The Waterville girls basketball team lost a three-year guard when Sadie Garling broke her finger on opening night and freshman Caitlyn Smith, who was expected to contribute, is out with a knee injury. Through it all, the Purple Panthers (4-5) have remained competitive and are ninth in Class B North entering the second half of the season. They’ve played the top teams surprising well, losing to John Bapst and Winslow, both unbeaten, by four points.

“We’re playing a lot of young kids,” Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue said. “For us, it’s execution stuff. That’s when we show our youth.”

The Panthers led Winslow by six points with five minutes left to play but went just 1 for 6 from the free throw line down the stretch and lost track of shooter Paige Trask as well. They’ve also played down to some of their weaker opponents.

“I think we can beat anybody and I think we can lose to anybody,” Rodrigue said.

Seniors Mackenzie St. Pierre and Ally Drew and junior Hannah Leclair have been steady contributors, but much of the team’s energy comes from its younger players.

“At times we have four freshmen and a sophomore on the floor,” Rodrigue said.

Freshmen Jada Murray, Paige St. Pierre, Abby Saucier and Lindsey Given impact games. Saucier scored 19 points in a loss to Maine Central Institute.

Winslow and MCI remain on the second-half schedule but Rodrigue is pleased with what he’s seen so far.

“We’re a little ahead of where I thought we’d be,” he said.

• • •

Lawrence faced two obstacles entering the season.

First, the Bulldogs had to find a way to overcome the loss of injured leading scorer and senior captain Hunter Mercier. Then there was a brutal early season schedule.

The team hasn’t emerged unscathed from either, but it is 4-4 in Class A North heading into the second half of the season. After winning its first two games, Lawrence faced a stretch of four straight that included Hampden, Class AA Oxford Hills, Brunswick and Skowhegan, teams that entered Wednesday 31-5. The Bulldogs lost all four — none by blowout, however — but rebounded with two straight victories.

“We’ve tried to preach one game at a time,” coach Greg Chesley said, “But it’s hard not to look ahead at that stretch in the schedule. We had the lead in three of the four games in the fourth quarter but we just couldn’t pull it off.”

The second half of the team’s schedule appears a little more manageable but tough games still remain.

“On paper it just gets a lot easier,” Chesley said. “I don’t put a lot of stock in Heal points until at least half the games are played.”

Mercier, who suffered a season-ending knee injury, still attends games and practices when she can and has provided moral support. Fellow seniors Molly Folsom and Camryn Caldwell, as well as junior Brooklyn Lambert, have also helped hold things together. Not known as a prolific scorer, Folsom scored 24 points against Skowhegan.

“She put us on her back,” Chesley said. “She’s been consistent all year.”

Many of the team’s younger players have also contributed, including sophomore guards Keagan Alley and Megan Curtis, both of whom hit big shots in a win against Nokomis. Sophomore Miranda Lambert, who missed some games with a concussion, is also expected to be a second-half contributor while Lexi Lewis has emerged a valuable role player inside.

“I thought we’d be a much high-scoring team,” Chesley said. “The loss of Hunter hurt. We need to be a little more uptempo.”

• • •

Richmond senior Sydney Tilton has already made plans to attend the Coast Guard Academy, in which she hopes to play softball, her preferred sport. She can pitch, catch and play just about anywhere on the field. She is also one of the more feared power hitters in the state.

She works at it, too, playing year-round and in the offseason to hone her skills. Tilton has applied that same work ethic to her second sport, basketball, and the results have been exceptional. Tilton recently topped the 1,000-point mark for her career to go along with more than 800 rebounds. Furthermore, she’s expanded her game beyond the paint.

“She’s a grinder, a hard worker,” Richmond coach Mike Ladner said. “She started as a post player and now she can play on the perimeter and hit 3’s.

Skeptics might say Tilton beat up on weaker opponents in the East-West Class D league, but the Bobcats moved into the Mountain Valley Conference this season, where they are regularly playing Class B and C opponents. Richmond is also the smallest school in Class C. Tilton hasn’t missed a beat, averaging 16.5 points and 13 rebounds a game. Although listed at 5-foot-10, Tilton is just a shade over 5-8 and is not a leaper, Ladner said.

“As far as rebounding she has a knack for knowing where the ball is,” Ladner said.

Defensively, Ladner added, “she’s asked to guard the other team’s best player, sometimes on the perimeter.”

The Bobcats are 6-4 in MVC play and were fourth in the Class C South standings entering play Wednesday night. Since moving to Class C a few years ago — but still playing Class D competition — the Bobcats have finished at or near the top of the tournament standings. Last year they entered the tournament at 18-0 but were bounced in the second round.

“I’d rather go 12-6 and be battle-tested,” Ladner said. “What we’re seeing is depth.”

The Bobcats are 3-1 against four Class B teams. They’ve also lost to the three powers in the MVC — Boothbay, Monmouth and Madison — who are a combined 26-1.

“Madison played nine girls, Monmouth played 10,” Ladner said. “Come the fourth quarter we’re a little tired.”

Tilton is the only senior on a roster that includes two juniors, four sophomores and three freshmen. Juniors Caitlin Kendrick and Ashley Abbott have been steady performers while sophomore Bri Lancaster has emerged as a solid all-around player, averaging 8 points and 9 rebounds a game. The schedule, at least on paper, is a little lighter over the second half, although a date with Monmouth remains.

“We’re 6-4 but it’s a good 6-4,” Ladner said.

The Bobcats also have a full junior varsity team for the first time in years, with 18 girls in the program and more on the way.

• • •

There are no quick fixes for Cony, which has won just three games since Adam Rich took over three years ago. Once the team that others around the state modeled itself after, the Rams have been hurt by declining enrollment and a general lack of participation. This year they are 1-8 and are near the bottom of the Class A North standings. They recently won their first game against Class B Maranacook and made a respectable showing in a seven-point loss to 8-1 Medomak Valley on Tuesday night.

“The skills are better,” Rich said. “It’s a lot of mental mistakes right now.”

Cony has seven seniors on its roster, although one of its leading scorers, Allee Cloutier, is injured and her return this season is questionable. A lack of participation in the offseason has also hurt.

“It’s tough to get them to play outside of season because basketball might not be their particular sport,” Rich said.

There’s some optimism down below, however. The eighth-grade team has some talent and some of those players are already committed to playing in the fall and spring. And next year’s team will have only two seniors.

“We’re in a position where some of these younger kids can come in and take advantage of the opportunity,” Rich said.

There are 22 players in the program, all of whom Rich coaches in a common practice. Ideally, Rich would like to get out in transition and press since there isn’t much size coming up. But first things first.

“The basics are being covered (below high school level),” he said. “But a lot of the kids don’t understand the game yet.”

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