HAMPDEN, Maine — Nearly everything has gone right for the undefeated Hampden Academy boys basketball team so far this winter, including the schedule.
Of the Broncos’ first 11 games, eight were at home with the only exceptions road victories at Bangor, Brewer and Mount Ararat of Topsham.
But the final three weeks of the season mark a sea change in Hampden’s road back to the tournament, as beginning with Monday night’s 62-29 victory at Skowhegan, coach Russ Bartlett’s club plays six of its final seven regular-season contests away from home.
“We’ve played on the road a little bit, but not games in a row yet,” said Bartlett, whose defending Eastern Maine champions are the last surviving undefeated boys team in Class A statewide. “It’s a good challenge for us due to the fact that we need challenges. It’s something else we can put on our list of things we want to do well, and that’s to play well on the road.”
Top-ranked Hampden continues its road schedule Wednesday with a makeup game at Erskine Academy of South China before traveling to Farmington on Friday to face Mt. Blue.
That’s followed next Tuesday by perhaps the Broncos’ biggest test of the second half of their schedule at Lawrence of Fairfield.
Hampden easily handled the Bulldogs 62-37 in their earlier meeting on Dec. 18, but there stands to be plenty at stake in the rematch as coach Mike McGee’s Lawrence club began play this week with an 11-2 record good for second place in Eastern A.
“We have three [road games] this week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so surviving that week and getting used to playing on the road will be big,” said Bartlett. “Maybe we can use those games a little bit to help prepare us before we go down to Folsom (Gymnasium) on the 29th, which I think may be a game for first place with the Heal points.”
Hampden’s lone late-season home game will be against Brewer on Feb. 1, followed by matchups at Cony of Augusta and at Messalonskee of Oakland during the final week of regular-season play.
Seven unbeatens remain
In addition to Hampden Academy, just six other boys varsity basketball teams statewide entered Tuesday’s schedule with unblemished records.
Three other Eastern Maine squads are among that group, led by 14-0 Houlton, which maintained its perch atop the Class C standings Monday night with a 50-39 victory over Presque Isle. That marked the second victory of the season for coach Rob Moran’s Shires over the Wildcats, the top-ranked team in Eastern B.
Two Class D squads, defending state champion Jonesport-Beals and Washburn, also began the week without a loss. Jonesport-Beals improved its record to 11-0 with a 73-58 win over Greenville on Monday, while Washburn took an 11-0 record into Tuesday night’s game at Fort Fairfield.
Three Western Maine boys teams also remain undefeated, led by Class B’s 12-0 Falmouth, with its next game set for Friday at Wells.
Defending Class C state champion Dirigo of Dixfield also is unbeaten at 13-0, but the Cougars face a major challenge at 12-1 Boothbay on Thursday in a matchup of the top two teams in Western C, according to the latest Heal points.
And the Hyde School of Bath was 9-0 and atop the Western D standings heading into its game Tuesday at North Yarmouth Academy.
Nominees sought for spirit, team awards
Nominations are now being accepted for the Maine McDonald’s Spirit of the Game Award and the Maine McDonald’s/Maine Red Claws Team of the Year Award.
The Spirit of the Game Award honors two high school seniors –- one from Eastern Maine and one from the West — who embody the spirit of the sport, exemplify sportsmanship, support and inspire their teammates and coaching staff and show an ability to overcome obstacles and boundaries.
The Team of the Year Award honors two Maine high school varsity basketball teams –- one boys team and one girls squad -– that have made an exceptional impact on Maine high school basketball and in the lives of others through community contributions, exemplifying sportsmanship, team competitiveness and spirit and commitment to academic excellence.
The deadline for nominations for both awards is Feb. 8, and coaches, parents, principals, community organizations, athletic directors and sports fans are encouraged to submit a nomination form for either or both awards at http://vote.mainemcdonaldsbasketball.org/ or request a nomination form from Kevin Mitchell at 755-9470, Ext .105.
Winners will be announced at the Maine McDonald’s All-Star Games at Husson University in Bangor scheduled for March 8 and 9.