AUGUSTA — The Augusta Civic Center is where many of the area’s high school basketball teams want to play in February, when the tournament begins. For the 10 teams that played exhibition basketball at the Civic Center Friday, starting the season on that court was an early reminder of goals yet to accomplish.

“This is the main goal for everybody. Hopefully we’ll be back here in February,” Hall-Dale forward Ashtyn Abbott said.

Hall-Dale may have made the best impression Friday. The Class C Bulldogs took on a pair of Class AA schools, two-time defending state champion Portland, and Bangor. Hall-Dale held a three-point lead over Portland at the half, before falling, 64-58. A few hours later, Hall-Dale led Bangor by as many as 15 points in the first half, taking a 72-65 win. Acquitting themselves well against much larger schools was a good first step for the Bulldogs, coach Chris Ranslow said.

“You could tell there was first preseason jitters out there early on against Portland. Missing free throws, missing defensive assignments, missing layuups,” Ranslow said. “I was kind of worried in game two against Bangor, a prolific program, a good point guard, that we were going to have a little bit of a letdown, but we didn’t see it.”

Each of Maine’s five basketball classes was represented at the Augusta Civic Center: Class AA (Portland and Bangor), Class A (Messalonskee, Erskine, and Westbrook), Class B (Leavitt and Foxcroft), Class C (Hall-Dale and Richmond), and Class D (Greenville). Games were played with two 20 minute halves, with running time until the final two minutes of each half.

The Civic Center didn’t quite have a tournament feel. The bleachers behind the team benches were tucked away behind curtains, along with the baseline bleachers that come February will be full of cheering students. Still, it was an opportunity to play on the court, to get a feel for the shooting sight lines that are unlike any high school gym these in which these teams will play.

“Anytime there’s an opening where basketball is being played here, Messalonskee is going to play here. Any time the kids can get experience, it’s good,” Messalonskee coach Peter McLaughlin, whose team won the Class A North title at the Augusta Civic Center last season, said.

McLaughlin’s Eagles dropped a pair of games Friday, to Westbrook (36-25) and Portland (48-39). The results were less important than the experience, McLaughlin said, especially playing against strong guards like Portland’s Terion Moss, arguably the top player in the state.

“Playing Westbrook and Portland, I knew we were going to have really good guard competition. Some of our returning players are guards. Chase Warren, Tucker Charles, they go head-to-head in practice, but I wanted to see them working together and going against that same level of competition,” McLaughlin said. “I just want to go out compete, see where we are. Find that baseline. I thought we had a good three days of tryouts and a little bit of a walk through before we came here. Really, no expectations. Just come in and work. We’ve got film now. We’re going to sit down now and we’re going to learn a little bit. We’re going to grow.”

Hall-Dale showed that shooting the three is going to be a strength once again.

“We’ve got some guys who can shoot it. It’s all about understanding and identifying where our advantage is and then following that advantage. We’re still working to be in triangles, getting stronger, and then some defensive opportunities going up against a big kid,” Ranslow said.

Playing well against a pair of teams two classes higher than themselves can only help the Bulldogs once they enter Mountain Valley Conference competition on Dec. 9 against Telstar, Abbott said.

“I thought we played really good team defense. We communicated really well, being unselfish. We rebounded against bigger opponents. I thought today was a success for us,” Abbott said. “It’s just a bigger motivation for us. Working, getting better, and going after those big teams. It pushes us to get better.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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