THORNDIKE — A last-second loss here last winter that ended a 32-game winning streak was one of the few low points for the Camden Hills of Rockport boys basketball team en route to its second straight Eastern Maine Class B championship.
And that memory — as well as a defense that forced 22 first-half turnovers — were two factors that enabled the Windjammers to make sure it didn’t happen again as coach Jeff Hart’s club opened its season with a 77-43 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference victory over Mount View on Friday night.
“The whole week coach was telling us about the taste we had in our mouths leaving this gym last year,” said Camden Hills senior guard Joel Gabriele. “We certainly wanted to change that, and I think we did a good job of sending a message to start the year off.”
Gabriele is one of just three veterans back from Camden Hills’ player rotation of a year ago, along with 6-foot-6 classmates Tyler McFarland and Keegan Pieri, and all three were crucial to the Windjammers’ success in their first countable game since an overtime loss to Falmouth in the 2010 Class B state final.
Pieri led the way, scoring a game-high 24 points and adding five steals from Camden Hills’ relentless fullcourt defensive pressure.
“That’s what we expect from him,” said Hart. “He’s a solid player, and the guy we look to to settle things down when we need it. I anticipate he’s going to do that for us all year.”
McFarland, a two-time Bangor Daily News All-Maine center-forward, finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots, while Gabriele contributed nine points, five steals and four assists as Camden Hills built a 24-7 lead by the end of the first quarter and extended that margin to 49-19 by intermission.
“We played all right,” said McFarland. “We’ve made some huge improvements since when we first got together, but there are quite a few things we can get better at. We have a lot to learn, but that’s a good thing if we look at it in the right way.”
Camden Hills never trailed against a Mount View team vastly different in personnel from the 2009-10 squad that reached the Eastern B semifinals, as the Windjammers forced turnovers on the Mustangs’ first three possessions of the game and ended the half with nearly double the number of shot attempts (45-23) as their hosts.
“I wasn’t happy with it, to be honest with you,” said Hart. “We had moments on the ball when we looked good and we got in some passing lanes, but overall as a team we weren’t together defensively. That usually ends up with a team getting a lot of layups, and if you look at the shot chart you’ll see they got a lot of layups, and we didn’t always finish with good blockouts so they got a lot of second shots. We turned them over, but a lot of times it wasn’t because of great defense.”
Mount View was within 11-5 midway through the opening quarter thanks to two early baskets by Erick Neally, but Adam Carlsen came off the Camden Hills bench to make three straight shots — one a 3-pointer — over the final three minutes of the period.
The Windjammers then forced turnovers on Mount View’s first four second-quarter possessions, sparking a run of eight unanswered points — four each by Pieri and Gabriele — to extend the margin to 32-7 before the Mustangs finally answered on a Bobby Porter jumper.
Camden Hills’ first-half cushion also was aided by its 9-of-9 effort from the free-throw line. The Windjammers finished the night 18-of-22 from the line.
It’s early in the season and we don’t have a lot in, but we’ve really been working on our defense so we focused on that and for the most part we played pretty solid defense,” said Pieri, whose team plays its home opener against Belfast on Tuesday. “We had a few times when we had some letdowns there, but it’s early and we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“It was a good start and we’ll take it, but definitely there are a lot of things to improve on.”
Porter led Mount View with 12 points.