BANGOR — It was late in the second quarter when the Hermon High School boys basketball team finally set the tone for its Class B North semifinal game. Maine Central Institute had the ball, down by three points, and the Huskies passed the ball around the perimeter. Over and over, a Husky would get the ball, square up for a possible shot, and think twice as a Hermon player closed out. Any shooting window slammed shut.

Half a minute, this parade of passes went on, until finally, MCI threw the ball away. In front of the Hermon bench, coach Mark Reed pumped his fist, knowing his team was finally playing the tight defense for which it is known.

“Defense. That was our No. 1 priority,” Hermon’s Isaac Varney said. “Starting off slow like that really hurt us, so starting off strong like that in the second half gave us momentum.”

Ahead by three points at halftime, the Hawks continued their strong defensive effort in the second half, pulling away for a 52-35 win. Now 20-0, top seed Hermon will face No. 2 Caribou in the Class B North championship game Saturday at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center. No. 5 MCI ends the season at 15-5.

“They only gave up 18 points in the first half, and they took that and still stepped it up. We saw a team in Hermon that really ratcheted up the pressure,” MCI coach Josh Tardy said. “That being said, we made two or three unforced errors on the perimeter with lazy reverse passes, but that’s what good teams do. They wear you out.”

Ahead 21-18 at the break, Hermon outscored the Huskies 14-4 in the third quarter to put the game away. Varney scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, as the Hawks turned their smothering defensive effort into offensive chances.

Outworking the bigger Huskies was key, Varney said.

“Coach (Reed) said at halftime they’re kind of like a football team. We haven’t seen that a lot. It was a big test for us,” Varney said.

A Daniel Garamvolgyi free throw gave MCI a 16-13 lead with 5:43 to play in the second quarter. Early in the game, the Huskies were able to work the ball inside for layups, and hit a few from the perimeter. Hermon’s defensive effort gradually eliminated those opportunities, and shots MCI did get didn’t fall.

“I told my guys, we haven’t seen that type of defensive pressure all year, so it’s hard to prepare for that until you’ve experienced it. So there you go. We experienced it,” Tardy said.

Varney had three blocks and six rebounds to go with his 22 points. Kent Johnson added 11 points for the Hawks, while Cody Hawes had 10 points and nine boards.

Gavin McArthur led MCI with 12 points.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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