AUGUSTA, Maine — Zach Gilpin may not have been completely satisfied with his offensive accuracy during the first two rounds of the Eastern Maine basketball tournament.
So the 6-foot-5-inch senior forward made up for lost shots at the Augusta Civic Center on Friday night in leading Hampden Academy to their third straight regional championship.
Gilpin erupted for a career-high 38 points in barely three quarters of playing time as the unbeaten Broncos (21-0) rolled to an 82-54 title-game victory over Oxford Hills of South Paris that wasn’t really that close after the reigning defending state champions scored 20 unanswered points during one second-quarter stretch to essentially put the game away.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can help my team win games,” said Gilpin, a semifinalist for the state’s Mr. Basketball award. “My teammates know that and that’s what we buy into as a team. Anything you can do to help the team win, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
The victory, Hampden’s 43rd in a row, advances coach Russ Bartlett’s club to next Saturday’s state final at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland against either Portland or Bonny Eagle of Standish, who meet for the Western A title Saturday night.
“It’s been a fun run,” said Gilpin, who has helped Hampden compile a 63-2 record during his three years as a starter. “Obviously basketball is what we love to do and we look forward to it every year. We know we’re not satisfied right now, we’ve got one more game (next) Saturday coming up against either Bonny Eagle or Portland and either way we know it’s going to be a great game and we’re looking forward to a dogfight.”
Sixth-ranked Oxford Hills, which had defeated No. 3 Bangor and No. 2 Brunswick on its way to the regional final, also had given Hampden one of its toughest games of the regular season before falling 66-58 to the Broncos on Jan. 28.
This game bore little resemblance to that earlier meeting.
“The first game at Hampden they came out with more intensity and tonight we talked about coming out and matching their intensity early,” said Gilpin. “I think we did that.”
And he was a major reason why.
Gilpin made his first shot, a 3-pointer from the left wing, in the game’s opening 30 seconds and went on to convert 12 of 20 shots from the field overall — including 4 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also hit 10 of 11 free throws.
“I think in the first two games he didn’t shoot the ball at as high a percentage as he typically does,” said Bartlett. “I think he understands that in a big game he needs to carry us a little bit and he did that tonight.
“He got off to a good start, and when he gets off to a good start like that he’s one of those players that can keep it going for a whole game. Some guys do it for a half or a quarter, but he gets things started and is able to maintain that for the whole game and stay in that zone and be real assertive.”
Isaiah Bess added 13 points for the Broncos while Nick Gilpin added nine as Hampden secured its 10th straight victory in postseason play at the ACC.
Gilpin set an aggressive offensive tone from the outset with seven quick points, and when younger brother Nick Gilpin hit a 3-pointer of his own, the Broncos had a 14-5 lead four minutes into the contest.
Oxford Hills did scrap back, getting within 20-16 on a baseline drive by sophomore standout Andrew Fleming and two free throws by Luke Davidson with 6:43 left in the first half.
The comeback apparently inspired the Hampden players to the point of a clinic-like 26-1 run — the final 20 of those points coming without an Oxford Hills answer — during which the Broncos scored three points at a time on four different occasions, a 3-pointer by Zach Gilpin and three three-point plays, two by Gilpin and the third by Jake Black.
In the meantime, Oxford Hills was digging itself deeper and deeper into foul trouble — with a frustrated Fleming picking up his third and fourth fouls on back-to-back possessions and teammates Dalton Rice and Matt Beauchesne saddled with three fouls apiece before halftime.
Hampden’s lead was 48-24 at intermission, and Oxford Hills got no closer than 23 points over the final two periods.
“I think it’s one of those things that we’re really senior-laden and we’ve been through this before and understand how important it is to get off to a good start,” said Bartlett. “I’m sure there were nerves, but there probably were more nerves in the other locker room than there were in ours and I think that showed a little bit tonight.”
Davidson led the Vikings with 16 points, while Fleming finished with 11.
“Our team definitely came out ready to play tonight, I thought it was a great team win,” said Gilpin. “At the beginning we really tried to focus on not letting Fleming get too many easy buckets and Isaiah did a good job on him, and once he picked up his second foul coach switched me onto him and I felt the team as a whole did a good job of defending him.”