Maine’s high school basketball state championships produced drama and unexpected heroics over the weekend. So before getting out the spring weather gear, let’s take a look back at highlights from a memorable tournament.

THE IMPROVED PLAY of the South Portland High boys was the primary topic of conversation after the final state championship game on Saturday evening – a 52-50 win in double overtime by Portland in the Class AA title game.

The Red Riots entered the playoffs with a 9-9 record. Portland (20-1) beat them quite easily in two regular-season meetings, winning the second one, 68-38, in South Portland.

Riley Hasson of South Portland celebrates with teammates after defeating Massabesic in the Class AA South final Friday night at the Cross Insurance Arena. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Riley Hasson of South Portland celebrates with teammates after the Red Riots defeated Massabesic in the Class AA South final. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

This time the Red Riots earned respect with their willingness to dive on the floor, take charges and flat-out compete.

“There was that one play and there were four loose balls and usually we end up with that 50-50 ball and they got it,” Portland Coach Joe Russo said. “That was an amazing game. It’s so much better at my end because we won, we get to talk about it and talk about it, but I mean, we work hard, and SP was diving for loose balls. I thought it was amazing. I thought SP’s effort was totally a complete opposite of the other two times we played them.”

South Portland Coach Kevin Millington said that after one of the several all-out scrambles for a ball that left multiple players sprawled on the hardwood, he scanned the nearly sold-out Cross Insurance Arena.

“Both sides were on their feet at the same time,” Millington said. “I really did take just a moment to look around and appreciate it.”

Similarly, South Portland senior guard Sam DePaolo said he could appreciate what his team had been a part of, and what it had accomplished after going 9-9 in the regular season.

“We never gave up on each other and I’m just so happy for everyone on our team. We fought our hardest and look where we made it. We made it to the state championship, the farthest we could possibly go,” DePaolo said.

Joe Esposito soaks in the cheers while waving the net after Portland won the first Class AA boys’ basketball state championship, beating South Portland 52-50 in double overtime. Esposito made two free throws with 32.7 seconds left to help Portland secure the win.

Joe Esposito soaks in the cheers while waving the net after Portland won the first Class AA boys’ basketball state championship, beating South Portland 52-50 in double overtime. Esposito made two free throws with 32.7 seconds left to help Portland secure the win. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

PORTLAND SENIOR Joe Esposito has played in plenty of big games in front of large crowds, between football and now three state championship basketball games.

“Coming into (CIA) with thousands of people and almost every side filled, (the fans) were all into it,” Esposito said. “Every basket, you couldn’t hear. I had to walk next to my teammate just to hear a call.”

Esposito scored what would be the winning points, making both ends of a one-and-one with 32.7 seconds left in the second overtime.

“You know you have a lot of people watching you but as a senior, it was my time to put something in my hands and be able to control it and really step up right there and I was glad I was able to do that for the team,” Esposito said.

Was there significance in being the first-ever Class AA boys’ basketball champion?

“I think there is because of the success of these particular kids have had,” Russo said. “I mean, why not? We’ve been here three times. The kids work hard. They’re good kids, they love basketball, they’re passionate about it. I think it’s fitting and I think it’s really fitting to have a Portland-South Portland (game); teams that have been battling for years.”

THE YORK HIGH girls had not played anyone close to resembling Lawrence star Nia Irving, a powerful 6-foot-1 senior center who averaged 25 points and 21 rebounds in the regular season. And the Wildcats had no one on their roster who could simulate what Irving could do.

So Wildcats Coach Rick Clark brought in a former player – Niki Taylor, a 6-foot center who is York’s all-time leading scorer and played at the University of Vermont – to help during practice leading into their title game.

And Taylor apparently did a pretty good job as the Wildcats won the Class A championship with a 58-57 win over defending champ Lawrence.

“That was actually a lot of fun,” said York senior forward Mia Briggs. “She’s just insane. And she’s bigger than all of us. So it was a lot of fun. She definitely helped prepare us to play against Nia. It was fun just to body her around and get used to (the physical play).”

Clark said he had Taylor imitate some of Irving’s moves in the post area. Later, he said, Taylor took the four girls who would be defending Irving aside to talk to them about playing a big person.

Clark said that was invaluable as the Wildcats drew two offensive fouls from Irving. The second by Chloe Smedley, was Irving’s fourth foul and sent her to the bench with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter.

“Those two fouls were the direct result of that,” said Clark. “And after Chloe took the charge she came running to the bench, grinning ear to ear, and said, ‘That was my first charge.'”

Clark added, “Niki gave us a good feel for (Irving). She gave us some good pointers.”

Rick York’s last game as the York girls’ basketball coach was one to remember, a 58-57 win over Lawrence in the Class A state title game.

Rick York’s last game as the York girls’ basketball coach was one to remember, a 58-57 win over Lawrence in the Class A state title game. Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer

PERHAPS IT WAS fitting that Clark’s final game as York’s head coach came against Lawrence and Coach John Donato.

In 1986 Clark took his Wildcats to their first Class B state championship game against Houlton, which was coached by Donato.

Clark remembers that one very well. York had a nine-point halftime lead but lost the game and the title to the Shiretowners, 52-43.

Clark talked about it before the Class A title game Saturday. The loss ate at him for years. Then he met Donato at a Maine Basketball Coaches Association function and asked him how he did it.

“He told me he had his players back off (point guard) Angie (Suffridge), take away her passing lanes, in the second half,” said Clark.

Both coaches spoke highly of the other before the game. And why not? York’s win Saturday gave Clark 509 career victories, with four state championships. Donato, who figures to coach a couple more years, has 535 and five state championships.

“Rick’s a good friend of mine, we’ve done a lot together,” said Donato. “I’m glad he went out a winner. I beat him in Bangor 30 years ago. I think this is payback.”

Clark insisted in his postgame interviews that this championship was not about him. “Honestly it was more important for me to have another group of girls win a state championship,” he said. “These five seniors have come so far … from giddy freshmen to mature seniors.”

Lake Region’s Alexander Langadas had a ball after the Lakers won the Class B state title, busting out a cartwheel and sharing the celebration with the school’s cheerleaders.

Lake Region’s Alexander Langadas had a ball after the Lakers won the Class B state title, busting out a cartwheel and sharing the celebration with the school’s cheerleaders. Michael C. York photo Michael C. York photo

ONE OF THE most expressive members of the Class B state champion Lake Region boys’ basketball team is burly forward Alex Langadas, who came off the bench to grab a game-high nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 63-47 victory over Ellsworth Friday night in Bangor.

With a body you expect to see at left tackle, Langadas showed surprising nimbleness. His two assists were both memorable. First, he dished a no-look pass to Brandon Palmer for an open layup. Later, he head-butted himself with the basketball after a successful alley-oop feed to teammate Marcus DeVoe resulted in a bonus free throw because of an Ellsworth foul.

And when it was all over? Langadas executed a joyous midcourt cartwheel as the Lakers ran from their bench to celebrate with Lake Region fans in the crowd.

“I’m not the most agile guy in the world,” he said, “but I can bust out a cartwheel. That’s my go-to move.”

While Langadas was cartwheeling, fellow senior Jack Lesure was re-enacting his Superman dive into belly slide that he used late in the third quarter to break up what seemed a certain fast-break layup for Ellsworth’s Kyle Golding.

It was one of several times Lesure found himself on the hardwood, none more frightening than when he was undercut on a driving layup late in Lake Region’s decisive 16-0 spurt to open the second half.

“That’s the way he plays,” said Lakers Coach John Mayo. “He’s full-out all the time. And that’s why he’s slow to get up sometimes, and his back’s hurt and he spends a lot of time with the trainer because he just goes full out. It also gets everyone (else) going. They feed off that energy.”

Gorham's Emily Esposito drives up court as Edward Little's Jade Perry moves in on defense during the Class AA State Championship game Saturday, February 27, 2016.

Gorham’s Emily Esposito drives up court as Edward Little’s Jade Perry moves in on defense during the Class AA championship game. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

GORHAM’S EMILY Esposito came through with one of her best performances of the playoffs to help the Rams win the first Class AA title with a 46-36 win over Edward Little. She finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.

She was quite happy to make up for what she considered a poor performance in the regional finals, when she scored 10 points on 4-for-20 shooting (and 2 of 5 at the foul line).

“I don’t think I could have played much worse than last game,” she said.

On Saturday she hit 8-of-19 shots and was 5 for 6 at the foul line. She said she had put a lot of pressure on herself in the regional final against South Portland.

“I felt so much pressure, not from anyone specific, but from myself, that I needed to take those shots,” she said.

“That I needed to help my team this way but I was really hurting it. So I think, in this game, I came in thinking if they defend me, get the ball to Mackenzie (Holmes) or drive and kick it out to someone else, an open shooter. I came in much more open-minded that I would take my shots I’ve always taken, but that if someone shut me down, I was going to get it out to someone open and have them score.”

Still, she took and hit the game’s biggest shot. Edward Little scored 11 consecutive points to pull within one when she took a fadeaway that connected with just over six minutes left. That regained the momentum for the Rams, who went on to win.

Laughn Berthiaume said that play illustrated the difference between Esposito and many other scorers.

“One of the things that she can do that only a handful of girls can do is create her own shot,” he said. “She can make her own space and step back to be able to get the shot off. When we’re stuck and our offense isn’t clicking, we’ve always got a bailout.”

Esposito said she learned that shot by playing against her older brothers, Chris and Matt, who came in from North Carolina and New York to watch her play in the title game. “I wanted to show them I still have it,” she said. “That’s where I got the fadeway because they stuffed me every other time. If I shot any other shot, it was stuffed.”

Esposito, by the way, is scheduled to have surgery on her right wrist Tuesday. It’s been bothering her since early in the season when she fell on it. She’ll be sidelined 3-to-6 weeks.

“It has felt better the last few games,” she said. “We want to get it taken care of before AAU and so hopefully next season I’ll be 100 percent. It’s not a big operation, it’s just to take care of it.”

Kristen Curley also played a big role for the Rams. Even though she had only six points, they came on two 3-pointers in the third quarter that helped Gorham take a 12-point lead.

“At the half, everyone said I should keep shooting and I felt I needed to step up,” said Curley.

Berthiaume called Curley “the best shooter we have on the team. Sometimes I’ve got to fight her to shoot a little more, but that’s why I want her to shoot it.”

Matt Wulbrecht did his part in the state final to make sure Falmouth walked away with the Class A title, scoring 14 points in the Yachtsmen’s 59-28 win.

Matt Wulbrecht did his part in the state final to make sure Falmouth took the Class A title, scoring 14 points in the Yachtsmen’s 59-28 win. Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer

BY WINNING THE Class A boys’ championship, Falmouth showed it had developed alternative scoring to complement the guard tandem of senior Thomas Coyne and his brother, junior Colin Coyne. In the three regional tournament wins it had been primarily Sam Skop (35 total points) and Sean Walsh (13 against Westbrook in the quarterfinal) who stepped up.

Saturday, in the final against Oceanside, it was senior Matt Wulbrecht’s turn.

“We wanted to go out on top,” Wulbrecht said. “We were highly motivated to contribute and make an impact on the game so Colin and Thomas don’t have to do everything.”

Wulbrecht dominated at both ends, especially in the third quarter when he scored nine of his 14 points to help push an already comfortable 23-8 halftime lead into the “it’s-all-over” 42-15 range.

“When Thomas and Colin drive they bring a lot of attention so I knew I needed to get to the open spot, catch it, look to the basket and finish,” Wulbrecht said.

A LOUD CHEER went up in the Gray-New Gloucester section early in the second quarter of the Class B girls’ basketball final at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor Friday night.

Not because of anything on the court – the score was tied at 9 at the time – but because about 50 Gray-New Gloucester students arrived and filled in the student section. Turns out the third of three fan buses had an issue with doors not staying closed at highway speeds.

A backup bus was called in and the change was made in Gardiner.

Paul Ferriter, the GNG school resource police officer, said the bus was in Newport when it pulled in the radio broadcast of the game.

“The kids were awesome,” Ferriter said.