AUGUSTA, Maine — Integrating talented individuals into a cohesive team is one of the keys to success in any sport.
Perhaps that’s one big reason the three teams with two semifinalists for the Mr. or Miss Maine Basketball awards — the Hampden Academy and Portland boys squads and the Catherine McAuley of Portland girls team — entered postseason play this winter with a combined 53-1 record.
Zach Gilpin and Isaiah Bess of Hampden, Jayvon Pitts-Young and Jordan Zukowski of Portland, and Allie Clement and Olivia Smith of McAuley were among 21 semifinalists announced Wednesday for the annual awards, which are presented to the state’s outstanding high school senior players based on on-court performance as well as their contributions to their teams and Maine basketball.
This year’s honorees will be announced at the Maine McDonald’s High School Senior All-Star Banquet scheduled for Friday, March 7, at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Also named Mr. Basketball semifinalists were Jon Phelps of Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Isaiah Stone-Patterson of Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston, Trevor Lyford of Penquis Valley of Milo, Dustin Cole of Bonny Eagle of Standish, Michael McDevitt of Greely of Cumberland Center, Serge Nyirikamba of Waynflete of Portland and Jacob Moody of Wells.
Other Miss Basketball semifinalists are Parise Rossignol of Van Buren, Hannah Shaw of MDI, Anna Mackenzie of Nokomis of Newport, Raychel Alley of Stearns of Millinocket, Emily Quirion of Cony of Augusta, Nina Davenport of Freeport, Alison Furness of Wells, and Tiana-Jo Carter of Lake Region of Naples.
The Hampden tandem of Gilpin and Bess were first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine selections as juniors representing different schools — Hampden Academy for Gilpin and Penquis Valley for Bess.
But the transition to being teammates with Bess’ transfer to Hampden has been smooth, as the Broncos recently completed their second straight undefeated regular season and carried a 41-game winning streak into Wednesday night’s Eastern Maine Class A semifinal against Edward Little of Auburn.
“[Bess] and Zach can feed off each other,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett before the tournament. “They’ve had a couple of nights when they’ve both had mid-20s and there’s also been nights when Zach wasn’t playing real well and Isaiah has had to carry us and was ready to do so.”
Gilpin, who led Hampden to the 2013 Class A state title, is at home working on the wing or along the baseline, and his combination of height, strength and quickness has made him an extreme matchup challenge for opposing defenses, as evidenced by the third-year starter’s averages of 23 points and 11 rebounds per game this winter.
“He’s just physically stronger than everybody,” said Bess of Gilpin, the 2014 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A player of the year. “In Maine it’s tough for people to match up with him because he’s 6-5 and probably over 200 (pounds) and he’s pretty skilled. It’s hard to find someone with that size and that athleticism to guard him and keep him in check.”
Bess, who teamed with Lyford to lead Penquis Valley to the 2013 Class C state crown, is at home working on the wing or along the perimeter. He has averaged 14 points per game this winter while joining Gilpin as a KVAC Class A first-team all-star after scoring at a 26 points-per-game clip last season.
“It’s definitely easy to play with Isaiah,” said Hampden senior guard Cam Scott. “He sees the floor very well and if we need a big shot we don’t only have to go to Zach, we have Isaiah who can knock down the three or take it to the rim. He’s really strong going to the rim, so I think that’s definitely his strength.”
Pitts-Young and Zukowski recently were named Southwestern Maine Activities Association first-team all-stars while helping Portland emerge as the only undefeated boys basketball team in Western Maine this winter regardless of class. Pitts-Young averaged 12.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.8 steals per contest for coach Joe Russo’s Bulldogs while Zukowski has averaged 5.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.8 steals per outing as the Portland point guard.
Clement and Smith, who both plan to play Division I college basketball next winter — Clement at Marist and Smith at Dartmouth — have helped McAuley win three consecutive Class A state championships. The Lions also went 17-1 during the regular season this winter, with the lone loss ending the team’s 56-game winning streak.