June 20, 2018
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Hampden, Caribou, Houlton, Easton boys basketball teams bring unbeaten records into the New Year

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Hodgdon’s Chris Hudson (left) and Easton’s Hunter Turner chase down a rebound during an Eastern Maine Class D tourney game last February at the Bangor Auditorium. Both players have helped lead their teams to strong starts this season.
By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff

Try as fans might, little of permanence typically can be derived from conclusions drawn less than halfway through any high school basketball season.

Upsets and injuries are just two factors that can transform sure things on New Year’s Day into afterthoughts come tournament time.

But the start of the New Year does represent the final break of sorts — Mother Nature notwithstanding — until postseason play, so let’s use that as an excuse to survey the Eastern Maine boys basketball fields.

Eastern A: To absolutely no one’s surprise, reigning state champion Hampden Academy is atop the division through the first third of its schedule, outscoring opponents by nearly 28 points per game.

The Broncos are achieving their current success in a slightly different manner from their undefeated run to the 2012-13 gold ball.

This year’s club has been more offensive-minded so far, averaging nearly 76 points per game compared to last year’s unit whose stingy defense yielded around 40 points per outing.

Hampden had one scare en route to its current 6-0 record, a double-overtime win at Brunswick. But coach Russ Bartlett’s club is coming off perhaps its most impressive victory to date, a 34-point win at highly regarded Messalonskee of Oakland that extended its winning streak to 28 games.

Bangor Daily News All-Maine senior forward Zach Gilpin has been a double-double machine for the Broncos. He’s joined with younger brother Nick Gilpin — still just a sophomore — and senior defensive stalwart Cam Scott to ease the assimilation of BDN All-Maine senior wing Isaiah Bess, a transfer from Penquis Valley of Milo, into the program and enable sophomores Brendan McIntyre and Jake Black to calmly step into more prominent roles.

Beyond the top seed, the division is as balanced as ever, with 11 of the other 12 teams sporting at least two victories and all 12 with at least two losses. Just three other clubs — Bangor, Messalonskee and Oxford Hills of South Paris — have as few as two defeats, meaning there will be few easy road trips en route to the tournament.

Eastern B: Caribou is the lone unbeaten through the New Year celebration, fortifying its status atop the Big East Conference by sweeping its annual trek to Hancock County last weekend. Coach Chris Casavant’s club began that odyssey with a double-overtime survival of then-undefeated Mount Desert Island on Friday night, then refused to let down the following afternoon while defeating a solid Ellsworth club.

The 6-0 Vikings, led by junior guard Dayne Savage, faced what loomed as the game of the year to date in Aroostook County on Thursday night at home against Houlton, the undefeated leader of Eastern Maine Class C.

The only other Eastern B team with fewer than two losses is Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston, winner of six straight since a season-opening defeat at defending regional champion Medomak Valley of Waldoboro.

The Mariners, who recently scored their 100th victory under head coach Matt Breen, feature senior point guard Isaiah Stone-Patterson, a fourth-year starter who is drawing plenty of attention from Division III college recruiters.

Oceanside has been the best of a crowded lot atop the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B ranks that includes a Medomak Valley squad that like the Mariners graduated significant size off last year’s team but has successfully rebuilt with strong perimeter play.

Traditional power Camden Hills of Rockport — scheduled to visit Medomak Valley on Friday night — also has been in the early KVAC mix but the Windjammers have taken the opposite approach, often using five traditional frontcourt players at the same time to capitalize on its overall team height.

Eastern C: Houlton took a 7-0 record into Thursday night’s showdown at Caribou, and it’s arguably the best-earned undefeated record in the region.

Coach Rob Moran’s Shiretowners already have scored two victories in Washington County, a season-opening win at second-ranked Calais and a victory Monday at third-seeded Washington Academy of East Machias highlighted by BDN All-Maine junior forward Kyle Bouchard’s 1,000th career point.

Houlton, which lost returning starter Kole Buzzeo to a knee injury early in the season, also has defeated Class B Presque Isle and handed Hodgdon, currently No. 2 in Eastern D, its only loss.

Calais has won five straight since its loss to Houlton, with Horace Diffin emerging as a strong inside presence on a balanced roster anchored by junior guard Kyle Johnson. Washington Academy features the talented frontcourt duo Gage Feeney and Austin Seavey.

Lee Academy is another dangerous contender in the division, with its only losses overtime decisions at Calais and Washington Academy, while Bucksport, Dexter and Piscataquis of Guilford are among other teams getting off to strong starts.

Eastern D: The Easton Bears are showing that their trip to the regional semifinals last February was no fluke, racing off to a 7-0 start under coach Dillon Kingsbury. Senior center Hunter Turner has led Easton, scoring more than 20 points per game while also rebounding in double figures.

Second-ranked Hodgdon features some star power of its own in junior forward Chris Hudson, and the Hawks should get another test Thursday night at once-beaten Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook.

Washburn, despite graduating 2,000-point scorer Mitch Worcester to the University of Maine, has re-emerged near the top of the standings, while Machias and Shead of Eastport have been the best of the Downeast Athletic Conference contingent to date.

And Jacob Rioux, a transfer from Hermon, has helped Van Buren get off to a 2-2 start. The senior is averaging a prolific 36 points per game for the Crusaders entering Thursday night’s scheduled home game against Fort Fairfield.

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