AUGUSTA, Maine — Amid a team of veterans determined to make a second straight trip to the state championship game next weekend, it was a freshman who finally made it possible.
Nick Gilpin banked in a 30-foot runner from the left wing as time expired to lift undefeated and top-ranked Hampden Academy to a dramatic 40-39 victory over Lawrence of Fairfield at the Augusta Civic Center on Friday night for its second-straight Eastern Maine Class A boys’ basketball title.
Xavier Lewis was fouled while hitting a fadeaway baseline jumper that gave Lawrence a 39-37 lead with 4.2 seconds left but missed the subsequent free throw — the Bulldogs’ fifth errant attempt from the line during the fourth quarter.
Hampden junior forward Zach Gilpin grabbed the rebound and began advancing the ball before a double-team forced him to pass the ball to his younger brother, who was wide open just beyond halfcourt.
“There was four seconds left and that was enough time for two dribbles,” he said. “I got the rebound and dribbled. They came with a double-team and it was Nick’s man who rotated over so I just threw it to him. I trusted him and knew he was going to make it.”
Nick Gilpin caught the pass, quickly turned to get in shooting position, then lofted a shot from well beyond the 3-point arc that caromed off the backboard and cleanly through the net for the game-winner as the buzzer sounded.
It gave Hampden — a team that had beaten all of its previous 20 opponents by double digits — its first lead since 8-7 early in the second quarter.
“My brother got that rebound and there were two people on him and I thought he was going to let it fly anyway,” said Nick Gilpin. “Then I saw that the ball was coming to me and there was about a second left, and as soon as I caught it I knew I had to let it fly and that’s exactly what I did.
“I thought it had a pretty good chance. I thought it might bank in.”
ESPN’s “SportsCenter” featured the play at No. 3 on its Top 10 plays of the day.
Hampden (21-0) advances to the Class A state final to be played at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 2, also at the Augusta Civic Center.
Lawrence, playing for the final time under retiring head coach Mike McGee, ends its season with a 16-5 record.
“It’s not a good way to go out, but what’s great is that I went out with these kids,” said McGee, who guided his alma mater to 350 victories and two state titles during his 28-year tenure. “They’re tough as nails, they played the game the way I wanted them to play it, and there is no question that while I don’t know if anybody in the bleachers thought we were going to win, I can tell you right now the players and coaches in that locker room did.”
Lawrence controlled the pace of the game with a deliberate offense designed to produce layups and a hard-nosed defense that focused its attention on Zach Gilpin and senior forward Matt Palmer.
Senior forward Spencer Carey did much of the offensive work for the Bulldogs, finishing with a game-high 18 points — including six during the third quarter when Lawrence built its biggest lead in this low-scoring encounter at 24-17 on a 3-pointer by Lewis with 3:45 left in the period.
But Zach Gilpin, beset early in the game by foul trouble, hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Nick Gilpin followed with a jumper to close the gap to 24-22, and junior guard Cam Scott later hit a 3-pointer to keep Hampden within 28-25 by the end of the period.
Scott had carried much of the early offensive load for the Broncos, scoring 11 of his 13 points during the first three quarters.
“They were doing some face-guarding on both Zach and Matt Palmer,” said Scott. “They weren’t applying that much defensive pressure on me so I figured I had to do what I could to help us win.”
Hampden forged ties of 28-28 and 31-31 during the fourth quarter, but each time Lawrence had an offensive response.
Two free throws by Matt Saunders and a baseline drive by Carey gave the Bulldogs a 35-31 lead with 1:42 left.
Zach Gilpin (13 points) then made two free throws, but another drive by Carey restored Lawrence to a four-point lead entering the final minute.
Scott converted a layup off a Zach Gilpin assist to draw Hampden within 37-35 with 51 seconds remaining, and after Lawrence missed two free throws Zach Gilpin sandwiched two game-tying free throws around a Lawrence timeout with 10 seconds left.
Carey then drove and fed Lewis for the go-ahead 10-footer from the left side of the baseline, but Hampden ended up with the final shot — and the freshman delivered.
“We just kept fighting,” said Scott. “We showed a lot of heart, but I actually can’t explain what just happened. The shot was just incredible.”