The five northern Maine representatives in this weekend’s boys basketball state championship games all will seek to either make history or at least end lengthy gold-ball droughts.
For two of the entries, Class AA Oxford Hills of South Paris and Class A Nokomis of Newport, a victory on Saturday would mark the first state title in program history.
The other three North champions have endured a combined 123 years since one last won a state final.
Class B Ellsworth won its most recent state title in 1966, while Class C Dexter last won states in 1986 — in Class B — and Class D Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook is after its first state crown since 1991, when current head coach Brett Russell played guard for the Warriors.
It’s not easy. Ask Ellsworth coach Peter Austin.
The last five times the Eagles advanced beyond the quarterfinals their tournament runs were halted by the eventual Class B state champion — Caribou in 2019 and 2020, Lake Region of Naples in the 2016 state final, Old Town in 2014 and Camden Hills of Rockport in 2011.
“We’ve faced tough teams every time,” he said.
With this year’s open-tournament format due to COVID-19 considerations, Ellsworth (22-0) has the chance to become a 23-0 state champion, but Big East Conference player of the year and Mr. Basketball semifinalist Hunter Curtis and his teammates still must go through 19-3 South champion Yarmouth.
Game time is 8:45 p.m. Friday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
The Clippers are led by South tournament MVP Peter Psyhogeos and have allowed just 33.8 points per game during postseason play while pursuing their first state championship since 2012.
“We know Yarmouth is a really good team this year,” Austin said.
Nokomis (20-1) has seen its first state-championship opponent, but that was during preseason when both the Warriors and Class A South champion Falmouth (19-2) were participating in the South Portland Tip-Off Tournament.
Both teams got significant preparation for their seasons at that event, with Nokomis facing Class AA North runner-up Edward Little of Auburn and Class AA South champion South Portland.
“That was light years ago, a whole other season,” said Nokomis head coach Earl Anderson, whose team, led by freshman forward Cooper Flagg, is riding a 19-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. state final at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. “I’m sure they’re plenty good.”
This should be a major-league defensive matchup. Nokomis yielded just 40.1 points per game during the regular season and 40.7 points in its three North tournament victories. Coach Dave Halligan’s Falmouth club, led by Mr. Basketball semifinalist Brady Coyne, has allowed an average of just 35 points in its three regional victories.
The Navigators won their most recent state championship in 2016.
Dexter will be playing in its second straight Class C state championship game after falling to Winthrop 51-41 in the 2020 final.
This year the Tigers (16-5) will face South champion Dirigo of Dixfield, which will be making its first trip to states since 2015 when the Cougars fell to Calais.
Set for an 8:45 p.m. opening tip Saturday from the Augusta Civic Center, this clash will match teams that used dramatic comebacks to win their regional titles.
Dexter trailed George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill 38-25 with five minutes left before outscoring the Eagles 17-2 down the stretch, with junior forward Will Kusnierz contributing eight fourth-quarter points and senior guard Avery Gagnon scoring the winning basket of the Tigers’ 42-40 victory with 38 seconds left.
Dirigo (17-5) trailed 35-26 entering the fourth quarter of its regional final, then outscored Monmouth Academy 19-4 for a 45-39 victory behind 15 points from Charlie Houghton and 11 from Dakota Tompkins.
Dirigo last won a state title in 2012.
Dexter and Dirigo annually play in a summer tournament at Winthrop High School, so Tigers’ coach Peter Murray had some familiarity with the Cougars even before the heavy-duty film review began this week.
“Dirigo is very good, they have two or three special players and a little bit of everything,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a straight-up ‘man-on-man, let’s go at it and may the best team win’ type of thing. I don’t think there’s any particular strategy that’s going to sway the game one way or another.”
Southern Aroostook ended its regional-title drought by dethroning 2020 Class D North champion Machias last Saturday. The victorious Warriors held the previously undefeated Bulldogs to six first-half points, then withstood a late Machias rally to earn the chance to play for the gold ball.
The win was the 17th straight for 19-1 Southern Aroostook, which is undefeated against Class D opposition — the lone loss came to Class C North top seed Fort Kent.
While that win streak is impressive, it is modest compared to Southern Aroostook’s state final opponent. Forest Hills of Jackman followed up 22-0 state-championship seasons in 2019 and 2020 with a 21-0 record this winter after its 78-38 victory over Valley of Bingham in the Class D South final.
The Class D boys game is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.