PITTSFIELD — For years, the Maine Central Institute girls basketball team had limited expectations. Often, against a good team, the goal was to stay within 20 or 25 points.

While the Huskies are still the team with the smallest enrollment in Eastern B, they can now look at games like Monday afternoon’s 63-53 loss against Oceanside and see a four-minute stretch where the game was lost. Focusing on that four-minute stretch is still irritating, of course, but the Huskies are miles ahead of where they were a few years ago and clearly ahead of last winter’s team that went 2-16.

In this case, the key four-minute stretch was the first four minutes of the game. MCI (2-5) spent all afternoon trying to recover from falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter.

“We’ve talked about it,” MCI coach Wes Brann said, “and we really have to get better prepared. At the beginning of a game, we can’t dig ourselves such a big hole — especially against a team like Oceanside.”

All five Oceanside starters scored at least six points, led by Ashley Gardner (20 points), Emily Gould (15) and Makenna Brooks (13). MCI was led by Ashley Alton with 24 points and Sydney Morton with 12.

Gardner, in particular, played a big-time game for the Mariners (5-2). Whenever Oceanside needed a basket, she was there as Gardner finished 9-for-9 from the floor, mostly scoring on layups or banking in short hook shots after posting up.

“She is a player you want on your team,” Oceanside coach Samantha Wiley said. “I feel like she’s kind of hard to match up with, because she’s tall, she’s lanky, but she’s quick. She does those little things well. She boxes out well, and she’s scrappy.”

There were 15 fouls called in the first quarter, and MCI bigs Cassie Miller and Katie Hughes both had to sit down with two fouls. That allowed Oceanside to increase its 9-0 lead to 20-8.

“They hurt us on the boards,” Brann said. “They did a nice job. They were very aggressive.”

Oceanside also got behind the MCI defense for some easy layups, but the Huskies clawed back with Alton’s scoring and the rebounding of Hughes and Miller. After trailing 36-23 at halftime, MCI had the deficit down to 40-34 midway through the third quarter after a long 3-pointer by Alton.

“I think they really picked up their defensive intensity,” Brann said. “(That) led to some easy hoops for us. They got into a rhythm after a while.”

The Mariners led 42-34 when they went into a four corners offense. It wasn’t a straight stall, but the officials were letting a little more contact go after the first quarter, and MCI trailed by eight and did not have a foul in the second half when Oceanside slowed things down. The time Oceanside took off the clock ended up being important in the final minutes.

“Them being in that zone, we wanted to try to pull them out of that, make them play us straight up man-to-man,” Wiley said. “We were winning, so it was more of like, ‘If we have an opportunity to score, we’re going to, but we don’t have to rush.'”

The crowd of about 75 to 100 fans grew quiet as Oceanside pushed its lead back to 48-36, then that same subdued crowd made enough noise for a disaster movie as the Huskies charged back again. Alton drained a 3-pointer from the right corner, and after a timeout with 2:36 remaining, MCI freshman April McAlpine stole the inbounds pass. McAlpine dribbled for a shot and was hit as she took it, but no foul was called. Oceanside got a layup at the other end, and that was that.

“We’ve got to take that step,” Brann said. “I told the girls after the game, ‘We’ve got to beat a point-worthy team.’ We won that game here against Leavitt, and they’re a good team, but (we’ve got to beat) the Gardiners, and the Winslows, and the Oceansides. We’ve got to get a better start and hang in there at the end.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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