Hampden's Jaron Baude (center) goes up for a shot past two Foxcroft Academy players during a 2017 unified basketball game at Hampden. Baude still plays for Hampden-Bangor, which is the top seed in the North region. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

After an exciting 2019 high school basketball tournament that crowned state champions from Caribou and Jackman south to Cumberland Center and Gray-New Gloucester, one more gold ball remains to be handed out.

The fifth annual Maine Principals’ Association unified basketball tournament kicks into high gear Thursday with North and South quarterfinals scheduled around the state.

Co-ed unified basketball matches students with developmental disabilities, unified student-athletes, with non-varsity basketball players without developmental disabilities, unified student partners. They team up to practice, compete and represent their schools.

At least three unified athletes must be on the court at all times during games, and the partners may score no more than 25 percent of their team’s points.

Fifty-three teams from 59 schools completed the 2019 unified basketball regular season, including first-year teams from Belfast, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and Mountain Valley of Rumford.

That compares to just 17 teams when unified basketball was started in Maine in 2015.

Sixteen teams, 10 in the South and six in the North, opted to compete in this year’s postseason tournament, while other programs seeking less-competitive conclusions to their schedules could choose to participate in a one-day festival.

Hampden Academy, which won the first two unified basketball state championships, now is a cooperative entry in the sport with neighboring Bangor and entered postseason play top-ranked for the North regional with an 8-0 record.

Hampden-Bangor and No. 2 Madison (7-0) earned quarterfinal byes. Hampden-Bangor will host the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between No. 4 Oceanside of Rockland (5-3) and No. 5 Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft (4-4) in March 12 semifinals while Madison will play the winner of the quarterfinal between No. 3 Bucksport (6-2) and No. 6 Carrabec of North Anson (3-3).

South tournament play began Tuesday with two preliminary-round games as No. 7 Marshwood-Noble of South Berwick and North Berwick (7-1) hosted No. 10 Oak Hill of Wales (1-5) and No. 8 Morse of Bath (5-3) faced No. 9 Edward Little of Auburn (5-3).

South quarterfinals also are scheduled for Thursday, with No. 1 Gray-New Gloucester (8-0) facing the Morse-Edward Little winner and No. 2 Westbrook (5-1) — which defeated Hampden-Bangor in last winter’s state final — playing the Marshwood-Noble/Oak Hill survivor.

Other South quarterfinals will match No. 3 Lewiston (7-1) against No. 6 Greely of Cumberland Center (6-2) and No. 4 Lisbon (6-2) against No. 5 Thornton Academy of Saco (8-0).

Regional championship matches are scheduled for Thursday, March 14, at the highest remaining seeds with the state final to be played Tuesday, March 19, at a site to be announced.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...