HAMPDEN — After a first quarter almost too good to be true, the Hampden Academy boys basketball team still needed a big finish to outlast Mt. Blue of Farmington 66-57 in an early season showdown of Class A powers Friday night.
The Broncos, who scored the game’s first 13 points and stretched its lead to 20 points early in the second quarter, withstood a second-half response by the visiting Cougars that closed the gap to 58-57 late in the fourth quarter before Hampden secured the victory with eight unanswered points.
“I think anytime you have a big lead like that against a good team they’re going to get back in the game,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “We played really well the first half and they didn’t, and then in the second half they turned us over some.
“I’m most proud that we just found a way to win. We didn’t hang our heads, we kept playing through the mistakes and finally made some shots and then were able to create separation with a couple of stops.”
One hustle play epitomized Hampden’s late-game resilience.
After Logan Poirier made two free throws to give the Broncos a 60-57 edge with 57.4 seconds remaining, Zach Gilpin tipped the ball away from Mt. Blue point guard Eric Berry and into the backcourt, then raced to tip it forward again. As Gilpin’s momentum sent him toward the basket, teammate Cam Scott came up from behind to make a diving tip of the ball ahead to Gilpin, who then converted a dazzling three-point play to give Hampden a six-point cushion with 39.2 seconds left.
“I just saw Zach tip the ball and then I saw it come loose and I knew I needed to get on it and make a play because we needed a boost at that point,’ said Scott,. “I saw Zach ahead of me and just knew I had to tip the ball up court.”
Gilpin was left with a contested shot from the right side of the basket, and he was fouled while shooting and then made the subsequent free throw to extend Hampden’s lead to 63-57.
“I tipped the ball, and (Berry) was trying to cut me off but I was able to tip it again just enough to get it away from him,” said Gilpin. “Then Cam made a great play, he came out of nowhere.”
Hampden, the pick to win Eastern Maine Class A in a preseason poll of the division’s coaches, is now 3-0. Mt. Blue, picked second behind the Broncos in that same poll, is 2-1.
“We didn’t look very ready to me in the first quarter,” said Mt. Blue coach Jim Bessey. “I was hoping someone might assert themselves over the group and lead us out of the quandary we had gotten ourselves into, but that did not materialize.
“But I was pleased with our effort in the second half. We played hard and made a nice comeback.”
Gilpin made a 3-pointer and Matt Palmer added a three-point play after a steal as Hampden took a 13-0 lead barely five minutes into the contest, and that margin grew to as much as 27-7 and 29-9 early in the second quarter.
“We came out focused and with a purpose,” said Hampden guard Christian McCue. “We were doing all the little things, boxing out, getting and good shots, and we were playing the most focused we have so far this year.”
But Mt. Blue, which committed eight turnovers before scoring its first basket, gradually settled down, though Hampden still led 40-23 at the break.
The Cougars’ Nick Hilton then scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter, and that combined with a turnover-in 2-3 half-court zone trap and full-court pressure fueled Mt. Blue’s comeback.
The Cougars initially crept within 44-39, but McCue hit a 3-pointer to ignite a countering run of seven unanswered points by Hampden, with Palmer then scoring on a drive before stealing the ball and feeding Tyler Norris for a baseline jumper that restored the Broncos to a 51-39 lead at the end of the period.
Mt. Blue had one more comeback left, using a 10-2 run to pull within 53-48 on a Steven Yardley free throw with 4:53 left in the game and then getting within 58-57 on a Chad Luker free throw with 1:27 to play.
“They threw a lot of different looks at us, a lot of presses and zones,” said McCue, who led Hampden with 17 points. “That kind of threw us off a bit but somehow we managed to stay above water and get just enough baskets and make just enough plays.”
Gilpin scored 14 points for the Broncos while Fred Knight had10 points and six rebounds. Palmer came off the bench to add nine points, six rebounds and three steals, and Poirier contributed eight points, five rebounds and three blocked shots while helping to limit Mt. Blue standout Cam Sennick to a 3-for-11 shooting night from the field.
Hilton led Mt. Blue with 17 points, while Sennick scored 12.