Basketball fans, you’ve been given a gift.

A gift that comes with no gimmicks, surprises or — the absolute worst kind — with any proverbial strings attached.

Wednesday night at the Augusta Civic Center four teams will compete for two spots in the Class A North regional championship game Friday.

All four teams — No. 3 Oceanside, No. 4 Messalonskee, No. 7 Cony and No. 8 Skowhegan — have every reason to believe that … This. Could. Be. The. Year.

And why not?

With Medomak and Hampden, the top two seeds entering postseason play, now spectators — their championship aspirations eradicated with upset defeats in the quarterfinals — it truly is a wide open tournament now.

“Why not us?” asked Messalonskee coach Pete McLaughlin as he headed home from practice Monday. “I think that’s it. The parity in this league has been insane. It’s been out of control. This is my seventh year, and in the last six there has always been a heavy favorite that you knew just wasn’t going to lose. But not this year.”

Cony coach TJ Maines said he liked his team’s chances prior to the tournament.

And now?

“Hey, why not us?” he asked. “We felt confident going in. We always felt we could beat anybody; I said that all season. We can beat anyone we play. So we feel … why not us? And, honestly, we should all feel that way. We’ve got some good matchups coming up, some really good games. This is going to be fun.”

Skowhegan coach Tom Nadeau agreed, saying his team’s 54-53 upset win Saturday over No. 1 and previously undefeated Medomak created a bit of a buzz in town.

“The odds were against us, but here we are,” he said. “We certainly feel why not us. I have heard from a lot of people since. My phone and e-mails have been so busy. I have heard from a lot of people.”

The A North girls semifinals begin at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, with Nokomis and Skowhegan. Afterward, top-seed Messalonskee will meet Hampden in the other semifinal.

If those games aren’t enough to get the old ACC jumping, then what follows certainly will, or should anyway.

Cony and Oceanside are scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. It’s the first meeting of the season between the two clubs.

“I would think we’d see some big crowds,” Maines said. “I would expect we’ll see that. I have got so many text messages from people in the Augusta community lately, people saying that they will be there Wednesday. This is the exciting part of it for the kids. This is a really nice piece to it all.”

Indeed, big crowds are expected Wednesday, as well there should be.

This is what tournament high school basketball is all about, right?

It doesn’t get a whole lot better than this, folks.

“I think it’s going to be an absolute zoo,” McLaughlin said. “It’s all we could ask for. This is going to be really entertaining. I mean, 8:30 on a Wednesday night, Skowhegan and Messalonskee? This is pretty big. The whole night really is going to be a great environment for high school basketball. I’d be shocked if our student sections weren’t packed.”

The postseason tournament debuted at the ACC last Thursday with the Class AA North boys and girls quarterfinals. Since then, hoop devotees have been treated to essentially nonstop action, with games starting at 8:30 a.m. all the way through 9:30 p.m.

Good stuff.

Get excited, basketball fans, a gift is coming your way Wednesday.

So rest up. Stay hydrated. And, of course, enjoy the games.

“This is going to be fun,” Nadeau said. “What a night for high school basketball.”

Bill Stewart 621-5618

[email protected]

Twitter: @billstewartMTM

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