Gardiner’s Taylor Takatsu, left, shoots as Cony’s Maci Freeman defends during a recent game in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — After a penultimate week of utter chaos, it’s only right that the final week of 2023 marks a return to top-notch high school hoops in central Maine.

Basketball wasn’t on the minds of even some of the most hoop-crazy among us last week as a historic storm put our minds elsewhere amid power outages and flooding. Before the fresh start of 2024, though, comes that of a Christmas week headlined by two days of nonstop action at central Maine’s premier venue.

The annual Capital City Hoops Classic is set for Wednesday and Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center. The event features 14 games across the two days as some of the top teams from the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and Mountain Valley Conference and even elsewhere in the state descend on Augusta.

“Basketball takes a lot of time as it is, so it’s nice to be able to move on from the other stuff and focus on what your goals are,” said Winthrop boys coach Todd MacArthur. “It’s good to put that past us, especially to get to play in big games like this at the Augusta Civic Center because it’s where you want to be playing in February.”

The action begins Wednesday with the Madison girls (3-0) taking on defending Class C state champ Old Orchard Beach (3-1) at 10:30 a.m. That will be the first game of a doubleheader between the schools that also pits the Bulldogs (3-0) against the Seagulls (3-1) in boys action at noon.

At 1:30 comes an MVC battle between two Hall-Dale and Winthrop girls teams that should be back on this floor in February. The Bulldogs (2-0) are facing their first real test, while the Ramblers (2-1) are looking to build on a close loss to North Yarmouth Academy and a win over Old Orchard Beach.


“I think Winthrop is probably going to come out and be very, very aggressive of us, so we’ve got to match that intensity, take care of the ball and avoid turnovers,” said Hall-Dale head coach Laurie Rowe. “They’re a great team with some great athletes, so we’re excited for the matchup.”

Following that game will be a Cony-Lawrence doubleheader, with the boys set to tip off at 3 p.m. and the boys set to follow at 4:30. The Nokomis (0-4) and Brewer (1-3) girls will then face off at 6 before the Warriors (3-2) and Witches (2-2) close out Day 1 with a boys matchup at 7:30.

The Cony-Lawrence girls matchup is one of the major early-season showdowns, with the Rams and Bulldogs both expected to be among the contenders in Class A North. The boys game could be a sharpshooting showdown, though Lawrence head coach Jason Pellerin doesn’t think it’ll be too one-dimensional.

“There might be portions of the game that are like that, but we both have guys who can finish at the rim, too,” Pellerin said. “Parker Sergent and Parker Morin can certainly do that for them, and we’ve also got multiple guys who can do that. I think you’ll see plenty of the inside-out game.”

Thursday begins with a KVAC-MVC crossover featuring the Mt. Abram (1-3) and Waterville (2-2) girls at 10:30 and the boys (Roadrunners 3-0, Panthers 0-3) at noon. Then comes an MVC showdown between the Hall-Dale and Winthrop boys teams, both of which are 2-1.

Old Orchard Beach’s Cate Clark dribbles the ball while Winthrop’s Kylee Mansir (5) defends during a girls basketball game Thursday in Winthrop. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Staples at the Civic Center come most Februaries, Hall-Dale and Winthrop both failed to reach that stage last postseason. A win Thursday will be big in helping one of the two get there in addition to being a major boost for either the young Bulldogs or inexperienced Ramblers.


“I think we match up comparably in terms of ability and in terms of size,” MacArthur said. “One advantage I think they have is their depth — they play more kids than we do — but other than that, I think it’s a pretty fair, even matchup, so I’m looking forward to see how we execute.”

The 3 p.m. game Thursday will see the Mt. Blue boys team (4-0), led by a potential Mr. Maine Basketball candidate in Evans Sterling, look to stay undefeated against Gardiner (1-4). Then comes a girls showdown between the 2-2 Cougars and 2-3 Tigers at 4:30.

The Gardiner girls, who began the season 0-3, have improved bit by bit beginning Dec. 15 with a close loss to rival Cony. Victories over Messalonskee and Brewer now have the Tigers on the verge of clawing back to .500 ahead of a big road game Friday against Lawrence.

“I told them that it was going to be progress and that it might be a little while before all the work we’ve been putting in starts to show,” said Gardiner head coach Britney Gero. “I think if we can just contain defensively and play our game offensively, it should be a pretty good game.”

The Messalonskee girls and boys teams will close out the tournament against Skowhegan. The Messalonskee girls (0-4) will look for their first win of the season when they face the River Hawks at 6 before a boys battle between two solid Eagles (3-1) and River Hawks (3-1) teams at 7:30.

It’s a floor, as MacArthur said, to which all of those competing this week want to return come February. For many teams, the days ahead are a chance for a first look at the venue they hope will be a welcome one to them when tournament time arrives a month and a half from now.

“It’s a totally different experience, so to be able to play there this week before the tournament in February is huge,” Gero said. “We’re bummed to lose a game in our gym because it replaces a home game, but it’s really important for us and for a lot of teams that we get this.”

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