ROCKPORT, Maine — The Camden Hills Windjammers have been so successful for more than a decade — winning two Class B state championships and three Eastern Maine titles in the last three years alone — that the perception is they might be immune to postseason jitters.
But with a much different cast than a year ago making its playoff debut in Wednesday night’s preliminary-round contest against Washington Academy of East Machias, it took some time for coach Jeff Hart’s club to grow comfortable with its postseason surroundings, even on its home court.
But after a sluggish first half when they shot just 23 percent from the field, the eighth-seeded Windjammers regrouped behind senior guard Adam Carlsen to pull away to a 69-50 victory.
“There’s a lot of kids who haven’t been in this position before in a big game like this and there were some playoff jitters we got out of the way in the first half,” said Carlsen, the lone returning starter from Camden Hills’ 2011 state championship team. “At halftime we got everybody fired up for a strong second half, and we got it going.”
Camden Hills will take a 12-7 record into Saturday’s 3 p.m. regional quarterfinal against top-ranked Mount Desert Island (18-0) at the Bangor Auditorium.
Washington Academy, in its first year as a Class B program after moving up from Class C, ends its season with an 11-8 record.
Carlsen scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, and Camden Hills also got a big boost from sophomore Colin Morse, who had missed Camden Hills’ final 14 regular-season games after suffering a fractured bone in his left ankle but returned to game duty after just two practices to score 15 points and grab seven rebounds against the Raiders.
“We’re a different team with him playing,” said Hart. “With him out there, everybody else goes back to where they’re comfortable playing, and he has such a good feel for how the game is played, he has good instincts. It’s just too bad I have to limit his minutes.”
The limit on Morse’s playing time had more to do with conditioning than anything else, but the 6-foot-2 forward was excited about the opportunity not only to return the lineup but to contribute in a major way.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for so long,” said Morse, who was injured Dec. 20 during Camden Hills’ 74-59 win over Oceanside of Rockland. “It felt really good being out there. I was kind of out of shape a little in the beginning, but I kept hydrated and everything got flowing and I just felt great.”
Morse had nine points and seven rebounds in the opening two periods, but Camden Hills held just a 27-24 lead after a first half in which both teams struggled from the field.
And Washington Academy wasn’t about to go away on its own accord after intermission, either, taking a 36-34 lead on an inside basket by Christos Illopoulous-Ontoemelam with 2:48 left in the third quarter.
But Camden Hills closed out the period with eight straight points to gain control. Andrew Flanagan hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, Chandler Crans made a fast-break layup and Carlsen connected on a fast-break 3-pointer off a feed from Connor Hart to give the Windjammers a 42-36 lead.
“We had a lot more intensity and got some big stops in the second half,” said Carlsen. “We got some good deflections and tips for steals and got some layups out of them.”
WA’s Tyler Varney answered with a jumper to pull the Raiders within 42-38, but a 15-foot jumper by Crans gave Camden Hills a 44-38 lead at the end of the period and another 3-pointer by Carlsen stretched the Windjammers’ lead out to 47-38 with 7:39 left in the game.
Carlsen went on to score 10 points in the final quarter, and Camden Hills made 13 of 16 free-throw attempts down the stretch to deny WA a significant comeback opportunity.
“At halftime we talked about not needing to be so tentative taking it to the basket,” said coach Hart, whose team made 12 of 25 field-goal tries after intermission. “I thought we did a much better job of that in the second half. We got the ball where we wanted it.”
Crans finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Windjammers, while Connor Hart had 10 points and six assists and 6-5 center Taylor Hall had nine points and nine rebounds.
Junior guard Jacob Schoppee led Washington Academy with 14 points, including three 3-pointers, while Illopoulous-Ontoemelam had 13 points and 11 rebounds despite foul trouble that sidelined him for much of the second half.
Senior forward Nick Pineo added seven points and a game-high 12 rebounds for the Raiders.