Two of the hottest teams in central Maine face crucial tests this week as they jockey for tournament position. Lawrence, winners of five straight, played at Messalonskee on Wednesday while Waterville — winners of seven in a row — hosts Winslow on Friday.

Waterville lost guard Sophie Webb to a knee injury before the season began. Top returning scorer Sadie Garling then broke a finger in the opening week. Garling returned two games ago and picked up where she left off while the rest of the team has grown in confidence and maturity.

“We’ve figured it out a little bit,” said Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue, whose team is 10-5 and in eighth place in the Class B North standings, one spot behind Winslow. They lost earlier this season at Winslow, 43-39.

“Friday’s a big one for us,” Rodrigue continued, adding the Black Raiders pose problems because of “their pressure and they’ve got kids who can shoot.”

The Panthers have already avenged one loss, knocking off Maine Central Institute last week despite the absence of senior guard Mackenzie St. Pierre.

“We started three freshmen and two sophomores,” Rodrigue said. “We executed our game plan.”

Rodrigue worried his team wouldn’t compete physically with opponents because of its youth but the Panthers have held their own on the backboards thanks in part to freshman Lindsay Given and sophomore Maddie Martin. Abagail Saucier, another freshman, has been the team’s leading scorer this season. The team has good overall size and presents matchup problems with opponents. The 5-foot-11 Martin is too quick for post players to defend and too long for most guards. In Tuesday’s win over Mount View she drew a post defender outside and hit two 3-pointers.

Garling has given the team a boost as well, scoring 15 and 16 points in her two games back in the lineup, including four threes against Mount View.

“Sadie’s a pure shooter,” Rodrigue said. “We’re happy to have her back.”

Rodrigue added that his young players have played a lot of basketball coming up through the ranks and the only thing they lacked was varsity experience. They’ve played the top teams well but sometimes play to the level of competition.

“We certainly can beat any team or lose to any team,” he said.

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Lawrence (9-5) lost 67-41 at Brewer three weeks ago and responded with a five-game win streak.

“That was not a great game,” coach Greg Chesley said. “They were on fire and we struggled with their press. That might have been kind of a wake-up call.”

A point of emphasis since the loss was defending against the three-point shot.

“We’ve been working very hard on or closeouts and defending the three better,” Chesley said. “We run a drill every day.”

The Bulldogs’ last three wins have come against quality opponents — Hampden, Winslow and Medomak Valley. They handed top-ranked Hampden a 53-50 loss in Fairfield and although 6-foot-2 center Bailey Donovan scored 20 points, they were able to limit her teammates.

Sophomore Keagan Alley drew the defensive assignment against Medomak’s Gabby Depatsy, the leading scorer in the conference, and held her to 16 points, four below her average. Against Winslow, the Bulldogs were able to match the Black Raiders’ intensity.

“They’re extremely aggressive,” Chesley said. “That was our first win where we’ve matched somebody’s aggressiveness.”

Sophomores Lexi Lewis and Savannah Weston have given the Bulldogs great hustle play off the bench, Chesley said, and senior Camryn Caldwell picked up her scoring.

“Her scoring touch seems to have returned,” Chesley said. “And she’s shooting 86 percent from the line.”

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With snowstorms, midnight bus rides and an 18-game regular season to face, high school basketball can seem like an awfully long haul this time of year. No team is immune, even defending state champions.

“You get into that lull,” Monmouth coach Scott Wing said. “It’s a long season. We usually shorten our practices and from here we’re picking on one aspect (a practice) to work on, maybe defending the pick and roll or adding inbounds plays.”

The Mustangs are 14-1 and should win their remaining three games based on previous games or comparative scores. Last year, they knocked off Boothbay en route to the Class C state championship, and it’s the unbeaten Seahawks who stand in their way again. Boothbay won the lone regular-season meeting at home between the two teams, 50-47.

If the Class C South standings hold true, the teams should meet prior to the postseason in Boothbay for the Mountain Valley Conference championship, a game that will have no bearing on the tournament.

“It’s a hard game to play,” Wing said. “It does mean something for the kids. It would probably help our confidence a little (if we won).”

Wing has played 10 players consistently all season and hopes to have everyone healthy for a stretch run. Senior guard Tia Day is nursing a sprained ankle while senior froward Abbey Allen has a knee injury. Both are improving, Wing said.

The Mustangs are getting strong play from juniors Kaeti Butterfield and Destiny Clough, a pair of 5-foot-10 post players who complement one another well, Butterfield on offense and Clough on defense. Clough is averaging 14 rebounds a game and hauled down 18 in 16 minutes in last week’s win over Carrabec.

“When she goes after it, she goes after it,” Wing said.

The Mustangs also have one of the more experienced coaching staffs in the state in former varsity and current junior varsity coach Dennis Grover and former Winthrop coach Ray Convery. The three have more than 650 combined varsity wins. Ed Spencer, who has been with Wing since his junior high coaching days, rounds out the staff and takes care of statistics.

Convery, who coached at Winthrop for 23 years, is particularly adept at scouting opponents.

“There’s nothing he hasn’t seen,” Wing said.

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Gardiner is clinging to the eighth and final tournament spot in Class A North. The Tigers (7-7) faced a crucial game at home against ninth place Mt. Blue.

They picked up a needed win against rival Cony on Monday night after dropping their five previous games and they trailed for most of that one before pulling out a 44-39 victory.

“We needed it,” coach Mike Gray said. “Part of the issue early in the game was feeling the pressure. They had the lead most of the night. We couldn’t make shots.”

Freshman Bailey Poore played well for the Tigers, scoring a game-high 12 points, while senior guard Logan Granholm has provided a defensive spark. Junior Aimee Adams leads the team in scoring at 10.5 points a game and rebounding at 8 a game, despite drawing extra coverage much of the time.

“She’s a tough kid and she plays hard every possession,” Gray said. “She doesn’t let up.”

Gray’s hoping sophomore point guard Jaycee Stevens (8 ppg.) will return for Friday’s game at Lawrence after missing two games with a sprained ankle.

“That changes our offense a lot,” he said.