Buckle up.

Tournament time is upon us.

And what a tournament it promises to be.

Cheverus, Deering, Portland and Waynflete will all be chasing a Gold Ball in the days to come and here’s how it shakes out:

Fitzpatrick & Co. hunt for gold

Cheverus’ girls’ basketball team has had a lot to cheer for this season and the Stags hope a championship celebration awaits early next month. File photo.

Cheverus’ girls won the Class AA championship for the first time two years ago, but last winter, the Stags let a 12-point second half lead slip away and lost a double-overtime heartbreaker to eventual champion Oxford Hills.


Cheverus had a lot of question marks to answer when the 2023-24 season commenced, but the Stags did still feature senior standout Maddie Fitzpatrick and the Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist led her team to its first undefeated mark. Cheverus was scheduled to wrap up its regular season Thursday at home versus Portland, but the game was postponed to Monday. Regardless, Fitzpatrick and her fellow seniors were honored prior to the boys’ game that night and the Stags are ready for their playoff run.

“It’s incredible,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve never gone undefeated. It’s not a goal we had, but it’s a great accomplishment and it gives us confidence. It’s just the love we have for each other. I’ve never been on a team like this. We respect each other so much. There’s no negative stuff.”

“I’m very happy with the girls,” said Cheverus coach Billy Goodman. “We never really talked about our record. A lot of girls are young and we just tried to get better.”

Regardless of what happens in the finale, the Stags will be the top seed in Class AA North and earned a bye into the semifinals Wednesday of next week.

Cheverus will be favored to win the Gold Ball, but the likes of Oxford Hills, Bangor and Lewiston stand in the way in the region and any of five teams from the South could emerge and cause problems as well if the Stags can reach the state game.

“We have to remain humble,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our record doesn’t matter that much because if we lose in the playoffs, we’re done. We all have the same goal of getting to the final. We just need to trust Coach Goodman and trust everything will end the way it should. We’ll give everything we have and hopefully it’s enough.”


“Now, we just have to worry about the next game,” Goodman said. “We’ve worked on different things all year to make sure (last year) doesn’t happen again.”

Portland’s girls were 2-15 entering Monday’s finale at Cheverus after a 44-17 home loss to Bangor last week. Baleria Yugu had nine points for the seventh-ranked Bulldogs, who go to No. 2 Oxford Hills (13-5) in the quarterfinals Wednesday. Portland lost both meetings with the Vikings this winter, 59-37 on the road and 48-29 at home, and dropped all three prior playoff encounters, with a 56-33 setback in last year’s quarterfinals the most recent.

Deering’s Natalie Santiago goes up for two of her game-high 25 points in last week’s 46-34 win at Greely. Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

In Class A South, Deering, which moved down this winter after going just 9-58 the past four seasons in Class AA North, posted a solid 9-9 mark this time around, closing with a 46-34 win at Greely and a 59-22 setback at Mt. Ararat. In the victory, Natalie Santiago exploded for 25 points.

“When we don’t know about the opponent, we just think about them as the best team in the state and we go into the game with the most intensity we have,” said Santiago, who will play next year at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. “There’s definitely a different energy in the locker room this year. We’re having so much fun together. It feels so good.”

“Natalie had a great defensive effort, she took care of the ball, settled everyone done, spaced everyone out,” longtime Rams coach Mike Murphy said. “She’s been that way all season, but she’s really come into her own in the last two-thirds of the season. With her back there quarterbacking, it’s a relief.”

Deering wound up fifth and will face No. 4 Fryeburg Academy (9-9) in the quarterfinals Monday at 4:30 p.m., at the Portland Exposition Building. The Rams beat the host Raiders, 35-14, in the regular season. The teams have no playoff history. Deering hasn’t played a tournament game at the Expo since 2015 and is ready to make some noise.


We know we can have a good game with anybody,” Santiago said. “We’ll give it our best. We don’t want it to end. We’re having so much fun.”

“I’m happy for the girls,” Murphy said. “They stayed with it and didn’t quit. For them to have some success, I’m very pleased. They have great attitudes. They play for each other. They want to be coached and it’s a pleasure having them. I like where the kids are matching intensity with the coaching staff and it’s nice to see. (The Expo) will be a different environment. We’ll have to control our jitters. We have to play good, tough defense and we have to take care of the ball. Each possession is valuable. If we keep the turnovers down and make the layups, you never know what can happen.”

In Class D South, Waynflete, which moved down in class, enjoyed its best season since the 2012-13 squad cut the Class C nets down, finishing 13-5 after closing with wins at Sacopee Valley (47-30) and at home over St. Dom’s (40-28). In the win over the Hawks, Ayla Stutzman had a team-high 12 points and Lauren McNutt-Girouard added 11. Against the Saints, Lucy Hart led the way with 16 points, McNutt-Girouard added 11 and Stutzman finished with eight.

“We’re looking forward to our first trip to Augusta with this group,” said Waynflete coach Andrew Leach.

The Flyers finished second in the region and will take on No. 7 Islesboro (8-10) in the quarterfinals Monday at 10:30 a.m., at the Augusta Civic Center. The teams didn’t meet this winter and have no playoff history.

Bulldogs-Stags collision course?


Portland senior Kevin Rugabirwa is hounded by Cheverus junior Shema Rwaganje during the Stags’ 57-50 win in last Thursday’s regular season final. Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

On the boys’ side, Cheverus and Portland both enjoyed superb seasons in Class AA North.

The Stags finished second in the region with a 15-3 record, their best in 13 years, after downing visiting Portland in last Thursday’s regular season finale, 57-50. Leo McNabb scored 19 points and Jameson Fitzpatrick added 11, while helping hold Bulldogs standout Jeissey Khamis in check.

“It was really a team effort,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m really grateful to be in this environment with these guys. It’s a great opportunity. We thought we could come out this year and tear it up, but we didn’t know until we did it.”

“There was a lot of pressure, but we got the win,” McNabb said. “It was fun to play in front of a crowd like that. Our defense was really good. They weren’t getting any good shots. We just stayed locked in and stayed together to pull it out.”

“It’s a good win,” added Cheverus coach Richie Ashley. “I thought we played really, really hard and physical. To win 15 games is a big thing. The kids have done it. They bought in. They play hard and unselfish.”

The Stags will host No. 7 Bangor (1-17) in the quarterfinals Friday at 7 p.m. Cheverus twice beat the Rams this winter, 65-51 on the road and 75-38 at home. The Stags are 3-2 all-time versus Bangor in the playoffs, with all five previous encounters coming in the state final. The Rams won the most recent, 58-49, in 2011.


“We just have to be a team,” Fitzpatrick said.

“It’s exciting to play at home,” McNabb said. “It’ll be good to have our fans. Our chemistry is off the charts this year and that’s the biggest thing that’s helped us.”

“We’ll get healthy and get ready,” Ashley added. “It’s a long stretch of trying to stay fresh. We have to fine-tune some things offensively. Any team can beat anybody. Bangor will come down here and play us hard. We’ll keep our eye on the prize. It’s a great group and this is the fun part.”

Portland, the reigning regional champions, finished 14-4 and second in Class AA North after beating visiting Bangor (59-34) and falling at Cheverus (57-50). In the victory, Kevin Rugabirwa had 17 points, Lucas LeGage added 12 and Cordell Jones had 11, while Khamis added 15 rebounds. Against the Stags, Jones had 15 points, but the Bulldogs were outscored, 20-3, in the second quarter and couldn’t recover.

“Turnovers, bad decisions and lack of rebounding. Put it all together in a pot of soup and this is what happens,” said longtime Portland coach Joe Russo. “The kids didn’t quit and we came back and got within a couple possessions, but unfortunately, our decision-making, turnovers and lack of rebounding hurt us when it mattered most.”

The Bulldogs host No. 6 Edward Little (5-13) in the quarterfinals Thursday at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs beat the Red Eddies in both meetings this winter, 53-49 on the road and 79-48 at home. Portland is 4-2 versus Edward Little in the tournament since 1988 with a 77-22 loss in the 2020 quarterfinals the most recent.

“If we look at our regular season, 14-4 is a very, very good year,” Russo said. “The games we lost were close. To move on, we have to take care of the ball and get rebounds. I’m not quite sure where we’re at right now. I do know our first game won’t be easy.”

Deering, which is in Class AA South this season, finished 7-11 and fifth following a 58-49 setback at Sanford in last week’s regular season finale. The Rams go back to Sanford (9-9) Thursday evening for the quarterfinals. Deering split with the Spartans this year, winning at home, 48-44, and is 3-2 in the all-time playoff series with a 61-46 victory in the 2002 Western A quarterfinals the most recent.

In Class C South, Waynflete wound up 14-4 and fourth following home wins last week over Sacopee Valley (64-56) and St. Dom’s (58-51). Against the Hawks, JJ Carlo led the way with 19 points, while Ishan Reese added 16. In the win over the previously undefeated Saints, Reese had 16 points and Jed Alsup and Nico Kirby each added a dozen. The Flyers will take on No. 5 Carrabec (12-6) in the quarterfinals Monday at 7 p.m., in Augusta. The teams didn’t meet this year and have no playoff history.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

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