HAMPDEN, Maine — Truth be told, Hampden Academy boys’ basketball players probably still hasn’t completely come down from the miracle finish Friday night that advanced the team to the Class A state championship game for the second straight year.
But there is that ultimate challenge awaiting the undefeated Broncos, this time against Western Maine champion South Portland at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday night.
And as Hampden fell to Deering of Portland in the 2012 state final, further homages to freshman guard Nick Gilpin’s buzzer-beating 30-foot runner that enabled coach Russ Bartlett’s club to edge Lawrence of Fairfield 40-39 in this year’s Eastern Maine title game will have to wait a week.
“Obviously that was one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen, and probably the best game I’ve ever been part of, too, because Lawrence played really well and had a great game plan and coach [Mike] McGee’s a great coach,” said Hampden junior forward Zach Gilpin, who set up the game-winning shot by rebounding a missed free throw with four seconds left and then passing the ball ahead to his younger brother.
“But we talked Monday about how we know we’ve got one more game left and we can look back on that shot hopefully after we’re holding that gold ball. We’ll know that was the shot that got us there, but right now we know we’ve got to take that one extra step. We can’t fall short like we did last year.”
That’s not to say the immediate aftermath of the victory over Lawrence didn’t have its celebratory moments before the Broncos turned back to basketball business. Some team members spent time Saturday watching the Eastern B-C-D tourney at the Bangor Auditorium, and Nick Gilpin, for one, received some additional local accolades of sorts.
“It was pretty crazy,” he said. “I remember the basketball team had to pick up after the tournaments for the seventh- and eighth-graders [at Reeds Brook School in Hampden on Saturday afternoon] and girls came up who were playing in the games before and asked to take pictures with me.”
The game-winning shot even earned the Broncos national attention on ESPN.
“I guess I was the number four play on their top 10 plays, which was probably the sweetest thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Nick Gilpin. “It was sweet having [ESPN anchor] Stuart Scott saying my name.”
But when the team returned to its regular practice schedule Monday, Bartlett turned his team’s attention to the task ahead.
“For the weekend we got away from basketball, and I’m sure Nick Gilpin shook a lot of hands Saturday at the Auditorium and the kids were well received at school on Monday,” said Bartlett. “But we talked about yesterday that as fortunate as we are to still be playing that we need to move forward and put Lawrence behind us.
“It’s something we can talk about when the season’s over because there’s a lot to talk about. It’s kind of the Joe Campbell moment in our school’s history, but now we need to get ready for South Portland.”