The Messalonskee High School boys basketball team defended Nokomis standout Zach Hartsgrove in the first meeting between the teams this season. Hartsgrove scored just 14 points as the Eagles switched up their defenses, playing a little zone, a little man, and constantly keeping multiple pairs of eyes on him. Messalonskee earned a 52-48 win, and McLaughlin knew his team had accomplished something special defensively.

Approximately a month later, the rematch was all Hartsgrove.

“Next time we played, I think he had the first eight points in the game. We tried similar things and it was like, nope that’s not gonna work,” McLaughlin said. “In the second game he showed why he’s one of the best players in our conference.”

Hartsgrove scored 29 points that night, leading Nokomis to a 56-48 win. The win came near the end of an eight-game win streak for Nokomis, and was typical of Hartsgrove’s effort throughout the season. Hartsgrove averaged 21.1 points per game, earning Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A/AA North Player of the Year. He also led the Warriors to a 13-win season and the regional semifinals for the first time since 2003.

For his efforts in helping Nokomis to its best boys basketball season in 15 years, Zach Hartsgrove is the Morning Sentinel Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Jack Morneault of Winslow also was considered.

“Our season went really well. We made some changes and figured things out. I’m still really proud of how we did,” Hartsgrove said.

One of the top scorers in the state, Hartsgrove, a guard, also averaged 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.8 steals per game in the regular season. He made 41 3-points, and shot 46.2 percent from the field. At the line, Hartsgrove shot 77.1 percent. Nearly every time Hartsgrove shot, it looked as if the ball would go in. His misses were rarely a no-chance-it goes-in brick. When the ball left Hartsgrove’s hand, it looked true, and was more a surprise when it caught the edge of the rim rather than twine.

“He just put in a lot of time. I think there’s a lot of natural ability that guys with that shot work with. It was the same over and over and over,” Nokomis head coach Ryan Martin said.

Always a good catch-and-shoot player, Hartsgrove worked at shooting off the dribble, especially from 3-point range. It didn’t become a key to his game, but it was there when Hartsgrove needed it.

“It still wasn’t a big part, but I had that ability,” he said.

Hartsgrove also added a few post moves, and his offensive versatility made Hartsgrove one of the toughest players in the conference to defend.

“He was a nightmare. He was one of those guys, when you hold him to 15 or 20 points in a game, you’re like ‘OK guys, we did a great job,'” McLaughlin said. “He never stopped moving. He’s running off of multiple screens every single time down. In transition, you’d better find him, because if he catches and he’s three feet off the 3-point line, he’s in his range. Once he puts the ball on the floor, he makes some incredible decisions. The life he gets on his jump shot, it’s almost unnatural. Once it comes out of his hand, I think you’re shocked if it doesn’t go in.”

With defenses paying him more attention, Hartsgrove learned to use the focus to his benefit, often driving to the basket, where he could pick up opportunities to score at the free throw line.

“He got a little stronger and tougher,” Martin said.

Defensively, Hartsgrove focused on playing off the ball. In the past, he had a habit of watching the ball, not his man, which inevitably led to his man breaking free for an open look.

“I’m not really the best defensively. Had to work on not losing my man, trying to keep my eyes on the man and the ball,” Hartsgrove said.

Hartsgrove developed a knack for the timely steal, turning those opportunities into easy transition layups.

“He definitely became a lot more fundamentally sound. Had a knack for anticipating the pass,” Martin said.

A four-year starter, Hartsgrove entered the season within sight of 1,000 career points. In the corner of Nokomis’ gym, fans kept track and counted down as Hartsgrove approached the milestone.

“It was a little distracting, but something I tried not to focus on,” Hartsgrove said.

Hartsgrove scored his 1,000th point on Jan. 11, in a win at Mt. Blue. Slightly disappointed he wasn’t able to accomplish the mark at home, Hartsgrove sank a free throw for his 1,000th point.

“I said to myself, I need to make these (foul shots). It was just kind of a relief,” Hartsgrove said.

That win at Mt. Blue was the first of eight wins in a row for Nokomis, which finished 12-6 and earned the two seed in the Class A North tournament, the highest seed in team history. A key to the improvement was the leadership of Hartsgrove and other seniors, Martin said.

“Zach really set a standard for practice,” Martin said.

Hartsgrove hopes to continue his basketball career at either the University of Maine at Farmington or the University of Southern Maine. He plans to study early childhood education.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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