It’s the final week of January, which means St. Dom’s is making its traditional late-season push to the Western Class C boys’ basketball tournament.

The Saints have made a happy habit of peaking at the end of the Mountain Valley Conference season.

They won six straight games to close the 2010-11 regular season at .500 and sneak into the tourney, setting up a close preliminary-round loss to Livermore Falls.

After a similar and deceiving 4-7 start this season, St. Dom’s served up consecutive routs of Mt. Abram (67-28) and Monmouth (55-18), suggesting another right move at the right time.

“I think it’s our typical team,” St. Dom‘s coach Ryan Deschenes said. “We’re going to try to get better every game, and we’ve gotten a lot better since the first game of the season for sure. We’ll see what happens down the stretch.”

The schedule seems to promote that finishing kick, but there are potential pitfalls.

St. Dom’s faced one-win Lisbon on Thursday night. Up next is Wiscasset, one of the hottest teams in the league, twice in an eight-day span. The Wolverines have won five of their last six games after a 2-5 start.

Sandwiched in between those contests is a Feb. 2 visit to Mountain Valley, which lost to undefeated Dirigo by a single point earlier this week. St. Dom’s concludes the slate with the second half of its home-and-home series against Mt. Abram.

“They’re playing well,” Deschenes said of Mountain Valley and Wiscasset. “Those will be big ones. If we can take two of those three we’ll be in good shape.”

Of the Saints’ seven losses, six were to Dirigo, Boothbay, Hall-Dale — three of the top four teams in Western C — and Spruce Mountain, ranked No. 2 in Western B.

St. Dom’s presents opposing defenses with a balanced lineup. Joe Bryant is the leading scorer for the second straight year, but the continued emergence of 6-foot-7 center Tom Applegate gives the Saints an ability to score from inside or out.

Junior Zak Johnson and sophomore Drew Gosselin have moved into the starting lineup and provided double-digit scoring potential. Johnson’s quickness is a boost to the Saints’ pressure and transition game.

“We have some seniors that we count on, and some good underclassmen as well. It’s a good mix,” Deschenes said. “We feel we’re a pretty experienced team that should be able to make a good run down the stretch.”

The Saints seek their 11th consecutive tournament appearance. But they haven’t been to the main stage at Augusta Civic Center since 2009, when they reached the semifinals.

St. Dom’s appears a lock for at least a preliminary game. Ninth in the current Heal Point standings, the Saints could sneak as high as fifth or sixth if they win out.

“Our biggest goal is getting better every day, and if we do that I like our chances of getting a home prelim and getting back to Augusta.”

Close, but no worries

Lewiston coach Tim Farrar heard echoes from his days as a student-athlete at Oxford Hills after the Devils’ 45-40 road victory over the Vikings a week ago.

“Ted Moccia, the principal who was the freshman coach when I was here, he used to say, ‘A beat’s a beat.’  So I can’t complain,” Farrar said. “It’s the game I expected.”

And why not? The Devils have learned to win the close ones, which is an act of self-preservation, given the most balanced Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in recent memory.

Lewiston (10-3) previously beat Hampden by three points, Mt. Ararat by four, Erskine by seven and Brunswick by eight.

One of the relatively easy victories was a 62-41 home rout of Brewer (5-8) on Dec. 16. Farrar expects the road rematch tonight to be miles tougher. If the season ended now, the Witches would be in the tournament as the No. 9 seed. Lewiston would go in fourth.

“That’s another good team in the middle of that pack,” Farrar said. “I mean, who’s the bad team? Who do you really want to play?”

Bucks don’t stop

Who owns the biggest upset of the local boys’ season, at least on paper?

Hard to argue against Buckfield, which lost nine of its first 10 games before sneaking up on Valley, 55-52, in Bingham on Jan. 17.

Valley was 8-1 at the time, having suffered its first loss of the season to Hyde only three nights earlier.

While the Cavaliers have dropped two more games in the past week, Buckfield built on its momentum with a convincing 48-31 triumph over Rangeley. And with that, the Bucks (3-9) now are ranked No. 9 in a Western Class D region that sends nine teams to the tourney.

Buckfield wasn’t nearly as downtrodden as the early-season record indicates, however. The Bucks lost to both Greenville and Rangeley by one point and fell to Class C foes Sacopee Valley and North Yarmouth Academy by four and five points, respectively.

Back-to-back road trips to Jackman (Forest Hills) and Freeport (Pine Tree) this weekend give the Bucks further opportunity to bolster their tourney hopes before a season-ending homestand with NYA, Sacopee and Richmond.

Fast breaks

• Eastern Class A seeding is up for grabs tonight when No. 5 Mt. Blue hosts No. 1 Hampden at the middle school in Farmington at 6:30 p.m.. The Cougars (10-3) dropped a 66-57 decision to the Broncos (12-1) on the road in December. They could advance as high as second spot with a victory.

• With one-third of the season still remaining for most teams, only three unbeaten boys’ clubs remain in the entire state. All are in Western Maine: Falmouth in Class B, Dirigo in Class C and Hyde in Class D. Hyde’s first-year coach is Peter Rowe, a Livermore Falls native and longtime leader of the program at Elan School in Poland Spring, which closed its doors in April 2011.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.