The defending Eastern Maine champion Hampden Academy Broncos girls and their neighbors, the Bangor High School Rams, certainly aren’t among the favorites to win this year’s installment of the regional Class A basketball tournament that begins Friday at the Augusta Civic Center.
After all, Bangor needed a 72-69 win over Brewer in its regular season finale just to snare the ninth seed and a rematch with Brewer in a preliminary game just to get into the tournament. That left the Rams with a 7-11 record.
The Broncos lost three of their last four to wind up 10-8 and earn the seventh seed.
But the Rams turned in an impressive performance in the prelim, ousting eighth seed Brewer 70-47 to earn a first-round date with undefeated and top-seeded Cony High of Augusta.
And the Broncos topped fourth seed Messalonskee of Oakland 41-30 in its regular season finale after giving Cony a hard-fought battle in a 38-30 loss.
“I’ve got to hand it to our kids,” said Bangor coach Katie Herbine. “We had one tough stretch where we lost six in a row but they stuck with it and fought through it. They were resilient. And they really came together in the Brewer [preliminary] game.
“I’m glad to see them have success. They worked really hard even when things weren’t going well,” added Herbine.
Hampden Academy coach Chad Bradbury said his team finally overcame some nagging injuries and illness and “they all started buying in to our defensive game plan.
“Nobody is taking a trip off [defensively] anymore and we’ve become much more patient offensively,” added Bradbury. “That has been a key. We aren’t rushing our shots any more.”
The Rams, who have five regulars 5-foot-9 or taller, have been led by junior point guard Denae Johnson, who has averaged nine points, eight rebounds and five assists per game, and 6-2 senior forward Kate Brochu (10 points, 11 rebounds). Junior guard Jordan Seekins and freshman guard Mary Butler had been averaging six points but Seekins poured in 39 in the two victories over Brewer and Butler had 27.
Senior forwards Kristen Henigan and Erin Boulier supply rebounding and strong defensive play and the Rams also have received valuable contributions from forwards Cordelia Stewart, Kayla Snow and Liz Hintz.
The 6-2 Stewart had 21 points in the Brewer triumphs.
Bradbury’s guard-laden Broncos feature junior Jordan Maxwell (12.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and seniors Ashley Danforth (11.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Helene Sherburne (7.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg). Juniors Alex Winchester and Ellie Webb are the other starters and have had solid campaigns and have helped fortify a defensive effort that has limited opponents to 45 points or less on 10 occasions.
Junior Kayla Clewley and sophomores Cassie Bean and Elise Arsenault have been “great role players and given us a spark defensively [off the bench],” said Bradbury.
Bradbury has been encouraged by his team’s recent play.
“The last two games were as good as we’ve played all year and, hopefully, it’ll carry us to some tournament wins,” said Bradbury. “If we can keep games in the low 40s, we’ll be in good shape.”
Cony will be the favorite and coach Karen Magnusson feels her Rams will have momentum entering the tourney.
“We’ve been playing good basketball. We’re playing with confidence,” said Magnusson, whose swarming pressure defense has limited opponents to fewer than 40 points 11 times.
Cony’s marquee players are seniors Mia Diplock (16.5 ppg, 4.8 apg) and Melanie Guzman (7.4 rpg) and junior Josie Lee (11.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.5 apg). Diplock and Lee are guards and Guzman is a forward.
Senior guard Bethany Elwell and junior forward Emily Sanford are a nice complement to Diplock, Lee and Guzman, and Magnusson receives quality minutes off the bench from Julie Arbour, Heather Leet and Olivia Deeves along with Emily and Hayley Quirion. The Quirions are two of the three triplets on the team along with sister Lindsey.
Edward Little of Auburn, 15-3, has won 15 of its last 16 behind Ashlee Arnold (16.6 ppg), Crissy Lewis (8.9 rpg) and Kory Norcross; Mt. Blue of Farmington, 12-6, finished with four wins in its last five games and has been led by Gabrielle Foy and Miranda Nicely; Mt. Ararat of Topsham, 12-6, has won five of its last six and features Mallory Nelson and Caitlin LaFountain; 13-5 Messalonskee of Oakland won seven straight before losing to Hampden Academy in its final game and has been paced by co-captains Mary-Elizabeth Badeen and Megan Pelletier; and Skowhegan, 11-7, has been sparked by Amanda Johnson, who is considered the best player in the tournament by Bradbury.