Like every other coach, Messalonskee’s Keith Derosby will have a plan to try to take down top-seeded Lawrence if and when his team gets the opportunity in the Class A North girls basketball tournament, which starts Friday at the Augusta Civic Center.

As those coaches develop their plan, they’ll try to convince themselves and their team that toppling the undefeated defending Class A champions, led by the best player in the state, on the floor where they won the gold ball last year, isn’t impossible. As Derosby sees it, the hardest part for coaches to accept is that their plan, no matter how good, won’t be enough unless their team is ready to play the game of its life.

“It takes more than a scheme. It takes more than some trick plays or a wrinkle thrown in to beat a team as deep and as experienced as Lawrence,” Derosby said. “They’ve handled the competition. They’ve handled different zones. They’ve handled (opponents) doubling and tripling Nia (Irving). It’s going to take a team that executes perfectly. It’s going to take a complete team effort.”

For anyone eager to take on the challenge, just getting to a matchup with Lawrence will be a chore, or back-to-back chores. The tournament bracket is chock full of upstart teams with young, hungry rosters who have the talent, if not the tournament experience, to pull off an upset or two.

If any team knows how much damage one of those upstart teams can do in a tournament, it’s No. 3 Gardiner (14-4), which opens the tournament at 3 p.m. against No. 6 Mt. Blue (9-9). The Tigers were a No. 9 seed in the Eastern Class B tournament last year and pulled off three straight upsets, including top-seeded Mt. Desert Island, to reach the regional championship game.

That remarkable run took place in a different class and different building (Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center). But the nucleus responsible for it — led by juniors Mary Toman and Lauren Chadwick — remains, and is rested from earning a bye to the quarterfinals. Last year’s team had to win a preliminary round game on the road before becoming the darlings of Bangor.

As memorable as that week was, the Tigers don’t mind exchanging it for the bye and a much shorter bus trip.

“I’m OK with that,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “We’ll have a little extra time to rest up and move forward. Augusta will be nice proximity to us. The Civic Center will be a little different, but I think the adjustment of going from that building in Bangor to Augusta isn’t that difficult.”

What could be difficult is the first hurdle they will need to clear to make themselves at home in Augusta. Mt. Blue beat Gardiner, 50-31, in Farmington early in the season.

As their record might indicate, the Cougars have been in a frustrating win-one, lose-one mode all season. But with one of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference’s top scorers, senior guard Caitlin Kane, and an athletic supporting cast led by senior guard Eryn Doiron, the Cougars could be peaking at the right time.

“We have been playing with a lot more poise on the offensive end the past three weeks, which is encouraging,” Mt. Blue coach Gavin Kane said. “We will always work defensively, but two areas we needed to see improvement in were offensive execution and rebounding. The rebounding is still a concern.”

Rebounding usually isn’t a concern for No. 2 Messalonskee (15-3) with versatile junior Sophie Holmes, who averaged double figures in that department while also finishing second to Irving in scoring, and senior center McKenna Brodeur leading the way. The Eagles were able to do that and a lot more in 23- and 30-point wins over No. 7 Waterville (9-10) during the regular season. Sophomore guard Ally Turner and senior forward Taylor Easler also presented matchup problems for the Purple Panthers, and a lot of other teams.

“They’ve got three kids who are real challenges and a bunch of other kids that fit in nicely. They’re going to play seven or eight deep,” Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue said.

Rodrigue and forwards Jordan Jabar and Fotini Shanos led the Panthers to Augusta in their first year back in Class A with one of the tougher defenses in the tournament.

No. 4 Nokomis (13-5) and No. 5 Hampden (10-8) defended their home courts in their two regular season meetings. The difference in the rubber match may be which of the two rising programs is ready for the pressures of tournament basketball. The Warriors are led by junior guards Sidney Moore and Olivia Brown and freshman center Gabby Lord. The Broncos have steady seniors Erica Martin and Courtney Dunton in the paint, but virtually everyone else — including 6-foot-3 freshman center Bailey Donovan — is new to the ACC floor.

Experience isn’t an issue for top-seeded Lawrence (18-0), winners of 24 in a row, The Boston University-bound Irving and fellow 1,000-career point-scorer Dominique Lewis were an unstoppable tandem during last year’s championship run and will be the focal point this year. But coach John Donato is looking for underclassmen such as sophomores Camryn Caldwell, Molly Folsom and Hunter Mercier to continue to emerge.

“They got a feeling of our success last year. I think they worked hard so they could be in the limelight this year,” Donato said.

The Bulldogs will close the quarterfinals with No. 9 Skowhegan (6-12), which pulled away in the second half of its prelim at No. 8 Brewer on Tuesday despite it being the tournament debut for its talented core of freshmen, led by Sydney Aames, Alyssa Everett and Annie Cook.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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