FARMINGDALE — Two years ago, the Hall-Dale boys basketball team was in the state championship game. And Monmouth was on the outside looking in, having missed out on the playoffs for the second straight year.

The teams have taken opposite paths, but they’ve both arrived at the same destination. The 8-3 Bulldogs and 6-4 Mustangs, who met Wednesday in an 59-56 Monmouth victory, are two teams lurking in the ever-competitive Class C South field, hoping to find that extra gear to be a tough out once February rolls around.

Suffice it to say, both coaches — Chris Ranslow at Hall-Dale, Wade Morrill at Monmouth — know their teams are capable of taking another step forward in what have been encouraging seasons.

“We’re wildly inconsistent, which is characteristic of a young team with a bunch of guys doing different things,” Ranslow said. “When we play hard and we play disciplined and we’re engaged and into it for 32 minutes, I think we’re a tough out. We haven’t always done that, and consequently it’s gone sideways for us a couple of times.”

Morrill, likewise, has seen flashes. He’s waiting for what he knows is there with his group to fully click.

“This year, we kind of feel like we have yet to play our best basketball game,” he said. “We’re still kind of looking for it and searching for it. We’re starting to do some little things better, but we’re just not doing it on a consistent enough basis.”

At Hall-Dale, Ranslow doesn’t have to worry about motivation. He acknowledged that his players have felt spurred on by some projections that they’d sink in the standings after the team lost its top two scorers.

“On paper, we are way down,” he said. “But there are 14 guys that come to work every day, and all we’re asking for is an opportunity to prove ourselves on the biggest stage.”

The reworked Bulldogs have shown that they could be dangerous with that opportunity. While there are games like a 51-34 loss to Spruce Mountain and an 84-39 defeat against Winthrop on the schedule, there are also contests like a 67-59 win over Boothbay, which showed the state — and perhaps even the Bulldogs themselves — what they could accomplish.

Ranslow, however, used a mention of that win as another opportunity to stress the importance of consistency.

“Maybe it proved to the group that, despite the fact that everyone counted us out, that we could hang with the elite of the conference,” he said. “It’s great to do something one time. It doesn’t become habitual until you do it over and over again. It’s great that we went out and beat a good team. Let’s go out and beat a couple of good teams in a row.”

At Monmouth, the hope is for the team to take the next step in what’s already been an impressive transition over the last few years. Monmouth missed the playoffs in each of Morrill’s first two seasons, but made the quarterfinals last year and are on track for another appearance this season.

“We’ve done the work to put ourselves in position to be solid,” Morrill said. “When coach (Don) Flanagan and I stepped in four years ago, we made a conscious choice to really start doing our best to work with our youth as much as possible. … Your varsity program is just the tail end of what should be a long process.”

Now that the process has started to show results, the hope is for that to translate into postseason success. Monmouth had a breakthrough last year by hosting and winning a preliminary game, and the team has its sights set on emulating that accomplishment — though Morrill knows that’s a tough task.

“We don’t have an easy game left on our schedule,” Morrill said. “We’ve got to come ready to play every single night.”

He likes the cast he has, though. Gabe Martin and Brock Bates have been the standouts, but Morrill pointed to his role players — players like Cam Armstrong, Thomas Neal, Hayden Fletcher — as having as much to do with the Mustangs’ competitive season.

“All those things are important in basketball,” Morrill said. “There’s a whole lot of other guys that make a basketball team go that sometimes don’t get all the adulation. Coaches know who they are.”

Morrill is realistic, though, and knows his team isn’t up there with the annual contenders like Winthrop and Boothbay.

Not yet, at least.

“Those programs are the model of consistency. I think we’re still trying to get there,” he said. “I hope we will get there, I think we’ve got a ways to go. But I think we are slowly starting to turn that corner to where we can be that model of consistently good basketball.”

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