AUGUSTA — Every time he envisioned hoisting a gold ball, Hodgdon High School junior Chris Hudson envisioned his biggest basketball failure, last season’s loss in the Eastern Class D championship game.
“Failure leads to success, and it’s a great motivator to use when you’re going through the season,” Hudson said. “I knew I did not want to lose. We should have had a gold ball last year, I feel.”
As Valley cut into the Hawks’ lead in the fourth quarter, Hudson came up big, making six of seven free throws in the fourth quarter, including four in the final minute, to help the Hawks hold on to a 51-46 win and the Class D state championship.
The win was the first Class D state title for Hodgdon (20-3), which last won a state championship in 1996 playing in Class C. Valley, playing in the state game for the first time since 2005, ends the season at 17-5.
Hudson finished with a game-high 21 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks.
Hodgdon led 37-24 after three quarters, but as it did in the regional final a week ago, Valley rallied. Cody Laweryson hit a 3-pointer to cut the Hawks’ lead to 45-44 with one minute, 19 seconds to play. After Hudson made a pair of foul shots to push Hodgdon’s lead to 47-44 with 51.9 seconds to play, Jordan Gillespie (14 points) cut the lead to one with two free throws with 30.2 seconds to play.
“My boys fought so hard until the end We said in the locker room (at halftime), this game’s not over,” Valley coach Luke Hartwell said. “We’ll start hitting shots, and when we do, it’s going to be a ball game.”
A Hodgdon turnover gave the Cavs a chance at the lead with 26 seconds left, but after a Valley miss, Devon Quint made two foul shots to push the Hawks’ lead to 49-46. A Hudson steal and free throws with 3.8 seconds left sealed the win for the Hawks.
“I wasn’t getting nervous, but I feared my team was letting their heads go. I was trying to pull them back in,” Hudson said. “I knew if we had lost our composure, we would have lost that game.”
Added Hodgdon coach Rob Smith: “We knew they were going to come back, because of the fact that they did that against Hyde (in the Western final). We knew then tempo was going to stay fast, if not get faster.”
Trailing 26-13 at the half, Valley’s pressure defense began to force Hodgdon turnovers and generate offense for the Cavs in the second half. After committing just three turnovers in the first half, Hodgdon had nine turnovers in the second half.
“Our problem was, we just weren’t setting up our play,” Hudson said. “We can break presses, but we weren’t setting it up.”
“We really hadn’t seen it, because most people are going to sit back and let us come down. I think we lost our composure a little bit,” Smith said.
Hodgdon took the lead for good with a 9-0 run early in the first quarter. While Valley got good, open shots in the first half, the Cavs didn’t hit them. Dylan Belanger and Laweryson, two of Valley’s top scorers, were each held scoreless until midway through the third quarter.
“We knew that all five (Valley) starters could put double digits in the scorebook. We knew if we could shut down one or two of them, we’d have a pretty good chance of pulling this away,” Smith said.
“Our defense was good in the first half. It kind of slipped in the second half,” Hudson said.
Tyler Sherman scored with 1:53 left in the third to give the Hawks their biggest lead, 37-18.
“You can’t dig yourselves a hole that big,” Hartwell said. “I thought Sherman (eight points, six rebounds) was a difference make, a second factor. He really did a nice job. They’re just a well-rounded team.”
A Laweryson 3-pointer jump started the Cavaliers offense with 5:16 left in the game. Teagan Staples scored eight points for Valley, six on putbacks of offensive rebounds, and had seven boards.
“Teagan really came on late in the year as an offensive player for us. He’s always been a great defensive player for us. He really took a step up with his offense,” Hartwell said.