It’s been a tight race in Class A North boys basketball this season. And it’s coming down to the final day.

One game remains, and the eighth and final playoff spot in the region is up for the taking. Gardiner (7-10) currently occupies the slot, with Brewer (6-11) and Messalonskee (7-10) seated directly behind by 2.037 and 5.9259 Heal points, respectively.

Take a look at the teams’ final games, however, and the plot thickens. Gardiner and Brewer have games against 1-16 opponents in Lincoln Academy and Mt. Blue, respectively, and could potentially swap spots based on their results and the Thursday results of their defeated opponents. Those games will only fetch a handful of Heal points, however, and Messalonskee plays 12-5 Cony. With an upset of the fifth-place Rams, the Eagles likely will have enough points to climb even as high as the sixth spot and shuffle the bottom teams down.

It’s a formula for a spinning head and an ice cream headache, so Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy is keeping his team focused on authoring a commanding finish to its season, while letting the numbers work themselves out.

“If Messalonskee wins that game it would bounce us out even with a win, so we’ve just got to go play basketball,” he said. “Try to get our win and see how everything rolls out there. We’re just trying to play hard and get some wins. I don’t think the kids feel more pressure than any other game.”

Gardiner has work to do on its own end. It’s been a trying season for the Tigers, who have struggled to find consistency from game to game and even quarter to quarter, all while dealing with illnesses, player unavailabilities and the lack of a home gym. Gardiner seemed poised to handle its postseason fate on its own terms when it ended January with a 70-50 victory over Mt. Blue, but back-to-back losses to Lawrence and Oxford Hills — the latter coming by 30 points — put the Tigers back on the bubble.

Now it’s all about salvaging those playoff hopes with a win on Thursday and then — something that won’t come easy to the Tiger faithful — rooting for Cony to do its part.

“They’ll come to play hard. They’re not taking anything for granted. They want to get up to the Civic Center and play some basketball,” Cassidy said. “If we don’t go win our game, Brewer is going to pass us anyway, so we’ve got to go take care of business.”

• • •

Throughout the season, Todd MacArthur considered his Winthrop team a work in progress, with more work needed to be done to produce the Ramblers’ trademark stout defense.

On Monday, Winthrop got a sense for what its coach was looking for.

Winthrop (13-4) looked tournament-ready Monday night, besting Spruce Mountain 53-32. Against one of the teams atop the Class B South standings, the Ramblers took command late, turning a 36-31 lead into the final 19-point margin.

“I was really proud of my guys being committed to the defensive side of the ball,” MacArthur said. “I think it was our first time all year we collectively played as one unit.”

MacArthur is the kind of coach that would rather see his opponents in the 30s than his team in the 80s, and the Ramblers adhered to that style late. Winthrop allowed just one point over the final 5:52, stifling the Phoenix with the type of energy and intensity that MacArthur has been looking for all season.

“We’ve been really trying to make all the pieces fit together defensively, and there were not many lapses in that game,” he said. “I think it had a lot to do with their communication, their trust and their intensity. They brought a lot to the table that night.”

Winthrop, anchored by center Cam Wood, has always been a good team inside, but MacArthur said the perimeter defense in particular had him impressed Monday.

“Our guards did a great job of handling their quick guards on the perimeter defensively, and offensively they did a good job of handling pressure and being pressed,” he said. “That’s kind of what we’ve been preaching. Hopefully we can sustain that and move forward and grow from that.”

• • •

Maranacook coach Rob Schmidt lamented turnovers after his Black Bears lost a late lead and fell to Winslow 59-55 Tuesday night.

In truth, Maranacook had trouble with turnovers all game — and one violation in particular.

Maranacook was called for 11 travels in the loss, with three coming in the final 2:19 as the Black Bears saw what was left of a 53-40 lead whittle away.

Schmidt said the calls were a product of the Black Bears getting reckless on offense, especially after the Black Raiders started their late charge.

“It’s us forcing too much, trying too hard,” Schmidt said. “We’re not supposed to be attacking the rim all the time with the dribble. I want our guys passing more, dribbling less, and I think we got a little dribble-happy at times. Those turnovers cost us.”

Maranacook also continued to take 3-point attempts even with the lead in the closing minute, but Schmidt said he was fine with the team sticking to a style it has thrived with all season long.

“We’ve been taking wide-open threes all year,” he said. “When that shot goes in, it puts us up by 13 and that’s a comfortable lead at that point. I liked our shot selection. I had no problem with it.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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