A fine regular season has brought the Hall-Dale boys basketball team to the doorstep of the Class C tournament. How defensive the Bulldogs get will determine how long they last.

“If you’re down five with two minutes to go, you’re not going to hang back in a zone,” coach Chris Ranslow said. “You’d better start playing defense.”

What Ranslow is talking about isn’t the passive, wait-for-a-mistake defense that teams can find themselves lapsing into. He’s referring to aggressive, tight man-to-man defense, in which opponents are coerced into missed shots and game-changing turnovers.

It isn’t easy, Ranslow acknowledged. But it’s necessary.

“You have to play solid, fundamental man-to-man defense at some point in your tournament run to win it all,” said Ranslow, whose team is 13-4 and in the running for a top-four seed and first-round bye in the tournament. “I know that there are very effective zones, and coaches like (Syracuse’s Jim) Boeheim and others have made a living off of running one zone. But we don’t get to select our players, and I don’t know a lot of high school coaches that win state championships with one type of defense.”

The final game of the regular season Tuesday will present a test of that pursuit. Hall-Dale visits 17-0 Winthrop, one of the toughest teams in Class C to play man against due to the Ramblers’ combination of scoring on the perimeter and size in the post.

“We have to learn how to play defense against bigger kids,” Ranslow said. “We need to be ready to flex that skill if we’re going to go deep in the tournament.”

So far, the results have been uneven. A balanced cast of talented shooters and scrappy players down low has driven Hall-Dale through a successful season. But the Bulldogs are undersized, and when they’ve lost, it has shown. Winthrop earned a 68-52 win in the teams’ first matchup when Hall-Dale struggled to handle 6-foot-4 Garrett Tsouprake (18 points, eight rebounds) and 6-foot-8 Cam Wood (15 points, seven boards). And in the two games the Bulldogs lost to Oak Hill, 6-foot-4 Marcus Bailey overpowered his way to a combined 54 points and 25 rebounds.

Rough experiences all, but as Ranslow said, that’s all part of the process of learning to play a style that isn’t yet a strength.

“When you start two sophomores or three sophomores and two juniors who give up size pretty much every night, you have to let them go through the failure,” he said. “(You) get them the experience so when it all matters, they’re not doing it for the first time.”

• • •

Richmond was winning, week after week. But coach Phil Houdlette had a hunch the bubble was coming close to bursting.

“I don’t want to say we were due,” he said, “but we had played, I think, to the level of our competition in a couple of games.”

The Bobcats recently became the latest Class C team to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten, losing to North Yarmouth Academy, 58-39, to snap a 12-game winning streak to start the season.

Richmond defeated the Panthers, 54-34, earlier in the season, but Houdlette said the Bobcats didn’t see a sharp NYA team that day. He certainly didn’t think the Panthers saw a sharp Richmond one Wednesday of last week.

“He (NYA coach Jason Knight) made some adjustments and I don’t think we handled them very well, and I put a lot of that on my own shoulders,” he said. “We came out flat in a tough place to play, and took it on the chin.

“Every loose ball that was on the floor, they got. I think we got outrebounded 2 or 3-to-1. We just didn’t seem to play with much passion.”

Richmond quickly rebounded, roughing up Rangeley 66-33, and though the undefeated record is gone, the Bobcats are still sitting pretty for a bye in Class C South. From there, going on a postseason run will mean going up against larger schools — the Mountain Valley Conference teams Richmond avoided with its East/West Conference schedule — but Houdlette likes his group’s chances, provided its best games are still ahead of it.

“We’re not extremely deep and we’re not extremely big. Every night, when we play against the teams that have size and have depth, we’re going to have to work harder,” he said. “The little things. Boxing out, taking care of the basketball, shot selection, sharing the basketball, all those things become critical to us.

“As long as we share the basketball and take care of the basketball, I think we’re a tough matchup on the other side of that.”

• • •

After an 0-10 start to the season, Mt. Abram found a groove. Heading into Friday’s game against Hall-Dale, the Roadrunners have won four of their last six games, including wins over tournament locks Madison and Wiscasset, as well as Class B tournament contender Oak Hill. Those wins catapulted Mt. Abram into the playoff discussion in Class C South. The Roadrunners sat in 11th place in the region with two games to play. The top 12 teams in the Class C South standing advance to the tournament.

“It has been a long dry spell in the Roadrunner Dome,” Mt. Abram coach Richard Hawkes said in an email. “It’s nice just to hear those two words (Roadrunners and playoff) in the same sentence.”

Hawkes credited the leadership of senior captains Dan Luce, Trevor Chaput and Glendon Howard as keys to the team’s late-season surge. Luce averages just over 15 points per game.

“Our preseason goals were for us to play four quarters of basketball and surprise a few teams. I can say we have done just that,” Hawkes said. “Our scoring and overall play needed to pick up as we play teams a second time… A total team effort during practices and games. This team works hard every day.”

Mt. Abram closes the regular season Tuesday at home against rival Carrabec.

• • •

Some upcoming games with tournament seeding on the line:

• Gardiner (9-7) visits Skowhegan (8-7) today at 7 p.m. Gardiner is seeded third in Class A North while Skowhegan is sixth, but the Indians beat the Tigers, 58-46, in the teams’ first matchup earlier in the year.

• Cony (7-8) hosts Messalonskee (11-4) today at 1 p.m. Cony sits in seventh place in A North, and a win could lift it past Skowhegan and into position for a first-round bye.

• Erskine (8-7) sits in eighth in A North, but the Eagles will have chances to move up with games against Winslow (11-4 in Class B North) and Cony on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

• Maranacook is 6-10, but still seeded seventh in Class B South. If the Black Bears can hold that position through games against Maine Central Institute (Tuesday) and Lincoln Academy (Thursday), they’ll sidestep the preliminary playoff game between the eighth and ninth seeds.

Staff writer Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this report.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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