The second half of the schoolgirl basketball season should be an interesting one in Eastern Maine Class A, with a number of teams jockeying for position.
Brewer is one of six teams in the mix for a top-five finish, and coach Andy Nickerson's Witches earned one of their biggest wins in the last couple of seasons, defeating defending regional champion Skowhegan 61-54 on Friday.
Brewer got a bit of revenge in that contest against an Indians club that beat the Witches by more than 60 points last winter.
But the second the final buzzer sounded, the Witches immediately turned their focus to the next game. They lost a close contest to second-ranked Hampden Monday 33-30.
"When we have the fortune of winning, we try to enjoy the moment, take the rest of that day to enjoy everything about it, and the next day when we come into the gym it's time to prepare for our next opponent," said Nickerson.
Brewer, now 6-5, got off to a bit of a slow start, which included tough losses to Bangor and Hampden, but the Witches have broken out offensively during their win streak, averaging 53 points in the four contests before Monday's loss.
"Some nights the ball goes in, some nights it doesn't. Fortunately, we've had a few nights in a row where it's gone in. Hopefully that continues," said Nickerson.
Maddy Bailey, Rylee Hutchins, Holly Nickerson and Faith Thomas have been among those supplying key offensive contributions for Brewer, which had a goal in November of qualifying for the regional tournament, something the Witches haven't done since 2000.
"I think our goal all along (is) to get to Augusta. We have a long ways to go to get there," said coach Nickerson. "We have eight games left, every one of them is against a quality opponent."
Nickerson also likes what he has seen from Bailey.
"We knew Maddy coming into high school was a talented young player. The big adjustment for her was getting used to the speed and the physicalness of varsity basketball," he said.
Offensive balance is something Brewer will need for its tourney quest.
"The nights that we're successful usually we have three, four kids that are in double figures or near it, but probably more importantly we've got 13 kids who are completely committed to our game plan," Nickerson said.
The win over Skowhegan will also go a long way in terms of Heal points for Brewer, as the Witches will be rooting for the Indians quite a bit the rest of the regular season, except for when the teams play again Feb. 8.
While Brewer has been playing well, Nickerson knows his team can still improve.
"The last three, four wins have been good wins, but we're a long ways of being close to the goal that we've set for ourselves as a program this year," he said. "There's a lot of parity in our league … We've got work to do."
Games to watch
This will be a relatively slow week in Maine high school basketball, with many players in the midst of midterm exams, but that doesn't mean there aren't key games.
There are two big Class B matchups on tap for Tuesday night, one in the Big East and one in the KVAC. Hermon hosts Mount Desert Island and Medomak Valley of Waldoboro heads to Newport to face Nokomis.
The Hawks, sixth in Class B, are looking to get back on track after losses to Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and first-place Presque Isle. MDI is coming off its biggest win of the season, a 41-34 triumph at John Bapst of Bangor on Saturday night.
Nokomis rebounded from a tough loss to Leavitt of Turner Center last Tuesday by defeating Oak Hill of Sabattus on Friday, and coach Kori Dionne's Warriors, who are fifth in Class B, can vault up the standings by beating the second-place Panthers.
Medomak, the lone unbeaten team in EM Class B, faces arguably its biggest test of the year, and the Panthers survived to beat Winslow 40-39 on Friday at home.
Class B has certainly proved to be a wide-open division, with the top five teams — Presque Isle, John Bapst, Medomak, MDI and Nokomis — combining for a 46-7 record entering Monday's play.
A pair of key KVAC Class A games loom on Friday, with Hampden Academy traveling to Skowhegan and Brewer hosting Messalonskee of Oakland.
The Witches will be seeking to generate some more Heal points in facing an Eagles club that beat them 46-40 on Dec. 17.
The Hampden-Skowhegan clash is a rematch of a Dec. 17 game won by the Broncos, and Hampden has won four straight.
Other key games send undefeated Leavitt to Medomak Valley and Van Buren hits the road to face defending state champion Fort Fairfield in Class D.