Forecaster Country boys’ basketball teams promise to bring plenty of excitement to the ancient Portland Exposition Building this weekend as the Western Class A and Class B tournaments heat up.
South Portland will be the top seed in Western A for the first time since the first Clinton Administration.
After a historic win, Scarborough brings its bombs-away style to the Expo for just the second time.
Cape Elizabeth, after missing out on the fun last winter, is back and primed to make a run at favorites Falmouth and York.
Since joining the Southern Maine Activities Association in time for the 2003-04 season, Scarborough made it to the playoffs seven times, but had to play a prelim on six of those occasions. The Red Storm lost every one.
Tuesday evening, Scarborough bucked history.
The Red Storm finished 12-6 (its best record since 2007-08) and earned the No. 6 seed in Western Class A after last Thursday’s 60-31 win at Kennebunk (Sam Terry had 16 points, Brendan Hall and Kevin Manning 13 apiece).
Scarborough earned the right to host No. 11 Gorham in the preliminary round Tuesday and took advantage, trailing for all of nine seconds. It went ahead to stay on a 3-ball from Dillon Russo and had a comfortable 12-point lead after one quarter. The Rams rallied in the second and got within seven, 19-12, but the Red Storm responded and took a 10-point lead to the break. Then, with Gorham still hanging around midway through the third period, Scarborough pulled away, thanks to clutch hoops from Sam Wessel and Terry to make it a 20-point game. The Rams got no closer than 15 from there and the Red Storm went on to a 65-46 victory, its first ever postseason triumph in Class A and first playoff win at any level since 1986.
Terry led all scorers with 20 points, do-everything senior Brendan Hall added 15, Russo had 10 and John Wheeler added seven on his 18th birthday as Scarborough made nine 3-pointers, improved to 13-6 and set up a delicious Western A quarterfinal round date with third-ranked Bonny Eagle (15-3) Saturday at 7 p.m.
“We finally got a big victory,” Hall said. “It feels good. Coach has said all year that we have to run. We got to them (with our defense), got open 3s and knocked them down.”
“It means a lot,” Wheeler said. “It means we’re building as a program. Nerves come with a playoff atmosphere, but then we hit shots and we got comfortable in our press. We got stops and pushed it. That’s how we’ve won. It worked tonight.”
“I’m happy with the effort overall,” added first-year Scarborough coach Tony DiBiase. “I thought we played well. Gorham had us on the ropes for a little while, then we got into a flow and knocked down shots. We started out well, then hit a lull, then played our game. The past is past. We’ve had a lot of success this year.”
On Feb. 1, at Scarborough, Bonny Eagle eked out a 59-58 overtime win over the Red Storm. The teams have no playoff history. Scarborough likes its chances to spring an upset.
“I’m excited,” said Terry. “It’s going to be a good one. It was a nailbiter here. I hope it’s another nailbiter and we come out on top. It’s a great experience. I’m going to enjoy it.”
“We’re the top two scoring teams in the league,” DiBiase added. “We have the same philosophy. We could have beaten them the first time. It’s going to be a tough matchup. A lot of people are picking (Bonny Eagle) to win it. For some reason, we’re under the radar. We’ll go there, give a good account of ourselves. We’ll play hard. It should be an exciting game.”
South Portland was upset in its finale, 56-51 (despite 21 points from Tanner Hyland), at Cheverus last Thursday, but still wound up 15-3 and first in Western Class A. The last time that happened was the 1993-94 season.
“You never like to lose, but I hope the kids can learn from the loss,” said Red Riots coach Phil Conley. “We preach coming to play every game. We came out flat and credit to Cheverus.
“I’m very happy with how our season has gone. (Hyland, who averaged 19.7 points, 6 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game) is a three-year starter at point guard. He got better as the season went on. He shared the ball and got open looks for teammates. Seniors (Trevor Borelli, Ben Burkey, Calvin Carr, Conner MacVane and Jack Tolan) played really hard, rebounded well and played well defensively. Sophomore Jaren Muller (12.1 points, 5.2 rebounds per game) had an outstanding first year of varsity.”
South Portland will meet No. 9 Sanford (which edged eighth-ranked Marshwood in a preliminary round thriller, 52-49, to improve to 11-8) Friday at 9 p.m. in the quarterfinals. The Red Riots beat visiting Sanford, 56-43, in the regular season. South Portland has won all six of the prior playoff meetings (dating to 1975) between the schools. The most recent was a 71-55 regional final triumph in 1993.
“Sanford is a good team,” Conley said. “They’re well coached. They have good scorers. We have to be ready to play. We look forward to the challenge. I don’t feel pressure as the one seed because the league is so balanced. We just have to share the ball on offense, play good defense and rebound on both ends. If we do that, we should be successful. We hope to make a good run.”
Last winter, Cape Elizabeth failed to take part in the quarterfinals for the first time in 15 seasons, but that could be forgiven considering how much talent they’d graduated from teams who had played in the Class B Final in 2008, 2009 and 2011 (and lost in the regional final in 2010). This winter, Cape Elizabeth has returned to its accustomed perch as one of the best teams in the region, finishing 13-5 and third in Western B after closing with a 54-46 win at Greely (veterans Henry Babcock and Chris Robicheaw combined for 31 points).
“I’m pretty pleased with the season because we’ve been in a lot of close games and we found a way to win a better share of them than we did last year,” said longtime Capers coach Jim Ray. “We hit big shots at big times. I hope we can maintain our level of confidence.”
Cape Elizabeth doesn’t have an easy quarterfinal test, facing sixth-ranked Wells (11-8) in the quarterfinals Saturday at 11 a.m. The teams split in the regular season, each winning on the road (the Capers, 70-65, and the Warriors, 80-75). Cape Elizabeth has taken three of the previous five playoff meetings (dating back to 1964). The last was a thriller, a 49-44 Capers triumph in overtime in the quarterfinals two years ago.
“There’s very little margin for error,” Ray said. “We’ll have to show up and execute and not get outworked. If we knock down shots, we can be successful. (Wells) has stepped up. They’re not afraid to get on the floor. They’re a handful. They’re quick and strong and have a balanced attack. I suspect they’ll come after us.”
Greater Portland Christian School wound up 0-15 and 14th in Western D (only nine teams made the playoffs) after a 60-33 loss at Acadia Christian in its finale.
Looking ahead to the semifinal round, Western A plays Wednesday evening at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Western B semis are Thursday night, also at the Civic Center. The Western A and Western B finals are Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Civic Center. The Class B state final is Friday, March 1, at the Civic Center. The Class A state game is Saturday, March 2, at the Augusta Civic Center.
Scarborough senior John Wheeler, who played a key role Tuesday on his 18th birthday, scoops a shot toward the basket during the Red Storm’s 65-46 win over Gorham in a Western Class A preliminary round playoff game. Scarborough advanced to face Bonny Eagle in the quarterfinals Saturday.