FARMINGDALE — There’s one task to go for the Hall-Dale boys basketball team. And it’s the toughest task yet.

The Bulldogs are one win away from their first state title in 13 years, and George Stevens Academy stands in the way. That would be the two-time defending state champions. With wins in 63 of their last 65 games. And two Mr. Maine basketball semifinalists on the roster.

“They’re a very good basketball team. Very well-drilled, very well-coached,” Hall-Dale coach Chris Ranslow said. “You don’t win two Class C state championships by accident.”

It’s daunting. And it’s just what the Bulldogs have been preparing for. From the opening days of the season until now, Hall-Dale has taken every opportunity to get itself in front of the best competition it could find. The Bulldogs played exhibitions against AA teams in Portland and Sanford, faced A tournament teams in Cony and Camden Hills and even got an out-of-state matchup with Amesbury, Massachusetts in the holiday tournament.

From the start of the season, it looked like Hall-Dale would be playing in some big games. Ranslow wanted to make sure they were ready.

“We had a ridiculously tough schedule,” he said. “Those are the types of exposure points you want the group to have had before the one that matters.”

Another opponent in that mix was the one Hall-Dale will face Saturday. George Stevens came down to Hall-Dale for a Dec. 1 scrimmage, and there’s a degree of familiarity between the teams that can be rare for North/South matchups.

“I think we match up really well with each other,” Eagles coach Dwayne Carter said. “I think we have a size advantage inside, they have a lot of good shooters. They play really good man-to-man defense, and we pride ourselves on doing the same, so those things are comparable.”

There’s certainly talent on both sides. For the Eagles, that’s led by senior guard Taylor Schildroth, an explosive scorer, proven big-game player and Mr. Maine Basketball finalist, and senior center Max Mattson, a 6-foot-6 tower inside who blocks shots, grabs rebounds and was the team’s other semifinalist.

While the Bulldogs have the defense on the perimeter to try to slow down Schildroth, they have no one over 6-3 on the roster, so handling Mattson could be a tougher challenge. There’s a blueprint Hall-Dale can point to, however; the Bulldogs went 3-0 against Winthrop and 6-8 Cam Wood this season, and were nearly even with Winthrop on the boards in their 51-37 C South final victory despite Wood pulling down 14 rebounds.

The Bulldogs could take advantage of the Ramblers’ youth and inexperience, however. That won’t be the case against George Stevens, which has a hardened senior core that has aced every playoff test it could face.

“We’ve played in a lot of big games, we’ve played a lot of tournament games in big stadiums, and we’ve played at the Augusta Civic Center,” Carter said. “This senior class has been there, so they’ve been the catalyst for doing it the other two times, so they don’t want to go out without winning it.”

Ranslow said the goal won’t be so much to shut down the George Stevens weapons, as much as make them get their points in different, and perhaps uncomfortable, ways.

“I think what you do is … really focus on when to force them into their secondary or non-primary skills,” he said. “Whether it’s a group that likes to do ‘X’ and you force them to do ‘Y’, or whether it’s an individual that really likes to shoot, and you make him dribble.”

It will be one of the few times this year that Hall-Dale has been the relatively up-and-coming underdog, but the Bulldogs have a skilled cast of their own. Forward Ashtyn Abbott is a dynamic talent and has emerged as one of the best all-around players in the Mountain Valley Conference, and guard Alec Byron has shaken off an up-and-down season to put together an excellent postseason, one that has seen him reach 20 points in all three games.

“I think that Byron and Abbott, we need to take care of,” Carter said. “We need to really key on playing really good defense on them, and keeping them from getting going. I think that’s a huge key.”

The Bulldogs are also deep, with guards Tyler Nadeau and Josh Nadeau, swingman Jett Boyer and center Owen Dupont all playing key roles down the stretch. When it comes to using that cast to combat the George Stevens powerhouse, Ranslow said his team might tweak what it does, but it won’t be altering too much.

After all, the Eagles may have the titles, but the Bulldogs are in this game for a reason.

“We’re not going to completely re-invent ourselves in four or five days, so we’re going to be who we are,” he said. “We are our own DNA. We’re not going to change a whole lot. We can wear a different hat, or wear one in a slightly different, crooked manner, but we’re going to be who we are. It’s just how we apply what we have.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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