Pierce Walston of Orono, Jace Cook of Calais and Dylan Burpee of Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook all led their teams to North regional boys basketball titles at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Their play on the court and leadership earned them the 2023 Bangor Daily News William C. Warner Awards as the most valuable players in Classes B, C and D.
The all-tournament squads were selected by media and tournament staff votes.
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The Class B team consists of junior guard Walston, Ellsworth junior guard Chance Mercier, Presque Isle senior forward Malachi Cummings, and brothers Ben and Will Francis of Orono.
Class C’s all-tourney team is headlined by Jace Cook, a senior guard at Calais, followed by senior teammates forward Jacob Sockabasin and guard Evan Gillespie. Joining the Calais trio are Fort Kent junior guard Ethan Daigle and Dexter senior Will Kusnierz.
Dylan Burpee followed in his older brother Hunter’s footsteps and earned the MVP title for Class D North. Teammates Graham Siltz, a senior forward, and Drake Weston, a junior guard, also made the all-tourney team. Bangor Christian’s junior wing Jalen Reed and senior forward Shane Feeney of Machias rounded out the squad.
The Class B North most valuable player selection was the closest of the three regions in Bangor this tournament.
Both Walston and Mercier received votes for MVP. Mercier, a high-scoring guard that also leads Ellsworth in rebounds, had a spectacular tournament but the Eagles fell short to Orono in the B North final.
Orono was led by Walston, who scored 21 points, grabbed seven rebounds, got three steals and was the linchpin in the Red Riots’ upset victory to advance to the Class B state championship for the first time since 1997. Walston also dished out 11 assists in the B North final.
Walston narrowly edged Mercier in the vote total, earning the title. Walston averaged 15.6 points per game for Orono.
Mercier, a junior 1,000-point scorer, scored 27 points in the regional final, 38 in Ellsworth’s semifinal against Old Town and 20 points against Washington Academy in the quarters.
Cummings burst onto the scene in his quarterfinal against second-seeded Winslow when he scored 27 points in the 65-45 upset victory. The senior did it all, scoring, assisting, defending and getting Presque Isle out on the fast break. Against Orono, Cummings was held to 15 but scored six in the final quarter.
Ben Francis dropped 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Ellsworth to help the Red Riots to their regional final victory, hitting a 3-pointer in the third and scoring six points in the fourth to hold off a hard-charging Ellsworth group. His threat of shooting and driving gave Orono a great alternative to turn to on offense if Walston was covered.
His twin brother, Will, scored just nine points against Ellsworth but had the defensive assignment of Mercier. Will Francis made it hard on the junior all night and also was able to get to the hoop early and often.
Calais’ Cook was the overwhelming pick for Class C North tournament MVP.
In the team’s C North final against Fort Kent, Cook nailed a 3-pointer off the opening tip and went on to score 19 points in the Blue Devils’ blowout 80-49 victory. Cook was face-guarded for much of the game but still was able to get his shot off from almost anywhere on the court.
Cook scored 31 points against Fort Fairfield in the C North semifinals, as well, including his 1,000th-career point.
Cook’s teammate Sockabasin blocked four shots against Fort Kent while also pouring in 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Every game of the tournament Sockabasin found ways to influence the game as the big man inside for the Blue Devils. Sockabasin grabbed 13 rebounds against Penobscot Valley in the quarterfinals.
In Fort Kent’s upset win over Dexter in the semifinals, Daigle led the Warriors to a 48-34 win with 19 points, including 11 in the first quarter. In the quarterfinals, Daigle scored 18 to pace Fort Kent to a 38-36 win over George Stevens Academy. In such a close game, Daigle was able to score five points in the fourth quarter, including three free throws.
Gillespie is the third Calais player on the Class C North boys tournament team but for good reason. Gillespie scored 12 points against For Kent and 11 against Penobscot Valley. He also had multiple steals and assists every game, constantly doing the little things that helped the Blue Devils to the Class C final. He was almost always the initiator of fast breaks.
Kusnierz rounds out the Class C all-tourney team as Dexter’s leading scorer and go-to forward throughout the regular season and the playoffs. Kusnierz, who will be playing basketball at Husson next year, scored 12 points in his quarterfinal win over Lee Academy while being face-guarded and often double teamed. He then scored 15 in Dexter’s semifinal loss to Fort Kent.
After his brother Hunter Burpee graduated last year, Dylan Burpee took over the leadership role for Southern Aroostook and has become the go-to scorer for the Warriors. Burpee won the MVP award for Class D North boys, averaging 18.3 points per game. In the regional final against Machias, Burpee hit six 3-pointers to finish with 25 points.
Weston, Burpee’s backcourt teammate for Southern Aroostook, was a big-time shooter in the D North final, hitting five 3-pointers for 22 points to help the Warriors to a 78-46 win over Machias.
Siltz, a senior forward, dominated inside all tournament grabbing nine rebounds and scoring 17 points in the D North final. Siltz also poured in eight points against Bangor Christian in the semifinals.
Reed is the point man for Bangor Christian. Reed does it all for the Patriots and scored 17 points in a quarterfinal win over Easton. He has the ball on almost every play and keeps the Patriots in games. Reed also scored 16 against Southern Aroostook in a 41-28 loss in the semifinals.
Feeney is the center of the Machias squad. He led the Bulldogs to a D North final appearance as a 6-foot-4 forward who also is the team’s best ball handler. Feeney averaged 23.3 points a game during the tournament.