When Forest Hills takes the court Tuesday morning, the Tigers will have been off for 13 days. Jackman, where the school is located, is isolated, but coach Mike LeBlanc has been able to come up with something to fill the time.
“We actually scrimmaged Madison Saturday in a controlled game,” LeBlanc said. “Then I had my mothers and fathers come in, who usually come in during the year, they came in two days.”
Forest Hills is the top seed in the Western D girls basketball tournament, which begins Monday morning with two games at the Augusta Civic Center. No. 3 Searsport and No. 6 Richmond open the tournament up at 10 a.m., followed by No. 2 Rangeley and No. 7 Valley at 11:30.
The quarterfinals continue Tuesday, with No. 4 Pine Tree (13-3) and No. 5 Islesboro (12-4) battling at 10 a.m., and then Forest Hills taking on No. 8 Vinalhaven at 11:30.
Searsport (14-4) is the wild card of the tournament. The Vikings played mostly Eastern Maine teams, so Valley and Islesboro are the only teams in this bracket Searsport faced during the regular season. The Vikings faced each team twice and won all four games by at least 19 points apiece.
“They’re good,” Valley coach Paul Belanger said. “I say they’re a lot like Jackman, except Jackman, I think, is faster, and Searsport is a little bit bigger and stronger.”
Richmond (8-10) has two seniors and no juniors on its roster. The Bobcats, led by Kelsea Anair, Meranda Martin and Haley Murphy, play a lot of low-scoring games, and almost always hang close against tough opponents.
“If we’re going to play well and have a good game with anybody, we need to keep up our tenacious defense,” Richmond coach Molly Bishop said. “The kids have worked hard. We’ve played the toughest schedule in the league. We’ve played a number of Class C teams. We haven’t been blown out of the water by any team we’ve faced this year.”
Rangeley (17-1) and Valley (9-10) had two quite different meetings this season. Rangeley won at home, 48-29, then had to rally for a 53-43 victory in Bingham.
“The first one, we went up there, and they handled us pretty easy,” Belanger said. “They dominated inside, and their press gave us a lot of problems.
“The second game, we shot well. I think we had an eight-point lead at the end of the first half, and I think it was a four-point lead at the end of the third quarter.”
Valley’s top scorer is Teagan Laweryson, and Jordan Belanger had a solid game as Valley defeated Greenville in the preliminary round. Haven Mayhew, Dalayne Davis and Kyla White have also come on of late.
Rangeley has the most height in the bracket, with 6-foot-1 Taylor Esty and 6-2 Blayke Morin. Tori Letarte and Seve Seery-Deraps give the Lakers a solid pair of guards, and Rangeley is traditionally a tough defensive team.
“We have some advantages that other teams don’t have,” Rangeley coach Heidi Deery conceded. “We have people who can shoot the ball, and we have some height inside, and we need to access those people.”
Forest Hills doesn’t have height inside or outside (no one is taller than 5-7) but the Tigers ran their way to an 18-0 record this season. Senior guard Kori Coro is a big-time scorer, with help from Anna Carrier, Dana McNally and Haley Cuddy.
The Tigers defeated Vinalhaven 57-39 and 62-30 on the opening weekend of the season, and also beat the Vikings twice last season.
“They’ll be on a mission to get back at us, I’m sure,” LeBlanc said. “They’re island kids. They’re tough. It’s going to be a game.”