When I settle in at the Augusta Civic Center or Cross Insurance Center to cover high school basketball tournament games, I don’t know what I’m going to witness. I do know it will be great.
This season is my 20th covering the Maine high school basketball tournament. That’s two decades of memories and two decades of “I can’t believe I saw that” moments.
It will be hard for any finish to top the end of the first Class A boys basketball championship game I covered, Deering vs Bangor in 2001 at the Bangor Auditorium. Now, that game is known as the Joe Campbell game.
Down one with time running out, Bangor’s Zak Ray launched an off-balance shot. Campbell, who had just fallen after being stripped of the ball, scrambled to his feet in time to get under the basket, grab the rebound of Ray’s miss, and contort his body for the game-winning reverse layup as time expired.
Pandemonium ensued. That was my first taste of tournament anarchy, and there’s been plenty of it over the years.
Kori Coro’s three at the buzzer to lift the Forest Hills girls over Rangeley in the 2014 Class D West regional final. Nick Gilpin’s heave from just inside halfcourt to lift Hampden to the Class A East title over Lawrence in 2013. Just two years ago, Winslow’s Jake Lapierre’s tip-in at the buzzer to give the Black Raiders a win over Oceanside in the Class B North quarterfinals.
In 20 years, I’ve seen dynasties rise and fall. I was on hand for the last three of the Valley boys basketball team’s state record six straight championships. I was there when it ended at the Augusta Civic Center with a 72-69 loss to upstart Calvary Chapel in 2004. I’ll still make the case that the 2000-2001 Valley boys were the best team in the state that season, regardless of their size. Four of the five starters went on to play college basketball. Guard Nick Pelotte was a Division III All-American at Plymouth State. Center Brian Andre played Division I ball at Buffalo and the University of Maine. That Bangor team that won Class A on Joe Campbell’s amazing shot? Valley beat them in the annual Augusta Christmas tournament.
The Cony girls had a run of greatness. The Waterville girls went undefeated for three straight seasons. The Rangeley girls always seem to contend in Class D. More recently, the Winthrop and Forest Hills boys teams have set the standard in their respective regions.
So many players over the last two decades have been a joy to watch. The previously mentioned Pelotte. Brunswick’s Ralph Mims was unguardable, and after nearly single-handedly beating Bangor in a Class A East championship game in 2004, Mims almost repeated the feat against Portland in the state championship game.
Maranacook’s Ryan Martin. Winthrop’s Sam LeClerc. Gardiner’s Sean McNally. Nick Mayo from Messalonskee. Simon McCormick from Cony. On the girls side, Katie Rollins and Rachel Mack from Cony. Morgan Frame of Waterville. Nia Irving of Lawrence.
I’m forgetting a few players, I’m sure of it and I apologize. I’m also sure there will be a few players to add to the list in the coming weeks.
Covering the basketball tournament is a perk of this job. It’s the busiest time of the year, but it’s also the most fun.
We’re going to see upsets. We’re going to see unexpected players step up and embrace the moment. We’re going to see great players do great things.
Twenty years in, and the tournament is always new.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242