PITTSFIELD — April McAlpine and Sydney Morton began playing basketball together in Pittsfield rec leagues when they were seven years old.

“We stuck together like glue,” McAlpine said. “We were the Dynamic Duo.”

To the chagrin of girls basketball teams across the region, they still are. Now seniors at Maine Central Institute, McAlpine and Morton are the leaders of the best Huskies team in years. At 9-2, the Huskies are currently in second place in the Class B North Heal Point standings. Both losses were close games against undefeated John Bapst (58-53 and 33-27). With big wins over Class B North playoff contenders like Winslow, Waterville, and Caribou, as well as Class A North contender Skowhegan, MCI is in good shape to reach the regional quarterfinals in Bangor for the first time since 2001.

MCI’s next game is Friday at Oceanside. It’s likely to be a close game. Seven of MCI’s games so far have been decided by less than 10 points. A key to winning those close games is the experience McAlpine and Morton have together on the court. Each is a four-year starter.

“We don’t blow out a lot of teams. We just find ways to win,” MCI coach Jordan Larlee said.

Both guards, Morton and McAlpine have a feel for what each other will do on the court. Often, Morton said, they don’t have to speak. When she’s feeling stressed, Morton said, McAlpine knows to give her a quick pep talk.

“She just knows I’m going to be there when she makes a pass,” Morton said. “I can always rely on April when it comes down to it.”

Morton pointed to MCI’s early season 51-49 at Caribou. With the Huskies holding a slim lead down the stretch, Morton knew McAlpine would hit her free throw. Last week against Maranacook, the Huskies started the game flat. Then McAlpine took over, Morton said, and the Huskies went on to a 57-41 win.

“April turned on the burners,” Morton said.

When the Huskies met Caribou for the rematch in Pittsfield on Jan. 5, McAlpine fouled out of the close game. She gave Morton a look, letting her friend know she had confidence in Morton to lead MCI to the win.

“It was, all right, you’re out there. Help them out. She had to lead,” McAlpine said.

While each is a strong offensive player, MCI doesn’t rely on McAlpine and Morton to set the scoring pace. Larlee figures he has eight or nine players who can contribute to the offense in any given game. Where the senior duo stands out is on defense, Larlee said. With them leading the way, the Huskies have allowed more than 50 points just twice this season, and allow an average of 40.5 points per game. That defensive prowess allows the Huskies to get out and run, gaining offense in transition.

“They don’t give anybody an inch of space,” Larlee said of McAlpine and Morton. “They provide a ton of experience on the floor for me… My job as coach is to try and give them as much autonomy as possible.”

Larlee is in his second season as MCI’s coach. When he began coaching McAlpine and Morton last season, the thing that stuck out was their competitive spirit.

“They just love to be out there on the floor. I’ve never seen that much of a competitive edge,” Larlee said.

The double overtime win over Class A Skowhegan last month was a confidence boost, Morton said.

“We realized we could shock some of the teams in our region,” Morton said.

Last season, the Huskies made the playoffs, but were eliminated in the preliminary round, before they could reach the Cross Center in Bangor. If MCI maintains a spot in the top five in the region for the rest of the regular season, it earns a bye out of the prelims right to the quarterfinals for the first time in 17 years. Since last reaching the regional quarterfinals, MCI girls basketball had enjoyed just three winning seasons. With success in other sports (MCI has won a field hockey state title in two of the last three seasons), McAlpine and Morton hope to lead the Huskies on a deep tournament run in basketball.

“I would kill to get to the playoffs. Basketball has always been my favorite sport,” McAlpine said. “We want to get to the Cross Center. We’ve watched teams we beat play there, and it sucks.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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