GARDINER — Seth McFarland and Brad Weston were freshmen the last time the Gardiner boys basketball team played a tournament game in Bangor.

Thanks to the senior duo, the Tigers are close to getting back there again this season. At 10-2, they are ranked third in the Eastern B Heal points standings as of Thursday.

If Gardiner can maintain or improve on that position, it will earn a bye to the quarterfinals in Bangor. Led by their top two scorers, the Tigers — who lost in the preliminary round last year — are ready to fight for that bye.

“We need to go get wins,” Weston said. “We can’t just let the Heal points play out. If we want to go to Bangor and we want a good shot at going far there, we need to definitely be top three.”

One of the reasons the Tigers are on the road to Bangor is because they’ve been getting plenty of good shots from McFarland and Weston.

Both have been among the team’s offensive leaders in years past, and both long ago got used to hearing coach Jason Cassidy imploring them to shoot more. The difference this year is McFarland, a versatile 6-foot-1, 180-pound swingman, and Weston, a rugged 6-foot-1, 240-pound forward, have the arsenal, savvy and confidence to carry their coach’s wishes out.

“I think in years past it was too much pressure some nights. It’s hard when you’re having an off shooting night and your coach is telling you you need to shoot more,” Cassidy said. “But I think they’ve embraced it.”

McFarland, who leads the team averaging 18.8 points per game, is the linchpin of the Tiger’s offense. Capable of playing four different positions, he is an extension of Cassidy’s attacking philosophy while also serving as a calming influence on the floor.

“He really understands the changes that the defense is going to make against him,” Cassidy said. “He really makes the coach’s job easier. There are times in the game where it’s a tight situation, the kids know the ball’s going to be in Seth’s hand.”

“Seth’s a great, great athlete,” he said. “He’s very competitive. There’s not a drill that he doesn’t win. If he doesn’t win, he’s mad and he goes and does the drill again.”

A KVAC all-star as a junior, McFarland knew this season he’d have to allow that competitiveness to carry over to his offensive approach in games.

“I just wanted to be more aggressive,” McFarland said. “I’m trying to get to the rim and score more and make things happen for the team.”

Aware of McFarland’s ability to impact the game as a scorer and playmaker, some teams have gone to extremes to try to stop him. Earlier this season, for example, Winslow had 6-foot-6 Justin Martin defend him.

“It’s a little intimidating at first. It’s a challenge. I like it,” McFarland said.

McFarland is plotting his next move if he has Martin guarding him when the two teams meet again Jan. 23. He’s faced more difficult challenges, such as sitting out most of his freshman year due to a broken right wrist.

Rather than mope about his injury on the sidelines at practice, he made the most of his situation,

“I worked on my left hand and it helped a lot,” said McFarland, who is still exploring his college options. “It actually improved my game.”

Cassidy was impressed with the freshman’s perseverance and added him to the roster for the Tigers’ run to the Eastern B title in 2012. The experience left quite an impression on McFarland.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I didn’t play, but all those people there. I guess that’s my motivation. To actually be playing now, I’m really looking forward to it, playing in front of big crowds and doing well and getting far.”

While McFarland was a late edition to the varsity squad, Weston actually saw some playing time as a freshman. Already a burly bruiser, he banged with the likes of Alonzo Connor, Aaron Toman and Matt Hall in practice.

“That’s where the physicalness came from,” said Weston, who was a running back on the football team and hopes to continue playing the sport at a Division II or III school next fall. “I just bodied them all practice long and got beat up all practice long. All I was was a practice dummy, but hey, we made it to Bangor and we made it to the state game, so I did my role.”

He carried that physical play into his sophomore year, and while his strength and eagerness to take the ball to the hoop helped him create space underneath, it also led him into foul trouble.

Knowing the Tigers would need Weston’s offense and that they had to keep him on the floor to get it, Cassidy worked with Weston during the summer on adding some finesse to his game. The result is a dependable pull-up jumper to pull taller opponents outside, where his passing and dribbling ability makes him a triple threat. In the post, he has a variety of moves he can use to find blue sky amongst the trees.

“He’s got that nice little step-around and that soft touch that he finishes with. He’s got a repertoire of three or four shots that he kind of knows which one he’s going to take based on the defense,” Cassidy said.

“There’s not many other people in the state Class B that can really match up with his size, so that’s very nice to have,” McFarland said. “It really helps when he is aggressive. He gets his shots and it opens things up for other people.”

Things could open up more for McFarland and Weston if and when fellow senior Joe Harnett returns from a hamstring injury. That addition, along with team chemistry and what Weston described as a business-like approach, could have the Tigers making themselves at home in Bangor next month.

“Everybody’s playing their role. That’s a big part of it,” McFarland said. “We have six seniors and the rest are juniors, so we’re kind of an older team. We’ve been playing together since we’ve been in fifth grade so we all know how we work. We just need to keep finishing games. That was a big thing for us last year, but this year, I think we’re doing a very good job.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33