Raiders’ leading scorer Marcus Bailey was hampered by foul trouble. Boston scored 28 points to help advance Oak Hill to the B South semis. It was one of those classic senior-point-guard-steps-up moments.

In the girls’ B South semifinal, Poland’s perfect start against Lincoln Academy came crashing down due to foul trouble.

The game quickly went from bad to worse, but the Knights kept battling their way back into the game.

At one point in the second half, the teams’ best players, Lincoln’s Bri Wajer and Poland’s Nathalie Theriault, went back and forth, making plays for their teams. Theriault was scoring, but, coach Mike Susi pointed out, she also was trusting her teammates and they were trusting her. The way the Knights play make them a team to watch next season. Wajer said that first, but I agree with her.

Finally, the tournaments had lots of hustle. Nothing in basketball gets me fired up like great hustle. My favorite intances were Monmouth’s Abbey Allen in the win over Waynflete and Gray-NG’s Izzy DeTroy against Lincoln.

Allen crashed the offensive boards in a game that the Mustangs had to grind out to advance to the C South semifinals. DeTroy was flying around, colliding with the floor, forcing jump balls and blocking shots of players 5 inches taller than her in the B South final.

I’ve been bouncing around the country the past six years, and one thing that people enjoy in every state is ripping on the governing body of high school sports. Well, one thing the MPA has right is the tournament’s format.

This was my first Maine tournament. The regional format is fun, and beats the convoluted, and often messy (though, still fun) state tournament format in Washington state, where I was before this.

While in Washington, I got to know a former UMaine player who helped MDI win some state championships during the last decade. While giving a shout-out to the school’s boys’ team for winning a title last week on Facebook she said to me, “There is nothing like Maine tournament basketball.”

I agree, but what are we supposed to do now that it’s over?

Lee Horton is the Sun Journal’s assistant sports editor. He’s about to experience basketball tournament withdrawals, but drop him a line at [email protected]

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