By Michael Hoffer
After a whirlwind three-week run, the curtain has come down on the 2007-2008 basketball postseason. Eight Gold Balls were handed out with some going to teams expected to win it all, but a couple victors proved to be a surprise.
The biggest upset came in the Class A boys' state final Tuesday night in Portland. Undefeated defending state champ Bangor was expected to win another crown, but Cheverus had other ideas.
The Stags fell behind, 24-14, at halftime, as they went 0-for-8 on shots beyond the 3-point line, usually their specialty. That changed with a vengeance in the second half. Cheverus heated up, pulled to within one after three, then took the lead for good on a 3-pointer from senior Doug Alston with 5:27 to play.
The Stags' pressure defense stymied the potent Rams attack in the waning moments and Cheverus went on to a 49-41 win behind 23 points from junior standout Mick DiStasio, who had 19 points (and three 3's) in the second half.
“It's incredible,” DiStasio said. “It means the world to me. We had our eyes on this since Day 1.”
“It feels indescribably amazing,” Alston said. “We played as a team and had solid offense and defense in the second half and came out with the 'W.'”
Stags' coach Bob Brown credited the comeback win to a different approach in the second half.
“We changed our offense and up-tempoed the defense,” Brown said. “They were just killing us. Our shots were bad shots in the first half. In the second half, we got good shots coming off screens. We started to press with more intensity.”
Cheverus finished 19-3 and won its eighth state championship (its first since 1997).
Bangor (21-1) was left shell-shocked.
“We couldn't do our half-court stuff since we turned it over so many times,” head coach Roger Reed said. “That was a key to the game. They hit a lot of their shots, a lot of big shots. I thought we handled the pressure well in the first half. They hit some shots early in the second half and that swung momentum. That put us on our heels a little bit.”
Girls Class A Basketball: Deering Takes Title, Downs Oxford Hills
The Class A girls' championship went to Deering, as expected.
The Rams were the preseason favorite and drew a date Monday night in Portland with Cinderella Oxford Hills, which shocked top-ranked Lawrence and perennial champion Cony to win the Eastern A title.
Deering's defensive pressure and offensive versatility would prove to be too much. A four-point play from junior Diana Manduca as time expired in the first period gave the Rams a 20-8 lead.
“It was very important to get off to a good start,” Deering senior standout Nicole Garland said. “They're a team that has the ability to come back. We wanted to set the tone early.”
A Garland leaner, a Garland 3 and a Manduca baseline jumper pushed the lead to 18, 29-11, late in the first half, but the Vikings got the final seven points of the half to make it an 11-point contest at the break. Oxford Hills pulled to within eight, 33-25, early in the third, but the Rams pushed the lead back to 14, 40-26, after three. Down the stretch, freshman Kayla Burchill got clutch rebounds, Deering didn't let the Vikings go on a run and the Rams put the finishing touches on their 55-43 victory.
“It's a great way to end it,” Garland said. “I'm pretty excited. All the hard work paid off. We knew we had to control the ball and get past their press breaker. We were able to run out the clock a little bit. We have a lot of chemistry. We had to work together and keep it team oriented. We peaked at the right time.”
Deering was led by 14 points from its fabulous freshman, Burchill. Manduca and Garland both had 11.
“Kayla was fantastic,” Rams' head coach Mike D'Andrea said. “She potentially can lead us in scoring every night. We asked her to step it up. She's the first one to give out credit to her teammates. She was in the right spots. I was happy for Kayla. I think she enjoyed tonight very much. She'll remember this for a long time.”
Deering wound up 20-2 and won its second state championship (the first came in 2004).
Oxford Hills' season ended at 15-7.
Boys Class B Basketball: Maranacook Completes Stellar Post-Season
The Class B Finals were held in Bangor Friday night.
In the boys' game, undefeated Maranacook capped its stirring run with a second championship in three seasons, holding off Cape Elizabeth, 56-46. The Capers rallied from a nine-point first half deficit and took a 36-32 lead in the third period, but the Black Bears won the game thanks to the 3-point shooting of seniors Ryan Martin, Will Bardaglio and Mike Poulin. Cape Elizabeth didn't score in the final four minutes and saw its season end at 19-3 as its 16-game win streak came to an end.
"We had a couple of tough breaks," Capers' coach Jim Ray said. “We were up four and we made a couple defensive mistakes and they capitalized on them.”
Maranacook wound up 22-0 and was happy to survive.
"To (Cape's) credit, they did a great job," Black Bears' coach Rob Schmidt said. "They're a great defensive team. They have a lot of weapons. They're tough to defend. We played at their pace.
“We hit big 3's. That's how these guys have been their whole careers. It's an incredible legacy. They lost three times in three years and won two state championships. Very few classes can say that.”
Girls Class B Basketball: Streaking Waterville Wins Second Straight Crown
Waterville repeated as the girls' champion, stretching its win streak to 44 games in the process. The Purple Panthers fell behind Lake Region (making its third straight state game appearance) 14-5 after the Lakers got 12 points in 68 seconds, but Waterville slowly regained control and took a 21-20 lead into the break. The Panthers dominated the second half and pulled away. A 22-6 third quarter run did the trick. Waterville (22-0) then closed out its 54-35 win as junior standout Morgan Frame led the way with 14 points.
"We knew we had the talent to come back," Waterville coach Ted Rioux said. "We held our composure. This is a very good basketball team. I'm excited."
Senior Renee Nicholas led Lake Region (19-3) with 16 points.
The Panthers have almost everyone coming back next year and will look to make it three straight.
"I'm looking forward to next year," Frame said. "We want a third one. We'll work hard in the off-season and be back."
Boys Class C Basketball: Calais' 63-game Win Streak Snapped by Winthrop
The Class C games in Augusta were the last to be played, Wednesday night in Augusta.
Eastern Maine champion Calais saw its 63-game win streak come to an end when it lost 72-62 to Winthrop. Standout senior Sam Leclerc had 28 points, including some clutch hoops with the game still in doubt. The Ramblers wound up 21-1. Calais, which was led by 16 points from Rod Tirrell, finished 19-1.
Girls Class C Basketball: Lee Academy Prevails
In the girls' final, Lee Academy held off Madison, 59-47, to win a state championship for a second season in a row. Last year, the Pandas won Class D. They moved up this season and earned another Gold Ball. Amanda Gifford led Lee (19-3) with 18 points. Madison wound up 20-2.
Boys Class D: Central Aroostook Wins With Buzzer-Beater
The Class D boys' game provided the most dramatic finish.
Monday night in Augusta, Central Aroostook, the Eastern Maine champ, trailed Richmond by a point with just seconds remaining in a back-and-forth affair. Manny Martinez then drove to the hoop and found his way blocked by Richmond's Marc Zaharchuk, who stands 16 inches taller.
Somehow, Martinez floated a shot over Zaharchuk and it kissed off the glass and went in with 0.8 seconds left, giving the Panthers a stirring 54-53 win. Central Aroostook joined the Maranacook boys and the Waterville girls as the only teams to finish the season undefeated (22-0). Martinez led all scorers with 20 points. Zaharchuk had 13 in the loss for the Bobcats (19-2).
Girls Glass D Basketball: Woodland Continues to Excel, Tops Buckfield
The Class D girls' game was far less dramatic as Woodland ended Buckfield's undefeated run with a 59-45 triumph. Courtney Cochran had 21 points as Woodland won its fourth crown in eight seasons.
Hockey: State Final Set for Saturday; Biddeford, Lewiston in Rematch
State championship hockey games are all that remain on the winter sports schedule. Those contests will be held Saturday in Lewiston.
In Class A, undefeated, defending state champ Biddeford faces Lewiston in a rematch of last year.
The Tigers were fortunate to advance. After easily downing Portland in the quarterfinals and Scarborough in the semis, Biddeford drew rival Kennebunk (winners over Fryeburg and Falmouth) in the regional final Wednesday night in Portland. The Tigers had owned the Rams in recent meetings, but this time, Kennebunk gave the champs everything they could handle, sending the game to overtime tied at 1-1 and almost pulling out the win before Biddeford finally survived and advanced, 2-1 behind Trevor Fleurent's game-winner.
Lewiston had little trouble beating Messalonskee, Lawrence and finally Waterville (5-2) to reach the state game for a fourth straight season. The Blue Devils have lost in their last three appearances, games played on their home ice.
The Class B state game will feature a York team playing for the championship for the first time ever, against tradition-rich Winslow.
York found itself in a surprising fight for its life in the semifinals against unheralded Leavitt and survived 3-2 in double overtime on sophomore David Figlioli's goal. That set up a date with defending regional champ Greely, which rolled past Cape Elizabeth 6-1 (behind senior Leland Copenhagen's four goals) in the semifinals.
The Rangers had owned the Wildcats in recent postseasons (including a 2-1 win in last year's regional final), but this time York had just enough to advance. Tied at 2-2 entering the third period, the Wildcats got goals from sophomore Connor Murphy and senior Andy Ohlson and held Greely without a shot for 13 minutes and 10 seconds before senior Charlie Harwood's goal made things interesting. The Rangers weren't able to complete the dramatic comeback, however, and York was able to exult over its 4-3 win.
Winslow has won 10 Class B state championships, but none since 2000. The Black Raiders aim to end that slump Saturday. Winslow downed Houlton in the semifinals, and then edged Gardiner, 5-4, in overtime in the regional final to advance. Jesse Cullivan scored just 26 seconds into the extra session.
Michael Hoffer is the sports editor of The Forecaster, a family of weekly newspapers based in Falmouth. Michael can be reached at email@example.com.