Hampden Academy boys basketball coach Russ Bartlett (kneeling) shares a laugh with someone on the bench during a game in January 2019. The Broncos take on Brewer. Credit: Pete Warner

Hampden Academy enters the Class A North boys basketball tournament as the No. 1 seed for the second time in three years.

The last time coach Russ Bartlett’s Broncos led the pack, they won the 2018 regional title.

Hampden (17-1) is undefeated against Class A foes and features a clear leader in senior guard Bryce Lausier. A strong supporting cast combines clever experience with considerable height — the blend that leaves Hampden as the best bet to advance to states.

No. 2 Cony of Augusta, the A North preseason favorite, poses a formidable challenge with an offense that averages 81.2 points per game. Youthful Medomak Valley of Waldoboro (15-3) finished third, its only losses coming to Cony and Hampden. No. 4 Messalonskee (11-7) is the surprise of the division.

Credit: Joseph Cyr| Houlton Pioneer Times

A dangerous opponent lurks in the No. 5 spot — 12-6 Brewer. Coach Ben Goodwin’s squad, which reached the semifinals last year, survived the early season loss of injured junior Dylan Huff. The Witches have won six of seven games since his return with the only loss to Class AA power Bangor.

Brewer led Hampden by a point entering the final 10 seconds of their second regular-season meeting, but fell 57-56 on a last-second basket by Lausier. A Hampden-Brewer semifinal might be the game of this tournament.

Caribou poised for B title quest

The Caribou Vikings celebrated their first state championship in 50 years last March. They’re playing like a team capable of making a similar run this year.

Coach Kyle Corrigan’s club (17-1) captured the No. 1 seed in Class B North and is 33-1 in its last 34 games thanks to a veteran lineup featuring senior forward Parker Deprey.

The Vikings have won six straight since a 46-42 loss at Hermon on Jan. 18 and appear ready for challenges from the likes of No. 2 Ellsworth (15-3), No. 3 Washington Academy of East Machias (13-5) and No. 6 Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield (13-6).

Caribou begins its postseason against tourney staple Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor (9-10), the No. 8 seed.

The most interesting quarterfinal matches No. 12 Old Town (10-9) against No. 4 Hermon (12-6). Old Town needed a win at Orono on the final day of the regular season to qualify for postseason, then upended No. 5 Houlton 63-62 in overtime Wednesday to advance to the Cross Insurance Center under first-year head coach Garrett Libby.

Hermon was a tournament favorite until standout senior forward Isaac Varney suffered what is expected to be a season-ending right foot injury. The Hawks have lost three of four since then.

Defense drives Dexter’s C title bid

One number shines beyond all others within the Class C North field this year — 33.8. That’s the average points allowed by the Dexter Tigers, which should leave coach Peter Murray’s club in good stead as it bids for the team’s first regional title since 2005.

Second-seeded Dexter, which at 18-0 posted its first undefeated season in team history — save for a 2-0 mark in 1908 — boasts rangy size capable of defending passing lanes and protecting the rim and a defensive doggedness that its opposition has yet to solve.

Central Aroostook of Mars Hill (14-4) is the No. 1 seed for the second straight year and is poised for a deeper run after losing in last year’s quarterfinals. Two other top contenders are No. 3 Fort Kent (16-3) and No. 4 George Stevens of Blue Hill (17-2).

Fort Kent, under first-year head coach Chad Cyr, split two close contests with Central Aroostook, while GSA won its first 14 games before losses to No. 7 Central of Corinth (13-6) and No. 6 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln (10-9).

No. 5 Fort Fairfield (13-6) has won five in a row and eight of its last nine while No. 9 Stearns of Millinocket (10-9) topped No. 8 Woodland in the prelims.

Royals lead D North pack

Given the school’s basketball tradition, it’s almost never unwise to pick Jonesport-Beals as a favorite come tournament time. Six seniors have led the Royals to a 16-0 record in Class D North, and coach Skipper Alley’s club is motivated after falling in the regional final the last two years.

Jonesport-Beals’ title-game bid won’t go unchallenged, beginning with its quarterfinal against No. 9 Greater Houlton Christian Academy, which last year scored its first playoff victory in Bangor.

Schenck of East Millinocket is poised to make a vigorous defense of its 2019 D North crown. The No. 2 Wolverines (15-3) have only one Class D loss and coach Darrick Thompson’s club opens its title defense against fast-paced No. 7 seed Deer Isle-Stonington (12-6).

One darkhorse may be the only Class D team to defeat Schenck, No. 4 Machias. The 9-8 Bulldogs open with a quarterfinal test against No. 5 Southern Aroostook (13-5) of Dyer Brook.

The fourth quarterfinal matches No. 3 Van Buren (15-3) against No. 6 Easton (12-6). Van Buren swept two hard-fought, regular-season games against the Bears.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...