BANGOR, Maine — Season-opening games in most sports are rarely artistic successes, for too much nervous energy often derails even the best of strategies.
But Nick Gilpin didn’t know any better, as the freshman guard scored a game-high 15 points in his varsity debut Friday night to lead the Hampden Academy boys basketball team to a 52-41 victory over Bangor at Red Barry Gymnasium.
“I was kind of nervous at the beginning of the game, but I knocked down my first couple of shots and my confidence went up after that,” said Gilpin.
While most of his teammates struggled to make shots, Gilpin either converted medium-range jumpers or drove to the basket and drew contact — resulting in a 7-of-8 effort from the free-throw line.
“Nick’s ability to get the ball in the paint is something that allows us to be harder to guard,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “He’s very unselfish and sees the floor very well, and he’s good in transition and I thought he played great tonight in a tough environment.
“It’s asking a lot to ask a freshman to start here in his first varsity game, but he was up to the task and looked pretty poised.”
The win was the fifth straight for the defending Eastern Maine Class A champions against Bangor in as many mutual season openers between the local rivals, as Hampden built a lead of as many as 16 points early in the second half only to have Bangor get as close as three midway through the fourth quarter.
“That’s the definition of a rivalry game,” said Hampden senior forward Matt Palmer. “We had to come out with fire because it was a really, really good game, they definitely fought us.”
Palmer teamed with junior Zach Gilpin — Nick’s older brother — along with Tyler Norris and Matt Martin to control most of the rebounding action, and that inside strength along with the Gilpins’ ability to dribble into the lane fostered foul trouble for Bangor and free throws for the Broncos.
Hampden made 25 of 40 from the line compared to 3 of 7 for Bangor.
“I saw a very experienced Hampden team out there,” said Ed Kohtala, who was making his debut as Bangor’s head coach. “I know they’ve got some new people in there, but that’s a team that’s experienced success and I thought they were very impressive, particularly on the backboards. Some of the foul trouble we experienced was because of the rebounding advantage I thought they had.”
Zach Gilpin, the leading scorer back from Hampden’s 2012 regional title team, made just two field goals but converted 7 of 11 free throws to finish with 11 points, while Norris and junior point guard Cam Scott each scored seven points.
Bangor’s ability to work the ball inside was hampered by foul trouble, so the Rams turned to the perimeter where they made eight 3-point goals.
Alex Campbell led Bangor with nine points while Matt Cosgrove, the only Bangor senior back from last year’s varsity squad, and Connor Adams each added eight. Campbell and Cosgrove each made two 3-pointers, as did junior guard Hunter Boyce.
“I thought they made some shots and we struggled to make shots,” said Bartlett. “They made some perimeter jumpers, and we didn’t do a good job of closing out. That’s been a trouble area for us and something we need to work on before we play them again.”
Two free throws apiece by Nick Gilpin and fellow freshman Brendan McIntyre gave Hampden a 10-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, and the Broncos used a 12-3 run over the final four minutes of the second half to take a 34-20 halftime lead.
A basket by Norris and two free throws by Nick Gilpin gave Hampden its largest lead at 38-22 with 6:19 left in the third period, but Campbell made a 3-pointer and Cosgrove followed with a backdoor layup off a pass from Campbell to ignite an 8-0 run that pulled Bangor within 38-30 three minutes later.
Hampden used the free-throw line to extend its lead back to 44-32 entering the final period, but Bangor had one more long-distance run left.
Boyce made two 3-pointers from the right of the key and Sean Tocci added a third from beyond the arc to pull the Rams within a single possession at 44-41 midway through the period.
But Zach Gilpin made 1 of 2 from the line, then Nick Gilpin followed in his own miss to restore Hampden to a six-point cushion.
Bangor went scoreless the rest of the way, and Hampden was able to stretch its lead at both the free-throw line and as Zach Gilpin fed Palmer for a fast-break layup.