Maranacook defenders Gabby Green, left, and Maddy Ballard double team Gardiner’s Lizzy Gruber during a Class A/B central Maine tournament semifinal game Wednesday night in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Carrabec High School junior Cheyenne Cahill and her teammates don’t often think of the week they took off early this season because of coronavirus safety concerns.

They certainly didn’t think about it in a 44-43 overtime victory over Winthrop on Tuesday in a Class C/D semifinal game of the central Maine tournament.

No, all they are thinking about now is the championship game Friday night at top-seeded Hall-Dale. The teams will tip off at 6 p.m.

“It’s been a ride, a long season for sure,” Cahill said. “It’s nice to have a chance to close it out well.”

Tournament basketball doesn’t need to be played in the Augusta Civic Center, or the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, or at any of the venues in Portland. As we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, tournament basketball brews its own intensity, even in mostly empty high school gymnasiums. Friday, three of the four central Maine champions will be crowned (Skowhegan and Marancook met Thursday for the Class A/B boys title). Cahill and No. 2 Carrabec will face No. 1 Hall-Dale in the Girls Class C/D final. The Girls A/B final features No. 2 Lawrence at No. 1 Gardiner. The boys Class C/D championship pits No. 2 Madison and No. 1 Winthrop.

With no state tournament this winter due to the pandemic, this central Maine tournament was a creative alternative featuring teams from Kennebec, Somerset and Franklin counties.

“You wondered what the intensity would be like, but coming off our game with Waterville, that was as intense as any game at the Augusta Civic Center,” Lawrence girls basketball coach Greg Chesley said of his team’s 48-33 semifinal win over Waterville. “Everybody across the board was excited we were going to do it.”

Added Jarod Richmond, Hall-Dale girls basketball coach: “It’s a great feeling. The girls have worked really hard to get to this point. There’s a great sense of pride in what we’ve accomplished, but there’s still some hunger We have one more game.”

Like any basketball tournament, this is survive and advance.

“We knew going in these last two games would be tough,” Madison boys basketball coach Jason Furbush said after his team’s 82-81 win over Forest Hills on Tuesday earned the Bulldogs a spot in the championship game. “We got through one, and now we’ve got another.”

Gardiner girls basketball coach Mike Gray said the fact that many students are learning remotely hasn’t diminished the excitement for Friday’s championship game in the school.

Cardboard cutouts above the bleachers are visible during a Feb. 11 game between Carrabec and Hall-Dale in Farmingdale. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“Most of my team has been remote the last couple months. The ones that are here, there’s excitement among students and teachers. Everyone’s happy there’s something positive to look forward to,” Gray said.

“It’s awesome. That’s been the goal. Once they announced that we were playing for some kind of tournament — you know, you play sports for a variety of reasons, and playing for a tournament and a for a prize at the end is 1B. The brotherhood and the family of your team is obviously 1A. But without that piece, the season would have came to kind of an end without an end, it would have felt weird,” Winthrop boys basketball coach Todd MacArthur added. “Now we get to play with a purpose, and I’m excited to see what these kids do because, whether it doesn’t mean anything or not, we were state champions last year, so we do look at it as a sense of we’re defending our title. So we look forward to doing that on Friday.”

Each of Friday’s championship games is a match between conference rivals, although with this shortened season, not necessarily a rematch of a regular-season game. In a normal season, Lawrence and Gardiner would play each other twice. Friday’s game is the first meeting between the teams of the season.

“We know who they are. We know what they do,” Gray said.

Hall-Dale and Carrabec played in February, with Hall-Dale taking a 62-54 win.

“They’re similar to us in makeup,” Richmond said of Carrabec. “Cheyenne, when she’s not scoring the basketball, she’s distributing it.”

The Winthrop and Madison boys also played in February. The Ramblers took a 48-45 overtime win.

“They’re a good team, well-coached. They’ve got some good players, but so do we,” Winthrop’s Gavin Perkins said.

Perkins and his teammates didn’t get a chance to play for a third straight Class C state championship. The way they see it, a win in this central Maine tournament keeps the title streak going.

“This is what we have, so we’re going to play hard. It’s not the same, but we’re treating it like it is,” Perkins said.

Lawrence’s Makenzie Nadeau, right, drives by Cony defender Reilly Fleck during a central Maine tournament game on March 5 in Fairfield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Cahill echoed Perkins’s sentiments. A tournament’s a tournament, no matter the situation.

“There’s nothing we’d want more than to win this,” Cahill said. “We’ve been able to stick (the season) out together. It’s brought us together.”

Seniors embrace the opportunity to play for a championship. Underclassmen and coaches see that goal, but also look ahead at how playing tournament basketball now will help when regional tournaments return next season.

“I was just talking about that with my assistant coaches. We’ve now made a deeper run. We had some nerves early (Tuesday) night and we were able to shake them off. We can say to them down the road, hey, you’ve been here,” Chesley said.

Richmond said his team may have been young at the start of this season. It’s not anymore.

“This game is on the 366th day of this (pandemic). We have important players who have matured, and it was fun. We weren’t worried about Heal points. We weren’t worried about seeding, until the end,” Richmond said.

In central Maine, the high school basketball season comes to an end as it should. By crowning champions.

Sun Journal staff writer Wil Kramlich contributed to this report.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 

 

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