AUGUSTA — The Cony and Gardiner boys basketball teams are playing for the future. You just have to be more specific when using that word.

For the Rams (12-4), who sank Gardiner 79-44 Tuesday night, the future is about the next few weeks, and the opportunity they’ll have as a regional tournament favorite.

“The tournament’s kind of what you build toward,” said Cony coach T.J. Maines. “We started gearing up again last week for that kind of final push. … Kind of taking inventory of what we’ve done well, what we haven’t done well, what are the things we need to fix, who are the teams you’re likely to face in the playoffs, where are we at with our scouting of those teams.”

Cony senior forward Dakota Dearborn looks for an opening around Gardiner defender Jackson Tweedy during a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A game Tuesday in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

Simon McCormick scored 25 points and Dakota Dearborn added 20 to lead the Rams, who were in control throughout. Kalvin Catchings led the Tigers with 14 points.

For the Tigers, 4-11 and in ninth in the division, the future is about next year and the year after, as a program that faces a steep path to the playoffs this season looks to continue what’s been two years of progress.

“We’ve been more competitive this year, which is nice, which is a sign of growth in my opinion,” Gardiner coach Aaron Toman said prior to opening tip Tuesday. “I think it’s part of the progression, and it takes a lot of patience. And the boys are being patient, and they’re working hard.”

The Rams’ outlook is much the same now as it was last year, when they were on their way to locking down the No. 1 seed. Even as a second seed this time — Hampden’s running away with the top spot at 14-0 — the Rams might be in a better place, as they have the same core from a year ago, but those veterans have been further hardened by last year’s playoff experience and another trip through A North’s competitive minefield.

Still, Maines knows the Rams can’t just coast into the playoffs. Not with a pair of losses to Hampden reminding them of the ground that remains to be made up.

“We still have things to fix,” Maines said. “We’ll try a couple of things defensively a little bit different, to make sure we handle teams in the playoffs better than we have in the regular season.”

The Rams can just look to last year’s experience if they feel themselves getting complacent. Cony’s run as a No. 1 seed included a narrow escape against No. 8 Medomak Valley, followed by an upset loss to No. 4 Lawrence.

“We’re the only team that’s been to the semifinals the last three years in Class A North. But we haven’t gotten beyond that. So you can say ‘Hey, that’s great,’ or you can say ‘Well, you gagged on it three times,’ ” Maines said. “Our guys have stuff to prove. There’s a chip on our shoulder.”

For Gardiner, a playoff berth is a long shot, as the Tigers need a win over Hampden or Medomak — two of the top three teams in the region — as well as one over Lawrence in order to pass Mt. Blue for the eighth and final spot.

Even if the Tigers fall short, however, the big-picture objective is still in progress. Toman’s goal when he took over two seasons ago was to turn the program around, and with the Tigers having already improved on last year’s 2-16 mark, the arrows in Gardiner are pointing up.

“Another year of these guys being familiar with me and me being familiar with them goes a long way,” Toman said. “I think the work of everybody in the offseason — playing summer leagues, playing fall ball, doing some spring ball stuff — and working hard during the season helps us grow.”

Gardiner has seen the formation of a young core with freshman forward Kalvin Catchings, sophomore center Ryan Moore and sophomore guard Braden Dorogi growing into integral roles, and the progress has shown up in the games. It hasn’t translated in the standings — yet — but Toman knows a team needs to learn to compete before it learns to win.

Cony junior forward Jamal Cariglia shoots around Gardiner defender Ryan Moore during a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A game Tuesday in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

“We’ve been in some games. … We’ve had some 10-point leads this year that we’ve lost,” he said. “We’re not right where we want to be just yet, but we’re still going to keep working at it. … I really think the future is bright, but we have to do it the right way.”

That’s not to say Toman is throwing in the towel on this season. Nothing helps a program grow more than tournament experience, and until the playoff doors close on the Tigers, Toman has his group thinking big.

“We’re preaching to the guys that our goal of making it to the Augusta Civic Center is still attainable,” he said. “But we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”

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