AUGUSTA — By nature, basketball tournaments are unpredictable. To anticipate is to invite disappointment. Yet we anticipate anyway. We play the tournament out in our minds, and hope the real thing matches our imagined excitement.

Since the final Heal points came out, we’ve anticipated a Class C South girls final. Boothbay vs. Monmouth.

“That’s kind of been the prediction, but you know, it’s a tournament. If it was all done on paper, it would’ve been done by now,” Monmouth coach Scott Wing said. “Anything can happen. Somebody can roll an ankle in the first quarter or something, and it changes the whole tone. It changed the outlook of everything.”

No turned ankles, no knee injuries, no errant elbows. There was an illness, to Boothbay’s standout 6-foot-1 Faith Blethen, but after sitting the first quarter of the Seahawks’ semifinal against Madison, Blethen came in and played through it. With that, Maine is getting the regional final it dreamed of.

No. 1 undefeated Boothbay (20-0) vs No. 2 one-loss Monmouth (19-1). That one loss, of course, was to Boothbay, 50-47, in the third game of the season for both teams. Monmouth did beat Boothbay in the Mountain Valley Conference title game, but that’s a tough exhibition contest, and is not reflected in their records.

Boothbay and Monmouth are the last two Class C South regional champions. Monmouth took the region last season on the way to the state title. Boothbay won Class C South in 2016, before falling to Narraguagus in the state game.

“We’re looking forward to it. This is the way it should be. The past few years, the seedings, I don’t think have been maybe what they should have been. And this is the way it should be,” Boothbay coach Brian Blethen said. “These two teams coming together and battling for a regional championship. We enjoy playing Monmouth. They make us better.”

It wasn’t easy. Neither team cruised through Thursday afternoon’s semifinal round. Monmouth beat Richmond, 45-32, but didn’t have a double-digit lead until the fourth quarter. With Monmouth scoring one point in the third quarter, Richmond cut the deficit to two. A 15-4 Mustangs’ run to start the fourth quarter moved the game from the nailbiter to comfortable column.

Boothbay was pushed even harder by Madison. The Bulldogs led by seven at the half, and by nine points early in the third quarter. The Seahawks took their first lead of the second half when Faith Blethen made a layup with 6:23 to play, and pulled away for a 53-45 win. What Wing said about playing the games almost became a dire prophecy.

It should be like this. Each team practically mirroring the other’s progress toward Saturday night’s regional final. Boothbay earned a 59-40 win over Traip in the quarterfinals. Monmouth took a 58-37 win over St. Dominic. If one had a tight semifinal game, it made sense the other did, too.

When Boothbay and Monmouth have played each other with their current core of players, it’s typically been a close one.

“It started my sophomore year when we went up there and they beat us at the buzzer,” Boothbay senior Page Brown, a Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist, said. “We’re two really good programs. I think this regional game is going to be just like the others. It’s going to be a close game.”

Tia Day, Monmouth’s Miss Maine Basketball semifinalist, echoed Brown’s sentiments.

“Oh, I think there’s a pretty good rivalry. Every time we play it’s a close game. We beat them last year fairly badly, but they didn’t have Faith Blethen in that game. When both teams are at full strength, it’s usually within five or six points,” Day said.

These teams met in the regional semifinals last season, a 39-30 Monmouth win. The Mustangs were the three seed and the Seahawks the two, so it was the mildest of upsets. On the Scoville scale of tournament upsets, it was a banana pepper, not a ghost chili. In 2016, Boothbay edged Monmouth, 36-34, in the semis.

“We both have very talented players. Coming down to the wire. Hopefully we’ll be on top though,” Brown said.

A top seed is not an golden ticket to later rounds. Already this season, top seeds Portland (Boys North AA), South Portland (Girls South AA), Hermon (Girls North B) and Gray-New Gloucester (Girls South B) have fallen. Neither Boothbay nor Monmouth was taking anything for granted. That doesn’t mean they weren’t thinking of each other.

“Looking at the Heal points, it was ‘Nice. We’re in separate brackets. This potentially could be a collision course.’ At the same time, we’re like, it’s one game at a time. You definitely can’t take anything for granted up here,” Brown said.

This time, anticipation paid off.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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