Buoyed by a confidence-building, regular season-ending win over No. 1 Camden Hills last week, the Rockland boys basketball squad earned a spot in the Eastern Class B tournament at the Bangor Auditorium with a prelim playoff win over host Winslow Wednesday night.

The No. 10 Tigers (10-9) beat the No. 7 Black Raiders (12-7) 57-44 and will now move on to the regional quarterfinals over the weekend.

Rockland needed to beat Midcoast rival and host Camden Hills on the final day of the regular season to earn a regional playoff spot and did that. Now the Tigers appear on a roll. During the regular season, the Tigers split with the Black Raiders, winning a season-opening game 57-45 Dec. 4 and losing 53-51 Jan. 22.

Rockland now will face No. 2 Ellsworth (15-3) on Friday, Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in a quarterfinal playoff game at the Bangor Auditorium. The Tigers do not play the Eagles during the regular season.

On Wednesday in the Tiger win over Winslow, Chris Nolan poured in 18 points; Dylan Meklin, 12; Luke Morrill and Aidan Hadley both 10; Joe Nelsen, five; and Josh Harjula, two for Rockland. The Tigers made 15-of-26 free throws (57 percent).

For Winslow, Justin Murray tallied 17 points, 15 of which came from five three-point field goals. Mike McCann added 13 for the Black Raiders; Jack Nivison, six; Brendan Krull, three; Jake Wheeler and Jimmy Riordan, both two; and Kody Price, one. The Black Raiders netted 6-of-15 foul shots (40 percent).

It is the third straight year the Tigers will play postseason basketball at “The Mecca.” Last year, the Tigers advanced to the regional finals, only to lose to unbeaten Camden Hills, which went on to win the state crown.

“It feels great,” said Nolan on going back to the Bangor Auditorium. “This is the third year in a row. It’s nice to be there, but it’s nothing new. We’ll be there and we’ll be ready to play in an environment we’re used to playing in.”

With Nolan’s 18-point effort Wednesday, the sharp-shooting senior has a chance to score his 1,000th career point Friday, Feb. 12 against Ellsworth. He currently has 987 career points, needing 13 to hit that coveted milestone.

Rockland coach Matt Breen said he feels after their upset victory over Camden Hills last week, which pushed RDHS into Wednesday’s prelim game, the Tigers are playing like the team that started the regular season with a 7-2 record.

“I’m happy with the kids because they never gave up,” said Breen. “I mean, these kids, when we went to Camden [Hills], they could have easily thrown in the towel and been done with, but they came out and battled and they believe in what we’re trying to do. And if they keep working hard, who knows what can happen?”

“We have nothing to lose,” said Nolan. “No one expected us to go far. Everyone has doubted us since our six-game losing streak [late in the regular season], and now it’s time to go prove everyone wrong.”

Wednesday’s prelim game was tied 14-14 after the first quarter and Winslow led 21-20 at halftime. However, Rockland used a 16-8 spurt in the third stanza to grab a 36-29 cushion after 24 minutes.

Rockland nearly had a 14-11 edge at the end of the first quarter, but a Tiger turnover gave the Black Raiders the ball under their own basket with five seconds remaining. Murray then banked in a trey at the buzzer on a shot that was well contested by Meklin.

The Tigers came out firing in the third stanza and went on a 10-2 run after Nolan and Morrill each canned 3-pointers and Meklin and Hadley both scored from the floor to give Rockland a 30-23 lead. Meklin knocked down a jump shot to increase the hosts’ lead to 32-23 before Hadley picked up his fourth foul midway through the stanza.

Hadley did not come back on the floor until midway through the fourth quarter, but the Tigers stood their ground.

“[Aidan] was playing great inside for us and we did a great job establishing him and then he picked up the player-control foul and [we] took him out of the game,” said Breen. “Joey Nelsen stepped up and played huge for us tonight. He’s one of those guys that goes in, doesn’t get a lot of credit for what he does but he works his tail off and makes the right decisions.”

Winslow rattled off six straight points after Hadley hit the bench to cut its deficit to 32-29, but Meklin connected on a pair of baseline jumpers to increase Rockland’s lead to seven points at the end of the third quarter.

Rockland then began to pull away in the opening stages of the fourth quarter, going on a 7-0 run on the strength of another Meklin jumper, a Nolan 3-point play and a close-range hoop from Nelsen on a nice pass from Nolan, who was penetrating to the basket.

Free-throw shooting was critical for the Tigers down the stretch, as the visitors hit 13-of-22 foul shots (59 percent) over the final eight minutes.

As the Tigers have proven in their last two games, they can be dangerous – especially when full of confidence. Rockland appears ready to give another higher-ranked foe a run for their money, this time the Eagles of Ellsworth Friday night.

Click for more photos from the Rockland at Winslow prelim playoff game.

VillageSoup sports staff can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at sports@villagesoup.com.