Scan down the Class C South boys basketball standings, and it doesn’t take too long to come across one of the region’s best turnaround stories.

After missing the playoffs the last two years, Monmouth Academy is in the middle of the race this year, sitting sixth in the Heal points entering Wednesday with a 5-3 record. After winning nine games over those previous two seasons, the Mustangs have already eclipsed their win total from last year, and performances like a win over 5-3 Lisbon in B South and a three-point loss to 8-0 Boothbay have suggested Monmouth is a team that can be hanging around as February approaches.

So what’s changed? Coach Wade Morrill said not much. The core of the team did a lot of losing the last two seasons — but in the process, they did a lot of learning as well.

“We’ve had another year to really work on our game,” he said. “We’re doing the same stuff now that we did then, it’s just that now our guys have heard the message longer. They put more time into doing it this way. They’ve worked on their games more, so now when they get that open shot, they can make it.”

The growth has come physically as well as mentally and emotionally. The freshmen and sophomores that Morrill looked to play heavy minutes before are now juniors and seniors, and along the way, they’ve become better fits for their roles. Gabe Martin, a post player coming out of middle school, is now a standout on the perimeter. Connor Davies, originally a guard, hit a growth spurt and is now a 6-foot-6 center.

“Getting bigger and faster and stronger certainly helps,” Morrill said. “Two years ago, Connor Davies was 6-1. (Forward) Evan Burnell was 5-11.”


With that growth, Monmouth has been able to combat its opponents with a diverse set of talents. Davies, Burnell and Brock Bates, a small forward who can play the power forward position, make the Mustangs tough to beat on the glass, while Dylan Lajoie plays great perimeter defense and can score 20 points and Martin has become one of the Mountain Valley Conference’s best shooters with 20 3-pointers this season.

Monmouth still likes to push the pace and try for points in transition, but with an ability to play both inside and out, Morrill knows the team is better suited for late-season success.

“When you start playing in the top tier, eventually you’re going to run into someone who can handle pressure, and you’re going to have to play in the halfcourt,” he said. “You have to be able to play half-court, straight-up, man-to-man and be able to execute offensively in the halfcourt. That takes some basketball I.Q. That’s really something we’ve focused on the last couple of summers.”

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One of the slowest-starting teams in A North, Erskine has turned into one of its hottest.

After losing their first three games, the Eagles have won five of their last six, including four straight, to climb into fourth place in the A North standings.


Coach Tim Bonsant said he has seen a more comfortable team during the turnaround, one that has moved away from a conventional inside-out game and utilized a more open offense.

“We’ve certainly turned the page. The biggest thing is the kids on the team are starting to understand their roles better,” said Bonsant, whose team has scored wins over contenders in Messalonskee and Medomak Valley. “The beginning of our season was not easy. … We fought through it, and hat’s off to the kids still believing in themselves. We’re just playing a lot better basketball now.”

Bonsant knew his team had size, and figured early on that Erskine’s best bet was to use 6-foot-4 Jacob Praul and 6-1 Gavin Blanchard as pillars in the post. Praul, however, proved to be a better player facing the basket as a small forward, Blanchard found a niche as the team’s do-everything forward, and with Braden Soule and Austin Dunn serving as smart ball-handlers on the perimeter, the Eagles had found a feel for relying more on shooting and driving.

“When they play better in a certain role, they understand that,” Bonsant said. “The kids have totally bought into it.”

Erskine didn’t ditch the post game, however. With 6-7 Jacob Mortimer and 6-6 Jakob Mills catching on in their first varsity seasons, the Eagles have just added another component.

“My big kids were still a step behind (early),” Bonsant said. “As they’re getting in better shape, we’re much better because we can run plays for them and they can score.”


• • •

For Maranacook coach Rob Schmidt, it was like looking in a mirror.

When Maranacook hosted Cony on Friday, it matched two teams that have gained a reputation for perhaps the area’s fastest play. The Black Bears took the contest 72-60, and while both teams have eased off the Grinnell system or variation thereof they were using last year, Schmidt said it was clear there were two teams playing with the same philosophy.

“I feel like they were two teams that are very, very similar,” he said. “We can both put a lot of points on the board on any given night, we’ve both got a lot of good athletes, a lot of good shooters. If we play 10 times, it’s going to be a battle every game.”

Both teams showed their propensity for shooting, with Cony hitting 12 3-pointers and Maranacook knocking down 10. The teams looked more different on the defensive side, with Maranacook playing zone defense versus Cony’s frequent full-court, man-to-man tactic, but Cony coach T.J. Maines said both teams brought speed and quickness to the court.

“I think the pace of it is fun,” he said. “People like to see that kind of basketball. I think it’s a breath of fresh air.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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