HAMPDEN, Maine — Special seasons typically have their unique moments.
For the Brewer boys basketball team, a special start to its season continued Saturday night with a 53-52 survival of Hampden Academy in Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A play.
The Witches, playing without injured forward Billy Bissell (ankle), got 17 points and 10 rebounds from Dom Drake and 12 points from Tyler Bessette to hold off a Hampden team that rallied from a 16-point deficit in each half.
Brewer (10-1) also scored its fifth victory by four points or less despite missing six free throws and committing a foul in the last 7.7 seconds — all while holding a scant one-point lead.
“At the end of the game we just needed to rebound and make our foul shots,” said Drake. “We kind of got in trouble with that, but we pulled out the win.”
Nolan Turner scored 11 points while Noah Burditt had 10 points and eight rebounds for Hampden, suddenly 6-5 after suffering its third loss of the week.
Brewer never trailed after scoring the game’s first seven points and seemingly broke the game open with a subsequent nine-point run midway through the second quarter.
When Bessette hit a follow-up 3-pointer after an offensive rebound by Coby Hutchins and then added a layup off a Drake steal, Brewer held a commanding 26-10 lead with 4:19 left in the first half.
But Hampden, which committed 11 turnovers during the first two quarters, called time and responded with 12 unanswered points to stunningly draw within 26-22 by intermission.
Jacob Moore had two baskets and an assist to help the run, while Brad Dolan had a basket and two assists, including a pass to Brad Hersey for a jumper with four seconds left to give the Broncos a big dose of momentum entering intermission.
Hersey extended the run to 14-0 with a runner 35 seconds into the second half, but Brewer was able to quickly refocus despite an injury that sidelined Bessette for several minutes.
The Witches crafted yet another run, this time a 10-0 blitz featuring three inside baskets by Drake and regained a 36-24 cushion on a fast-break jumper by Hutchins with 2:35 left in the third quarter.
“Coach came into the locker room at halftime and said we had to start pushing the ball again,” said Drake. “We have pretty good leadership on the team. We knew they would come back, so we just had to step up and get through it.”
Brewer’s lead was 42-26 entering the final quarter, but Hampden relentlessly rallied once more.
Turner began making Rajon Rondo-like forays into the lane for short jumpers, while Dolan made one 3-pointer and added three free throws after being fouled during another long-range try.
Greg O’Donnell hit another 3-pointer and Burditt contributed two baskets before a runner by Turner drew the Broncos within 53-52 with 23 seconds left.
That set up a final sequence that could only be attributed to the glistening full moon that illuminated Saturday night’s clear winter sky.
Hampden was whistled for both an intentional foul and a technical foul with 7.7 seconds left, but Brewer missed all four free throws and then committed a team-control foul on its subsequent inbounds pass.
With still 7.7 seconds left, Hampden missed from the line twice. Brewer rebounded the second miss, and Hampden was forced to foul again. Again Brewer came up empty from the line twice with 3.2 seconds to play, but the best last chance Hampden could get was a desperation shot that fell short as time expired.
“There are a lot of things in life that are like what happened to us tonight,” said Brewer coach Clayton Blood. “You’re on the edge and everything’s going the worst it could go, and you just don’t break. That’s what you have to give the kids credit for, because I don’t think during the last minute and a half or two minutes that Hampden got many easy shots, and before that they were making great penetration and getting good shots.
“But our man-to-man defense hung in there for the win.”