SOUTH CHINA — His team had just lost in the Class A North quarterfinals, but Erskine Academy girls basketball coach Bob Witts stood at the Augusta Civic Center last February and said he was happy for his players, and encouraged by the direction in which they were heading.

“I think the future looks really bright for us,” he said then.

So far this season, his team is proving him right. The Eagles edged Winslow 42-41 on their home court Tuesday, and are now 3-0 for the season.

Emily Clark led Erskine with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Sarah Praul added 11. The Eagles overcame a hot shooting effort from Bodhi Littlefield, who hit six 3-pointers on her way to 22 points.

“There’s a lot to teach, we have a lot of young kids,” Witts said afterward. “We said when this season started, because of the way it was going to be with COVID and all, that we would develop kids, and we thought next year would be the year that we could really do something.”

With no championships to play for, Witts said this became the perfect season to really see what he had and more thoroughly invest in the building process, as opposed to riding starters to get as high a Heal points finish as possible.

“If it would have been a regular season, we might have progressed a little bit quicker,” said Witts, whose team also brought back key contributors from a season ago in Grace Hutchins and MacKenzie Roderick. “But we’re really taking our time with the kids.”

Even so, the results have been there as well. Erskine beat Maranacook and Cony in its first two games, but saw itself trailing Winslow 27-22 early in the third. The Eagles got hot from there, however, ending the quarter on a 12-0 run that put them ahead 34-27, and they held on despite a late Winslow rally that turned a 42-34 contest with under two minutes to go into a one-score contest.

The Eagles were led throughout the game by Clark, a junior forward who has become the anchor in the post after showing flashes of her ability in her sophomore season.

Winslow’s Bohdi Littlefield, left, shoots as Erskine’s Madison Lully plays defense during a game Tuesday in South China. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I think we worked really hard, and we really fought for this win,” she said. “We’ve worked on our rebounding a lot, it’s a lot better, and just working as a team together.”

Witts said he’s seen Clark make strides into this season.

“She works really hard at practice. We’ve been doing a lot of post stuff with her,” Witts said. “Very coachable kid. I think she’ll play at the next level somewhere. … She’s got everything it takes.”

With this being their third game, the Eagles have started to find their form after an abbreviated offseason that included no summer ball and a delayed start to the regular season.

“(It’s been) a little bit (tougher),” Clark said. “Mostly we’ve been playing together since last year, it’s mostly the same people, so it hasn’t been too hard. But without the summer and without the reps, it has been different.”

It’s a different story for Winslow, which was playing its first game of the season.

“It’s kind of hard. You hear you’re going to play, then schools get shut down, so we’re always on our heels,” Littlefield said. “It’s hard always working hard in practice, and then never having a game. … All first games are a little shaky at first. I think you have to find rhythm with your teammates, practice is a lot different than games. Just to come out here tonight and play with each other and have fun, it was great.”

Thanks to their hot-shooting senior, whose sixth 3-pointer made it a three-point game with 1:10 to play, the Black Raiders nearly capped their return to the court with a come-from-behind victory. Harly Pomerleau added eight points and eight rebounds for Winslow.

“I think our defense helps us a lot,” Littlefield said. “I’m just really excited to see what we can do this year.”

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