KENNEBUNK — They weathered an 0-2 start and two months of bouncing between gyms while renovations to their regular court were finished.

Now, the Kennebunk High boys’ basketball team is back in its upgraded home, on a seven-game winning streak, and beginning to look like the team that was predicted to have a breakout season in Class A South.

Kennebunk was seen as a contender because juniors Cam Lovejoy, Zack Sullivan and Tripp Bush are three-year varsity players, and Lovejoy, Sullivan and sophomore Kyle Pasieniuk combined for more than 34 points per game last season, when the Rams went 8-12 and won a playoff game for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Plus, 6-foot-4 Max Murray, injured for most of his freshman season, would add an athletic inside presence at both ends.

“Right before our first game, some newspaper predicted us to go all the way and win states,” said Lovejoy. “It was definitely nerve-wracking, and the first game we definitely didn’t live up to expectations.”

On opening night, the Rams fell behind Biddeford 25-4 and lost 56-31. The second game was more competitive, but Westbrook pulled away for a 56-47 win.

“We knew we were a lot better than that. Coach was telling us that after we started the season 0-2,” Sullivan said. “Coach told us it’s not where you are at the beginning of the season, it’s where you are at the finish.”

Seven wins later, including the last three when they’ve owned the fourth quarter, the Rams (7-2) have moved up to fifth place in the Class A South Heal point standings. Kennebunk has wins against No. 2 York (8-3) and No. 3 Falmouth (7-5).

Coach Barrett Belanger gives instructions during a practice Tuesday at Kennebunk’s newly renovated gym. The Rams play their first home game in the gym Saturday against Cape Elizabeth. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

For a program that didn’t even make the playoffs from 2008-15, it is a significant improvement. Only top seed Greely (11-0) appears outside of Kennebunk’s regular-season range.

“I feel like we’re honestly just beginning to play good basketball and I feel like our potential is high,” Lovejoy said.

While the gym renovations were being completed, the high school teams had to practice elsewhere. The boys’ team had late-night practices at either the middle school or cozy Kennebunk Elementary, where they played home games.

“I almost felt like I was living out of my car, carrying around all the basketball stuff,” said Coach Barrett Belanger. “They players were changing in classrooms. We didn’t have a locker room.”

Now they are trying to adjust to their new, brighter gym. The floor is new and still smells of polyurethane. Opaque windows installed along the south side let in some natural light. New lighting and the removal of old, dusty banners have also opened the space.

The girls’ team played the first varsity game in the renovated gym on Monday, losing to Maine Girls’ Academy. The first game for the boys is Saturday against Cape Elizabeth, which starts a rugged eight-game stretch that includes matchups against Class AA Scarborough, Class B power Wells and rematches with Biddeford, Westbrook and Falmouth, which Kennebunk beat 46-31.

“We all really hope that we can finally make that run in the playoffs that we’ve been waiting to make all these years,” Bush added.

THE BIDDEFORD boys have another team bucking history. The Tigers (6-3), ranked sixth in Class A South, added another big win Monday when they thumped Scarborough, which is 8-3 in Class AA South.

Since winning the Western Maine championship in 1991, Biddeford has advanced past the regional quarterfinals once – in 2004, when it went 14-4 in the regular season and lost to Portland in the semifinals. Biddeford has only had two winning seasons since then, consecutive 10-8 years in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

For fifth-year coach Justin Tardif, who was a player on the 2004 squad, this year has been especially rewarding. Tardif’s first three seasons were 0-18, 1-17, and 1-17 before last year’s team went 8-11, with a loss in the regional quarterfinals.

Tardif got through those first three years with the support of the administration and his assistant coaches, and mostly because “the core of our team was really coachable even through those really tough years.”

This season, the Tigers are a high-energy team that shares the ball under the direction of point guard Carter Edgerton. Kyle Norton, Cody Saucier and Jerome Criado can all shoot 3-pointers, and in the 68-39 win against Scarborough, DeSean Cromwell, Saucier and Norton also scored in the paint. Cromwell lauded his team’s chemistry, work ethic and love of the game.

Then there’s 6-foot senior guard Jackson Oloya, who gives the Tigers a defensive X-factor. Oloya has stymied two of southern Maine’s top scorers – Kennebunk’s Lovejoy, a slashing guard with 3-point range, and Scarborough’s Nick Fiorillo, a 6-7 forward who can post up and play on the perimeter.

Biddeford is still susceptible to cold-shooting nights (34 points per game in the three losses) and does finish with seven of nine games on the road. So there is still work to do in a close, competitive league that includes No. 4 Westbrook (7-4) and No. 7 Brunswick (7-3).

“They are a fun group to coach,” Tardif said. “For them and for us as coaches, we’re really trying to enjoy the last three, four weeks of the season. They enjoy playing and we enjoy coaching them, and we want to appreciate every day we have together.”

MIKE ANDREASEN, coach of the top-ranked Gray-New Gloucester girls in Class B South, said there is an incredibly small margin of error in the games between the top teams in the region.

After a 42-41 win Tuesday over sixth-ranked Lake Region, which defeated the Patriots in the season opener, Andreasen said his team has to learn how to put away opponents in close games.

“A game like that is like flipping a coin,” said Andreasen. “For you to be successful … it’s like flipping a coin four times in the playoffs. If you’re heads all four times, you win. But you can’t do that.

“You have to be able to put the game away at the foul line, getting a rebound, taking care of the basketball. Regardless of the other things, making last-second shots or questionable foul calls or turnovers, you’ve got to be able to do that.”

Staff writer Mike Lowe contributed to this story.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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