Last season, the Houlton girls basketball team won the Class C state championship. This season, the Shiretowners are in Class B, but still find themselves among the favorites to play for a Gold Ball again.

With the Maine Principals’ Association expanding high school basketball to five classes this season, Houlton was one of the teams shuffled up a class. The Shiretowners still ran through the regular season with a 17-1 record to earn the top seed in the Class B North tournament. Houlton will be pushed by a deep and talented field of teams, including perennial regional contenders Mt. Desert Island and Presque Isle.

“I think it’s open to anybody. Not just the top two, three, four teams. I think it’s anybody,” Winslow coach Lindsey Withee said. “Tournament basketball, anything can happen.”

The tournament begins with a pair of games Friday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. At 5 p.m., No. 6 John Bapst (12-7) plays No. 3 Presque Isle (15-3), with No. 7 Hermon (11-8) vs. No. 2 Mt. Desert Island (17-1) at 6:30.

Winslow is the last team standing from the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference. The No. 4 seed, the 15-3 Black Raiders will face No. 5 Ellsworth (12-7) at 10:35 a.m. Saturday.

“We scouted (Ellsworth) twice in the last three weeks. We’ve been able to watch quite a bit of game film on them. They’re a pretty well-rounded team, a lot of pick and roll action,” Withee said. “They have a couple players that remind us of Waterville.”

Ellsworth was just 2-4 down the stretch but it defeated Mattanawcook Academy in the preliminary round to advance.

Since losing to Skowhegan on Jan. 14, Winslow has won seven games in a row. Heather Kervin and Delaney Wood have led the Black Raiders.

“I think that we’re peaking at the right time. It’s great heading into the tournament,” Withee said.

Houlton and MDI, the top two seeds, each lost a key player for the season to injury. For Houlton, it was Katie Condon, but Kolleen Bouchard has stepped up and is averaging just over 20 points per game. The Shiretowners have won 13 straight games since losing to MDI, 47-41, on Dec. 19. The Trojans are without Sierra Tapley. Kelsey Shaw, a 1,000 point scorer, has become MDI’s leader in Tapley’s absence. The Trojans’ lone loss came to Presque Isle on Dec. 29.

Presque Isle is led by Emily Wheaton, who averages 15 points per game. The Wildcats and John Bapst played once in the regular season, with Presque Isle taking a 56-47 win.

No. 8 Foxcroft (11-8) will take on Houlton on Saturday afternoon in the last quarterfinal. Houlton defeated Foxcroft, 53-41, in the regular season.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM