BANGOR, Maine — Only two boys basketball teams statewide survived the rigors of the regular season unscathed — and both Hampden Academy and Jonesport-Beals enter this year’s Eastern Maine tournament with considerable championship pedigrees.
Defending Eastern Maine Class A champion Hampden Academy is a No. 1 seed for the second straight year, topping last winter’s 17-1 regular-season record with a 18-0 finish this season.
And the Broncos weren’t just undefeated, they were dominant. Coach Russ Bartlett’s club defeated its opponents by an average of 28.6 points per game, with no one coming within single digits of a team that is 40-2 during the last two seasons.
Hampden has been led by veterans Zach Gilpin, Matt Palmer, Cameron Scott and Tyler Norris, with freshman Nick Gilpin also providing a spark, and Brian Fickett and Matt Martin anchoring a productive bench.
But the Broncos are taking nothing for granted in preparing for their quarterfinal at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday night against No. 9 Mount Ararat of Topsham, a 53-52 prelim winner over No. 8 Oxford Hills of South Paris.
“When it comes to the Class A field I really feel it’s all about matchups,” said Bartlett, now in his 10th year as Hampden’s head coach. “How does your team match up with the team you’re playing?
“You must find a way to survive your first-round matchup. If you can get through the first round it’s anyone’s tourney from there.”
Several teams in the Eastern A field are coping with illness or injuries.
Second-seeded EL and third-ranked Lawrence each have been without players due to mononucleosis, and whether EL sophomore point guard Ian Milekis or Lawrence junior guard Xavier Lewis can return to spark his team’s tournament run remains to be seen.
And while fifth-ranked Lewiston has been one of the division’s hottest teams with a nine-game winning streak before a season-ending 54-50 loss to Edward Little last Thursday, a knee injury to senior guard Donne Agossou may leave the 12-6 Blue Devils shorthanded for their quarterfinal against No. 4 Bangor.
Then there is Bangor, a team that was anticipated to be in a rebuilding mode this winter with a new-look roster and a new head coach in longtime college and high school mentor Ed Kohtala.
The Rams were picked seventh in the preseason KVAC coaches’ poll, but their knack for winning close games — Bangor is 4-0 in overtime contests — has left them feeling optimistic entering tournament play.
“It’s exceeded expectations for me,” said Bangor senior forward Matt Cosgrove after the Rams’ win over Brewer last Thursday in the final Class A game to be played at the Bangor Auditorium. “We have a great new coach and we have a great bunch of players who are all working hard.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to be up this high, but we’re just having fun and the guys know when it’s their time to step up and hit that big shot. We’ve had a bunch of different guys hit the big shots that we’ve needed to win those close games.”
Jonesport-Beals is seeking its second straight Class D state championship, but first coach Gordon Faulkingham’s Royals must overcome a deep regional tournament field.
Jonesport-Beals features the school’s career scoring leader in Garet Beal, the 6-foot-5-inch University of Maine-bound senior who has averaged more than 35 points per game this winter. But the Royals also boast quality depth led by forwards Vinal Crowley and Leon Smith and guard Cole Beal.
Top-ranked Jonesport-Beals (18-0) was the lone team to avoid a preliminary-round contest in Eastern D, but several rugged challengers are lurking in the Royals’ path to another crown in the final B, C and D tourney at the Bangor Auditorium.
Second-ranked Washburn features 2,000-point scorer Mitch Worcester and has been buoyed by the return from injuries of two key players, sophomore guard Cameron Bragg and freshman forward Jarrett Olson.
Central Aroostook of Mars Hill struggled late in the season and needed a late rally to secure an overtime win over No. 14 Schenck of East Millinocket in its prelim, but the Panthers historically are a dangerous postseason presence under coach Tim Brewer.
No. 4 Deer Isle-Stonington hopes for a second straight matchup with Jonesport-Beals in the Eastern Maine final, and the Mariners already have given the Royals two tough tests this season in an overtime loss at Jonesport in December and a 64-54 defeat last week at Deer Isle.
Fifth-ranked Hodgdon is another threat to win it all. The Hawks gave Class C top seed Houlton all it wanted during two regular-season losses to the Shires, and their overall height may present a matchup problem for other contenders.
The Eastern B field already has experienced one upset, No. 13 Foxcroft Academy’s 55-45 prelim victory over No. 4 Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston.
Medomak Valley of Waldoboro (16-2) is the No. 1 seed, edging Presque Isle and Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor for that spot, but the Panthers face a dangerous quarterfinal foe in No. 8 Camden Hills of Rockport.
The two Midcoast rivals have met twice already this season, with Medomak Valley winning 63-60 at Waldoboro on Dec. 11 and 95-91 in a four-overtime thriller at Rockport on Jan. 31.
And two of the hottest teams in Eastern B sit outside the top four, No. 5 Caribou and No. 7 Waterville. Caribou had won seven straight games until dropping its regular-season finale to Presque Isle while Waterville will bring a 12-game winning streak into its first regional quarterfinal appearance since 2001 — with all those victories by double digits.
“This whole tournament is up for grabs,” said Medomak Valley coach Nick DePatsy last week. “No matter where you go in, anyone can get bounced at any time.”
Houlton and No. 2 Penquis Valley of Milo separated themselves from the Eastern C pack during the regular season. Each finished 17-1, with Houlton’s loss coming to Class B Caribou in its final game while Penquis’ lone defeat came against Dexter in a game during which the Patriots played without leading scorer Isaiah Bess.
Houlton is led by sophomore forward Kyle Bouchard, while a Penquis team riding a nine-game win streak features its junior tandem of Bess and guard Trevor Lyford.
Two-time defending regional champion Lee Academy, the third seed, has considerable frontcourt size and backcourt quickness in senior guard Julian Diggs.
No. 4 Sumner of East Sullivan brings a six-game winning streak into postseason play, and its quarterfinal against No. 5 Calais could be one of the top matchups of the early rounds as Calais defeated the Tigers 59-57 at East Sullivan on Jan. 21 while Sumner won a 51-50 battle at Calais on Feb. 5.