Jay Kemble and Mike LeBlanc are good friends.
They competed against each other in three high school sports — Kemble for Mt. Blue in Farmington and LeBlanc at Skowhegan — and were baseball teammates at the University of Maine in 1986 and ’87.
“We also played together for the Waterville Red Sox in summer league baseball,” LeBlanc said.
They will renew acquaintances on Tuesday night when Kemble’s Bangor High girls basketball team (7-3 in Class AA) entertains LeBlanc’s Skowhegan River Hawks (9-0 in Class A) at 7 p.m. at Red Barry Gym in Bangor.
Kemble and LeBlanc were both pitchers at UMaine. Kemble, who is two years older, was a control pitcher as a spot starter and reliever. LeBlanc was a closer with overpowering stuff.
LeBlanc still owns the school single-season record with 12 saves (in 1989) and shares the lead in career saves (19) with Scott Robinson.
“He was a tough football player who took that mentality into baseball. He attacked the hitters,” Kemble said. “He’s a great guy.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I love the guy,” LeBlanc said.
They stay in contact and often text or talk to each other about a variety of topics, including upcoming opponents.
Tuesday’s matchup is an intriguing one between teams that are entrenched in the top four of the Heal Point Standings in their respective classes. Skowhegan is third in A North while Bangor is fourth in AA North.
Skowhegan has yet to be tested this season, winning its nine games by an average of 38.7 points. Due to COVID-19 issues at other schools, the River Hawks haven’t played since Jan. 8.
Bangor is looking to bounce back from a 46-40 loss at Windham on Friday night that snapped its four-game winning streak.
Skowhegan has one of the state’s best players in 6-foot senior point guard Jaycie Christopher, who is averaging 23.4 points, 11 rebounds, eight steals and eight assists per game. She will attend Boston University.
She was the only sophomore selected to the Bangor Daily News All-Maine Schoolgirl First Team two years ago.
“She is a really elite player,” Kemble said. “Not only is she extremely skilled, she is also very physical and strong. And her basketball IQ is tremendous. She makes all of her teammates better.”
“She’s like having an assistant coach out on the floor,” said LeBlanc.
Christopher, a 1,000-point scorer, said she is looking forward to the game.
“They give you a chance to see where you’re at as a team and the things you need to work on,” Christopher said. “They help you get ready for the tournament. You want to be playing your best basketball in February.”
Kemble agreed that more competitive teams are more beneficial to a team’s growth.
“You want to play in games where you have to compete for 32 minutes,” Kemble said. “When you get to the tournament, you have to do that four times [to win a state championship]. There are no gimmes.”
Christopher said they are looking forward to getting back on the court after the layoff.
Points likely will be at a premium because Skowhegan has allowed only 31.4 points per game while Bangor is limiting opponents to 33.8 ppg.
“Bangor is tough. They play hard the whole time. They share the ball well and they’re really good defensively,” Christopher said. “We’re going to have to match their energy, play well defensively and get into transition.”
Kemble said Christopher has a good supporting cast that is coming together as a unit.
“We’re going to have to possess the basketball, take quality shots and not force the issue. We have to defend and rebound and not let them get second shots,” he said.
LeBlanc said speedy Bangor junior point guard Emmie Streams is a tough matchup for Skowhegan.
“We can’t let her get downhill,” said LeBlanc, who will likely assign Christopher to her.
“They’re big and they like to get the ball inside,” he added.
Callaway LePage is averaging 17 points for Skowhegan and Annabelle Morris is producing 11 ppg. Morris’ twin sister Maddy can also score in double figures and Reese Danforth is a quality defender and rebounder.
Junior Abbie Quinn,a 6-foot center, is the only Ram averaging double figures (12.5 ppg) to go with 9.5 rebounds. Streams, who is averaging more than five assists, along with Lily Chandler, Taylor Coombs, Mimi Quinn, Abbie’s sophomore sister, and Laela Martinez have all scored in double figures at least once.
Coombs and Mimi Quinn are also productive rebounders.