After close loss upon close loss, the Messalonskee High School boys basketball team earned a pair of big wins this past week. With victories over Lawrence and Brewer the Eagles jumped from 10th place in the Eastern A standings and out of the playoffs all the way to sixth and back into the tournament field.
“We moved up quick,” Messalonskee coach Pete McLaughlin said. “We knew this stretch of games was to be big for us.”
The wins over Lawrence and Brewer broke a string of loses in close games for the Eagles (8-7). This season, Messalonskee has lost a pair of overtime games to Bangor, lost by two points to Edward Little, but six points to Lewiston, and by four points to Brewer.
The close loses never deterred the Eagles work ethic, McLaughlin said.
“The guys, I’ve got to give them all the credit. We come to practice, and we talk about how we need to improve,” McLaughlin said. “Every day, they come and work out.”
The Eagles have played recently without senior center Elijah Steele, who suffered a badly sprained ankle against Oxford Hills on Jan. 11. Steele returned and played limited minutes against Lawrence and Brewer, but sophomore Nick Mayo stepped up and played very well. The 6-foot-5 Mayo scored 23 points against Brewer.
“Mayo has been playing lights out since Elijah went down,” McLaughlin said. “He’s filling a lot bigger shoes than a sophomore typically would.”
Junior guard Jordon Holmes has been steady offensively, and junior guard Ryan Erskine has played strong defense, typically guarding the opponent’s top player, McLaughlin said.
“It’s been a huge team effort,” McLaughlin said.
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Mt. View snapped an 11-game losing streak with a 45-37 win over Nokomis on Tuesday. It was a highlight in a season the Mustangs knew would be defined by player development rather than wins.
Coach Steve Caron has no seniors on a roster that includes five freshmen, four sophomores and two juniors.
“I have games where I start four sophomores,” Caron said.
It took the young Mustangs (2-12) some time to adjust to varsity basketball in the competitive Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B division.
“We played awful basketball for the first seven games or so,” Caron said.
Mt. View’s problems revolved around turnovers, sometimes as many as 30 in a game, and poor shooting. In the first seven games, the Mustangs cracked the 50-point mark just once.
“Defensively, we’re holding teams that have been scoring in the 60s in the 50s, but we have trouble getting into the 50s ourselves,” Caron said.
Caron said he started to see the team play better basketball in a 70-55 loss to Waterville on Jan. 8. In Rockland to face a strong Oceanside team on Jan. 25, the Mustangs held a seven-point halftime lead before the Mariners took control of the game in the second half and won, 64-46. These games, Caron said, go in the experience column.
“There were some games we probably should have done better,” Caron said. “They’re recognizing there’s nobody in this league you can take a night off against. You have to play 32 minutes. You have to come off the floor wobbly after playing 32 hard minutes.”
Sophomore forward Steven Davis has consistently been Mt. View’s top player, averaging 14 points and close to 10 rebounds per game. With games at Maine Central Institute and Camden Hills, followed by home games against Gardiner and Belfast, Caron hopes to end the season on a strong note. The win over Nokomis was the first step.
“Against Nokomis, we led the whole game. The guys did a real good job,” Caron said.
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Forest Hills may have clinched the top seed in Western D with a 61-38 win over Valley on Wednesday.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Forest Hills coach Anthony Amero said.
The Tigers (13-2) close the regular season on the road against Pine Tree Academy (5-9), followed by home games against Rangeley (2-10) and Greenville (9-6). Forest Hills has a 10-point lead over Valley (13-3), and a 17-point lead over No. 3 Hyde (9-3). Valley closes the season against Class C Piscataquis (3-12) and Islesboro (2-13), while Hyde has two games with Acadia Christian (2-10), plus games with Class C Sacopee Valley (0-14) and A.R. Gould (9-5)
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Around the state: At 15-0 Hampden is dominating Eastern A, and the Broncos are doing it with defense. No opponent has scored 50 points against Hampden this season. Both Brewer and Lewiston scored 46 points against Hampden… No opponent has come within 12 points of 14-0 Falmouth. The Yachtsmen have won eight games by at least 25 points, and their average margin of victory is 30 points… Portland and South Portland are both 13-2 and tied for the top spot in Western A. They play each other Tuesday. Portland won the first matchup, 63-47.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242