A pair of girls basketball teams battling their way back to previous success met at the Gold Rush Invitational tournament Wednesday morning at the Augusta Civic Center. Maranacook won the exhibition contest over Winthrop 48-43 as the lead changed hands down the stretch.

It’s been a long road back for Winthrop and Joe Burnham, now in his fifth year as head coach. In his first year, the Ramblers dropped an 89-8 decision to regional champion Carrabec. The team finished at 0-18 that year and went to a junior varsity schedule. The following season, Burnham tried to bolster participation, as well as confidence.

“When I interviewed for the job I knew what I signed up for,” Burnham said. “I told them if they were willing to make a multi-year commitment to me, I was willing to make a multi-year commitment to them.”

That commitment is beginning to pay dividends, The Ramblers went 4-12 playing a JV schedule, then 3-15 the following year. Last season they finished 11-7 and earned a tournament prelim game. So far this year, they’re 4-2. They return one starter in Jillian Schmelzer, as well as leading scorer Aaliyah Wilson-Falcone. Junior Layne Audet has also emerged a a strong all-around player.

“We’re looking to make that next leap,” Burnham said. “It’s not necessarily how many victories you end up with, it’s the quality of victories. We’re getting a lot of good individual performances right now, but what we haven’t really done is put it all together for team performances, especially against those good teams, the Monmouths and the Richmonds.”

When Burnham arrived, there were 12 girls in the youth program in grades 3-6. Now every Saturday he and his players oversee a group of 42 girls,

“There’s a lot more interest,” he said. “The high school kids have a lot to do with that. They show up every Saturday and they’re role models to those younger kids.”

Nearly 30 girls tried out for the junior high team, and — for the first time since Burnham has arrived — players had to be cut.

“It isn’t a pleasant experience but it also lets you know that your numbers are a little healthier,” Burnham said.

• • •

Maranacook — which played for the Class C state championship in 2015 — has fallen on hard times since. The Black Bears, who went winless in Class B South play last year, opened the season with a victory over Erskine. They’re currently 1-4 in Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference play but have shown improvement in their losses.

“We’ve been putting our presses back in and there are some nights where we play three of our different defenses,” Maranacook head coach Jeannine Paradis said. “Our biggest thing is we have to take care of the ball and eliminate turnovers.”

The Black Bears, who have one senior in Erin Bonenfant, have received solid minutes from junior Grace Despres and freshmen Gabby Green, Maddy Ballard and Paige Trask.

The Black Bears played one of their better games against unbeaten Winslow, cutting the score to three points in the fourth quarter before losing by 13.

“They played solid defense,” Paradis said. “They played with a lot of enthusiasm. We had seven team defensive charges. They play hard every single day, despite what the score says.”

• • •

Defending Class C state champion Monmouth sustained its first loss earlier this month, dropping a 50-47 decision to Boothbay. As they were a year ago, the teams are considered the ones to beat in Class C South and the Mountain Valley Conference. They won’t play again until a potential matchup in the MVC title game and/or the tournament.

“We got behind 11-0 in the first minute and a half, then had to battle back from there,” Monmouth coach Scott Wing said. “We did end up having a five-point lead in the third quarter, then made a couple of bad passes and they hit a couple of shots. It was pretty much a couple point game back and forth.”

Monmouth returns its entire team from a year ago and several players have shown marked improvement.

“The big thing is a couple of our younger kids have stepped up this year,” Wing said.

Sophomore Libby Clement and junior Destiny Clough, who were swing players last season and saw just 14 seconds of action in the state title game, have moved into prominent roles with Clough staring and Clement coming off the bench.

The Mustangs are currently missing senior Hannah Anderson, who sprained her ankle in the preseason. A solid scorer and the team’s defensive specialist, Anerson is expected back Thursday night against Spruce Mountain.

“She obviously makes us a lot better because she guards the other team’s best player, which has a trickle down effect because now everybody else is guarding a different person,” Wing said.

• • •

Madison played a pair of Class A teams at Wednesday’s tournament, beating Mt. Ararat before falling to Medomak Valley in the division championship game.

The Bulldogs are 5-0 in Class C South and return four starters from last year’s 14-6 team.

The Bulldogs aren’t big, but lack of size hasn’t hurt them so far.

“As far as being a disadvantage with the height, I don’t think it is,” Madison coach Al Veneziano said. “The kids like to play uptempo and I like to work at it.”

Sophomore Lauria LeBlanc has taken over the point guard position from graduated Madeline Wood and has played well so far.

“Lauria’s a floor general and she likes to take control out there,” Veneziano said. “She does what we ask her to do.”

Seniors Sydney LeBlanc, Marah Hall, Lauren Hay and Ashley Emery have all played well while sophomores Emily Edgerly and Katie Worthen have played well off the bench.

“You can see improvement,” Veneziano said. “It comes in small doses but we’re getting a lot more confident in ourselves.”

The Bulldogs have single games against Boothbay and Monmouth this season, both next month.

“You’ve got to use those games to judge where you are,” Veneziano said.

• • •

Dennis Price announced all 20 games in the two-day tournament and kept a lively banter going in each one. Price — who teaches English at Monmouth Academy and theater and drama at Winthrop High School — two years ago started the Capital Improv, a comedy group that appears locally.

Originally from Virginia, Price arrived in Maine in 1998 to work at the Theater at Monmouth.

“I liked it so much I moved here,” he said.

He began announcing games at Monmouth Academy, also singing the national anthem, which he did before each session during this week’s tournament. He’s since begun announcing games at Winthrop, with a flair and thunder often heard at big-time arenas while making use of his improvisational comedic skills.

“He’s the perfect guy for this type of tournament,” Gold Rush organizer Dave Poulin said.

Price has announced a game for the University of Maine and said he’d love to do a game for the high school tournament.

“It makes it interesting (for the players) to hear their name called, especially for this,” Price said. “Dave and Bruce (Hunt) were like ‘you can have a little more fun than an MPA game.’ We’ve been having a good time.”

Hall-Dale won Tuesday night’s division boys championship, defeating Sanford, 71-68. Sanford, coached by former Maranacook standout Ryan Martin, knocked off George Stevens Academy by a point earlier in the evening.

One interesting feature of the tournament were two 10-minute games featuring junior high teams during each halftime.

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