The Hampden Academy boys basketball team entered Tuesday night’s game against Skowhegan with an 11-1 record, good for first place in the Eastern Maine Class A Heal point rankings, and the Broncos were the only team in the division with fewer than three losses.
The strong regular-season effort can be attributed to several factors, among them depth and team defense.
One player who epitomizes both of those attributes is 6-foot-5-inch sophomore forward Zach Gilpin, who has emerged as one of the better players in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A ranks.
Coming off a 16-point performance during the Broncos’ 42-39 victory at Bangor on Friday night, Gilpin is averaging 12.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game for coach Russ Bartlett’s club.
And the versatility in that offensive game is reflected in the fact that Gilpin is shooting 55 percent from the field on 2-point tries and 47 percent on 3-point attempts.
“I think we’re all starting to find our comfort zones,” said senior guard Christian McCue, Hampden’s leading scorer at 13.9 points per game. “Zach’s really coming into his own as a scorer. You can tell he just feels more comfortable on the court, he’s found his rhythm.”
A more unheralded part of Gilpin’s game is his role within Hampden’s defense, which has yielded an average of 45.3 points per game and allowed just two opponents to score more than 50 points.
“I think we’re making more of an effort on the defensive end, trying to string stops together,” said Gilpin.
Gilpin’s defensive task depends on the opponent. During a victory over Mt. Blue of Farmington, he guarded Cougars’ point guard Eric Berry. During the recent win over Bangor he shadowed 6-6 forward Patrick Stewart.
“Zach’s really coming into it offensively, but we’ve also been having him guard good players most of the year,” said Bartlett. “It’s a lot to ask of a sophomore, but he’s been up to the challenge every night.”
Gilpin and the Broncos could be challenged defensively Tuesday night by Skowhegan’s Levi Barnes, one of the KVAC Class A’s top scorers.
But if Gilpin draws that assignment, McCue, for one, thinks he’s well prepared.
“Zach’s pretty quick for his size and he’s got long arms so he doesn’t have to get right up on a small guy and he can stay with a big guy,” McCue said. “And he had to practice with me all summer in AAU.”
CAHS, Washburn to face off
A much-anticipated game in the Class D boys ranks is scheduled at Washburn on Saturday night when the Beavers host defending state champion Central Aroostook.
It will mark the first of two meetings within a 10-day span between the teams, with the rematch set for Tuesday, Feb. 7, at Mars Hill.
Central Aroostook (12-1) is ranked first in the Eastern D Heal points despite having its 34-game winning streak snapped Monday night in a 43-37 loss at Fort Kent.
Fort Kent, at 9-4 currently ranked fourth in Eastern C, also handed Washburn its only defeat of the season with a 63-57 victory over the Beavers on Dec. 29.
Washburn, 10-1 heading into a home game against Fort Fairfield on Tuesday night, avenged that loss at Fort Kent with a 93-51 victory over the Warriors at home on Jan. 11.
The Central Aroostook-Washburn game matches two teams that have largely dominated their Class D opposition. Central Aroostook, led by 6-foot-7-inch senior center Mike McClung, has averaged 71.2 points per game this season while allowing just 45.8 points per contest.
Washburn, which features a pair of 1,000-point scorers in senior guard Jordan McLaughlin and junior guard Mitch Worcester, is averaging 87.6 points per game — with nine games of 90 or more points — while yielding 45.6 points per outing.
Central Aroostook faces another significant test before matching up with the Beavers, as the Panthers host 8-3 Hodgdon on Thursday. CAHS shaded the Hawks 61-56 at Hodgdon on Jan. 7.