Hermon clung to a three-point lead going into halftime of Wednesday’s Class B North basketball semifinal against Maine Central Institute.
The message from Hawks coach Mark Reed to his players was that they needed to step up and get after it.
Junior Isaac Varney helped make sure to set a more aggressive and determined tone. The 6-foot-3 forward scored eight points, made three steals and blocked two shots in the third quarter, helping ignite a dominating second-half performance that carried No. 1 Hermon to a 52-35 victory over the fifth-seeded Huskies at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
It was the 42nd consecutive win for the Hawks, who take on No. 2 Caribou (17-3), a 65-58 winner over Ellsworth in Wednesday’s first semifinal game, in Saturday’s 3:45 p.m. regional championship game in Bangor.
Hermon won the only regular-season meeting against Caribou in the County, winning 64-51 in the season opener on Dec. 8.
“We just had to remind them at halftime about some of the things that we weren’t doing well and challenge them a little bit to play harder,” Reed said.
“They responded well in the second half,” he added.
Coach Josh Tardy’s Huskies (15-5) demonstrated some of the strong inside play and aggressive defense that had earned them a spot in the semifinals while hanging with Hermon during the first half. But the Hawks were able to intensify their efforts at both ends and MCI could not seem to find an answer.
Hermon’s man-to-man defense, including inspired interior defense by Varney and senior Garrett Trask, limited MCI to 5-for-23 shooting and helped force seven turnovers in the second half.
“They’re an excellent defensive team and they shut us down,” said Tardy, who offered that MCI had not faced an opponent that played the caliber of defense demonstrated by Hermon.
Varney lit the fuse to open the third period, making a steal and then scoring on a post-isolation play at the other end. He followed with a short turnaround shot on the next possession, giving the Hawks a 25-18 lead at the 6:26 mark.
Daniel Garmvolgyi countered for MCI with a loose-ball hoop from underneath, but two more Varney steals led to two free throws each by Kent Johnson and Varney, then a steal by Cody Hawes eventually led to Hawes’ reverse layup off an offensive rebound.
Johnson made it 33-20 with a 12-footer off an inbounds play with 3:00 remaining in the quarter and the Huskies never really recovered.
Varney’s multidimensional performance included a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, five steals, five blocked shots and two assists.
“Tonight, I think he just saw an opportunity to step up,” Reed said. “He made a couple plays and that sort of gave some momentum to us and I think that gave him a little bit more confidence as well and it kind of grew a little bit from there.”
Hawes, a senior guard, narrowly missed a double-double of his own with 10 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Trask contributed eight points and five rebounds.
Sophomore Gavin McArthur paced the MCI offense with 13 points and added two steals. Jaroslav Ruta posted seven points and nine rebounds, while Nacho Montes chipped in with six points, six rebounds and two blocks.
“They’ve got a lot of big guys. This was our big test with their new size. We really haven’t seen that too much,” Varney said of contending with the 6-6 Montes, the rugged Ruta (6-4) and McArthur (6-2).