The Maine Central Institute girls basketball team has lived up to high expectations. The Huskies (5-1) sit atop the Class B North standings entering Wednesday night’s showdown at home against John Bapst, a team that handed the Huskies their only loss (58-53) last week in Bangor. MCI never led in that game.

“We just didn’t make the shot,” MCI coach Jordan Larlee said. “Our defense did the job, our layups weren’t quite falling.

The Huskies also played their first regular season game at the Cross Insurance Center on a collegiate-sized floor. Although Larlee said depth perception due to the distance behind the baskets presented somewhat of a problem, he called the game “a great experience.”

The Huskies were coming off a huge double overtime win against Class A North power Skowhegan.

The Huskies were ahead late in the fourth quarter when senior April McAlpine fouled out. They pulled ahead again in the first overtime session only to see the Indians tie the game with a late 3-pointer.

“They probably weren’t expecting us to push them,” Larlee said. “It tells me we can beat anybody in Class B.”

The Huskies love to run and play off their defense, and they have the depth to do it. They’re also very deep which allows them that luxury. In addition to the scoring of McAlpine, senior guard Sydney Morton has come on strong. Junior guard Deangelis Urena scored 21 points against Skowhegan while junior center Christa Carr recorded 12 blocked shots in a win against Waterville.

• • •

Just 15 players tried out for Winslow last month, giving the Black Raiders one of their lowest turnouts ever. Two more players came out to put the program at 17 deep, which allowed for a junior varsity team.

Despite the low numbers and the graduation of 1,000-point scorer Heather Kervin, the talent is still there.

“We play 10 (players) who are interchangeable,” coach Lindsey Withee said. “They all have different strengths.”

Winslow, which finished at 17-3 a year ago, is 6-0 in Class B North play after it beat Oceanside on Tuesday night.

“We aren’t playing our best basketball now but we aren’t looking to play our best basketball now,” Withee said. “We want to do that at the end of the season.”

Junior point guard Weslee Littlefield has emerged as a team leader and is among seven or eight players capable of scoring in double figures. The Raiders don’t have a lot of size so they’ve focused on technique.

“We’re getting back to fundamentals with rebounding,” Withee said. “We have to box out. We try to run and press when possible.”

Sophomore Paige Trask and Silver Clukey have grown into scoring roles and complement the team’s five seniors. One of those seniors, Sarah Guimond, is one of the team’s defensive leaders, along with freshman Bohdi Littlefield.

The Raiders face a big test next week against MCI and later play against Class A North teams Lawrence and Skowhegan.

“This is the best time to be facing these intense teams,” Withee said.

• • •

Gardiner embarked on an unexpected odyssey at the beginning of the season, but the Tigers have persevered nonetheless.

Since a portion of the gymnasium roof was torn off during an October wind storm, the Tigers have been forced to play and practice elsewhere. They have played three home games at the Augusta Civic Center with others scheduled at Waterville Middle School and Maranacook Community High School. Practices have been held wherever gym space is available, including the Augusta Armory, Gardiner Regional Middle School and Central Maine Community College in Auburn.

If all the erratic schedule has taken a toll on the team, its record is no indicator. The Tigers downed Mt. Ararat on Tuesday night to run their record in Class A North to 5-2. Both their losses came to Medomak Valley and were close, with one in overtime.

“On game days the kids show up ready to go,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “The practices just wear on us.”

Gardiner graduated a pair of four-year players in point guard Lauren Chadwick and center Mary Toman. They accounted for about 30 points a game between them and have yet to be replaced, at least by two players. Instead, several players have chipped in. Junior Aimee Adams leads the team in scoring at 11 ppg. And rebounding at 8 per game. She grabbed 14 rebounds in the victory over Mt. Ararat.

“We’ve been competing,” Gray said. “It’s been different kids every night.”

Gray plays at least nine players each game and finds meaningful minutes for all of them. Sophomore Jaycie Stevens has taken over the point guard position and is averaging eight points a game.

“She’s done a really nice job,” Gray said. “Every game she gains a little more confidence.”

Stevens plays in the back court alongside her senior sister Leslie, a strong outside shooter who averages just under eight points a game.

“They play off each other really well,” Gray said.

Seniors Mikayla Bourassa, Logan Granholm and Katie Owen all contribute, along with junior Anna Toman. Leslie Stevens scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the victory Tuesday while Bourassa added nine points.

The schedule gets much tougher for the Tigers in the next couple of weeks as they hit the road for three out of four games against Messalonskee, Hampden and Skowhegan, teams that are a combined 17-4.

“We’ve been trying to gradually improve for this tough stretch,” Gray said.

• • •

Kents Hill is off to a 3-0 start in Class C South after winning just two games a year ago. The Huskies face several challenges unique to a private school: They have no summer program, play a shorter preseason and have an extended Christmas vacation in which players scatter to various home towns and states.

“We’ve only been together three weeks,” Coach Luke Wamboldt said.

Kents Hill, which faces a key test Friday at St. Dom’s in Auburn, is still putting the pieces of its team together.

“We knew it was going to be a much different team than last year,” Wamboldt said. “We have six new kids.”

The Huskies return a four-year starter in senior Leah Herbin, who last year carried much of the scoring and rebounding load.

“She was our whole offense last year,” Wamboldt said.

Herbin will have more help this season as the Huskies feature four players who stand 6 feet or taller, including first-year senior Tiffany McGhie, who is drawing Division II collegiate interest. Jarni Hewins, a freshman from Fayette, is another 6-footer who Wamboldt said is coming along nicely. The Huskies also hope to get point guard Lauren Murray back later this week. The junior, who transferred from Cony High School, was injured in preseason and has yet to play. Wamboldt is counting on her experience at the Class A level to help direct the team. And he sees some benefit to her absence.

“Learning to play without Lauren it gave others chance to step up,” he said.

Dani Eid, a freshman shooting guard from Gorham, has also played well so far.

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