The Gardiner girls basketball team poses with trophy after winning the Class A/B central Maine tournament title last Friday night over Lawrence. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

There are only four of these glass ball championship trophies. If we’re lucky, that’s all there will ever be.

Maranacook Community High School has one. Winthrop High School, too, and Gardiner Area High School, and Hall-Dale High School. Each has a collector’s item trophy. With no state tournament this winter due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high schools in Kennebec, Somerset and Franklin counties played their own basketball tournament. Divided into Class A/B and Class C/D divisions, boys and girls, the tournament was a way to reward teams for persevering throughout what was the most challenging season in memory. The tournament also was a chance to play for something other than love of the game.

Love of the game is obviously important, but adding a championship — putting money on the table, as it were — added a degree of intensity that playoff competition brings. With that, congratulations to the Maranacook boys (Class A/B), Gardiner girls (Class A/B), Winthrop boys (Class C/D), and Hall-Dale girls (Class C/D).

The glass ball doesn’t have the prestige of the Gold Ball presented annually to Maine’s high school basketball state champions, but that’s not the point, especially in a season with no state tournament. The teams that won these regional titles worked to earn them nonetheless. There is sweat equity and mental toughness in each one. Forever, these schools have a reminder in the trophy case. When things were pretty much at their worst, we made every effort to be our best.

In the end, there wasn’t a big upset in any of the four tournaments. The No. 1 seed each won a championship, and the No. 2 seed finished as runner-up. The fact that it went pretty much according to chalk made it no less entertaining.

Maranacook may have been the best boys basketball team in the state this season, regardless of class. The Black Bears certainly made their case, going undefeated though the shortened regular season before beating three good Class A teams by at least 19 points in the central Maine tournament. A 28-point win (83-55) over Gardiner, a 19-point win over Messalonskee (98-79) and a 24-point (87-63) win over Skowhegan in the title game made us wish we could’ve gotten a rematch between Maranacook and Caribou in the Class B state game. But we got to see this Maranacook team led by Mr. Maine Basketball finalist Cash McClure play tournament basketball at a high level, and this season that’s a positive.

The Winthrop boys pulled off one of those improbable comebacks that you wish happened in a packed to the rafters Augusta Civic Center, not a nearly-empty Winthrop High gym. Trailing Madison by 17 points with four and a half minutes to play, the Ramblers reeled off a 20-0 run to close the game and win the title. Do you think the experience Winthrop players gained on runs to the Class C state title in 2019 and 2020 helped down the stretch in Friday’s championship win?

Members of the Winthrop boys basketball team celebrate after they sank Madison to win the Class C/D central Maine title last Friday night in Winthrop. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

That’s a silly question. The answer is yes.

The Gardiner girls reached the Class A North final in 2020, and proved they continued to improve by winning this title. Were it not for the frantic late comeback orchestrated by the Winthrop boys, the Tigers would have the comeback of the tournament. Gardiner spotted Lawrence a 17-point first half lead before rallying for the 56-51 victory. The Tigers return almost everybody next season. Expect them to be a leading contender in Class A North.

Expect the Hall-Dale girls to be a contender in Class C South, too. The Bulldogs led Carrabec 25-8 (there’s that 17-point lead again), at the half of their championship game Friday, and held off the Cobras rally for a 52-44 win. Hall-Dale returns a number of players next season, too.

It was not a perfect basketball season anywhere in Maine. It was a season of stops and starts and doing the best you can with the small opportunity to play. The central Maine tournament was a perfect ending, though. Those four glass ball trophies will be a reminder of resiliency in a trying year. Display them prominently.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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