Caleb Solomon of Houlton (right), shown guarding Mount Desert Island's Nate Philbrook during a Dec. 9 game, has helped the Shiretowners get off to a 3-2 start despite a demanding early schedule. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

The Houlton Shiretowners not only have moved back up to Class B North by enrollment this season, but the defending Class C North champions have been tasked with facing a gantlet of elite teams before Christmas.

Coach Tim Brewer’s club began Thursday with a 3-2 record, ranked fourth in Class B North. That includes victories over Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and Presque Isle, followed by losses to unbeaten Hermon and Caribou — the past two Class B state champions.

On Wednesday night, the Shiretowners earned a 59-49 home victory against Class C Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.

Led by senior guard Keegan Gentle, who scored 27 points in his team’s 73-62 loss to Caribou on Monday night, Houlton makes a trip south on Saturday to face Class B North threat Ellsworth (1-1) for its final game ahead of the holidays.

The Shires’ six early opponents had a combined 14-4 record entering Thursday’s schedule, which should leave the Shiretowners battle tested for the 2020 phase of their season.

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...