WINTHROP — The Winthrop boys basketball team earned a little redemption — and shook up the Mountain Valley Conference in the process — Wednesday night when it toppled front-running Dirigo 49-42 in a game between the top two teams in Class C South Heal points.

“It was a really big win for us,” Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur said. “We needed this. Dirigo is one of the best teams in Class C, so for us to compete with them, it’s just a big confidence-booster.”

Jacob Hickey scored 21 points to lead the Ramblers (11-2), who avenged a 52-41 defeat to the Cougars (12-1) on Dec. 30 at the Augusta Civic Center.

Hickey also earned some personal redemption, as he was held to just one point in the previous meeting.

“He played with a chip on his shoulder,” MacArthur said. “He really stepped up. He was disappointed in the last game against these guys. It was nice to see him step up.”

He had plenty of help Wednesday, too.

Junior guard Spencer Steele and classmate Bennett Brooks each scored 10 points for the Ramblers as well.

“We were hoping other people around (Hickey) would step up their games,” MacArthur said. “We are finding teams are trying to take Hickey and (Anthony) Owens away so we need other guys to step up. We got that (Wednesday) night and it was great to see.

“I am just really proud of our effort. This is such a big win for us. We’re going to be battle-tested going into the tournament, for sure.”

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After a 2-3 start, Monmouth Academy has steadily climbed up the Class C South Heal point standings by winning six of its last eight.

The Mustangs are particularly tough at home, boasting a 6-2 record that includes big wins over Madison, Boothbay and Lisbon.

“We’ve played well at home,” Monmouth coach Lucas Turner said. “We kind of had some magic in that Boothbay game. We fell down 20-1 and came all the way back and won in overtime (63-60).”

Aggressive defense was the key to the comeback, as the Mustangs, who were still trailing by double digits early in the fourth quarter, forced several turnovers in a row with their pressure and got some easy layups off the steals to get back in the game.

The Mustangs have held their opponent to 37 points or less in four of those victories. They try to create confusion on the court with their quickness and tenacity, not by changing-up defenses.

“It’s no secret what we do. We do man-to-man and try to force you into a jumper and then rebound it and run the other way,” Turner said.

The defensive catalysts are guards Nick Menice and Hunter Richardson, Turner said. Richardson, a junior, is quickly becoming one of the top all-around guards in the MVC.

Turner said he was even happy with how his team played its most recent game, at Hall-Dale, even though it was a 69-54 loss. Nevertheless, the Mustangs hope to find some of the magic they’ve had at home elsewhere because they play four of their last five games this season on the road, starting at Oak Hill on Friday night.

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There are a couple big games in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A division this weekend, that will be keys to playoff positioning.

Friday night, No. 2 Brewer (11-1) plays at No. 3 Messalonskee (9-4). When these teams met in Brewer in December, the Witches took a 56-51 win. Also on Friday, No. 4 Oceanside (9-4) plays at No. 5 Medomak Valley (9-3), and No. 8 Cony (5-8) plays at No. 9 Lawrence (5-7) in another rematch of a close game earlier this season. Cony defeated Lawrence, 56-52, earlier this month.

On Saturday, Lawrence plays at Skowhegan in another game with playoff implications. As of Thursday afternoon, the bottom five teams holding playoff spots — Waterville, Skowhegan, Cony, Lawrence and Gardiner — were separated by just six points in the Heal point standings.

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Around the state: With Dirigo’s loss to Winthrop on Wednesday, only three undefeated teams remain: Hampden (Class A North), George Stevens Academy (Class C North) and Valley (Class D South)… Speaking of Valley, the Cavaliers have all but wrapped up the top seed in the Class D South tournament. Valley holds a 42 point lead over second place Pine Tree Academy… The race for the top seed in Class B North could come down to the final game of the regular season, Old Town at Orono. Old Town (11-2) currently holds a slim two-point lead over Orono (12-2) for the top spot. When these teams met earlier this month, Old Town took a 65-53 win… The top spot in Class AA North appears to be between Deering (12-1) and Portland (12-1). Portland took a 61-51 win over its crosstown rival last week. The rematch is scheduled for next Friday.

Staff writers Randy Whitehouse and Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this report.

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