Edward Little’s Cam Yorke runs towards the bench as time runs out in the Red Eddies’ Class AA state championship victory over Thornton Academy at Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday. Brewster Burns photo

The 2020 high school basketball tournament is done, the Augusta Civic Center’s 1984 mixtape returned to moth balls and the memories of February Madness all but filed in the gray matter cabinets of the thousands who participated and observed.

Randy Whitehouse

For those of us who can’t remember the email password we’ve had since our first AOL account, finding space in the memory bank for what transpired at this year’s tournament is challenging but oh so worth it.

The file I’ve compiled while shuttling from Augusta to Portland and back over the past two-and-a-half weeks is stuffed, and not just because we had the privilege of watching four teams in our coverage area make it all the way to the grand finale. We’ve had an equally prosperous season recently (2018). This year, even the teams that didn’t win or even go very deep in the tournament left impressions with me that will last a long time.

THE FUTURE IS BLUE

I should have known this would be an unforgettable tournament before I even drove through the capital or the Old Port.  The first signs of what was to come unfolded in the Windham High School gym during what to me will always be the quintessential 4-vs.-5-seed Class AA North quarterfinal, Windham vs. Lewiston boys.

A lot of people have a problem with the AA North tournament structure (you’re in no matter what) and format (compile enough Heal points and you can host a quarterfinal). Any changes that might be made to both in the future, I hope the quarterfinal is always played at the higher seed. The atmosphere in the gym that night as Lewiston clawed its way back from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter could not be matched in an arena, center or expo.

Malik Foster of Lewiston dumps a pass off to Chiwer Mayan while being guarded by Tanner Herrick of Oxford Hills during a January game in Lewiston. Foster and Mayan helped Lewiston have a season that included several signs of future success. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

In its first year under coach Ronnie Turner, one could sense an awakening of Lewiston boys basketball. We caught a glimpse of what the future of the Blue Devils might look like as a proud, hungry young team rallied to send the game into overtime. For a brief segment of overtime, as David Omasombo and Evan Williams drained clutch shots, I was considering the prospect of Lewiston and Edward Little moving the Battle of the Bridge to Portland for a semifinal clash, But then Windham’s Kaleb Cidre stole my and Lewiston’s dreams away.

The dejection outside Lewiston’s locker room was as palpable as the joy and relief outside Windham’s on the other end of the gym. Turner said he and his team would never forget how they felt in that moment. I’m confident that some day Lewiston followers will be looking back at it, too, as the start of something special.

RUNNIN’ ‘RUNNERS

Mt. Abram’s Parker Ross, left, battles for a rebound against Boothbay in a Class C South quarterfinal game Monday at the Augusta Civic Center. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

One of the special things about the basketball tournament is it gives the people who really pay attention a chance to see programs such as Lewiston begin their ascension. Mt. Abram’s boys had fans buzzing at the Augusta Civic Center as they gave Boothbay a serious run for their money, and I mean run, in the C South quarterfinals.

Playing in Augusta for the first time in 21 years, the sixth-seeded Roadrunners lived up to their nickname, zipping up and down the floor with senior forward Nate Luce and junior guards Hunter Warren and Kenyon Pillsbury.

Boothbay’s tournament experience and poise ultimately earned it a hard-fought 59-54 win, but as someone who was thoroughly impressed AND entertained the two times I saw Mt. Abram play this season, I’m not expecting or willing to wait another 21 years for coach Dustin Zamboni and company to return to the ACC.

MVC DESERVES BETTER

I would welcome an end to the Mountain Valley Conference’s annual death march to the Portland Expo.

Now before everyone gets defensive, I love the MVC. It’s my favorite conference in the state. It’s good basketball and I will put the best players to come out of it against any in Maine, and a lot of the coaches, too. But over the past five years, MVC Class B schools are 3-18 in the quarterfinals (wins by the Mountain Valley girls in 2016 and Oak Hill and Spruce Mountain boys in 2017).

Blame it on long bus rides and unfamiliar floors and shooting backdrops all you want, the fact is the MVC Class B teams are not prepared for the level of tournament competition when they get to Portland. Their peers from the Western Maine Conference and Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference are, simply because they have the option of playing tougher competition with open scheduling.

The MVC is hesitant to do the same out of concern for the small schools in the far reaches of the conference, but the bigger schools are already being left behind.

WINTHROP A HOOPS TOWN

Some in Class C might have thought they could leave the Winthrop girls behind when the school scrapped its varsity team six years ago. But coach Joe Burnham had a plan that redefined what was expected of his players and what they should expect of themselves.

Winthrop’s Aaliyah WilsonFalcone, center, drives to hoop between Central Aroostook defenders Breann Bradbury, left, and Maci Beals during the Class C state championship game Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The Ramblers returned to a varsity schedule nearly two years into the plan with a dedicated nucleus of Aaliyah WilsonFalcone, Jillian Schmelzer, Natalie Frost and Kena Souza that clearly savored the long journey to its first regional title in 30 years as much as it did the accomplishment itself.

It certainly didn’t hurt Burnham that he had a model for building his program in the same building in Winthrop’s boys. The Ramblers graduated four-fifths of their starting lineup last year after winning their first Class C state championship in 11 years and still duplicated their 21-1 record and state championship celebration.

Coach Todd MacArthur didn’t try to recast his rotation so much as demand all of his players, whether holdovers such as Ryan Baird, Cam Hachey and Jevin Smith or new additions such as Gavin Perkins and Brad Bourne, work to find the potential he saw in them.

How does a team that loses a conference all-star (Baird) in the first quarter of a regional final find within itself the will to grind out a 39-30 win over a bigger and more talented Waynflete team? Because it knew it could. What else do you want from high school sports?

SPECIAL VIKINGS CREW

Well, I don’t know about you, but I could use a few more years of watching the dazzling duo of Julia Colby and Cecelia Dieterich play with their Oxford Hills teammates.

You could feel an air of anticipation any time one was pushing the ball up the floor with the other on the wing, the possibilities of what might happen next running with them through basketball fans’ minds. They not only honored the game with how hard they played, they sprinkled in the kind of flair while handling, passing and shooting the ball that makes little girls and boys say, “I want to do that.”

They had the perfect coach and mentor in Nate Pelletier, and with a supporting cast that won’t ever get the credit it deserves, made history in the foothills by going back-to-back. I’m jealous of the Oxford Hills fans who got to watch them for their entire careers.

Oxford Hills’ Julia Colby scores two points after stealing an inbound pass during the Vikings’ Class AA state championship victory over South Portland at Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday. Brewster Burns photo

Champions don’t have to be flashy, though. They often go about their work quietly, in fact, and often aren’t appreciated until its almost too late.

EDDIES TOOK LEAD

One of the revelations of the past fortnight was Edward Little’s Austin Brown.

We all knew he was an excellent player. He was good enough to start for EL’s gold ball-drought-busting team as a sophomore, and he was one of the first reasons everyone cited when arguing that the Red Eddies would go deep in the tournament again this year.

But the senior guard’s contributions couldn’t be summed up in a stat sheet. He was a master of the intangibles and, boy, could he play lockdown defense. His tournament performance, particularly in the regional and state championship games, was a textbook case of a leader knowing what needed to be done and when to do it.

The Eddies were an electric team to watch when Wol Maiwen was their centerpiece, but his graduation gave us a chance not only to see how good players such as Brown, Cam Yorke, Max Creaser and Storm Jipson were individually, but how great they were collectively, especially when they were anchored in the paint by the man-child that is sophomore John Shea.

Austin Brown of Edward Little drives with the ball as Thornton Academy’s Kobe Gaudette plays defense during the Class AA boys basketball state title game Saturday at Cross Insurance Arena. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

The incomparable Mike Adams was the architect of that greatness, and thank God the miracle of modern medicine allowed him to see his project to completion again. But Brown was the project foreman, the guy who knew how to carry out the architect’s plan.

So now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make room for all of these memories, plus witnessing the end of an era with IJ Pinkham’s retirement in Boothbay and one of the greatest games ever played in the Class B state championship between Maranacook and Caribou.

It really would help if I could forget the lyrics to the Tubes’ tune “She’s a Beauty.”


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