March 1, 2012

Steve Solloway: An epic game, 20 years later

They played and played, and played some more in a state final for the ages.

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

John Wassenbergh played college ball at St. Joseph’s College, then became a professional. But the game he’ll never forget was with South Portland High, when he scored 43 points and the Riots won the Class A state title in five overtimes.

1992 file photo/John Ewing

click image to enlarge

Valley High and Jonesport-Beals combined for 188 points in the 1998 title game, the first of six straight state titles for Valley.

1998 file photo/David McDonald

Additional Photos Below


The best Maine high school basketball game of all time? Below is a list of 10 games that might qualify. Add a comment to this story, telling us your choice.

1963: Morse 61, Stearns 60 (2 OTs), Class A final. Soon after the state title game, Stearns beats Morse at the Boston Garden to win the New England championship.

1969: Caribou 65, Westbrook 63, Class A final, Mike Thurston hits winning shot from beyond half court.

1975: Hall-Dale 64, Katahdin 62, (3 OTs). Girls' Class C final. This was the first year girls played for state titles.

1978: Cony 78, South Portland 63. Class A final. Cony went on to win the final New England championship.

1992: Winthrop 67, Washington Academy 66, Class C final. Jeff Love hits winning shot at the buzzer.

1993: Lawrence 68, Westbrook 66, Girls' Class A final. Cindy Blodgett hits two free throws with 35 seconds left as Lawrence wins its third of four consecutive state titles.

1994: Mountain Valley 84, Camden-Rockport 73, Class B final. Andy Bedard scores 53 points to lead the Falcons.

1998: Valley 96, Jonesport-Beals 92, Class D final. The first of Valley's six consecutive Class D state titles.

2001: Bangor 57, Deering 56, Class A state final. Reverse layup by Joe Campbell at buzzer to win.

2004: Portland 69, Brunswick 63 (OT). Class A final. The Bulldogs overcome 46 points by Ralph Mims.





GIRLS: McAuley (21-0) vs. Cony (21-0), 4 p.m.

BOYS: Deering (18-3) vs. Hampden (20-1), 7 p.m.



at Bangor Auditorium

GIRLS: Lake Region (19-2) vs. Presque Isle (21-0), 7 p.m.

BOYS: Yarmouth (17-4) vs. Gardiner (19-2), 8:45 p.m.



at Augusta Civic Center

GIRLS: Hall-Dale (18-3) vs. Central (18-3), 7 p.m.

BOYS: Dirigo (20-1) vs. Lee Academy (19-2), 8:45 p.m.



at Augusta Civic Center

GIRLS: Richmond (19-1) vs. Washburn (20-1), 1 p.m.

BOYS: Forest Hills (18-3) vs. Jonesport-Beals (18-2), 2:45 p.m.

Tournament director Bob Whytock asked or ordered the crowds surrounding the court to return to their seats. Not many did.

Back at South Portland High, Joanne Soucy had finished setting up for the reception and waited. And waited. And waited. She didn't have access to a radio or television, and certainly no cellphone.

The more she waited, the angrier she got, thinking the community had forsaken its team because of the defeat.

Jim Dixon, an usher who was working crowd control at that point, could feel "electricity" running through the building. Dixon has worked at the Civic Center for 26 years and still can't think of another event that compared.

He remembers there wasn't an empty seat for much of the night. Earlier, Cindy Blodgett and her Lawrence High team had beaten Portland. When the South Portland team arrived, Wassenbergh remembers tournament officials couldn't find enough empty seats for the team. They sat on the arena floor.

On the court during the boys' game, referee Gary Agger went about his job with his Eastern Maine partner, Michael Webb. They maintained the "tunnel vision" referees need, said Agger. But they were aware they were involved in something that was becoming more special with each overtime.

With 1:06 left in the fifth overtime, Jeff Hogan of South Portland hit two foul shots. Bangor couldn't score the points to send the game to a sixth overtime. The longest high school championship game played in Maine was finally over.

Wassenbergh, who had transferred to South Portland from a high school in metropolitan New York that summer, went into the stands to hug his parents while fans celebrated on the court. He scored 43 points that night.

Later, after showering and dressing, Wassenbergh and Rich saw Mark Reed and his Bangor teammates come into their locker room. The players who had fought each other so hard for so long couldn't leave without talking about their shared experience.

They lingered for nearly 30 minutes, bonding over a shared experience.

"The game was such a hard-fought game, you leave the floor with a tremendous amout of respect for the other team," said Mark Reed. "What a story, with Bert coming off the bench like that."

The teams met again in the state final a year later. This time Bangor won easily. Rich remembers that he may have been the only player in a South Portland uniform smiling.

"I felt good for Bangor after what we went through together the year before. It was their turn."

Wassenbergh, now a senior vice president of sales for a company in Manhattan, thinks of the five-overtime game often. "I've been fortunate to have played basketball all over the world, be named an All-American at St. Joseph's (College), but that game will always mean more to me.

"Just talking with the Bangor players for 30 minutes (in the locker room). "After all the games I've played, that's never happened."

No one planned a 20-year reunion. Maybe they should. Eight months after winning the basketball championship, Rich rushed for well over 300 yards in a football game with Biddeford, the rival power of the early 1990s. He went to the University of Maine and played football, becoming a teammate of John Tennett, who played basketball for Bangor.

While university students, Rich was an assistant junior varsity coach at Bangor High and Tennett was the freshman coach. Both joined Reed's staff in the playoffs. Tuesday night, Reed made a simple request.

"When you talk to Bert, please send him my regards. He was such a great player and a humble kid."

They all were.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Ralph Mims of Brunswick scored 41 of his team’s final 43 points and finished with 46, but it wasn’t enough to beat Portland in 2004.

2004 file photo/John Ewing

click image to enlarge

Yes, Mike Thurston is a legend. His shot from just beyond half court at the buzzer lifted Caribou over Westbrook in 1969.

1999 file photo/John Patriquin


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)