New Waterville Senior High School boys basketball coach Wade Morrill looks as this first season with the Purple Panthers as a season-long lesson on the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference’s Class B division. Morrill coached at Valley High School in the Class D East/West Conference for three seasons before taking over the Purple Panthers this winter.
“It’s just getting to know the other teams and their personnel,” Morrill said. “I’ve coached against a lot of these guys in the summertime, but summertime is not wintertime.”
In Class D, home of the smallest schools in the state, Morrill said he’d often coach against the same players for four, sometimes five, years.
“It’s almost to the point where you’re as familiar with other teams’ personnel as your own,” Morrill said.
Morrill added that he expected the game to be more physical in Class B, but so far, that hasn’t been the case.
At 3-3, the Panthers are fighting for a playoff spot in Eastern B. Waterville hosts Oceanside (6-1) on Friday. After games with Belfast and Mt. View, the Panthers play the Mariners again, on Jan. 9 in Rockland.
“Oceanside, they press and run and shoot the lights out of the ball,” Morrill said. “We have to control the tempo and rebound.”
Morrill said the Panthers have done well adjusting to a new coach.
“They’ve proven very coachable. They’re willing to adapt, and that’s not always an easy thing,” Morrill said. “We’re learning. We’re getting there.”
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Lawrence snapped a four-game losing streak with Monday’s 62-59 win at Brewer. At 3-4, the Bulldogs are very much in the hunt for one of the nine Eastern Class A playoff spots.
“With our schedule, we’ve been in three games in six days. You get one practice, but it’s mostly prep for the next game,” Lawrence coach Jason Pellerin said. “Practices couldn’t be going better. The intensity and focus of these kids is outstanding. What I have been pleased with is the fact that they have a hunger to get better. If you have that, I think you will get better.”
Lawrence trailed Brewer by five points at halftime, but a simple defensive adjustment made a big difference. In the second half, the Bulldogs did a better job contesting the Witches shots. Brewer made five 3-pointers in the first half, Pellerin said, but just one in the second half.
Another key was Lawrence’s transition game.
“The fact we continued to look for opportunities to score quickly in transition got us the lead, and helped us keep the lead,” Pellerin said.
The Brewer game also gave the Bulldogs the chance to play at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, the state’s newest arena. Pellerin said the venue is a cross between the Augusta Civic Center and Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center. Like Augusta, fans on the sidelines are close to the court. Like in Portland, the seats behind the baseline are set back.
“There’s a lot of air and space behind the backboards,” Pellerin said.
The locker rooms at the Cross Insurance Center are first class, Pellerin said.
“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the kids to leave,” he said.
Lawrence hosts Bangor on Saturday afternoon.
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With the graduation of some key offensive players, Madison coach Mike Packard knew he’d need some returning players to pick up the scoring slack.
One of the players Packard didn’t expect to become a top scorer was junior guard Derek LeBlanc, yet six games into the season, LeBlanc is averaging 16 points per game.
“He’s not what you’d call a flashy player. He’s not forcing very much, and he’s shooting about 50 percent,” Packard said. “I figured him as a good on ball defender, and he’s been that, too. I wasn’t expecting this, but I’m very happy with it.”
Another player who has been a pleasant surprise for the 4-2 Bulldogs is junior guard Jared Miller. Just 5-foot-6, Miller leads the team with almost six rebounds per game.
“Jared has a great nose for the ball, and we’ve given him the green light to go to the offensive boards,” Packard said.
Senior forward Dustin West recently returned to the lineup after breaking his wrist playing fall basketball. Madison begins a stretch of three straight road games on Friday at Oak Hill. After trips to St. Dominic and Winthrop next week, the Bulldogs are home against Boothbay on Jan. 10.
“I have that sense that sometime over the next couple of weeks, we’re really going to click,” Packard said. “We’ve yet to play a complete game, and I can’t wait until we do.”
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Around the state: Morse of Bath is 7-0 entering Friday’s game against Marancook, and the Shipbuilders are quickly becoming one of the most battle-tested teams in the state. Three of Morse’s win have been by one or two points, and only two of the Shipbuilders victories were by double digits … Undefeated Easton (7-0) has held four opponents under 30 points.