SOUTH CHINA — For the Messalonskee and Erskine boys basketball teams, the scene now shifts.

The two teams played their final regular-season games before the start of the central Maine tournament Friday, with Messalonskee beating Erskine 58-48. Matt Parent led Messalonskee (8-3) with 24 points, while Dan Page led Erskine (3-7) with 15 and 12 rebounds.

A season that began with no guarantee of a postseason heads to that stage, as both Eagles squads are part of the 10-team central Maine A/B postseason tournament. The event begins with preliminary games between the eighth and ninth seeds and seventh and 10th seeds, starting Tuesday.

“(The tournament) is a good piece of motivation for us, especially late in the year,” Parent said. “Now, going into it, we’re excited. All of us seniors, especially me, I’m just excited to have something. I’m treasuring every moment. It’s almost done, so I’ve got to take it as it comes.”

Messalonskee heads into the tournament as a team looking to continue what’s been an upward trend. After missing the Class A playoffs in two straight seasons following their 2017 run to the state final, the Eagles returned to the postseason last year, earning the fourth seed and falling to Brewer in the A North quarterfinals.

That loss, Parent said, still stings.

“A lot of kids, they took it kind of personally,” he said. “This year, we’re going in with a whole different mentality, trying to do what we didn’t do last year. Win some games, make something happen. I really like where we’re at.”

This season, Messalonskee has been just as formidable, showcasing a breakneck full-court pace that can rack up transition opportunities and catch opponents off guard. That tactic worked Friday, as Messalonskee wore down Erskine and went from trailing 16-15 at the start of the second quarter to leading 31-22 at the half and 43-35 after three.

“We had spurts of it. I think last year, at the beginning of the season we did it more,” coach Jay Dangler said. “And then we kind of slowed it down, teams knew we were getting out in transition so they’d get back on defense. We’re similar (this year) in our offensive transition, we just do it without the pressure. They’ll make a shot, and we’ll have the ball down in one or two passes, two dribbles. Everyone’s completely bought in.”

Parent leads the way, but a strong supporting cast featuring Reece Gardner (six points), James Smith (seven) and Noah Wood (six) can share the scoring load.

Erskine heads into the tournament as a team near the bottom of the A/B standings, but one that also can’t be counted out. The Eagles are a young and inexperienced team, as its record indicates, but fewer teams have been more tested, as Erskine had to play Maranacook, Cony, Lawrence and Messalonskee — all twice.

Messalonskee’s Reece Gardner, left, defends Erskine’s Sam York during a game Friday in South China. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Coach Tim Bonsant said his team, which got a blow when leading rebounder Nick Barber went down with a meniscus injury, has been rejuvenated during a season of growth by the incentive of a postseason.

“This central Maine playoff has really made my kids get hungry and really want to get after it,” said Bonsant, whose team also got 11 points Friday from Logan Tenney and nine from Nate Collins. “Now we’re playing for something. With my team, it’s the seniors who really want to go out and win a couple of playoff games. … This has been a godsend.”

Erskine will find itself in the preliminary round, but the Eagles have been competitive even in their losses, and Bonsant said he thinks his group will be a tough out.

“We think we’re going to be a tough out,” he said. “I’ve got 11 kids who are going to play hard, try to get on loose balls, we’re going to try to box out, we’re going to get in the passing lanes. Right now, (the key) is putting the ball in the hole.”

Those struggles hurt Friday, as Erskine was knocking down shots in the first quarter but couldn’t keep it up in the middle periods as Messalonskee stretched its lead.

“We got ourselves in the hole there at halftime and really couldn’t get out of it,” Bonsant said. “We tried to stop their breakouts for easy layups. … Up there, the score was (79-65), we needed to keep it in the 50s and 60s tonight, which we did. We just couldn’t find the bottom of the net.”

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