Maranacook’s Skyler Boucher, right, comforts teammate Casey Cormier after the Black Bears dropped a heart-breaking Class B state championship game Friday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

There were red eyes and tears as the Maranacook boys basketball team started to emerge from the locker room at the Cross Insurance Center following the Class B state final, and for good reason. As far as painful defeats go, their 73-71 double-overtime loss to Caribou is hard to beat.

The good news for the Black Bears? They’re perfectly positioned to be back there next year. And the rest of Class B knows it.

“I think they’ve got a really strong group,” Caribou coach Kyle Corrigan said. “I think they can be right back here next year. I think their turn is next year.”

Will they? Is it? We’ll find out for sure around this time next season. But leading with Maranacook, let’s take an early — too early — look at how the basketball scene might look next year, and try to read some tea leaves.

Everyone will chase the Maranacook boys in Class B — the North included

The Black Bears will miss the on- and off-the-court contributions of seniors Skyler Boucher and Isac Philbrook, but there’s no question Maranacook is well-stocked for another run. The Black Bears have a superb coach in Travis Magnusson and a true star in Cash McClure, who was sensational on his way to 33 points in the B final. He scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, has reached 1,000 career points already, and plays with a passion that should see him find yet another level to his game.

Add in Tim Worster, a top scorer in the regional tournament, Casey Cormier, Joey Dupont, Eljas Bergdahl and Joe Albert, and you get a loaded roster back from a team that was already a hair away from being the best in Class B. And with Caribou bidding adieu to its championship core, the North region loses its giant. Ellsworth, the second-best team in B North, went 0-3 against Caribou and lost by an average of 23.3 points.

The Brewer and Skowhegan boys will rise to top of A North

While Skowhegan and Brewer were making their A North tournament appearances this season, there was a feeling that both teams were ahead of schedule.

Brewer went 13-7, came a shot away from the A North final and did all that with a roster that returns 12 of 13 players. Granted, the exception is leading scorer Trevor Pearson, but players like Dylan Huff (junior), Brady Saunders (freshman) and Aaron Newcomb III (sophomore) showed they’re ready for starring roles next season.

Skowhegan had the best defense in the region, and did it with a group that had Levi Obert (sophomore), Adam Savage (freshman) and Kyle LePage (freshman) playing anchor roles. That team should take a big step forward next season.

Medomak Valley, which returns Patrick McKenney, Trevor Brown and Jacob Bickmore, is a candidate for the top spot. Hampden Academy loses Bryce Lausier but returns Andy Raye and T.J. Henaghen and always seems to re-load. Expect Cony to remain competitive but take a step back as the Rams try to adjust to losing Simon McCormick, who was the driving force behind the team’s style of play.

The Gardiner girls were denied this year. They won’t be next year.

Gardiner’s Lizzy Gruber takes a shot around Erskine’s Emily Clark in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

The Tigers reached new heights, making it to the A North final before falling to an experienced, seasoned Hampden squad.

Next year, Gardiner will be the team playing that role. And cutting those nets.

Lizzy Gruber took over games as a freshman, and should be even more acclimated to the varsity game next year. With Bailey Poore and Kassidy Collins back, Gardiner should be the toughest team with which to match up in A North. The Tigers have to figure out the backcourt with Jaycie Stevens and Maggie Bell graduating, but Maddie Farnham coming back is a good start.

Side note, while on the topic of A North: Expect a jump from Erskine, which returns 11 of 13 players from a 12-6 team, including Emily Clark, Joanna Linscott and MacKenzie Roderick, and Nokomis, which returned to the postseason with five freshmen on the roster.

The Cony girls and Madison boys will return to the Civic Center

It was another missed postseason for the Cony girls, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2014, but after years of treading water, the Rams are on the right track. Cony got a big boost from its sophomore class, a group led by Reilly Fleck, Kristen Kirk and Raegan Bouchard, and with junior guard Julia Reny returning, that step forward the Rams took will translate into a playoff berth. It’ll be a modest seeding — eighth, maybe seventh — but it’ll be Cony’s first February trip to the Civic Center since the tail end of its glory days.

Madison barely missed the playoffs but returns some key pieces in Cameron Cobb, Thomas Dean, Vern Worthen and Aiden Ostiguy. With Class C’s typical powers taking hits — Winthrop loses five seniors and four starters, and Boothbay saw coach I.J. Pinkham retire — the Bulldogs will face a friendlier Mountain Valley Conference to tackle, and will be able to parlay that and their own progression into a preliminary round victory and a return trip to Augusta.

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