Brian Fickett isn’t unfamiliar with making the big play — he rushed for the game-winning touchdown as time expired last fall to give Hampden Academy a first-round victory over Brewer in the Pine Tree Conference football playoffs.
And Fickett, a reserve forward for the Broncos’ basketball team, was in the right place at the right time again Friday night, his layup off a Matt Palmer inbounds pass with 3.4 seconds left lifting top-ranked Hampden to a 46-44 victory over No. 3 Mt. Blue of Farmington in the Eastern Maine Class A championship game at the Augusta Civic Center.
“That was not at all what was drawn up,” said Fickett of the game-winning play, in which he cut to the baseline past his defender to receive a short pass from Palmer, who inbounded just to the right of the basket.
“I was counting down and Matt had the ball three seconds out of bounds and I was getting worried, but I saw an open spot right near the hoop and took it. I was hoping Matt would see me and he did, and it was a layup.”
The regional title is the first for Hampden since 2006, and advances the 20-1 Broncos to next Saturday night’s state final at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland against the winner of this Saturday’s Western Maine championship game between Deering of Portland and Bonny Eagle of Standish.
“We’re not satisfied,” said Hampden senior guard Christian McCue, who scored a team-high 14 points before fouling out with 2:48 remaining. “We really want to win next week.”
Hampden led for most of the night and held a 42-30 advantage with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
But Mt. Blue (16-5) used fullcourt defensive pressure to fuel a comeback, which already was under way when McCue fouled out and reserve guard Cam Scott soon followed him to the bench with his fifth foul.
“Winning in regulation was going to be key for us,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “Going to overtime was going to be difficult.”
With senior center Cam Sennick and senior point guard Eric Berry leading the way, the Cougars ultimately outscored Hampden 14-2 to forge a 44-44 tie on a free throw by Sennick with 30 seconds left.
Hampden then worked the ball into the frontcourt, but Zach Gilpin’s baseline runner was blocked out of bounds by Mt. Blue’s Nick Hilton.
That gave the ball back to Hampden with 4.8 seconds left, and the unguarded Palmer waited patiently before making a short pass to the cutting Fickett, who laid the ball in from the right side of the lane to give the Broncos a two-point lead.
“As soon as I got the ball I saw Brian coming down the lane and his eyes were as big as anything,” said Palmer, Hampden’s leader in assists throughout the season. “We just looked at each other, and I knew he was going to be there.”
Mt. Blue tried to make a long inbounding pass but threw it out of bounds, and while Fickett then missed the front end of a one-and-one, a desperation 3-pointer by the Cougars’ Nick Hilton bounced off the backboard at the buzzer.
“(Hampden) is a good team, that’s why they have 20 wins,” said Mt. Blue coach Jim Bessey. “You get down to them by 10 and you dig yourself back out …. you get back to the mountaintop but we just couldn’t get over it.”
Sophomore forward Zach Gilpin added 12 points for Hampden and Fickett added eight, six during the fourth quarter. Senior forward Logan Poirier was a defensive key, blocking five shots and helping limit Hilton to four points, 12 below his season average.
“Them coming back was familiar, it seems to happen to us a lot against them, but not having Christian was nerve-wracking,” said Fickett. after Hampden’s third narrow victory of the season over Mt. Blue. “But that’s why we’re a team. We did what we had to do and we pulled it off.”
Berry had 15 points for Mt. Blue while Sennick — like McCue a Mr. Basketball semifinalist — was limited to 11 as Hampden constantly double-teamed the Cougars’ big man in its halfcourt defense.
“We obviously ran a guy at Cam the whole game,” said Bartlett. “We took a chance and basically didn’t guard (Steven) Yardley in the first half. We said if he made three or four consecutive shots we’d make an adjustment, but he only made two and they weren’t consecutive so we ran Zach at Cam the whole game.
“In the first half it was textbook defense, and in the second half in the halfcourt it was great. The problem was we couldn’t guard their transition baskets after we turned it over, and that’s how they got back in the game.”
Hampden scored the game’s first eight points and built its early lead to as much as 17-6 on a jumper by Palmer early in the second quarter.
Mt. Blue was able to close to within 19-16 on consecutive baskets by Blake Hart and Sennick later in the period, but Hampden closed out the half with six straight points on a jumper by Gilpin and two free throws and a jumper by McCue to take a 25-16 lead at intermission.