HAMPDEN — The Hampden Academy and Brewer boys basketball teams returned to action Friday afternoon after an eight-day layoff, and a few moments of rustiness by both clubs weren’t enough to prevent a competitive matchup that’s become the norm this winter in Eastern Maine Class A.
Hampden’s size and depth proved decisive, however, as senior guard Christian McCue scored nine of his game-high 13 points during the final 10 minutes of play as the Broncos remained undefeated with a 57-48 victory.
“I expected some rust today,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “Defensively there’s no excuse for rust because that’s more effort-driven. Offensively you’re going to go through stretches where you struggle a little bit, but I was really happy with our ball movement. We really moved the ball well.”
Hampden, the top-ranked team in Eastern A, is now 6-0. Brewer is 1-5 — with its losses coming against teams (Hampden, Bangor, Lawrence of Fairfield, Lewiston and Mt. Blue of Farmington) that carried a combined 23-6 record into Friday night’s schedule.
Senior forward Logan Poirier added 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for the Broncos, who finished with a 35-21 team rebounding advantage over the shorter Witches.
Sophomore forward Zach Gilpin came off the bench to score 11 points for Hampden — including nine on three 3-pointers during the second period — to stake Hampden to a 25-15 halftime lead.
Brewer closed the gap to 26-18 midway through the third quarter on a layup by junior forward Zach Violette and then had two chances to draw even closer only to have jumpers by junior guard Jeff Weeks and senior guard Yuhi Sasaki fall off the rim.
“We’re right there as a team,” said Brewer coach Ben Goodwin. “but we miss a couple of shots that we can make and it changes the complexion of the game. We missed some shots earlier that were wide open, too, and who knows what happens if we make them. But the kids didn’t stop playing, and they continued to shoot with confidence.”
Hampden stretched its lead to 38-23 on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Cam Scott late in the third quarter and took a seemingly commanding 49-30 advantage after McCue — who was coming off a recent case of strep throat — sandwiched a 3-pointer and a baseline jumper around a followup basket by junior forward Brian Fickett midway through the final period.
“Christian hit two really big shots when we needed them late in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth,” said Bartlett. “We were really dependent on getting him going off a set play today to get him some looks, and we did that effectively.”
Brewer mounted one last rally, outscoring Hampden 12-2 during the next three minutes. Sasaki got the comeback started by hitting a 3-pointer and then stealing the ball from McCue and going in for a layup. After Scott answered for Hampden with two free throws, Brewer junior forward Ian Burgess scored on a short jumper and sophomore guard Brendan Newcomb followed with a 3-pointer and then two free throws to pull the Witches within 51-42 with 2:40 remaining.
Brewer got as close as eight twice during the final 1:05, but Hampden preserved its lead by making eight of its last 10 free throws.
“In stretches we did things really well on both ends of the floor,” said Bartlett, “but in the fourth quarter they became more aggressive offensively and we didn’t play with the same urgency we did earlier in the game so all of a sudden we were on our heels instead of them being on theirs.
“I’m happy with our effort and happy we won, but I’d like to see us close out the game better.”
Sasaki led Brewer’s offense with 11 points, including a 3-of-6 effort from beyond the 3-point arc. Violette added 10 points, while senior forward Matt Cuskelly pulled down a team-high six rebounds.