Auditorium’s tourney finales among gold-ball battles in boys basketball on Saturday

Penquis Valley’s Cody Herbest (left) and Houlton’s Daniel Swallow (right) watch a free throw attempt during the Eastern Maine Class C title game last Saturday at the Bangor Auditorium. Penquis will play in the last tourney game at the Auditorium when it takes on Boothbay in the Class C state final at 8:45 p.m. Saturday.
Penquis Valley’s Cody Herbest (left) and Houlton’s Daniel Swallow (right) watch a free throw attempt during the Eastern Maine Class C title game last Saturday at the Bangor Auditorium. Penquis will play in the last tourney game at the Auditorium when it takes on Boothbay in the Class C state final at 8:45 p.m. Saturday. Buy Photo
Posted March 01, 2013, at 1:30 p.m.

The pursuit of Maine high school basketball’s top prize and the swan song of a historic tournament venue will be the primary storylines Saturday when state championship games in Classes A, C and D are in Augusta and Bangor.

Hampden Academy (21-0) returns to the Class A title game set for 7 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center against South Portland seeking to take the one step that eluded them a year ago when the Broncos fell to Deering of Portland in the state final.

“Losing last year was definitely not a good deal,” said Hampden junior forward Zach Gilpin, the Eastern A tournament MVP. “And even though I’m a junior and have next year, there’s no guarantee that we’ll get back here, so we want to seize the moment and execute when we have the chance on Saturday.”

South Portland (18-3) is seeking its first state title since outlasting Bangor 81-79 in their five-overtime 1992 Class A final.

Coach Phil Conley’s Red Riots feature senior point guard Tanner Hyland, the Western A tourney MVP who averaged 19.7 points and 5.8 assists per game during the regular season and scored 30 points in South Portland’s 56-52 win over Bonny Eagle of Standish in the regional final.

“Obviously the conversation begins with Tanner,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “He’s very skilled, and he’s probably going to be the best perimeter scorer we’ve played against this year and a real challenge for us defensively.”

South Portland also will have a height advantage up front with 6-7 senior Jack Tolan, 6-3 senior Ben Burkey and 6-5 sophomore Jaren Muller.

“It will be the first time we’ll see two guys 6-5 on the floor all the time that we’re going to have to guard,” said Bartlett. “We’ll have to be physical down low and make sure we keep them off the glass and try to eliminate some of their high-low game.”

Saturday’s schedule also marks the final day of tournament basketball at the Bangor Auditorium, which is scheduled to be replaced later this year by the Cross Insurance Center currently under construction just a few feet away.

The Class D boys final between Central Aroostook of Mars Hill (17-5) and Forest Hills of Jackman (19-2) is set for a 2:45 p.m. start, with the final tournament game ever to be played at the Auditorium, the Class C clash between Penquis Valley of Milo (20-1) and Boothbay (20-1) at 8:45 p.m.

“There’s a history there because there’s been so much basketball played there, so many good games there and so many fans,” said Penquis junior guard Isaiah Bess, the Eastern C tourney MVP. “I think it’s the best place to play basketball in Maine. At tourney time with all the fans, the food, the seating, the lighting, everything, it’s an awesome, awesome place to play. I feel pretty honored to be in the last game there.”

The afternoon boys contest features a Central Aroostook team with a flair for the dramatic seeking to extend its run in state championship games to 7-0.

The Panthers lost four of their last five regular-season games this winter, then rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to edge Schenck of East Millinocket in overtime in the preliminary round. Two more overtime victories followed, in the semifinals against Washburn and the regional final against Hodgdon, to advance coach Tim Brewer’s club to its fifth state championship game in the last nine years.

That tourney run was led by senior center Steven Decker, the Eastern D tourney MVP, and fellow all-tourney selections Joe Stiles and Chandler Brewer.

Forest Hills is back in the state final for the second straight year after falling to Jonesport-Beals 83-45 a year ago.

Coach Anthony Amero’s Tigers returned virtually intact this winter, led by the school’s career scoring leader in 6-3 senior Evan Worster and 6-1 senior center Derick Ouellette, the Western D tourney MVP.

In Class C, the Penquis-Boothbay matchup includes a battle of coaches with a combined 958 career wins. Penquis’ Tony Hamlin earned his 400th victory when the Patriots defeated Houlton 46-41 in the EM final, while Boothbay’s I.J. Pinkham owns a 558-277 record over more than four decades on the sidelines, including the last 36 years with the Seahawks.

Penquis relies on a stingy defense and the scoring supplied largely by Bess and fellow all-tourney choice Trevor Lyford.

Boothbay counters with a fast-paced attack spearheaded by senior guard Anthony DiMauro.

“We like to run, too, so we’re not going to delay the game,” said Hamlin. “We want to be smart on the offensive end, but we need to get out in the open court and play. Hopefully our defense is stiff enough to make them have to work to score.”

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