After three trips to the Class D state championship game in the last four years, including state titles in 2013 and 2015, the Forest Hills boys basketball team is having a down year. It was expected, coach Anthony Amero said, considering the team graduated all five starters from last season’s undefeated club. With two games left in the regular season, Forest Hills (6-10) is in eighth place in the Class D South standings. The top nine teams in the region advance to the playoffs.

“We’re real happy with where we are,” Amero said. “We haven’t sugarcoated anything. We told (the players) this was going to be a tough season. That’s been good for them.”

Last week, the Tigers earned a pair of important wins, beating Greater Portland Christian and Pine Tree Academy, the No. 2 team in the region. The Pine Tree win vaulted the Tigers up to sixth place in the region, and may have ensured the team a playoff spot.

“That was huge. It’s just so big for the young kids to learn how to get up for a big game,” Amero said.

Like many young teams, the Tigers have struggled with consistency. After beating Pine Tree, Forest Hills suffered a tough loss at rival Greenville.

“We can’t seem to string good games together,” Amero said. “In 90 percent of our games, I’ve played all 10 kids both halves. We’re trying to develop kids.”

The Tigers have no seniors on the roster, just two juniors, four sophomores, three freshmen and an eighth grader. Junior Aaron Moffitt has emerged as a solid scoring threat, and freshman Dalton Gregoire has shown a scoring touch, too, averaging 11 points per game.

“Dalton’s had some growing pains. He came out hot, and all of a sudden he has everyone’s best defender guarding him,” Amero said.

Sophomore Jack Hoyt has played well, Amero said, along with freshmen Brandon Gilboe and Jakob Revis, who has become a defensive stalwart for the Tigers.

If the Tigers hold onto their playoff spot, it will push the team’s playoff streak to 16 seasons. Making the tournament would be a big step in the team’s growth, Amero said.

“The playoffs are a big deal for us,” Amero said. “In the summer, we averaged only 20 points per game. We were really struggling. It’s a learning process, but I enjoy it. It’s fun.”

• • •

Waterville’s 63-45 win over Skowhegan on Tuesday wasn’t important just because it solidified the Purple Panthers playoff chances in Class A North. For coach Nick Pelotte, it was a chance to show his team that its hard work is paying off.

“I was just telling the kids, at times this year I’ve asked them to give me a little bit more effort and I ask them to play a little bit harder. They look at me, and I think they question what I’m telling them. I think tonight was pretty evident of what they can accomplish if they bring the right effort and mindset,” Pelotte said after the game.

At 5-10 heading into Thursday’s game at Mount View, the Panthers are measuring improvement in small steps. Still, the improvement is there. Waterville won just two games last season, and with the realingment to five classes, was moved up to Class A this season.

“Every aspect of the game,” senior Justin Kornsey said when asked where he’s seen the most improvement in his team. “Effort is the biggest thing. Everybody diving on the floor, doing what they can for the team.”

Waterville is currently ranked eighth in the region. If the Panthers can hold onto that spot, they’ll host a preliminary-round game.

“We’re crawling. We’re certainly not going to be satisfied. If we can keep moving up in the ranks we’ll be happy,” Pelotte said.

• • •

Madison began a tough four-game stretch to end the regular season with a big 50-45 win over Winthrop on Monday. Until that win, the Bulldogs (12-3) had not defeated any of the top teams in the Mountain Valley Conference. Madison’s first 14 games included just four games against teams currently with a winning record.

That changed beginning with Monday’s Winthrop (12-3) game. On Thursday, the Bulldogs host Monmouth (9-5). Next week, Madison closes the regular season with trips to Wiscasset (11-4) and Boothbay (10-5). That means there’s plenty of Heal points out there for the Bulldogs to pick up, and possibly jump up in the Class C South standings. Madison is currently sixth in the region.

“I’ve told the guys all year, we can’t pick our schedule. We’ve just got to win the games we’re supposed to win,” Madison coach Jason Furbush said following Monday’s win. “The good thing is, we’ve got four good teams (on the schedule) going into the tournament. We’re going to be battle-tested going into the tournament.”

• • •

Around the state: Longtime Boothbay coach I.J. Pinkham earned his 600th career win with a victory at Carrabec last Friday… Richmond and Buckfield, two teams that moved up from Class D to Class C with reallignment to five classes, look like good bets to makes the Class C South tournament. Richmond (9-4) is ranked 10th in the region, while Buckfield (7-9) is ranked 12th. The top 12 teams in Class C South go to the playoffs… Since a 23-point loss at Easton on Jan. 17, Southern Aroostook has won six games in a row by an average of 27.5 points.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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