It takes a lot to upstage the drama of the high school basketball tournament, but the UMaine women’s basketball team may have done just that Sunday afternoon.
And for my money, they may have won the “Best Sports Story of the Year” in our region. Wrapped it up. Already. In February.
At the Cross Insurance Center, in front of the biggest crowd of the season, Maine trailed rival Albany much of the game. But fear not, they completed a thrilling 16-point comeback to win 74-69 in overtime.
The victory gives Maine the America East Regular Season Championship and the #1 seed in the upcoming conference tourney. That means as long as the Black Bears are prowling, the road to the “Big Dance” goes through the Queen City.
Jon Alba of ABC 7/ FOX 22 called it on Twitter, “One of the best regular season games in program history.”
While not quite the same vibe as when nearly 5000 fans packed the Alfond to see Cindy Blodgett, and now coach Amy Vachon, nightly in the late 90s, the atmosphere Sunday was indeed reminiscent of those glory days. I was lucky enough to do radio play by play back when Maine took down nationally ranked teams including like Alabama, Clemson and others. Those wins were amazing!
But I am willing to argue that this is one of the most impressive seasons in the more than half century of UMaine women’s hoops.
Here’s my case: Maine is 20-9 and Conference Champs.
Considering the Black Bears were picked 6th in the preseason poll, which seemed fair after their star player graduated, their very successful head Coach went on medical leave and five players bolted back to Europe at the end of last year.
Sixth place would have been respectable. But winning their 15th regular season title and 3rd in last 4 years is awesome!
Maine has been to the NCAA tournament seven times, including a five-year run that ended in 1999. They have not been since 2004.
But this Cinderella story could end at the ball as The Cross Center has been a real home sweet home for Maine and a nightmare for visitors.
Maine is 45-5 on it’s home court in it’s last 50 outings, including a 29-3 mark in America East play over the past 31 league games.
This season, Maine is 10-2. The conference tourney is only two hours down the highway in Portland where when Maine takes care of business, it’s back to Bangor where a full house will have their backs. Not to mention the awesome cheerleaders, dance team, band and public-address announcer Sean Stackhouse, who does get the crowd fired up.
Amy Vachon went to four straight NCAA tournaments and was the starting guard when Maine knocked off Stanford in 1999 for the program’s only NCAA tourney win, a game I was lucky enough to call on the radio.
During much of her time in a Black Bear uniform, she was a bit of an understudy to Blodgett.
But now she has a chance to do what Cindy didn’t come close to accomplishing as coach at Maine; an NCAA tourney appearance. Which if she does do, will ink in my vote for Maine Women’s Basketball as Best Sports Story of the Year right now.