There’s still five games left on its schedule, but so far the Skowhegan girls basketball team has passed every test this season.

On Monday, the current top team in Class A North finished off its season sweep of reigning regional champion Hampden Academy with a lopsided victory. Skowhegan is now a perfect 13-0, having knocked off three of the top five teams in the Heal point standings over a four-game stretch.

“We ran out of gas,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said after losing to Skowhegan by a 48-24 count last week. “That team plays fast. They want to get up and down, they wore us down. Good for them.”

The funny part about the Indians is that they are taking their identity as a run-and-gun, wide-open team and tailoring it this season in order to be more prepared for tournament basketball.

Against the Tigers, Skowhegan used a 90-second possession to begin the first quarter — one which resulted in an offensive rebound and a Mariah Dunbar 3-pointer en route to a 15-0 run to begin the game.

“It’s different from us, because we usually try to push the tempo,” Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc said. “We decided that we needed to value the ball a little bit more this year.”

Senior Annie Cooke’s play in the paint has given Skowhegan plenty of opportunity to alter its style on the fly. Against Hampden, Cooke scored a team-high 17 points. Eleven of those came from the foul line, evidence of a willingness to put in the work in the low post and force defenses to contract and not only guard the team’s shooters on the perimeter.

“We’re getting smarter,” Cooke said. “In past years, we haven’t been very good against zones. This year, we’ve done a better job of being more patient and not forcing shots. That’s been a big part of our play.”

Skowhegan hits the road for its next two contests — at Brewer and at Winslow — before finishing the regular season with three home games against Class AA Bangor and regional rivals Messalonskee and Lawrence.

• • •

Two years ago, the Hall-Dale girls basketball team won only once in an 18-game schedule. Last winter, the Bulldogs won five times but were still well out of Class C South tournament consideration.

What a difference a year makes.

Led by a talented crop of freshmen and sophomores, Hall-Dale entered Tuesday night’s game against Richmond with an 8-4 record and solidly in line for a its first playoff berth since 2016 — when they earned the last available slot and were bounced quickly in the preliminary round by regional semifinalist Monmouth.

“We’ve won more games this year than in the last two combined,” Hall-Dale coach Jarod Richmond said following an overtime win Friday over Dirigo. “Winning is a skill, and we’re finding ways and learning how to win it.”

Three freshmen — Iris Ireland, Averi Baker and K.K. Wills — have helped inject life into the Bulldogs. Ireland scored 22 points and grabbed 21 rebounds against the Cougars, despite giving up plenty of size in the frontcourt.

Senior Grace Begin has no problem with yielding the spotlight to the newcomers.

“We’re climbing up in Heal points. We’re not No. 1 or No. 2, but who knows where it’s going to end up?” Begin said. “Seeing (the freshmen) come in with that energy and passion for the game, we get so excited. We see not only a growth this year, but a growth for the future. We’re going to come back and see them as sophomores, juniors and seniors, and we’re going to see the girls under them, too. They all bring so much excitement that we all want to be here.”

Richmond said his Bulldogs have completely bought into the team-first culture, and the dividends of such are obvious.

“We don’t try and single out one heartbeat or one leader. We’re everybody,” Richmond said. “Everyone on our team contributes in one way, shape or form. We’ve got girls who do special things for us. Bella Marino, she doesn’t get a lot of minutes, but she goes out there and gives us everything she’s got and fills a specific role. Kayla Searles does the same thing. Emily Allen does the same thing. Lilly Platt. Anybody can contribute at any time for us, which is great.”

• • •

Skowhegan’s run among the top teams in A North may not have been a surprise, but certainly Waterville’s undefeated start in Class B North could be categorized as such.

The Purple Panthers made the tournament last season for the first time since 2014, but they failed to make it out of the quarterfinals. Waterville has won its first 13 games to begin the season this time around and sits second in the regional behind fellow unbeaten Hermon.

“It’s crazy,” junior guard Sadie Garling said. “It’s never happened before for us. It’s inspiring us to do better each game and go undefeated.”

Garling’s emergence as a pure scorer has been part of Waterville’s success, but the team has relied more on the athleticism its roster boasts from top to bottom.

Against Maine Central Institute on Monday, that athleticism was on display during a relentless full-court press that never seemed out of position from start to finish.

As the wins pile up and a team with just one senior on its roster moves into uncharted territory, the Panthers haven’t lost focus or attention to detail.

“We just try to treat every game like it’s our last one,” Waterville coach Rob Rodrigue said. “I know that’s cliche, but we do a really good job in practice. Our kids really get after each other and hold each other accountable in practice.

“Game-wise, we come out and have really been ready every night. We talk a lot about that. We’re aware of the ability to become unfocused and unattentive to coming out fast.”

• • •

After winning six of its first eight games to begin the season, Gardiner emerged from a brutal four-game stretch with losses in three of those games to drop to 7-5.

The Tigers are now 9-5 overall and sitting fourth in Class A North. The losses during that eight-day stretch from Jan. 10-17 came against Hampden, Messalonskee and Skowhegan — teams which have each had a say in regional supremacy over the last three winters.

“I like that we battled through,” said Gardiner coach Mike Gray, whose team rebounded with wins over Nokomis and Mt. Blue heading into a week off. “I asked a lot of kids to play a lot of minutes, and I (did) all week. They’re responding. We just need to take what we did and move it into next time.”

Skowhegan coach Mike LeBlanc was impressed by the Tigers, enough to implore his team to get off to a fast start when they played at Bragoli Gym last Thursday.

“It’s a tough place to play. We wanted to come out and match their intensity and try to jump on them early,” LeBlanc said. “We didn’t want to give them any confidence, because when they play with confidence, they’re a very good team.”

Gardiner doesn’t hit the court again until it hosts rival Cony on Jan. 29.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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