For the second year in a row, Hampden is the favorite to win the Eastern Maine Class A boys basketball championship.
The Broncos needed a buzzer-beating shot from half court by freshman Nick Gilpin last year to beat Lawrence in the regional final before going on to win the state championship. They may not need as much help this year.
“I’m not sure the formula to beat them,” said Brunswick coach Todd Hanson, who this week lost 84-38 to the Broncos in the conference championship game. “They added Isaiah (Bess) who last year was one of the top five players in the East. They arguably have the two top players in the league.”
In addition to Bess, who led Penquis to the Class C state title last year, the Broncos have the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Player of the Year in Zach Gilpin. But their strengths lay more in teamwork than individual play.
“The biggest thing with Hampden they’re so unselfish,” Messalonskee coach Pete McLaughlin said.
The Broncos breezed through most of their schedule but had a pretty tough go at home recently in beating Oxford Hills 66-58.
“We had three or four times where we got it to 10 (points) and we couldn’t get away from them,” Hampden coach Russ Bartlett said. “Last year’s team was a little more physical, this one’s a little more athletic. We’ve got great experience. That’s something we can really bank on come tourney time.”
Nearly every team in the tournament features a standout player. Messalonskee beat opening round opponent Edward Little, but McLaughlin is wary of sharp-shooting Lew Jensen.
“It’s a battle every time,” he said. “It starts with Jensen.”
McLaughlin has a couple of stars on his own roster in Jordon Holmes and Nick Mayo along with a few unsung players.
“We have some seniors that kind of hide in the background,” he said in reference to Ryan Erskine, Jordan Greenleaf and Jordan Carson.
Brunswick and Mt. Ararat split their games this season, each winning on the other’s home court. Both have first team KVAC players, Brunswick with Blake Gordan and Mt. Ararat with Shy Ulrickson. Bangor nipped first-round opponent Oxford Hills in their lone meeting and again both have KVAC first-teamers, Oxford Hills with sophomore Andrew Fleming and Bangor with senior Xavier Lewis.
Gary Hawkins — firstname.lastname@example.org