The 2014-15 high school basketball season now belongs to the history books and what a year it was, from the opening tip in early December, right through the final day of February.
In the city of Portland, the usual hardwood excellence continued.
On the boys’ side, defending Class A champion Portland produced yet another terrific season and returned to the state final. Deering wasn’t far behind and certainly turned heads in a dramatic postseason run. Cheverus managed to do something no other team had done for nearly two years, beat the Bulldogs. Defending Western C champion Waynflete produced a superb regular season, but the Flyers’ hopes of getting back to the state final were dashed in Augusta.
On the girls’ side, the biggest story was powerhouse McAuley’s inability to set a record of five straight state titles. The Lions came close though. Deering rode a long win streak to a high tournament seed. Cheverus and Portland qualified for the playoffs as well, as the Bulldogs knocked off the Stags in the preliminary round, before falling to McAuley in the quarterfinals despite a valiant effort. In Western C, Waynflete extended its playoff streak, but couldn’t quite make it to Augusta, losing to eventual regional finalist Madison int he preliminary round.
Before we shut the door on the season, here’s one last look back at the most memorable highlights:
1) Bulldogs edge Rams, then repeat as regional champs
Arguably the most memorable game this winter came Feb. 20 at the Cross Insurance Center, where Portland and Deering did battle in a Western A boys’ semifinal. The Bulldogs had dominated the host Rams in the regular season finale just two weeks before, but this time, Deering came out confident and grabbed the lead. With Portland’s top two players, senior Steve Alex and junior Amir Moss, in foul trouble, the defending champs were very much on the ropes, but the Bulldogs were saved by their unheralded bench and stayed close. Portland went on a run and retook the lead in the third period, but the Rams roared back in the late going and went back on top, 57-56, on a Moses Oreste free throw with 24.3 seconds to go. The Bulldogs had one final chance and made the most of it, as Moss converted a tough angle shot while being fouled with 1.7 seconds remaining. Moss added the free throw and Portland escaped, 59-57. A second half surge then beat Falmouth in the regional final, but the Bulldogs’ luck ran out in the state game, as they were ousted by Hampden Academy, 70-50.
2) Lions roar, but fall just short
McAuley remains the gold standard for girls’ basketball, even if the Lions’ quest for a record fifth straight Class A title fell short this winter. What McAuley managed to accomplish after graduating three players now competing at the college level and losing an expected returning standout to transfer was truly remarkable. The Lions lost on Opening Night at Thornton Academy, but came of age and behind a terrific coaching job from Billy Goodman and his staff, only got better as the season progressed. McAuley won its last 17 games, earned the No. 1 seed for the fourth year in a row and stretched its five-year postseason win streak to 18 with victories over Portland and South Portland. The Lions lost Sarah Clement to injury against the Red Riots, however, and didn’t quite have enough firepower in the regional final against Thornton Academy, losing, 41-31. Don’t expect McAuley to be without a Gold Ball for long.
3) Another memorable flight
Waynflete’s boys’ team got to the state final for the first time in 2013-14 and lost in overtime to Houlton. After graduating standout Serge Nyirikamba, there were doubts about the Flyers’ ability to dominate again, but this year’s group proved nearly as strong. Senior Harry Baker-Connick and junior Milo Belleau led the way and got a lot of support from a balanced and talented team. Waynflete knocked off eventual Western B top seed Yarmouth and stumbled just once in the regular season, a loss at the wire against Lake Region. In Augusta, the Flyers handled Hall-Dale in the quarterfinals, but their repeat hopes went by the wayside with a loss to Dirigo in the semifinals. It was only Waynflete’s second setback of the season, but it brought the curtain down sooner than hoped.
4) Deering gets healthy, goes on win streak
Deering’s girls came into the season highly touted, but after an Opening Night win at Bonny Eagle, the team was decimated by illness and the undermanned Rams were no match for eventual regional champion Thornton Academy the next time out, as they only managed to score 22 points. A one-point home loss to McAuley would drop Deering to 2-2, but the squad got healthy, learned to play together and gained confidence. What ensued was a dazzling 12-game win streak, that ran for nearly seven weeks. The run ended with a loss at McAuley, but the Rams wound up 15-3 and earned the No. 4 seed in Western A. Deering’s title hopes were dashed by South Portland in the quarterfinals and the win streak was relegated to nothing more than a happy memory.
5) Cheverus snaps Portland’s record run
After winning all 22 games en route to the championship in 2013-14, Portland’s boys’ team started 15-0 this winter, even though there were some close calls, including a buzzer-beater against South Portland, a down-to-the-wire thriller versus Deering and a track meet at Scarborough. On Jan. 31, the Bulldogs’ luck and their program-record 37-game win streak ran out against crosstown rival Cheverus. The Stags opened up a lead and even though the game was on Portland’s homecourt at the Expo, held off every challenge and went on to a 55-44 victory. The Bulldogs lost again the next time out, then turned it around. As for Cheverus, it got back to the Expo for the quarterfinals, but didn’t have the same luck, as it was ousted by South Portland.
Portland and Deering’s boys’ teams played three times this winter, with the third being the most memorable. Bulldogs junior Amir Moss (pictured) hit a shot with just over a second to go to help his team win a Western A semifinal en route to a second straight regional title.
Super freshman Eva Mazur and McAuley’s girls had another terrific season, even if the Lions fell just short in their quest for a record fifth successive championship.
Junior Milo Belleau and the Waynflete boys weren’t able to repeat as Western C champions, but were one of the elite teams in the area nonetheless.