PITTSFIELD — Playoff season is already underway for the Maine Central Institute boys basketball team.

The Huskies, scratching and clawing for an opportunity to participate in the Class B North tournament, are in must-win mode. Every game, quarter, minute could be the difference whether or not MCI reaches the playoffs.

The mentality is beginning to pay off, especially Wednesday night, as MCI held off a late surge from Maranacook to earn an important 42-36 win at Wright Gym.

MCI (6-11) has won six of its last eight games after starting 0-9. And with the victory Wednesday, the Huskies are in position to grab a postseason berth.

Huskies coach Josh Tardy knew it would be another battle with the Black Bears (6-11). MCI edged Maranacook 59-58 in the first meeting Jan. 14.

“We’ve been in a playoff atmosphere for the past couple of weeks, so that prepared us for a game like this,” Tardy said. “We know with Maranacook, we always have a battle, they’re very well-coached and their kids are used to the very same must-win situation.”

Down 10-7 at the end of the first quarter, MCI outscored Maranacook 15-3 in the second quarter, taking advantage of costly turnovers. Pedro Matos and Josh Buker led the offensive charge, each scoring six points in the period to give the Huskies a 22-13 halftime lead. They also received help at both ends of the floor from sophomore forward Jose Ingacio Montes, who not only used his size in the post, but also showed a strong ability to distribute the ball to his teammates.

“He’s just a sophomore but the sky is the limit for him,” Tardy said. “I think the thing we like about him is his ability to pass. He’s a good distributor. He’s got a nice sense of basketball in the low block, the game’s slow for him down there, which is a good thing. He doesn’t rush; he’s never in a sense of panic. We didn’t have him for eight games this year — he was out for a while — but having him back has been good for us.”

After both teams struggled offensively in the third quarter, Maranacook — trailing by 12 to start the fourth — made a valiant comeback, cutting the deficit to 39-36 with less than a minute to play. Black Bears guard Kyle Wilbur led the comeback, scoring five of his game-high 14 points in the period. He also had help from Silas Mohlar, who knocked down two 3-pointers.

“These guys fight hard every night,” Maranacook coach Rob Schmidt said. “It’s not a matter of desire, it’s a matter of desire for 32 minutes. It’s a matter of finishing players. But we don’t quit, we play hard. We just have to put it all together.”

MCI managed to fend off the charge, however, and sealed the game when Montes — who finished with 10 points — found Matos on a backdoor cut toward the basket for an easy layup and a 41-36 lead with 15 seconds remaining. Buker nailed a free-throw for the final 42-36 score.

“It was a defensive war tonight,” Tardy said. “We emphasized getting out on Wilbur, emphasized getting out on Mohlar, and I think our kids did a good job with that. We also knew they’d make a run at the end, because that’s what veteran good teams do. We were talking the whole game — especially at halftime — to expect Maranacook to punch and counter punch back, because that’s what they do.”

Mohlar and Bryan Riley each contributed seven points for the Black Bears.

Dave Dyer — 621-5639

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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