BREWER, Maine — Brewer girls basketball coach Andy Nickerson was eager to get to practice Thursday afternoon.
His 3-1 Witches host 3-0 archrival Bangor at 7 p.m. Friday at the Brewer High gym in what could be a fierce matchup of high-ranking Eastern Maine Class A squads. In the boys game, Brewer (2-2) will visit Bangor (2-1) at 7 p.m.
“There was no school yesterday [Wednesday], so this will be our first practice since our game Tuesday night,” said Nickerson.
The Witches, ranked No. 2 in the current Heal points, suffered their first loss of the season Tuesday, 38-31 to now No. 4 Messalonskee of Oakland.
Bangor and Brewer split their two Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference regular-season contests last season, with each team winning on the other’s home court. Bangor won the second game 72-69 in overtime to secure a berth in the playoffs, then rolled to victory in the EM Class A preliminary round.
“I hope they’re focused, excited and ready to play a quality opponent,” Nickerson said of Brewer taking on the Rams.
There may be some long memories on both sides, but any intensity the teams exhibit should remain on the court.
“One of the great things about [this rivalry], the kids are actually friends,” said Bangor coach Katie Herbine.
Both will be ready to take care of business Friday.
“What I like about our team is we do spread out the offense,” Nickerson said. “[Lindsay] Houp, [Maddy] Bailey and [Alexa] Grindle are all averaging better than 10 points a game, and Emily Gilmore and Morgan Small are darn near 10 rebounds a game.”
Houp, Grindle and Small are seniors, Bailey is a junior and Gilmore a freshman.
“All five starters are doing things offensively, and I’m also getting good production from my bench,” Nickerson said.
Another key ingredient is that the Witches, who will feature a fast-paced style, have had four close games to start the season.
“They’re gaining confidence and finding ways to win games,” said Nickerson. “And all the teams they played have been good teams that played with intensity.”
“It’s really exciting to play when central Maine teams are at or near the top of the standings,” Herbine said. “It’s good both teams are playing well.”
Brewer opened Dec. 7 with a 55-51 win over Lawrence of Fairfield, followed by a 55-52 victory over Mt. Blue of Farmington and a 40-37 win over Lewiston before the seven-point loss to Messalonskee.
“We’ve found ways to win a few games,” Nickerson said, then looked ahead to the Rams, who have won their games by an average of 24.7 points per game.
The Rams, tied for third in the early-season Heal points, are led offensively by 6-foot-2 sophomore center Cordelia Stewart, who is averaging 17.7 points a game. She posted 22 points against the Indians on Friday, following a 13-point game against Messalonskee and an 18-point effort at Hampden Academy.
Senior playmaker guard Denae Johnson is averaging 15 ppg, and 6-2 sophomore swing player Mary Butler is at 10 ppg. Senior forward Jordan Seekins also has reached double figures in a game.
Even with that height, the Rams look to run the floor first, and rebounding and a strong defense help get that started.
“Quick rebounds and quick outlets” are the keys, said Herbine.
Johnson is getting the ball up the floor quickly and making a lot of layups, Herbine said, and Stewart has proved to be as strong underneath as Herbine had thought she would be.
“Cordelia and Mary play well together,” said Herbine, adding that Butler is getting the ball down to Stewart a lot.
“Mary loves to pass the ball,” said Herbine, then added with a little laugh, “We wouldn’t mind if she shot more, but she does a really good job of balancing things.”
Bangor opened with a 56-26 win at Hampden, then downed Messalonskee 57-37 and Skowhegan 59-35 at Red Barry Gymnasium. The Rams’ game Tuesday at Mt. Blue was postponed.
“The team we’re playing [Friday] is a strong opponent,” Nickerson said. “I think the girls are looking forward to the challenge.”
Mount Ararat of Topsham is undefeated and currently the top-ranked team in EM Class A, but because they’re in a different division, the Eagles are not scheduled to face Bangor during the regular season.
With Bangor, they are the only two unbeaten teams left in East Class A girls basketball.
The KVAC has a lot of teams, but they all don’t play each other twice in the regular season.
The earliest the Eagles and Rams could play is in a tourney prelim. More likely, they’ll meet in the semifinals or final.
Herbine sees it as more fun when there might not be as clear a favorite as when Cony of Augusta dominated last year.
“It’s really easy to get the kids motivated,” she said. “I hope it’s fun for the kids, too.”
And while Bangor has been winning by big margins, Herbine said her players have kept their heads in the games.
“We have great senior leadership who put the pedal to the metal all the time,” said Herbine. “The games are closer than the margins might show. We’ve had some really good third quarters.
“The seniors keep everybody focused.”