Friday, March 1, 2024

WHS boys’ basketball wins regional title, plays Saturday for state championship

By Matt Pascarella

Call them the AA North champions and with just one more win this Saturday, the Windham High School boys’ basketball team will earn the 2023-2024 Maine state title.

Windham High players and coaches show off their regional
championship plaque after defeating Portland High. WHS
now advances to the Maine Class AA championship game
this Saturday and will face Gorham for the state title.
WHS beat Lewiston 57-44 in the regional semifinal on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, and then captured its first AA North regional championship ever by sending Portland packing 43-34 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Saturday, Feb. 24. The last time Windham played in a regional championship game was 2018 and this team has now won 18 games, the most in school history.

Windham (18-2) will face off against the AA South Regional Champions Gorham High School (18-3) at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, March 2 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland with the state championship on the line.

“Our guys stick together no matter what,” said WHS head coach Chad Pulkkinen. “As long as they do that, good things will happen. I’m proud of their fight, they fight every single day. We’ve had guys out of the lineup the last couple weeks and ... guys stepping up on the bench. Our adjustments at halftime, being a little more patient on the offensive end, making sure we’re getting reversals, making sure we’re attacking closeouts. I was proud of the guys for being a little bit more patient and then starting to believe and when you start to believe good things happen. I’m excited to have another week with this special group and that means a lot to me; we’re going to bring all we’ve got to that game.”

According to Pulkkinen, this win in the regional finals was for the school’s alumni. He said he’s proud that his guys were able to get it done and those alumni paved the way for his team to make it to this point. Pulkkinen said he has never seen a team as close this one, and it’s been incredible to be around. They inspire and make him better. He directs the ship, and the team drives.

During the regional semifinals, WHS sophomore Tyrie James had 16 points, senior Blake McPherson had 15 points and junior Creighty Dickson scored 9 points and hauled in 19 rebounds.

“Everyone contributed,” said James after the semifinal. “We didn’t settle for anything, we just kept working and I think that really got us through. “We had an eight-point lead going into the fourth quarter and we didn’t just want to settle and stop, we wanted to keep playing our game. We moved the ball well, our defense was good, help side – all around we played a pretty good game.”

The regional final was a low scoring game for both teams and neither team had 10 points after the first quarter. Windham was aggressive and kept it close in the first half, even though shots weren’t falling. Portland had a 20-13 lead at halftime.

Portland continued to build a lead at the start of the second half, but it wouldn’t last. Windham’s defense held the Bulldogs to seven points in the third quarter and like in the regional semifinal, Windham turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter after senior Quinton Lindsay scored and just one point separated the teams.

Windham defense wasn’t backing down and a block and bucket by McPherson kept the game tight as the clock wound down.

“It feels great,” said McPherson who scored 16 points and was awarded Most Valuable Player Award for the regionals. “We worked for this, and it feels amazing to be in this situation. Third quarter Portland came out and hit us good, but we just needed to talk it through and in the fourth quarter we executed, and it turned out in our favor. We had good ball movement, we took decent shots, we had a lot of uncontested open shots.”

With 1:45 left in play, Windham was up by 6 and a block by Dickson ensured that Portland wasn’t going to make up much ground.

With just 11 seconds left, Windham led by 8 and eventually won by 9 points.

“Portland had a big lead on us,” said senior and captain Erik Bowen. “We stayed together through the whole thing, and we just chipped away. We fought one stop at a time, one bucket at a time, came back and won the game. We tried to stay positive and trusted in ourselves and in each other that we were going to come out here, finish the game and win. We played great defense; everybody dug deep, our offense wasn’t going for us in the first half, and we came out in the second half and really executed our offense. We play for each other every single day. It feels nice to bring the first regional final championship back to Windham. We’re going to prepare as hard as we can and bring home that first gold ball.”

During the regular season, James averaged 11.4 points per game, McPherson averaged 10.8, Junior AJ Moody 10.5, and Dickson 10.4 for the Eagles.

Blake McPherson, Creighty Dickson and Tyrie James all were named to the AA North All-Tournament team. Criteria for making AA North All-Tournament team is based upon statistics. McPherson, Dickson and James were the three top scorers for WHS during the season and so far McPherson has scored 32 points in the tournament, and Dickson 17, with huge rebound games including 19 rebounds in the semifinals. James scored 28 points in the semifinal and regional final combined.

“They have been instrumental in our success and have done a great job making great decisions on the floor,” said coach Chad Pulkkinen. “All three possess different skill sets and that was on display at the tournament.”

Also noteworthy are AA North Award winners, voted on by the coaches and those include:

Blake McPherson - AA North First Team

Quinton Lindsay - AA North First Team

Creighty Dickson - AA North Second Team

AJ Moody - AA North Honorable Mention

Tyrie James - AA North All Rookie Team

Erik Bowen - AA North Defensive Player of the Year

Bowen is an All-Academic McDonald’s All Star; one of 12 selected by the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches and McDonald’s All-Star Voting in the entire state. He also received the Gary Randall Award which goes to one player voted on by 17 Southern Maine Activities Association schools. The award is given to the player that possesses the most character and sportsmanship in the league. <

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