By Michael Hoffer
Winter has arrived in Maine and the best part about the season is the onset of another year of high school basketball.
That campaign tipped off this weekend with several teams entertaining championship dreams. While those dreams won't be realized or dashed for a few months, it's clear that the quality of play will once again be strong in the area.
While defending Class A state champion Cheverus opened with a ridiculously-easy 86-28 home victory over Noble in its opener, top contenders Thornton Academy and Portland did battle at the Expo in a game that didn't exactly live up to billing.
The Bulldogs will be a solid squad by year's end, but they struggled mightily against a Golden Trojans team that might just be the best in the state. After a slow start, Thornton Academy seized control with a 12-0 second period run behind the sharpshooting of senior James Morse. The Golden Trojans took a 33-24 lead into the half.
The visitors were sluggish in the third period, but Portland couldn't make a run, as turnovers and poor shooting held it back. The closest the Bulldogs got was seven points, 43-36, which was the score entering the fourth. It didn't take long for Thornton Academy to put it away, however, and the Golden Trojans cruised to a 67-46 victory behind 34 points from Morse. Senior Ed Bogdanovich led Portland with 15 points.
While Cheverus, Thornton Academy and Portland are viewed as the top contenders in Western Class A, there are others.
South Portland, coming off a trip to the semifinals and led by junior Keegan Hyland, who is viewed as one of the best in the state, is capable of beating anyone on a given night. Biddeford, Westbrook, young Deering will also be factors.
The girls' Western A story is once again centered around Deering, which won the championship last winter. The Rams are now led by Mike Murphy and learned quickly that nothing will come easily in their quest to repeat.
Hosting unheralded Sanford Saturday, Deering led by just a point at halftime before finally seizing control with a dominant third period. The Rams went on to a 46-26 victory thanks to 11 points from sophomore Kayla Burchill, 10 from junior Claire Ramonas and eight from senior Jess Ruhlin.
Deering will be threatened this year by Scarborough and Biddeford. The Red Storm squeaked past visiting Marshwood 49-43 in their first test. The Tigers had no trouble with host Westbrook in a 71-31 romp.
After the big three, several other teams feel they can make a run. Cheverus, Marshwood, Massabesic, McAuley, Portland, Noble and South Portland could all boast winning records.
In Western Class B boys' action, Cape Elizabeth is the defending regional champion and the Capers return four starters, giving them the status of favorite. Cape Elizabeth downed visiting Fryeburg Academy 78-56 in its first game Friday night. Alex Bowe scored 18 points.
Two of the Capers' biggest threats, Falmouth and Greely, did battle Friday night in Cumberland. The visiting Yachtsmen avenged last year's agonizing playoff loss with a 54-49 win. Junior standout Stefano Mancini led the way with 15 points. Trevor Tierney led all scorers with 22.
Mountain Valley, Lake Region and Yarmouth, featuring senior sharpshooter Johnny Murphy, are also capable of making noise in February.
The Western B girls' story begins again with three-time defending regional champion Lake Region. The Lakers have been hit hard by graduation, but are still the champs until someone proves otherwise. A season-opening 74-29 home rout of Sacopee reinforced that point.
Falmouth and Greely are again in the mix. The teams opened against each other Friday night in Cumberland and the host Rangers pulled out a mild surprise, bouncing back from a slow start to win 62-59 behind 21 points from Karlee Biskup.