A battle of unbeatens for the Class A crown featuring four Mr. Basketball semifinalists highlights a weekend of state championship boys basketball games stretching from Bangor to Portland.
Hampden Academy, winner of 43 consecutive games overall, will attempt to win its second straight state championship when it faces Portland for the Class A title at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.
“The wind blows harder at the top and we knew that coming in,” said Hampden senior forward Zach Gilpin of the attention faced by the defending state champions throughout this season. “That’s why we try to practice as hard as we can every practice and play as hard as we can every game.”
The boys’ side of the championship schedule commences at 8:45 p.m. Friday when Old Town battles Poland for the Class B crown at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
The finals for classes C and D are Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center, with the “D” title game between Hodgdon and Valley of Bingham at 2:45 p.m. and the “C” matchup between Houlton and Waynflete of Portland at 8:45 p.m.
Class A: The Hampden-Portland clash is the lone state final matching No. 1 seeds from Eastern and Western Maine.
Both teams are 21-0 and with a very few exceptions have outclassed their opposition.
Hampden outscored its opponents by an average of 26.7 points per game during the regular season and by 28 points per game in its three Eastern Maine tournament wins. Portland outscored its regular-season foes by an average of 23.4 points and its tourney challengers by 18 points per outing.
Both clubs feature explosive offenses and stingy defenses. Coach Russ Bartlett’s Hampden squad has averaged 73.5 points per game offensively while allowing 46.1 points per outing. Coach Joe Russo’s Portland roster has scored at a 67.9-point clip while yielding 45.3 points per game.
And there’s plenty of star power on both sides. The 6-foot-5 Gilpin is a three-time Eastern A tournament MVP, the current Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A player of the year and a Mr. Basketball semifinalist along with teammate Isaiah Bess, a 6-foot-4 senior wing who also earned KVAC first-team all-star accolades.
Portland boasts three Southwestern Maine Activities Association first-team all-stars in 6-foot-6 senior center Matt Talbot and senior guards Jayvon Pitts-Young and Justin Zukowski. Pitts-Young and Zukowski are both Mr. Basketball semifinalists.
Class B: Perhaps the unlikeliest matchup of all the finals pits Eastern Maine champion Old Town (17-5) against Western Maine champ Poland (13-8) after each finished sixth in its respective Heal point rankings.
This game marks a chance for Old Town to win its first state title since 1991, when the school competed in Class A and its nickname was the Indians. For Poland, a school that opened in 1999, it’s the chance for a first state title, period, in the sport.
Both teams are riding hot streaks, with Old Town winning its last nine games and Poland having won seven in a row.
Coach Brian McDormand’s Old Town club is led offensively by Eastern Maine tourney MVP Garvey Melmed, backcourt mate Eric Hoogterp and center Adam Richardson. Caleb Martin, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, scored 26 points in Poland’s come-from-behind win over top-ranked Greely of Cumberland Center in the WM final to earn tourney MVP honors.
Poland is coached by Tyler Tracy, a Sangerville native and 2003 graduate of Piscataquis Community High School of Guilford, where he played for the Pirates under coach Jamie Russell.
Class C: Undefeated Houlton (21-0) has been motivated by the chance to complete some unfinished business after suffering a narrow loss to Penquis Valley of Milo in last year’s Eastern Maine final.
A testing regular-season schedule prepared coach Rob Moran’s Shiretowners to power their way through the regional tournament, including a 49-33 win over Lee Academy in the regional final.
The Shiretowners, who have allowed 37.3 points per game during postseason play, are led by tourney MVP Kyle Bouchard, a 6-foot-4 forward whose strength and versatility has presented matchup nightmares for opposing coaches.
Waynflete (18-2) has followed a similar path to its first state final, having lost to Boothbay in last year’s WM title game.
The Flyers, coached by former University of Maine forward Rich Henry, also had a testing regular-season schedule. Their only losses came against Class B Lake Region of Naples and Yarmouth, and they own a road win against Western B champion Poland.
Waynflete features 6-foot-3 senior forward Serge Nyirikamba, a Mr. Basketball semifinalist and MVP of the Western C tournament after a 22-point performance during the Flyers’ 62-38 win over Maranacook of Readfield in the regional final.
Class D: Hodgdon (19-3) returns to a state championship game for the first time since winning back-to-back Class C gold balls in 1995 and 1996.
Coach Rob Smith’s third-seeded Hawks are led by 6-foot-5 junior forward Chris Hudson, MVP of the Eastern D tournament after averaging 24.7 points and 15.7 rebounds during Hodgdon’s three victories in Bangor.
Senior guards Deyrell Vargas and Tyler Sherman and junior guard Devon Quint are among other key contributors for the Hawks, who have allowed just 36.7 points per game in four postseason wins.
Valley (17-4) emerged from the No. 4 seed in Western D to advance to the state final for the first time since 2005 — the last in a string of eight straight gold-ball game appearances that included a record six consecutive state titles won between 1998 and 2003.
First-year head coach Luke Hartwell was a key player for the Cavaliers during much of that streak, helping Valley win four state titles before he graduated in 2002.
Valley senior guard Jordan Gillespie was the tournament MVP, while senior guard Dylan Belanger and 6-foot-3 junior forward Teagan Staples are other key Cavaliers.