As the top seed with a 17-1 record, Hampden Academy is the favorite entering the Eastern Class A boys basketball tournament. But after a regular season in which a number of good teams regularly beat each other up, Hampden wears the favorite title loosely.

“I think it’s pretty tight,” Brunswick coach Todd Hanson said.

Hanson’s Dragon’s, the No. 6 seed at 11-7, will face No. 3 Mt. Blue (14-4) in the opening game of the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. today at the Augusta Civic Center. Other games include No. 7 Edward Little (11-7) vs. No. 2 Lewiston (15-3), No. 5 Bangor (13-5) vs. No. 4 Lawrence (12-6) and No. 9 Erskine (8-11) vs. No. 1 Hampden (17-1).

Brunswick defeated Mt. Blue in their one regular-season meeting, 59-56. Mt. Blue played that game without starting point guard Eric Berry, who is now healthy, but coach Jim Bessey said he’s not sure Berry would have made a difference that night.

“We didn’t perform at a very high level,” Bessey said.

The key to stopping Brunswick, according to Bessey, is containing senior guard Mitch Black, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference South Division Player of the Year. Black rarely leaves the floor for the Dragons, and it’s been that way since he was a sophomore.

“He’s important to them defensively, more so than he is on offense. He’s got quick hands,” Bessey said. “Offensively, missing a few shots doesn’t bother him. At some point, he’s going to put together a run.”

Mt. Blue has a number of weapons. Along with Berry, Steve Yardley and Blake Hart in the backcourt, Nick Hilton and Cam Sennick were first team all-conference selections as inside players, and Sennick was the North Co-Player of the Year.

“They look dangerous,” Hanson said of Mt. Blue. “They look like one of the top teams in Eastern Maine.”

Lawrence pulled off the rare season sweep of Bangor. Now the Bulldogs will to try to complete the trifecta over the Rams.

“It’s a daunting task,” Lawrence coach Mike McGee said. “They’re bigger than us, but we’re quicker than them.”

The Bulldogs are a guard-oriented team, and the backcourt is led by senior Emmitt Faulkner and Tim Dudley. In the post, Keith Chesley and Spencer Carey are key, especially if Lawrence is without center Alex Leathers, who missed the last two games of the regular season with an ankle injury and is questionable for the tournament.

“Defense and rebounding are the keys for us. The first game, they really got us on the boards. The second game, they missed some second chance shots that they won’t miss this time.”

Patrick Stewart and Ellis Throckmorton give Bangor a strong inside game.

Erskine coach Ben Willoughby knows his team has a tough task in playing Hampden. The Eagles are playing their best basketball now, and were up five at the half against Hampden in the regular season before the Broncos pulled away for a 64-45 win.

“It’s going to take us playing our absolute best. Hampden does everything well,” Willoughby said. “We feel good about getting into the tournament. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

Tom Grady, Devin Duncan and Tyler Belanger lead the Eagles. Hampden is paced by Christian McCue, the North Co-Player of the Year. Zach Gilpin, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, is dangerous in the paint or on the perimeter, and Fred Knight is strong in the low post.

Rivals Edward Little of Auburn and Lewiston split a pair of games in the regular season. Edward Little is led by Quin Leary and Omar Haji-Hersi.

“Our guys are committed to working together. We don’t have any superstars,” EL coach Mike Adams said.

Shawn Ricker, Steven Patrie and Luke Cote lead a balanced Lewiston team. The Blue Devils were the only team to beat Hampden in the regular season.

“They’re a very athletic team. Every night, it seems like somebody different is stepping up for them,” Adams said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]


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