With eight games left in the regular season, the Maine Central Institute boys basketball team is 5-5. Although the Huskies still have a tough stretch of games ahead, they’re getting a key player healthy and are in good shape to qualify for the Eastern Class B tournament for the first time since 2007.

“We’re starting to gel,” MCI coach Josh Tardy said.

Senior forward Mitchell Hallee, one of the team’s top scorers last season, is finally healthy and recovered from a sprained ankle suffered while playing for MCI’s Little Ten Conference champion football team. Hallee tried to play through the injury before Tardy sat him a few games.

“Mitchell is getting healthy at the right time,” Tardy said.

Senior newcomer Todor Imsir, an exchange student from Serbia, averages 17 points per game, while senior Austin Tolman averages 11 points per game.

After hosting Erskine on Friday and playing at Waterville next Tuesday, MCI has a four-game stretch against teams also fighting for playoff position: Maranacook (3-7), Spruce Mountain (6-4), Gardiner (8-2) and Winslow (10-0).

“Welcome to the KVAC,” Tardy joked. “Anybody can beat anybody. We’ve seen that.”

Tardy said he’d like to see the Huskies improve their mental toughness and offensive discipline in the second half of the season.

“We need to have our mental toughness match our defensive intensity,” Tardy said. “You can’t dwell on the bad plays. You have to move on to the next.”

• • •

After a 4-0 start, Richmond ran into a bump, losing its last three games to three of the better teams in Western Class D: Valley, Seacoast Christian and North Yarmouth Academy.

The Bobcats (4-3) end a run of six consecutive road games with a trip to Jackman to face undefeated Forest Hills (7-0). Then, Richmond has five straight home games, beginning with a rematch with Seacoast Christian on Monday. The Guardians defeated the Bobcats, 55-43, on Dec. 30.

• • •

Lawrence’s 70-56 win at Skowhegan on Tuesday was a victory the Bulldogs hope can be the jumping off point for a better second half of the season. At 2-8, Lawrence is in 12th place in Eastern Class A, and needs wins to claim one of the region’s nine playoff spots.

“They don’t have the record to show how hard they’ve been working in practice every day,” Lawrence coach Jason Pellerin said following Tuesday’s win. “I’m just really proud they’ve stuck with each other, and they haven’t let up.”

Among Lawrence’s seven losses are close game to undefeated Edward Little (68-66), an overtime loss to Skowhegan (66-64), and a 10-point loss to Hampden (55-45).

Beginning with Thursday night’s game against Lewiston (a 64-53 loss), four of Lawrence’s next five games are home at Folsom Gym. If the Bulldogs are going to make a run at a playoff spot, it has to be now.

“We have to keep believing in each other, trusting each other, and working together,” Pellerin said.

“Our record, like coach (Pellerin) said, doesn’t show what we are as a team. We all have heart. We all believe we can do it,” senior Dustin Simpson-Bragg said.

• • •

As we move into the second half of the regular season, a few central Maine teams have some big games coming up.

It starts tonight when Winslow (10-0) plays at Morse (8-2) in Bath. Winslow is in first place in Eastern Class B, while Morse is in first place in Western B.

On Saturday, Messalonskee plays at Lawrence in KVAC A action. Messalonskee is playing to improve its playoff standing. Lawrence needs wins to get into the playoff chase.

The game of the week in the Mountain Valley Conference is Dirigo at Madison on Tuesday. The Cougars and Bulldogs are two of the top five teams in the Western Class C standings. Dirigo warms up for its trip to Madison by hosting top ranked, undefeated Boothbay on Friday.

Also on Tuesday, Cony plays at Hampden in a key KVAC A game. Since losing its first two games of the season, Cony is 8-1, the loss coming to Hampden.

• • •

Around the state: Washburn (8-0), the undefeated Eastern D leader, entered a stretch of six consecutive road games with Thursday’s trip to Southern Aroostook, which also is undefeated (6-0)… Two regions, Western B and Eastern C, have no undefeated teams. In Western C there are three teams, Boothbay, Winthrop and Waynflete, without a loss… Undefeated Portland (8-0) is winning close games. Four of the Bulldogs’ eight wins were by eight points or less. Portland plays at Biddeford on Friday.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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