The Caribou High School boys basketball team certainly will be the road team when it plays Cape Elizabeth for the Class B state championship Saturday afternoon.
The Vikings will travel approximately 300 miles to the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland for the 2:45 p.m. opening tip, compared with about an 8-mile trek for Cape Elizabeth.
But that’s nothing new. Three 170-mile bus rides to Bangor proved fruitful last week as Caribou captured its first regional title in 36 years.
And coach Kyle Corrigan’s club, 18-3 and winner of its last 15 games after a 3-3 start, might even be a year ahead of schedule. Austin Findlen is the lone senior among a starting lineup that also features juniors Parker Deprey, Alex Bouchard and Isaac Marker and sophomore Sawyer Duprey, Parker’s brother.
“We knew the potential was there,” Corrigan said after his club defeated defending state champion Hermon 43-40 in the Class B North final. “We just didn’t know if we would get there. It took us a while to settle into our style, but once we finally figured out our style I thought, ‘We’ve got a really good chance to go a long way.’”
Cape Elizabeth’s 14-7 record is deceiving. Coach Jim Ray’s club went 3-4 against Class A opponents, including two losses to two-time defending Class A state champion Greely of Cumberland Center.
The Capers finished the regular season ranked third in Class B South, then won three regional tournament games by a combined 11 points with a 39-38 survival of two-time defending Class B South champion Wells in the final.
Cape Elizabeth, led by 6-foot-9 senior center Andrew Hartel, is seeking its first state championship since 2015.
Neither coach Tim Brewer nor his Houlton boys basketball program is unfamiliar with championship settings.
Houlton was crowned Class C state champion as recently as 2014 behind junior forward Kyle Bouchard, who went on to be named Mr. Maine Basketball a year later.
This year’s run to Saturday’s 8:45 p.m. Class C state final against Winthrop at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center is founded in part on the defensive philosophy Brewer brought to Houlton three years ago. He had coached Central Aroostook of Mars Hill to four Class D state championships and five regional titles in 15 seasons.
Houlton (17-4) allowed only 33.3 points per game in rising from the No. 4 seed in the Class C North field to a regional title clinched with a 54-34 dethroning of three-time defending state champion George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill.
“I couldn’t be more happy with the effort these kids have put out, especially on the defensive side,” Brewer said after that game. “All these guys can guard multiple positions, that’s why we did so well defensively.”
Winthrop (20-1) returns to the state final for the second time in three years in quest of its first gold ball since 2008.
The Ramblers are riding a 14-game winning streak and like Houlton were stingy defensively in regional play. Led by 6-8 senior Cam Wood, a Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalist, Winthrop allowed just 39 points per game in its Class C South tourney wins.
Schenck of East Millinocket (14-7) broke through to win the Class D North crown after being ousted in the regional semifinals each of the previous three winters, twice in Class C and in Class D last season.
Coach Darrick Thompson’s club played 12 of 18 regular-season games this year against Class C foes. And while the Wolverines went 5-7 against a slate that included postseason qualifiers Dexter, Lee Academy, Penobscot Valley of Howland and Piscataquis of Guilford, the tests helped Schenck prepare for its postseason challenges.
“There’s no easy game on our schedule, I don’t care what the record says,” said Thompson, whose team is 9-0 against Class D opponents this winter. “We have to bring it every night. I think we had one or two nights we were able to cruise, but 16 nights in the regular season we had to battle.”
“The PVC [Penobscot Valley Conference] does prepare you and it doesn’t always work out in the end, but this year it did.”
Schenck knocked off No. 5 Easton, No. 1 Woodland and No. 2 Jonesport-Beals to capture its first regional title since winning the 2010 Class D state crown. The Wolverines now face the state’s last undefeated boys team, Forest Hills of Jackman, for the gold ball at 3:50 p.m. Saturday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Forest Hills (21-0) rolled to its first regional championship since winning the 2015 Class D state title.
The Tigers hadn’t advanced past the South quarterfinals since then until last week, when they defeated No. 8 Seacoast Christian of South Berwick, No. 5 Greenville and No. 2 Temple Academy of Waterville by an average of 36.3 points.
“Jackman’s a basketball town just like us,” Thompson said. “The main challenge I can see is the way they play together, and they especially love to run the ball.”