Big turnaround fuels tourney fever at MCI

Adam Bertrand (right) and the Maine Central Institute boys basketball team are making a strong late-season push to earn a Class B North postseason spot.

Adam Bertrand (right) and the Maine Central Institute boys basketball team are making a strong late-season push to earn a Class B North postseason spot.

One of the biggest turnarounds in the state’s boys basketball ranks this winter has taken place on the campus of Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield.

Coach Josh Tardy’s Huskies have rebounded from an 0-9 start with six victories in their last eight games to force their way into the Class B North playoff picture.

After Wednesday night’s 42-36 victory over Maranacook of Readfield at Wright Gymnasium, MCI is 6-11 but holds the 12th and final playoff berth in the division, three Tournament Index points ahead of 13th-place John Bapst of Bangor, which has concluded its regular season at 6-12.

The Huskies have one pointworthy game left Friday night at 14-3 Spruce Mountain of Jay, the No. 2 team in Class B South. With a win there MCI could move farther up the standings, as it trails 11th-place Ellsworth by less than one point.

Ellsworth (8-9) hosts Class B North No.2 Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor (14-3) in its finale on Friday.

“We have had a nice turnaround after a very rugged start,” said Tardy, whose team has suffered seven of its defeats to Class A North tournament-bound teams — Nokomis of Newport, Erskine Academy of South China and Skowhegan twice apiece along with a two-point loss to defending A North champion Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston.

MCI’s recent success despite essentially being in a must-win season throughout the second half of its schedule is reflected in its ability to win close games.

The Huskies’ last five victories have come against teams headed for postseason play — Maranacook twice, Winslow, Belfast and Erskine — by a combined 21 points, an average margin of 4.2 points per outing.

“Winning, like losing, can be contagious,” Tardy said. “We hope we are peaking at the right time.”

MCI has been sparked by captain Carter Pearl, junior Pedro Matos and freshman Owen Williams, and the team got a boost when 6-foot-5 sophomore Jose Ignacio Montes Valverde returned to the team after being sidelined for the first eight games. He has averaged 15 points per game during the second-half surge.

Tardy also cites a residual effect from the school’s success on the gridiron last fall when MCI won the Class D state championship.

“Our football success has spilled over,” he said. “Guys like Adam Bertrand, Eli Bussell and Josh Buker are examples of bringing a compete ‘no matter the score or the circumstance’ attitude.

“I’m proud of all the kids and coaches who brought major effort when the chips were down. It was that approach that allowed us to even be thinking about the postseason.”

Rams continue late surge

One of the hottest boys basketball teams in the region is Bangor High School, though the Rams’ late surge is unlikely to land them a postseason berth.

Since a 48-27 loss at Brewer on Jan. 27 that dropped Bangor’s record to 2-10, coach Carl Parker’s club has won five straight games to challenge Windham for the sixth and final playoff bid in Class AA North.

After scoring consecutive wins over Gorham, Hampden Academy, Oxford Hills of South Paris and Lawrence of Fairfield, the Rams knocked off Messalonskee of Oakland 61-52 on Wednesday evening behind 20 points from senior center Ian Nagle, 16 from sophomore guard Damien Vance and 13 from senior guard George Payne.

While Bangor was winning that game, Windham fell to Class AA South second seed Thornton Academy of Saco 66-54.

But Windham (11-6) continues to hold a modest lead over Bangor in the Heal Points, in part due to its 63-53 win over the Rams in their only meeting of the season last Dec. 23 and a 60-58 victory over Edward Little on Jan. 24. EL is 16-1 and ranked second in AA North.

Both Windham and Bangor have one home game left Friday to complete their regular seasons, Bangor against 3-14 Lewiston and Windham against 4-13 Gorham.

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.