BANGOR, Maine — A year ago, Hodgdon was on the verge of winning an Eastern Maine championship but could not close it out against Central Aroostook.
This time around, the Hawks didn’t leave anything to chance.
Third-seeded Hodgdon used aggressive defense and crisp offense to build a 19-point, second-half lead Saturday morning, riding a 25-point, 12-rebound performance from Chris Hudson to a 49-37 Class D boys basketball victory over No. 5 Southern Aroostook at the Cross Insurance Center.
“It feels like a really big breakthrough, coming so close, not getting there (last year),” Hudson said. “We just used it as motivation to get this one, win this one.”
Coach Rob Smith’s Hawks (18-3) take on Western Maine champ Valley of Bingham in Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. state game in Augusta.
Saturday’s win gave Hodgdon the program’s first championship since it won the 1996 Class C state crown.
“This year, they’ve been more loose,” said Smith, moments after cradling his 3-week-old son Logan in his arms. “We tell them just to have fun, enjoy the game. You never know if you might not get back here again.”
The Hawks, who had been 15 seconds from a title last season but lost in overtime, have two returning starters in Hudson and Sherman.
“Last year stung a lot, so we just wanted to come back this year and get the job done this time,” said Hodgdon senior Tyler Sherman.
Hodgdon employed sticky man-to-man defense that limited the Warriors from Dyer Brook (15-7) to 12-for-33 shooting (36 percent) and also grabbed a 27-19 rebounding edge.
The Hawks won both regular-season meetings, including a 49-46 home victory on Jan. 30.
Hudson, a 6-foot-5 junior center, continued his domination. Southern Aroostook did everything in its power to bottle up the middle with a 1-2-2 zone, but the Hawks used their crafty guards to get into the paint, which helped create high-percentage shots for Hudson.
He shot 10-for-16 from the floor and hit two 3-pointers in another well-rounded effort.
Junior guard Keegan Gardner and senior guard Deyrell Vargas utilized their quickness and passing ability to generate good scoring chances.
Hodgdon’s keys were “defense and get the ball to Chris,” Gardner said. “He’s always going to be mismatched. It was a lot easier to drive and dish it off to Chris, most of the time (against the zone).”
Devon Quint contributed eight points and five rebounds for the Hawks, while Sherman posted six points and three rebounds.
Junior guard Cameron Landry led coach Bill McAvoy’s Southern Aroostook ballclub with 18 points. Freshman Nolan Altvater contributed nine points and five rebounds despite early foul trouble, and Jackson Mathers chipped in with seven points and five rebounds.
The Warriors outscored the Hawks 11-6 from the foul line.
Leading 37-30, Hodgdon began to create some separation late in the third quarter. Quint made two free throws, then Hudson scored from underneath off a Gardner pass and made the ensuing free throw.
Gardner then set up Sherman for a close-range hoop with another penetrate-and-dish assist, giving the Hawks a 44-30 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
In the meantime, Southern Aroostook was mired in an offensive slump. The Warriors went scoreless during a span of 7 minutes, 23 seconds.
“We knew that we couldn’t let them get hot from outside because, as we saw in previous games, once they started shooting outside, they scored a lot of points and everything started working for them,” Hudson said. “We really wanted to make them work for every basket.”
By the time Landry made a nifty driving scoop shot in the lane with 4:44 remaining, Hodgdon had already extended its lead to 49-30 and the outcome was not in doubt.