Tournament time is arriving quickly. And for boys basketball teams on the playoff bubble, the time is both running out and coming up to make a move.

Two weeks remain in the regular season, and teams throughout Maine’s five classes face the pressure that comes with the season’s homestretch. That includes schools on the bubble, who need wins to keep from falling out of the playoff race, and schools that are off, and need wins in order to climb into it.

It can get overwhelming. So coaches navigate the big games of these weeks by keeping the focus small.

“We’re more focused game to game,” said Cony coach T.J. Maines, whose Rams sit eighth in Class A North at 5-8 with the top 10 teams going to the playoffs. “We’re more focused on … doing the things we need to do to be ready than we are (with saying) ‘Hey, we’ve got to win three out of these last seven or four out of these last seven.’ That’s not something I’ll say to the players. I don’t think they need that. I don’t think they need to hear it from me.”

All across central Maine, teams face uncertain playoff situations entering these closing weeks. Erskine (6-6, 10th in A North), Maranacook (4-8, ninth in B South), Mount View (5-6, 10th in B North) and Temple (7-6, eighth in D South) are among the teams clinging to spots, while Lawrence (3-10, 12th in A North), Maine Central Institute (3-10, 14th in B North) and Monmouth (3-11, 14th in C South) are hoping for a season-salvaging hot streak.

“I’m not sure if my younger kids know what’s on the line,” said Erskine coach Tim Bonsant, who was recently elected into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame. “They know they have to win some games here. I try to keep pressure out of it with my team. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make the playoffs, so we’re right on target right now. We’ve just got to win a couple of games here.”

Some of the teams penciled into the playoffs face a crunch time of their own, as they seek coveted byes to leapfrog a round of elimination play. Count Skowhegan, which is 6-6, in fifth place and holding on to one of A North’s last two byes, and Oak Hill, 7-6 entering Thursday and fifth in B South with the top seven teams getting byes, as part of that group.

“We’re considering every game a playoff game for us right now, even though we’re sitting at four,” Oak Hill coach Tom Smith said. “We’re treating it like one-and-done. We got a taste of it last year, we got in, it was short-lived. This year, I want to get to the next level where we can go right to the Civic Center. … That’s the goal, the objective these last two weeks.”

As for how to view the games, some coaches try to keep the approach the same — even as the stakes are raised.

“I don’t care about down the road, I really don’t, and we don’t,” Skowhegan coach Tom Nadeau said. “I think you always have urgency with every game. Every game is important.”

Others, however, can’t ignore the creeping urgency.

“There’s a difference. There is this sort of need, indirectly, as a coach to try to win these games toward the end,” Bonsant said. “It does mean so much with your placing in the tournament. If you win four, five games of your last six games, you could be right through to the Civic Center. … I think all the coaches are thinking that way.”

• • •

Count MCI as a team welcoming the pressure of the postseason chase. Given the way the Huskies began their season, just being in the hunt is more than enough.

MCI appeared headed for a lost season with losses in its first nine games, but just in time, the Pittsfield school is starting to show life. The Huskies have won three of their last four games, and dreams of sneaking into the playoffs are no longer far-fetched.

“I’m really proud of the kids and how they’ve been responding every night, even during the losing streak that we opened up with,” coach Josh Tardy said. “It’s always tough in the KVAC, but certainly getting some wins and getting a little bit of momentum, it’s certainly a different atmosphere in practice.”

The turnaround started with a 39-14 victory over Waterville Jan. 12. The Panthers are struggling, having won once this season, but Tardy said just breaking the losing spell was important enough.

“I think any team needs to get a win under its belt to start truly believing,” he said.

Stocked with that newfound belief, MCI transitioned into a more dangerous team. The Huskies beat playoff-contending Maranacook, 59-58, then shook off a loss to Class A Nokomis by beating playoff shoo-in Belfast, 59-56.

According to Tardy, the stabilizing of what’s been a fickle lineup has keyed the turnaround.

“Coming back to a full, or nearly full, roster has been pretty helpful to us,” he said. “We’ve had some players out with injuries, we’ve had some off-court and on-court issues that have affected our roster. Being back at full power is helpful.”

Now, with a few more wins, the nightmarish start could be nothing more than a memory.

“We’ve got five games left, and we’re going to have five one-game seasons,” Tardy said. “That’s just the approach we’ve taken.”

• • •

Temple’s quest for a playoff spot included an individual highlight along the way.

Brad Smith scored his 1,000th point for the Bereans, reaching the milestone in Temple’s 47-45 loss to Islesboro Saturday.

Smith, a senior forward and one of the team’s captains, reached 1,000 points late in the second half on his way to a 25-point game. Temple announced the feat over the public address system and the game was stopped, allowing the school to conduct a ceremony on his behalf. Smith was given the game ball afterward for the accomplishment.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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