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February 17, 2013

Steve Solloway: Talking, smiling and plenty of observing: A tourney day at the Expo

PORTLAND — Chris Robicheaw ate an orange and half of a bagel for his pregame meal at home that doubled as his breakfast Saturday morning. He had slept soundly but as he bit into his food, felt a growing uneasiness in his stomach.

His body was still waking up. His mind was already working overtime.

"I was actually getting pretty nervous," said Robicheaw. Of course he was. He was about to play in the first game of Saturday's 10-hour schedule of Western Maine tournament quarterfinals at the Portland Expo.

Lose and your season is finished and maybe your high school career. Win and you get to deal with your anxiety again in a few days.

Robicheaw and his Cape Elizabeth teammates had an 11 a.m. date with Wells. In Augusta, the first tournament game at the Civic Center started at 8:30 a.m., or about the time Robicheaw's alarm went off.

"It felt like a (gray) Portland morning until I walked into the Expo. Then it felt like it was time to play basketball."

Robicheaw hit three 3-point shots in the first quarter. It was the jump-start his teammates needed. A hot hand warms everyone. He finished with a team-high 17 points. 

Harrison Clarke, Cape Elizabeth's senior center, was at the foul line. His first shot hit the rim and bounced maybe 4 feet above the basket. It hit the rim again on its descent, bounced and fell through the net.

Clarke didn't try to hide a big grin. Lucky shot, lucky omen, perhaps.

I don't think I saw another in-game grin as big as his all day. 

Jim Cronin looked at his cell phone when he wasn't selling tournament programs and halfway through the York-Greely game, business was pretty slow. So he checked on the progress of the Boston College baseball team and its game against Elon University of North Carolina. His son, Joe Cronin, was the starting third baseman Saturday and scored the third run of a five-run rally that won the game, 7-6. He's a freshman.

Jim Cronin is the former Scarborough High baseball coach; his son was a pretty good infielder at Scarborough. On Thursday in Fort Myers, Fla., Boston College plays the Red Sox. Jim will be there to watch Joe.

Jim Cronin enjoys high school basketball tournaments and Scarborough played Bonny Eagle in a Class A quarterfinal at night. Saturday was a payday to help cover expenses for his trip to Florida, which is a payday of another kind. 

Grant Burfeind, the Falmouth High senior guard and a captain, sat in the bleachers with his teammates. He held a tournament program open in both hands. As the players from Mountain Valley of Rumford and Spruce Mountain of Livermore Falls were introduced, Burfeind seemed to be matching names and faces on the court with names and faces in the program. He may have been the only one on his team doing so.

"That sounds like Grant," said Jamie Hilton, a longtime assistant coach to Dave Halligan. "We don't play either team and in the tournament, usually we have. Dave and I have scouted them but the players haven't seen them."

Grant Burfeind was already getting to know them. 

After a bus ride of some 2 1/2 hours from Rumford, Jacob Theriault was ready to walk into the Portland Expo and soak up some tourney atmosphere. "It's so different from where we play at home. I love the noise. This is an NBA court."

Well, the NBA D-League court of the Maine Red Claws, but you can understand Theriault's excitement. He scored 15 points to help Mountain Valley pull away from Spruce Mountain. The two schools are about 25 miles apart and in the Western Maine mountains, which just about makes them close neighbors. 

Mike Andreasen approached Bob Butler, the York High educator whose meticulous recording of high school basketball statistics is the basis of tournament records. Andreasen is the coach of the Gray-New Gloucester girls' basketball team and he was appealing what he thought was an oversight.

Haylee Cody scored a combined 11 3-pointers in a Western Maine preliminary game victory and a quarterfinals loss to York in last year's tournament. The regional Class B record is eight, done by five players.

Butler was sympathetic. Cody's two-game performance was remarkable. But Butler was also clear: Numbers from preliminary games can't count. He was told that by a tournament director years ago when preliminary games were introduced. The reason being, not all schools in the tournament play preliminary games.

It's tournament time, when almost everything takes on a special meaning.

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

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway





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