The Mt. Blue boys basketball team was showing itself to be a tough matchup in Class A North, but the Cougars still needed to make a statement, and beat one of the teams that has started to put itself in the top group of the standings.
On Friday, they got it. The Cougars defeated Cony 69-67, rallying back from a fourth-quarter deficit to earn the home victory. mt. Blue, now 6-6, had been 0-6 against the region’s top four of Nokomis, Brewer, Skowhegan and Cony before Friday, and coach Troy Norton said it was a result the team needed.
“We still have a pretty young team. We start two sophomores and three juniors, so that was just a huge win for us, confidence-wise,” he said. “We had been beating some of the teams below us in the standings, but we just hadn’t been able to get that breakthrough win against a team above us.
“That was a huge win for us for our confidence. We had building toward a win like that, it feels like, for two years.”
With the victory, Mt. Blue is in fifth in A North, and close to 9-5 Cony for the fourth spot.
“We have confidence that we can play with anyone,” said Norton, whose team lost to third-place Skowhegan 62-52 in overtime in December. “Our emphasis has just been to play a complete game. We’ll go through eight- or 10-minute stretches against everybody where we look unbeatable, but we just hadn’t been able to put together a full 32 minutes.”
There’s reason to think Mt. Blue might be an even tougher matchup going forward than they’ve been so far. Scorers like Evans Sterling, who had 32 points in a rematch against Skowhegan, Chandler Briggs and Zach Poisson give the Cougars their offensive punch, but the return of junior Hayden Dippner, who broke his leg during the football season, has provided Mt. Blue with a key pickup. The Cony game was Dippner’s second back in action, and he scored 12 points in 18 minutes, including four points in the final minute.
“When it happened, everybody thought he was going to miss the season, but he’s worked his way back,” Norton said. “That was really exciting for him, that he was able to contribute that much in only his second game back. … Getting him back at this point in the season is such a huge boost.”
Norton called Dippner the best athlete on the team.
“It’s pretty rare that a team can add a really good player two-thirds of the way through the season,” he said. “It’s almost like a baseball team making a trade.”
• • •
Few teams have experienced a more drastic difference between last season and this one than the Kents Hill girls basketball team.
In 2020-21, the Huskies played one game, a Central Maine Tournament contest with Hall-Dale that they lost. This season, however, Kents Hill has not been just fully in action but competitive, and a team that has an angle to a high seed for the upcoming Class C South tournament.
“Coming into this year, the No. 1 goal was to play games, first and foremost, after last year,” coach RJ Jenkins said. “Sports was hard for everybody, but I think in particular our students, because we just had the one game. The excitement level was, I think, at an all-time high this year coming in.”
Playing in the Mountain Valley Conference, however, the Huskies have not just been playing these games, but winning them. Kents Hill entered the week at 7-2 and in fourth place in the C South standings, with the losses coming to first-place Hall-Dale and second-place Carrabec.
“I knew some of the new kids coming in had some ability … but the kids that were here last year lost a whole season of playing games, so in some ways I almost felt like we were a year behind,” Jenkins said. “That’s a big year. … But I knew we had some talent, and a lot of it has been getting everybody to jell together.”
One of those new players, Logan McDonald, is the team’s top scorer at 15 points per game at center, while Rose Jenkins is the leading rebounder at point guard, Regina Sabirova is the leader in assists and Naomi McGadney has had some good scoring games for the Huskies.
The strength though, Coach Jenkins said, has been the defense.
“I think our defense has been kind of the backbone of what we’ve been able to do,” he said. “We’ve been aggressive and active. We’ve got pretty good team speed and athleticism, I think we’ve leaned on that a lot, and our defense has kept us in some games.”
• • •
The Gardiner boys lost to Nokomis 67-47 on Friday, but Tigers coach Aaron Toman looked at the positives from the game, including that Kalvin Catchings and Ryan Moore both battled foul trouble to score 20 points, and the team hung with the A North- leading Warriors after Nokomis won by 35 points in their first matchup.
“You’re certainly never satisfied with a 20-point loss,” Toman said, “but I am proud of how hard guys fought and how hard they worked through the game and how they stayed together.”
Moore and Catchings both missed time at the start of the season, but in the second half Friday looked like a good foundation for the Tigers.
“Kalvin and Ryan have different strengths, but they both played to their strengths, they didn’t settle for anything else,” Toman said. “When they play to their strengths they can have games like that.”
The Tigers’ effort, even as Nokomis took a 34-19 lead into the second half, stood out as they prevented the Warriors from pulling away in the second half the way they did in the first matchup.
Toman praised the work of players off the bench like Acadian Parker, Colton Dube, Hunter Burgess, Anthony Sellars and Luke Lawrence in keeping the deficit manageable.
“That’s the game. You fight through adversity,” Toman said. “I thought our bench, with the minutes they had, did a really good job of picking up our energy, keeping the game close and chipping into the lead. … Those guys are kind of unsung heroes, and they come in and they bring a lot of energy and they keep us going.”
Augusta PR firm breaks new ground in Maine in seeking to help student-athletes create, market their brand