Last season, the Hodgdon and Valley boys basketball teams each had to sit and watch another team cut down the nets as champion of their respective regional tournaments. This season, 2013’s regional runners-up are playing for the Class D state championship.
“I’m just glad our boys got a chance to experience this. I remember as a player I had some memorable moments,” Valley coach Luke Hartwell said, after his team attended a pep rally held in the school’s gym on Thursday. As a player, Hartwell was a member of four state championship winning teams for Valley.
Valley (17-4) and Hodgdon (19-3) are set to play at 2:45 p.m. Saturday, following the Class D girls championship game, at the Augusta Civic Center. This is Valley’s first trip to the state championship game since 2005. A win gives Valley its first gold ball since 2003, the last year of a state-record six consecutive titles.
Hodgdon is playing in the state championship for the first time since winning back-to-back state titles in 1995 and â€˜96 in Class C. Rob Smith, the Hawks’ head coach, said approximately 250 people attended a banquet for the team on Monday, and members of the 1996 team have wished his players well.
“The community’s been great. They’ve been supporting us all year,” Smith said.
Two of Hodgdon’s three losses came to undefeated Houlton, which plays in the Class C championship game on Saturday night. The third-seeded Hawks had a relatively easy run through the Eastern Maine tournament. They took a 66-37 win over Wisdom in the preliminary round before winning each game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor by at least 12 points. With the 6-foot-5 Chris Hudson, Hodgdon has a talented big man. Husdon scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Hodgdon’s 49-37 win over Southern Aroostook in the Eastern Maine final, and averages 24 points and 16 rebounds per game.
“He’s a coach on the floor. He can go inside or outside. He’s just an all-around player,” Smith said of Hudson, a junior.
Valley has experience playing against good big men, most notably in the tournament, when the Cavs held Hyde’s Akim Sanni and Warsame Mohamed, and Forest Hills’ Ryan Petrin and Tanner Daigle, in check.
“Hudson’s the real deal. I think he’s the most talented player we’ve seen this year. This kid right here can do it all. We’re going to have a really tough matchup,” Hartwell said.
Added Valley senior Teagan Staples: “We’ve been watching a lot of tape on (Hudson). He’s a really good player. He shoots really well, he drives really well. He crashes the boards hard.”
Guards Dayrell Vargas and Tyler Sherman each average 12 points per game for the Hawks.
“(Vargas) is a heady player. He’s a good rebounder for his size, and he can really shoot it well. We need to do a good job keeping him out of the lane,” Hartwell said.
Devon Quint and Keegan Gardner are other players to watch on Hodgdon. The Hawks can play a number of styles, Smith said, but are at their best playing up tempo.
“If we can get out and run, we’d like to do that,” Smith said.
To reach the state championship game, Valley had to beat the two teams that handed the Cavs their four losses, Forest Hills and Hyde. Smith said when watching Valley, he sees a team much like his own.
“They almost mirror us, to be honest. They have good outside shooters, and can go inside,” Smith said.
Valley is balanced offensively, and Hartwell said any number of players could step up as scorers for the Cavs. Dylan Belanger (12 ppg, 6 rpg) and Collin Miller (12 ppg, 5 rpg) are typically Valley’s top scorers, while Jordan Gillespie (10 ppg, 6 apg) and Cody Laweryson (11 ppg) have potential to get hot. Staples is a key on the boards, averaging eight rebounds per game.
“I think we’re just believing in the message, play 32 minutes of basketball,” Hartwell said. “They really, truly believe they’re never out of a basketball game.”
Staples said defense will be the key for Valley. Asked what the best piece of the Cavs’ game is right now, Staples didn’t hesitate.
“Our defense. Always has been. It’s kind of a Valley thing, pressure defense. Our defense turns into offense,” Staples said.
Hodgdon will make the three hour drive to Augusta on Friday, and practice on the Augusta Civic Center court for the first time.