He’s the coach of a team that’s won all 18 games it’s played, and dominated many of them. But you wouldn’t know it hearing Messalonskee’s Keith Derosby discuss the upcoming postseason, specifically the A North girls basketball tournament in which his Eagles are the top seed.
“I think it’s wide open,” he said. “I think we’re just as much a sitting duck as everybody else right now. It’s probably the most balanced that I’ve seen in my six years.”
The evidence supports Derosby’s thinking. While many conferences feature a top-heavy field, there are contenders throughout the A North lineup, and low seeds that have every intention on challenging for the section’s final game. While Messalonskee’s been the wire-to-wire power, Skowhegan (No. 2), Nokomis (No. 3) and Gardiner (No. 8) have jockeyed for the top few spots this season, while Lawrence (No. 4) is an annual force that proved it still has plenty of firepower left. Even No. 10 Oceanside, the lowest seed to make the tournament, got it started with a jolt by topping No. 7 Waterville in the preliminary round.
“There are a lot of equal teams in these Class A North matchups. Every team could be capable of winning the whole thing,” Lawrence coach John Donato said. “The edge has to go to Messalonskee because they’re a veteran team and they walked through pretty much the whole schedule. But you never know. The tournament brings out a lot of mysterious outcomes.”
Gardiner’s Mike Gray shared the same sentiment.
“Messalonskee kind of separated themselves during the regular season, but everybody else beat up on everyone,” he said. “We would beat Nokomis, and they would go and beat someone else. Skowhegan would beat us, then somebody would beat Skowhegan, or whatever the case may be. I think all of these games are going to be really entertaining. Anybody can beat anybody.”
Gray’s Tigers get to test that notion. Gardiner slipped into a preliminary game with No. 9 Brewer but aced the test, defeating the Witches, 63-50. Now they’ll face Sophie Holmes, McKenna Brodeur, Ally Turner and the high-scoring Eagles, and while Gray acknowledges the daunting challenge, he gives his team a shot.
“They just have so many kids who can score,” he said. “It’s not a bad matchup for us athletically. We’re not a slow-it-down, try to play in the halfcourt kind of team. And they really do, they thrive in the open court, they transition really well, but I think we have athletes who can run the floor with them.”
To match the scoring power of the Eagles, the Tigers will need big performances from their own standouts in Mary Toman, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds against the Witches, and Lauren Chadwick, who scored 16 points.
“I think now, the pressure’s off a little bit,” Gray said. “The girls know we’re coming off of a good game, and you go into the Civic Center and know the pressure’s on one of the two teams, one of the teams is undefeated and has a bulls-eye, and the other’s just going to go play.”
Skowhegan (14-4), which was the surprise of the class by earning the second seed despite an all-sophomore starting lineup, will face the upstart Mariners from Oceanside in the second game of the four at the Augusta Civic Center. Skowhegan utilizes a balanced scoring effort often led by Emma Duffy and Mariah Dunbar, while Oceanside got 16 points from Gabby Simmons in the upset victory over Waterville.
Third-seeded Nokomis (14-4) drew the first game of the day, and will face No. 6 Camden Hills at 3 p.m. While the Warriors have consistently been one of the class’ top teams, notching wins over Lawrence, Skowhegan and No. 5 Hampden, they will have a score to settle with Camden Hills, which went 11-7 and earned one of those 11 wins against Nokomis, by a 76-53 margin. Chelsea Crockett and Sidney Moore have been two of the top scorers for the Warriors, and will need to be on again to hold off the upset-minded Windjammers.
Lawrence, seemingly at risk of a down season after the departure of Boston University-bound Nia Irving, nonetheless captured the fourth seed with a 12-6 record, and will try to begin another deep run against fifth-seeded Hampden.
“We were 12-6 with one of the toughest schedules in Class A North,” said Donato, whose team played two Class AA teams and beat Edward Little, the second seed in the AA North tournament.
The Bulldogs have been on a roll, winning six straight Class A games, and will look for continued strong play from a group led by Hunter Mercier and Morgan Boudreau to top the Broncos, one of the tallest teams in the region.
“It’s Messalonskee’s to lose, I think, but it’s not like maybe in years past where one team is so much better than everybody else that everyone’s playing for second,” Gray said. “I don’t think that that’s the case this time.”
Drew Bonifant — 621-5638