AUGUSTA, Maine — Two boys basketball teams frustratingly on the fringe of the championship experience over the last five years will take center stage at the Augusta Civic Center on Friday night when top-ranked Hampden Academy faces No. 3 Mt. Blue of Farmington for the Eastern Maine Class A championship.
Game time is 8:45 p.m., just after the 7:05 p.m. girls final between No. 1 Cony of Augusta and No. 2 Edward Little of Auburn.
Hampden had lost in the semifinals each of the last two years, to Edward Little in 2011 and to Brewer in 2010, and the Broncos also fell to Messalonskee of Oakland in the 2007 semis after winning back-to-back Eastern Maine crowns in 2005 and 2006 and the state title in 2005.
This marks Mt. Blue’s first trip to the regional final since the Cougars won the 1997 Eastern A championship, and comes after coach Jim Bessey’s club also advanced to the semifinals in 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 only to be ousted each year.
Hampden (19-1) enters Friday night’s contest coming off a 47-37 semifinal victory over No. 5 Bangor, its 12th straight win overall and third victory in as many tries this winter over the rival Rams.
Coach Russ Bartlett’s club also will be seeking its third win of the season over 16-4 Mt. Blue.
In their first meeting at Hampden on Dec. 16, the Broncos scored the game’s first 13 points and twice held a 20-point lead in the second quarter before Mt. Blue rallied to forge 57-57 fourth-quarter tie.
Hampden then ran off the game’s final nine points to earn a 66-57 victory.
In the rematch at Farmington on Jan. 28, Mt. Blue took a six-point lead into the final minute of the fourth quarter and held a four-point lead with 3.1 seconds left before the combination of a foul, a technical foul and a basket off an inbounding pass sent the game into overtime, where Hampden sophomore Zach Gilpin hit a buzzer-beating jumper to give the Broncos a 65-63 win.
But that’s all just history, says Bartlett.
“I think it’s much like [the Bangor] game here,” he said after Hampden’s semifinal victory. “It’s nice to win those two games, but they really have no bearing on this next game. It’s the next 32 minutes that will determine who’s the Eastern Maine champion.”
Hampden has been led during postseason play by seniors Christian McCue and Fred Knight.
McCue, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A North co-player of the year and a semifinalist for the state’s Mr. Basketball award, averaged 17.2 points per game during the regular season and has averaged 16.5 points in postseason victories over Erskine Academy of South China and Bangor.
Knight, a 6-foot-7 center, has averaged 13 points in the two tournament victories, including a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds in the win over Bangor.
“The playoffs are the time for seniors to step up and Fred’s really stepped up,” said McCue. “He’s been getting better all season and he keeps getting better.”
That duo has teamed with fellow starters Gilpin (at 6-5), 6-6 Logan Poirier and 6-4 Matt Palmer and top subs Brian Fickett, Cam Scott and Tyler Norris to field a fairly tall lineup that has allowed opposing teams 37.5 points per game during the tournament, down from just 45.4 points during the regular season.
“[The height] helps us make up for mistakes,” said McCue. “When we’re rotating we’re a really hard team to score over, so we can put pressure on guys and make them drive to the basket. That’s really our philosophy, to make them drive to the baseline and have them try to shoot over Fred and Logan.”
Mt. Blue led the KVAC in scoring during the regular season at 62.8 points per game and has averaged 62 points in tournament victories over Brunswick and Edward Little.
Coach Jim Bessey’s club features an all-senior starting lineup of 6-6 center Cam Sennick — like McCue a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A North co-player of the year and a Mr. Basketball semifinalist — forwards Nick Hilton and Blake Hart and guards Eric Berry and Steven Yardley.
Hilton averaged 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a game during the regular season while Sennick averaged 16.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
“They’re much more athletic than we are, they want to play faster than we do,” said Bartlett. “We want more of a half-court game and they want more transition.
“It’s differing styles that still want the same outcome at the end, and that’s a win.”