Hampden Academy and Portland met for the Class A boys basketball state championship one year ago this weekend, with Portland racing out to an early lead and subduing the cold-shooting Broncos 54-40.
The same schools will meet again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in this year’s state final, but there are few other similarities save for returning head coaches Russ Bartlett of Hampden and Joe Russo of Portland.
Five Bangor Daily News All-Maine honorees were among the graduates from the 2014 rosters — Matt Talbot, Jayvon Pitts-Young and Justin Zukowski of Portland and Zach Gilpin and Isaiah Bess of Hampden.
And while last year’s matchup was contested at the former Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, this game will be played at the Augusta Civic Center where Hampden has won 13 straight tournament games, including the 2013 state final over South Portland.
“It’s extremely different,” Bartlett said. “Portland’s playing Hampden again but the only things in common are that Nick Gilpin started for us last year and Stephen Alex started for Portland in that game last year.”
Gilpin, a 6-foot-3 junior guard, was named the Eastern Maine tourney MVP last weekend after leading 19-2 Hampden to its fourth consecutive regional crown. He’s joined by classmates Brendan McIntyre, Jake Black and Conar Moore and freshman center Ian McIntyre in the Broncos’ lineup.
Alex, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, led 19-2 Portland in scoring (16.5 ppg) and steals (4.0 spg) during the regular season and teams with guards Amir Moss and Liam Densmore, and forwards Tanner Foley and Joe Esposito to pace the Bulldogs.
The teams are similar in size, and while Hampden is likely to rely on its trademark man-to-man defense, Bartlett expects Portland to come at the Broncos with trapping fullcourt and halfcourt sets that were effective for the Bulldogs in last year’s meeting.
“The teams are very different and the dynamics are very different from last year,” Bartlett said. “What Joe teaches is the same and what I teach is the same, so it’s consequently who can impose their will on the other team. Obviously, they did that last year and we’re hoping we can do that this year.”
Three other state finals are also on tap this weekend.
Medomak Valley Panthers (19-2) vs. Cape Elizabeth Capers (18-3), 9 p.m, Friday, Cross Insurance Arena, Portland: Medomak Valley returns to Portland for the second time in three years with a chance to secure its first state championship since 1980.
Coach Nick DePatsy’s club earned a hard-fought Eastern Maine title by avenging a regular-season loss to Winslow in the regional final.
The Panthers are led by junior swingman Nicholas DePatsy, the son of the head coach who averaged 22 points per game during the regular season and posted similar numbers while earning MVP honors for the tourney.
The 6-foot-3 DePatsy is helped along the front line by 6-6 sophomore Cameron Allaire, while a deep backcourt group features all-tourney choice Micah Williamson, who along with DePatsy saw duty during the 2013 state final, which Medomak Valley dropped to Falmouth.
Cape Elizabeth, back in the state final for the fourth time in the last eight years but seeking its first gold ball since 1988, had six different players emerging as the top scorer in at least one game this season.
Coach Jim Ray’s Capers were led to the Western Maine title by 6-2 senior forward Eddie Galvin and 6-0 senior guard Evan Murphy, named the tournament MVP after scoring 20 points in a 51-46 win over Lake Region of Naples in the regional final.
Other key players for Cape Elizabeth include 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Quinn Hewitt and 6-foot junior point guard Jack O’Rourke.
Calais Blue Devils (19-2) vs. Dirigo Cougars (19-2), 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Cross Insurance Center, Bangor: These programs are no strangers to each other, as Calais’ most recent state title came at the Cougars’ expense in 2009 when the Blue Devils edged a Dirigo team led by center Tom Knight, who went on to have a productive Division I college career at Notre Dame.
The 2015 editions of these rivals have some common tendencies, according to first-year Calais coach Chris Woodside.
“In a way they’re like us because they crash the offensive boards hard and they get that defensive board and look to get out and run,” he said. “And they shoot a lot of [3-pointers].”
Dirigo features 6-2 junior Riley Robinson, the school’s all-time leading scorer with more than 1,350 points. He averaged 21.7 points while earning Western C tournament MVP honors and averaged nearly 10 points per game from the free-throw line.
Other key Cougars are 6-foot-2 junior forward Clay Swett and 5-foot-7 senior point guard Troy Frost.
“Nothing against the teams we’ve already played, but this is the best team we’ve played yet,” Woodside said. “Dirigo likes to play at a frenetic, fast pace. They’re going to take the ball whether its on a rebound or out of the basket and look to run every single possession.”
Calais is led by its four senior starters — Eastern C tourney MVP Tyler Niles, Mr. Basketball semifinalist Kyle Johnson and guards Andre Paul and Nathan Newell — who helped the Blue Devils persevere through tight spots in each of their regional tournament victories.
“The No. 1 thing that came through during the tournament was there was no quit in this team,” Woodside said. “There were lots of things we did in every game to give teams opportunities, but we were able to shake them off, show mental toughness and play with all heart.”
Fort Fairfield Tigers (18-4) vs. Forest Hills Tigers (21-0), 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Cross Insurance Center, Bangor: Fort Fairfield is in a state final for the first time since 1988, while Forest Hills of Jackman is seeking its second gold ball in three years.
But the programs are not without a major similarity — both lineups rely heavily on four senior starters.
Fort Fairfield, which is attempting to win the first boys basketball state crown in school history, boasts a senior cast, including center Hunter Beaulieu, forwards Robbie Watson and Caleb Daigle and guard Johnny Theriault, along with Eastern Maine tournament MVP Chris Giberson, a sophomore guard.
“Right now the big difference is we’re putting 32 minutes of hard work together, we’re putting the whole game together,” first-year Fort Fairfield coach Logan McLaughlin said. “Earlier in the season we’d have lulls where we wouldn’t play as well, but these past tournament games we’ve played good for 32 minutes. Guys have stepped up and are playing the best basketball they can play.”
Forest Hills, the lone surviving undefeated boys basketball team statewide, counters with its senior class led by forwards Ryan Petrin and Tanner Daigle and guards Matt Turner and Brandon Ouellette.
The 6-foot-3 Petrin averaged 31 points per game during the Western D tournament, while Ouellette set a tourney record with eight 3-pointers in the semifinals for coach Anthony Amero’s club.
“They’re a tough all-around basketball team,” McLaughlin said. “They’re similar to some of the teams we’ve played during the season like Southern Aroostook and Washburn because they’re big and they like to get out and run and they like to put pressure on here and there, but at the same time they play a lot of inside-out game. It’s going to be a tough matchup because we have some size but not as much as they have.
“Our big thing is going to be to control the boards.”