Basketball tournament, my how we missed you.

After COVID eliminated the hoops postseason a year ago, it’s back, and not only is it back, but local teams are primed to steal the show.

The tournament promises to be a whirlwind and you won’t want to miss a minute, so here’s what to expect:

Cheverus a team of destiny?

Cheverus’ girls’ team has been a perennial contender for well over a decade, but the Stags haven’t been able to get to a state game, not to mention win one.

That could very well change this winter.

Last week, Cheverus capped a 14-3 regular season, its best since the 2012-13 team went 16-2, with a 54-38 victory at Windham. Maddie Fitzpatrick led the way with 22 points, while Lillie Singleton added 12 and Hayley Jordan finished with 11.

Advertisement

“We’ve had this theme all year of being like a family, and we’re all back together, and I think it’s really translating into how we play, on offense and defense,” Fitzpatrick said.

“I consider Windham one of the top teams, so, when you add all that up and playoffs start next week, I wanted to see how my girls would do,” said Cheverus coach Billy Goodman. “This is a good start.”

The Stags will host No. 7 Portland (4-14) in the Class AA North quarterfinals Thursday evening. Cheverus won both regular season meetings, 62-37 at home Dec. 21 and 48-29 at the Bulldogs Jan. 18. The teams met once before in the playoffs, a 67-63 Portland victory in the 2015 Western A preliminary round.

Portland finished strong, winning at rivals Deering (43-31) and South Portland (52-49, in overtime) in the final week. In the victory over the Rams, Elizabeth Yugu scored 19 points and had nine rebounds, four assists and three steals, and Eliza Stein added 11 points.

“That was a big win against a well-coached Deering team that‘s hot right now,” said Bulldogs coach Abby Hasson. “I’m proud of the effort tonight and our ability to finish, as that has been a struggle for us this year.”

Portland’s win at South Portland was even more dramatic, as the Bulldogs rallied to force overtime, then, with the contest poised to go to a second OT, Stein stole an inbounds pass just inside midcourt, then launched a prayer well beyond the 3-point arc at the horn that banked home. Naulissa Tuza had a team-high 18 points, Yugu finished with 14 and Stein tallied 11.

Advertisement

“We’ve talked all season about our goal of playing our best basketball come the end of the season, and the girls have come a long way as a group since November,” Hasson said.

Deering’s Ella McGowan takes a shot during last week’s home loss to Scarborough. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald

Deering wound up 3-15 and eighth in Class AA North after falling at home to Portland (43-31) and Scarborough (45-32). Natalie Santiago had a team-high 12 points versus the Bulldogs. In the loss to the Red Storm, the Rams led going into the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on despite Maya Gayle’s 12 points.

“That’s been our narrative against good teams,” Deering coach Mike Murphy said. “The effort was phenomenal. Tonight, when it got tight, we didn’t have all five kids on the same page, but that’s just getting over the hump and learning to win. That final score is not even close to the way the game went.”

The Rams had to compete in a play-in game Saturday at home versus No. 9 Edward Little and prevailed, 41-32, as Yipsi Sibo had a double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Gayle added 13 points.

Deering advanced to take on top-ranked, reigning state champion Oxford Hills (16-2) in the quarterfinals Wednesday. The Vikings took both regular season encounters, 52-33 Dec. 21 in Portland and 65-27 Jan. 28 at home. Oxford Hills is 5-2 all-time versus the Rams in the playoffs, with a 55-30 victory in the 2020 Class AA North quarterfinals the most recent.

“It’s like night and day from the start of the year,” Murphy said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching the progress.”

Advertisement

The Class AA North semifinals will be contested next Wednesday at the Cross Insurance Arena.

Waynflete wound up 6-12 and 11th in Class C South after closing with wins at Sacopee Valley (41-26) and St. Dom’s (36-31, in overtime) and a 48-12 setback at Traip Academy. Against the Hawks, Lucy Hart led the way with 16 points and Jesse Connors added eight. Hart then scored 19 points and Connors finished with 10 in the win over the Saints.

The Flyers were at No. 6 Kents Hill (9-4) in Tuesday’s preliminary round. The teams didn’t meet this year and had no playoff history. If Waynflete advanced it would battle No. 3 North Yarmouth Academy (14-2) in the quarterfinals next Tuesday in Augusta. The Panthers won both meetings this year, 52-5 Dec. 21 in Yarmouth and 58-18 at home Jan. 19. The Flyers took two of three prior playoff encounters, with a 52-36 victory in the 2004 Western D quarterfinals the most recent.

In contention

Portland’s Jared Biaya takes a shot on against Deering during last week’s Bulldogs’ win. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

While the Class AA North boys’ tournament will feature favorites Edward Little and Oxford Hills, no one should overlook Portland, Deering or Cheverus.

The Bulldogs culminated an 11-7 regular season last week downing visiting Deering (54-32) and falling at South Portland (55-37). In the victory, Wani Donato scored 14 points and Spencer Cross added 13, but the big story was a cameo appearance from senior Jared Biaya, who has been sidelined this season by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, and fittingly scored the game’s first and last baskets.

“To come out and play with my teammates and show my family and friends what it means to play one final time meant a lot,” Biaya said. “It shows I have something left in me. It felt like home, honestly.”

Advertisement

“I felt so happy for Jared,” Cross said. “We’ve all begged him to come back all season. It’s good to see him come back. The whole city wanted him to play.”

“(Jared) brought a lot to us this summer and we were hoping to have him this season,” added longtime Portland coach Joe Russo. “I think it was very important to him because it’s been hard on him not playing. You could see what he means to his teammates and the crowd. I’m really happy for him and appreciative of the time and effort he gave us. I’m glad he was recognized. It was well-deserved.”

In the setback, Donato had nine points and Cross added eight, but the Red Riots, behind 6-foot-11 standout JP Estrella, pulled away in the second half.

“It turned around quick,” Russo lamented. “That little spurt gave them separation and that was it. We couldn’t recover from that. I’m so thrilled with these guys. Going 11-7 was beyond what I thought we could do. I don’t want to tell them they’re overachieving because we’re not done. We’ll keep going forward. No games will be easy.”

Portland will host No. 6 Cheverus (8-9) in the Class AA North quarterfinals Wednesday at 8 p.m. (see theforecaster.net/sports for game story).

The Stags finished with with a 51-42 home loss to Scarborough and a 74-61 home win over Windham. Against the Red Storm, Cheverus failed to score a point in the first quarter and rallied within two late, but never got over the hump despite 18 points from Silvano Ismail.

Advertisement

“All the credit to (Scarborough),” said Stags first-year coach Richie Ashley. “They played tough. They played hard. They were hungry and played with much more of a sense of urgency than we did. Couple that with not knocking down shots, you dig a hole and you have to scratch and claw to come back.”

In the victory over the Eagles, Ismail went off for 30 points, while Seth Huntington added 21.

Cheverus and Portland split two meetings this year, with each winning on the road, the Bulldogs by a 44-41 score Dec. 21 and the Stags by a 46-42 margin Jan. 18.

Cheverus has won eight of 12 playoff meetings dating to 1975, with a 45-41 victory in the 2011 Western A semifinals the most recent.

“Now, we go back to the drawing board,” Ashley said.

“Cheverus will be tough,” Russo said. “We split with them. Cheverus has two really good guards. They don’t have a whole lot of size. We can maybe do some things underneath. It should be fun.”

Advertisement

Deering finished fifth in Class AA North at 8-10 after falling at Portland (54-32) and winning at Scarborough (61-45) last week. In the loss, the Rams struggled on offense throughout and were led by Remijo Wani with 11 points, but turned the ball over 21 times.

“It was just one of those games and Portland had a lot to do with that,” said Deering coach Todd Wing. “They played excellent defense and we forgot who we really were. We have to correct that. We never got that one little spurt that we really needed. It was surprisingly close at the half and after the third. I told the guys that I embrace being backed into a corner because you have no choice but to come out swinging, but with Portland’s defense and with us being off our game, it was a perfect storm.”

In the victory, Wani led the way with 19 points and Max Chikuta added 16.

The Rams are at No. 5 Lewiston (13-5) in the Class AA North quarterfinals Thursday at 6 p.m. (see theforecaster.net/sports for game story). The teams split during the regular season, with the Blue Devils winning in Portland, 67-62 Jan. 17 and Deering winning at the Blue Devils, 61-56 10 days later. Lewiston took the last two playoff meetings, 80-59 in the 1990 Western A semifinals and 61-58 in the 2000 Western A quarterfinals.

“We’ll regroup and take care of business,” Wing said. “We can play with anyone.”

In Class C South, Waynflete wound up 8-9 and eighth after a 51-41 win at St. Dom’s and a 49-36 home victory over Traip Academy last week. Ed Cox had 13 points versus the Rangers.

The Flyers host No. 9 Madison (11-7) in the preliminary round Wednesday. The teams didn’t play this winter. Waynflete lost the lone prior playoff meeting, 52-47, in the 2017 Class C South semifinals.

If the Flyers win this time, they’ll face No. 1 Winthrop (14-4) in the quarterfinals Monday in Augusta. The teams didn’t play this year. The Ramblers have won two of three prior playoff encounters, with a 39-30 victory in the 2020 Class C South Final the most recent.

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Comments are not available on this story.