AUGUSTA, Maine — Few opponents have been in position to challenge the Hampden Academy boys basketball team late in a game this winter.
So when Lewiston was within 10 points of the undefeated Broncos in the waning minutes of the third quarter of Wednesday night’s Eastern Maine Class A semifinal at the Augusta Civic Center, the Blue Devils had reason to contemplate the possibility of a major upset.
It was a momentary flirtation.
Top-ranked Hampden responded with a blitz of 21 unanswered points, and the surge that extended into the fourth period propelled coach Russ Bartlett’s club to a 65-35 victory and its 20th consecutive double-digit win of the winter.
“We just started getting on a roll, and we play together really well,” said Hampden senior forward Tyler Norris, who scored a game-high 18 points. “We’ve been playing together since we were all really little, so it’s team chemistry since like the third or fourth grade. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we know what to do.”
Defending EM champion Hampden (20-0) will play No. 4 Lawrence of Fairfield in Friday night’s regional final. Lawrence (16-4) ousted No. 3 Edward Little of Auburn 49-41 in the earlier semifinal.
Fifth-ranked Lewiston ends its season with a 13-7 record.
Hampden held a 34-20 intermission lead, but Lewiston started the second half quickly with an inside basket by Abdi Hussein and a pullup jumper by Adam Poliquin after a Hampden turnover to cut the Blue Devils’ deficit to 34-24.
“In the third quarter they sped us up a little,” said Hampden junior forward Zach Gilpin. “and coach (Russ) Bartlett had talked in the beginning about how we wanted to play a little slower, but they got in our heads a little bit and got a couple of turnovers.”
Lewiston was still within 40-30 with three minutes left in the period before Hampden closed out the quarter with seven unanswered points. That run began with an attempted slam-dunk tip-in that bounced into the hoop off the rim by Matt Palmer and concluded with five straight points by Brian Fickett, including a three-point play with 2.7 seconds left after he received a dribble-penetration pass from Gilpin.
The Hampden run grew to 21-0 early in the fourth, with Palmer making two free throws and a 3-pointer — the long-range jumper coming just after he blocked a shot at the other end — to help the Broncos score the first 14 points of the period.
“I thought the turning point was Matt Palmer’s almost slam on the follow,” said Bartlett. “Then later he stuck a three and that changed the momentum right there.”
Gilpin finished with 12 points and six rebounds for the Broncos while Fickett added 11 points and six rebounds.
Hussein led Lewiston with 10 points, but Hampden also limited the Blue Devils to 22 percent shooting from the field (12 of 54) with a defensive effort led by junior guard Cameron Scott, who held Lewiston standout Josh Thomas to five points on 2-of-9 shooting.
“I thought Cam did a great job on Thomas, obviously that was a focus for us to force him to take tough shots,” said Bartlett. “We challenged him in front of the whole team in pre-game and he was up for the task.”
Hampden used a 13-0 run midway through the first quarter to build its 14-point halftime advantage.
Norris, a 6-foot-3-inch senior forward, couldn’t have been hotter early for the Broncos, making his first five field-goal tries — including two 3-pointers — en route to an 11-point first quarter that helped Hampden s move out to a 22-12 lead.
“I had the hot hand and I just kept getting touches and executing for my team,” said Norris. “That’s what it’s all about, whoever’s got the hot hand at the moment and tonight it was me.”
That lead grew to 27-12 as Gilpin hit a right-side jumper and passed to Matt Martin for a 3-pointer from the left corner.
Lewiston missed its first 10 shots of the second period before Poliquin’s 3-pointer ended a scoreless drought of 5 minutes, 11 seconds.
But two free throws by Fickett and a mid-range jumper by Fickett pushed Hampden’s lead to a half-high 31-15.