One would think an undefeated team would be the clear-cut favorite in any bracket, but in the Class A North boys basketball tournament, undefeated Medomak Valley is by no means a shoo-in.
“I think a lot of people are saying, get me in and give me a chance. Whoever survives the first round has a chance,” Messalonskee coach Peter McLaughlin said.
After Medomak Valley, there’s a slew of teams that are evenly matched on paper. None has fewer than three losses, and each can point to at least one strong win that says it can compete with the best in the region.
“Messalonskee was the preseason favorite, and if they get hot, they can win it,” Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy said. “Who can string three games together?”
Cassidy’s Tigers, the No. 4 seed at 10-8, will try to keep No. 5 Messalonskee (13-5) from getting hot when they meet in the quarterfinals Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Other quarterfinal games feature No. 6 Nokomis (11-7) vs. No. 3 Oceanside (15-3), the defending regional champ, No. 2 Hampden vs. No. 7 Cony (10-9), and top-seed Medomak Valley (18-0) taking on No. 8 Skowhegan (10-9).
Messalonskee defeated Gardiner, 67-54, in their one regular season meeting on Feb. 2. A slow start doomed the Tigers that night, Cassidy said, and that’s something the team cannot let happen again.
“We didn’t start strong the last time (against Messalonskee). You’ve got to be on your toes,” Cassidy said. “They’re (Messalonskee) guys who seem to really know their roles well.”
Messalonsee is led by senior guard Nathan Violette, one of the top scorers in the conference. McLaughlin calls senior guard James Kouletsis the “heartbeat of our team,” and added big men Griffin Tuttle and Cole Wood can step up in the paint. In Gardiner, McLaughlin sees an athletic opponent led by point guard Isaiah Magee and forward Connor McGuire. An X factor could be forward Cole Heaberlin.
“He didn’t get a lot of varsity time last year, but since Christmas, he’s probably their most consistent scorer,” McLaughlin said of Heaberlin.
This is Nokomis’ first appearance in the regional quarterfinals since reaching Class B in 2012, and the Warriors first trip to the Class A regional since 2003. Nokomis faces defending regional champ Oceanside. The teams did not play in the regular season, but Nokomis coach Ryan Martin sees similarities between his Warriors and the Mariners.
“I know they’re a lot like us, they have good guard play. They win a lot of close games, so that tells you something,” Martin said.
This game features some of the top 3-point shooters in the KVAC, in Oceanside’s Sam Atwood and Nate Raye and Nokomis’ Josh Smestad, Zach Hartsgrove and Brad Allen. Hitting the boards is key for Nokomis.
“When we can hold teams to one shot, we can compete,” Martin said.
This is Medomak Valley’s first undefeated regular season since 1980. That season, the Panthers went on to win the Class B state title. The Panthers will face No. 8 Skowhegan, which survived a double-overtime preliminary round game against No. 9 Brewer on Thursday.
No. 7 Cony’s biggest win of the regular season came over Hampden, and the Rams get another shot at the Broncos on Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242