The Richmond Bobcats took care of their first two assignments in their first year of Class C basketball — they qualified for the tournament, then earned a trip to Augusta by winning a preliminary round game against Searsport.

Their next task is unquestionably their most difficult — knock off Dirigo (17-1), the top seed and perennially a tough out in the Class C South tournament.

Welcome to the Augusta Civic Center, Bobcats.

Richmond coach Jon Spear and his team know the hill they have to climb. The defending regional champions are led by three-time Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year Riley Robinson and have a winning pedigree on the ACC floor dating back to the first of five regional titles beginning in 2009.

Spear and the eighth-seeded Bobcats (12-6) are basking in the underdog’s role.

“There’s not a ton of pressure on us right now,” Spear said.

Spear is certain the Cougars won’t be looking past his team. But he does think the Bobcats won’t be intimidated by the setting or the opponent.

“We’ve been playing some pretty good basketball lately,” he said. “When it comes to matchups, in terms of height and physically, I think we match up with them.”

Spear is particularly encouraged by how his team has played defense lately, but they can also be quite explosive at the other end if they get out in transition and get junior Matt Holt and sophomore Zach Small in the flow.

Second-seeded Winthrop (15-3) handed Dirigo its only loss so far on Jan. 20.

“We’re in a good spot,” Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur said. “These guys are ready. I couldn’t have any more confidence in them. I believe in them.”

Junior Jacob Hickey, one of the best pure shooters to hit the ACC floor this week, is one reason for Rambler fans to believe. Anthony Owens, one of the top big men in the tournament, is another.

MacArthur and others believe this is the most balanced tournament field representing the MVC in some time. No. 3 Madison (15-3) makes their case stronger. The Bulldogs beat all of the conference’s tournament teams but Dirigo at least once this year. If there is a team that can grind out an upset or two, it’s Madison, which likes to be patient on offense and test the opponent’s patience on the other end. Conference all-stars Chase Malloy and Mitch Jarvais lead the Bulldogs.

Fifth-seeded Wiscasset (14-5) and sixth-seeded Boothbay (12-7) lend further credence to the MVC parity theory, having beaten at least one higher-seeded conference foe during the season.

The Western Maine Conference contingent — No. 4 Waynflete (16-2) and No. 7 Old Orchard Beach (14-5) — could shake up the idea of an MVC party quickly. Waynflete could be particularly dangerous because it still has contributors from its 2014 regional championship team and played a tough schedule that included some of the top teams in Classes A and B.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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