Bangor Daily News sports reporters Ernie Clark and Larry Mahoney have covered the Maine high school basketball tournament for a combined 86 years, so they know what it takes for a team to win a gold ball. Here are their full predictions for this year’s North regional tournaments.
Class AA North Boys
Players to watch: John Shea, senior center, Edward Little; Teigan Pelletier, sophomore forward, Oxford Hills; Landon Clark, sophomore forward, Bangor.
Favorites: Edward Little, the most recent Class AA state champion from 2020, has the favorite for this year’s Mr. Basketball in Shea (28.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg) to spearhead a diversified attack. Oxford Hills boasts six players 6-4 or taller, including the 6-10 Colby Dillingham (13.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg). The team also has an emerging sophomore in Pelletier (16.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and a versatile guard in junior Cole Pulkkinen (13.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 34 apg).
Darkhorse: Bangor faces a tough quarterfinal at Oxford Hills, but the Rams nearly upended the Vikings last week before falling 41-40. Led by one of the state’s top scorers in Clark (20.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg), Bangor’s 12 regular-season losses came by an average of seven points.
Prediction: Oxford Hills 70, Edward Little 66. Edward Little has defeated Oxford Hills twice, a one-point win at South Paris on opening night and a 47-35 decision at Auburn on Jan. 11. This third matchup would be six weeks removed from their last clash, and an Oxford Hills team that has won its last eight games might be ready to break through.
Class AA North Girls
Players to watch: Sierra Carson, junior guard, Oxford Hills; Maddie Fitzpatrick, sophomore guard, Cheverus; Abbie Quinn, junior center, Bangor
Favorites: Cheverus’ Fitzpatrick and Emma Lizotte are a dynamic one-two punch as Fitzpatrick is third in AA North in scoring (18.3 points per game), tied for first in steals (4 spg) and tied for seventh in rebounding (6.5 rpg) and the 6-foot-2 Lizotte is the rebounding leader (10.4) and is fifth in scoring (14.9 ppg). Oxford Hills’ Carson is a big-time difference maker, averaging an AA North-leading 19.3 ppg and also averaging 7.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
Darkhorses: Bangor’s Abbie Quinn (13 ppg, 9.3 rpg) is one of the league’s best post players and Emmie Streams tops the conference in assists (4.3 apg). The Hampden Academy Broncos are a very good post-season team as evidenced by their three straight A North titles and Bella McLaughlin (19.2 ppg, 4 apg, 4 spg) is a game-changer.
Prediction: Cheverus 52, Oxford Hills 49. Fitzpatrick and Carson will cancel each other out but Lizotte’s inside presence gives Cheverus a slight edge. The teams split regular season games, Cheverus winning by three at home and Oxford Hills squeaking out a one-point home win.
Class A North Boys
Players to watch: Cooper Flagg, freshman forward, Nokomis; Brady Saunders, junior forward, Brewer; Adam Savage, junior forward, Skowhegan.
Favorites: Flagg (20.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.9 spg and 3.9 blocks per game) has lived up to all the preseason attention and more by spearheading a defensive presence at Nokomis that has limited opponents to 40 points per game. Brewer boasts tons of experience and offensive balance, and the Witches have two fourth-year starters at guard in Colby Smith and Aaron Newcomb.
Darkhorse: The third-seeded Skowhegan River Hawks normally wouldn’t be considered a darkhorse at 15-3 except for the two teams that finished ahead of them and the prospect of having to defeat both Brewer and Nokomis to win the regional title. Savage and twins Kyle and Collin LePage, all around 6-6, will be sure to provide matchup problems for any tourney foe.
Prediction: Brewer 56, Nokomis 55. One intangible that may come into play in a third meeting between the top two seeds after their regular-season split is experience, particularly since crowd sizes were limited during the regular season and this Class A North final surely would draw a full house to the Augusta Civic Center. Brewer sends out five multi-year starters, and that might be the difference late in a close game.
Class A North Girls
Players to watch: Jaycie Christopher, senior guard, Skowhegan; Lizzy Gruber, junior forward, Gardiner; Hope Bouchard, junior guard, Lawrence.
Favorites: Skowhegan’s Boston University-bound Christopher is arguably the best player in the state, capable of a double-double every night and a triple-double from time to time. She has a capable supporting cast around her. The 6-foot-4 Gruber had 35 points and 23 rebounds in a win over contender Lawrence and is an elite talent for Gardiner.
Darkhorse: The Lawrence Bulldogs’ only losses were two to Skowhegan and one to Gardiner and Bouchard is one of the state’s best guards.
Prediction: Skowhegan 60, Gardiner 51. Christopher is driven by Skowhegan’s postseason failures and isn’t going to let her undefeated River Hawks get dispatched in the regional playoffs again. Skowhegan closed out the regular season with a 20-point win over Gardiner.
Class B North Boys
Players to watch: Hunter Curtis, senior guard, Ellsworth; Chance Mercier, sophomore forward, Ellsworth; Pierce Walston, sophomore guard, Orono.
Favorites: Ellsworth has been dominant throughout the regular season, led by arguably the top two players in the division in Curtis and Mercier, who have combined to average 39.5 points and 17.2 rebounds per game. Foxcroft had its best regular season since 2005 with a roster including eight players off the school’s 2021 state championship football team. Junior Caden Crocker epitomizes that toughness on defense to go with a solid mid-range game, and senior Filip Brkic has provided the additional scoring punch the team needed at the start of the season.
Darkhorse: Mount View of Thorndike is one of just five KVAC schools in the 17-team division, and three of the five finished in the bottom three spots in the Heal points. The Mustangs, however, played a rugged schedule including two crossover games against Ellsworth and games against Class B South quarterfinalists Medomak Valley of Waldoboro (twice) and Oceanside of Rockland.
Prediction: Ellsworth 62, Foxcroft 48. The Ponies held Ellsworth to a season-low 49 points during a loss to the Eagles in Dover-Foxcroft, but the Eagles scored at least 60 points in 16 of their other 17 victories. Curtis, Mercier and Co. will ensure that the Eagles won’t get shut down again.
Class B North Girls
Players to watch: Maddie Lebel, senior forward, Hermon; Saige Evans, sophomore forward, Old Town; Faith Sjoberg, senior guard, Presque Isle.
Favorites: The Hermon Hawks are the defending regional champs and have a dominant post presence with the trio of Lebel (14.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Meg Tracy and Liz Wyman. Evans (15.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) is a very athletic post player and a veteran Old Town team has a well-balanced attack with the Emerson sisters, Maddie and Makayla, along with Maddie Arsenault and Lexi Thibodeau.
Darkhorse: Olivia Gray, who leads the Big East with 4.1 assists per game, leads a senior-laden Mount Desert Island team that won its last six regular season games and eight of its last nine.
Prediction: Hermon 49, Old Town 48. These teams split their regular season games, each winning on the road, but the Hawks’ size advantage will lead to second-chance points in a thrilling final.
Class C North Boys
Players to watch: Austin Delisle, senior forward, Fort Kent; Will Kusnierz, junior forward, Dexter; David Gadsby, senior guard, George Stevens Academy.
Favorites: Fort Kent has been atop the Heal points throughout the winter, thanks in part to an offense led by Delisle, a 1,000-point scorer, that has averaged 77.4 points per game. Dexter and George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill are defensive-minded teams that have yielded 39.4 points and 42.7 points per game, respectively.
Darkhorse: Calais has come on strong as the season has progressed under veteran coach Dean Preston, with its prelim victory over Hodgdon its fifth consecutive win. Woodland is another team flying under the radar despite its No 3 seed and 14-3 record.
Prediction: George Stevens 46, Dexter 39. These programs — winners of four of the last five C North titles — split two games during the regular season, each winning when the other was shorthanded, and the nod here goes to George Stevens’ depth advantage.
Class C North Girls
Players to watch: Alisyn Alley, senior guard, Stearns; Izzy Allen, sophomore guard-forward Central; Anna Oliver, freshman guard, Hodgdon.
Favorites: Stearns has Alley, a 1,000-point scorer and game-changer who can beat you a lot of different ways, and she has some good supplemental players around her. The Hodgdon Hawks have one of the state’s best freshmen in Oliver and they scored at least 60 points in 13 of their 17 regular season games.
Darkhorses: The Penobscot Valley Howlers are long, athletic and they only allowed more than 38 points in a game twice in 17 regular season games, both to Class D unbeaten Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook. Central’s Allen, who has already committed to the University of Maine, can take over a game at both ends of the floor but she will need some help.
Prediction: Stearns 42, Penobscot Valley 37. Stearns will have to get past the Central-Hodgdon winner in the semifinals but Alley’s ability to score from anywhere will be the difference against Penobscot Valley in the final. The teams split their regular season games.
Class D North Boys
Players to watch: Kashman Feeney, senior forward, Machias; Hunter Burpee, senior center, Southern Aroostook; Carter Pelletier, senior center, Wisdom.
Favorites: This has loomed as a two-team race since Machias and Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook began preseason practices in November. Undefeated and top-ranked Machias returns all of its key players from its 2020 regional championship team, and while the Bulldogs had a couple of close calls in late-season victories over Class C Calais and Woodland, coach Jim Getchell’s club is poised for another chance to win a gold ball. To do that, Machias will have to overcome a veteran Southern Aroostook team led by a 1,000-point scorer in Burpee. SAHS is the only team to defeat Class C top seed Fort Kent this season.
Darkhorses: Van Buren didn’t have its first game until Jan. 6 and went on to play 16 of their 18 games in five weeks — going 10-6 along the way to earn the No. 3 seed. No. 4 Wisdom, led by a 1,000-point scorer in Pelletier, is riding high at 12-5, quite a rise from its 3-15 record two years ago.
Prediction: Southern Aroostook 67, Machias 66. A youthful Machias team got hot in 2020 after a 9-8 regular season, defeating Southern Aroostook in the quarterfinals en route to the regional title. Southern Aroostook, seeking the school’s first regional crown since 1991, may be the hungrier team in this postseason rematch.
Class D North Girls
Players to watch: Maddie Russell, junior guard, Southern Aroostook; Luna Perry-St. Peter, junior forward, Deer Isle-Stonington; Olivia Ouellette, junior forward Wisdom.
Favorites: The Southern Aroostook Warriors are the defending three-time Class D North champs and behind guards Russell, Cami Shields and Madison Shields breezed to an 18-0 regular season. Just three games were decided by 14 points or less, and those came against Class C contenders Penobscot Valley and Hodgdon. The Deer Isle-Stonington Mariners have an exceptional post player in Perry-St. Peter and a talented guard in Macey Brown and are battle-tested in big games.
Darkhorse: The athletic Wisdom Pioneers lost only one regular season game and have two exceptional players in Ouellette and guard Lilly Roy.
Prediction: Southern Aroostook 58, Wisdom 50. The Warriors will have to get by Deer Isle-Stonington in the semis but they are deep at the guard position and their state championship game experience will give them an advantage over Wisdom, although several of the Pioneers played in the state championship soccer game this past fall.