The score that mattered in the big picture Friday night at the Portland Expo?

Western Maine Conference 3, Mountain Valley Conference 0.

It’s become an annual rite of the Maine high school basketball tournament. Class B teams from the WMC – toughened by multiple battles (and usually quite a few losses) against Class A powers like Falmouth, Greely and York – travel the relatively short distance to the Expo and beat MVC teams with better records.

And so it went. Three WMC teams that entered the tournament with losing records and wearing the dark road uniforms as the lower seed won quarterfinal games against the MVC.

On paper they could be called upsets.

They weren’t.

Cape Elizabeth Coach Jim Ray knew his seven-win, seventh seed could beat No. 2 Spruce Mountain, a 14-win team. It did, 44-35, in the closest of the WMC’s wins.

“Yes. The schedule we play. We play tough opponents every night. There were no softballs the whole season and in the end it helped,” said Ray, who also notched his 350th career win.

With No. 6 Wells’ commanding 61-36 win against No. 3 Lisbon and No. 5 Lake Region’s convincing 60-37 win against No. 4 Mountain Valley, the WMC is 11-0 against the mountain kids in Class B boys’ hoop playoff games since the MPA went to its current five-class system in 2016. Mountain Valley was the last team to win a Class B regional, in 2007. Mountain Valley is, in fact, the only MVC team to win the B regional since 1990. The Falcons have done it five times, with two state titles.

The Mountain Valley Conference might be a good, competitive league for its Class C entries like Winthrop and Boothbay, but Class B teams winning by 70 points against the weaker C teams isn’t doing either club much good, said Mountain Valley Coach Scot New, who was a senior player on the Falcons’ 1990 title team, and an assistant coach in 2007.

“I think it is a bit of a disadvantage because those (WMC) teams, with more athletes down in this area, and every team they play it’s every night it’s a battle,” New said. “We went and played Wiscasset this year and beat them (97-27). Winthrop and Boothbay, they’re the two best teams in the conference.”

Of the three WMC winners (Freeport played top-ranked Maranacook of the KVAC in Friday’s late game), Cape had the toughest challenge. Spruce Mountain matched the Capers’ defensive intensity. Both teams dove on the floor for loose balls and contested each rebound. Both teams struggled to find offense. But Cape came out fast and then closed efficiently, connecting on 13 of 14 fourth-quarter free throws for a 44-35 win. Where Spruce Mountain wondered if it could win, the defending B South champ, knew it could.

Spruce Mountain Coach Scott Bessey said he didn’t think Cape’s strength of schedule was the critical advantage. He pointed to the Capers’ familiarity with being in – and winning – playoff games.

Cape focused on stopping Spruce’s 5-foot-7 senior guard Brandon Frey, the MVC Player of the Year. Frey scored 10 points. During the season, Cape faced the likes of Greely’s Logan Bagshaw, a returning all-state player with NBA range and a lanky 6-2 frame, York’s slashing tandem of 6-4 Will MacDonald and 6-5 Brady Cummins and Falmouth’s Michael Simonds.

“That Frey kid, he’s the best player in that conference. Playing against the talented players of Class A South, that really got us prepared to shut down a player like him,” said Cape junior Nathan Mullen, who was a starter last season when Cape played Caribou in front of 6,000 fans in the state final.

It was a similar story in the opener Friday when No. 6 Wells won in commanding fashion against No. 3 Lisbon, 61-36.

The Warriors shut down Lisbon 1,000-point scorer DJ Douglass. Wells knew Douglass could and would shoot from deep. So Covy Dufort stayed right on him, and when needed, Wells’ bigs like 6-5 Gavyn Leighton switched onto the 5-10 Douglass. Douglass scored nine points, six after Wells had built a 31-point lead.

“We had a ton of confidence going in because we know we’re playing the tougher teams,” Dufort said. “All those Class A schools, they might be losses for us but they’re learning experiences.”

So now, Wells (9-10) will play Cape (8-11) in Tuesday’s 6 p.m. semifinal. Lake Region (9-10) will get Maranacook at 7:30. Lake Region already beat the Black Bears in the second game of the season, and the Lakers’ 6-6 big man Evan Willey is coming off an impressive 26-point effort.

“Either way, no matter who we play, we’ll be confident. We’re all in the tournament for a reason and anything can happen,” Willey said.

Except, apparently, a win for the MVC.

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