HAMPDEN — If any girls basketball team in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference is prepared to face a 6-foot-3 opponent, it’s Hampden Academy. Over the past few seasons, the Broncos practiced with 6-3 teammate Bailey Donovan, who helped Hampden win the last two Class A North titles before moving on to Husson University this season.

So when up against Gardiner’s 6-3 freshman Lizzy Gruber, the Broncos were ready. And while Gruber grabbed 22 rebounds and blocked nine shots in Monday’s battle of the top two teams in Class A North, Hampden took the 38-31 win by playing excellent defense and knocking down the jump shots the Tigers gave them by walling off the paint with Gruber.

“We’ve had to guard (Donovan) before, so that’s prepared us. I think having Bailey the last couple years has really helped us prepare for Gruber,” Hampden senior Alydia Brillant, who scored seven of her nine points in the second half, said. “Having Bailey the last few years, that’s what she did as well. That’s what she did to other teams. That’s what she did to us in practice. We knew that was coming.”

Gardiner’s Lizzy Gruber looks for an opening against Hampden defenders a Class A North game Monday in Hampden. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

At 15-1, Hampden all but secured the top seed in the upcoming Class A North playoffs. Now 14-2, Gardiner will likely be the second seed in the tournament.

“We kept talking all game long, we can’t float anything around the basket. We’ve got to go hard to the rim, inside shoulder, outside hand. If we don’t, (Gruber’s) going to get everything,” Hampden coach Nick Winchester said. “I watched her on film a bunch. She’s much better in person than I’ve seen on film. Tonight against a really good defensive team she was pretty dominant all game long.”

The Broncos took control of the game with a 9-0 run that stretched from the third quarter into the fourth. A Camryn Neal 3-pointer 15 seconds in the fourth gave Hampden a 30-26 lead. A three by Gardiner’s Jaycie Stevens with 3:27 left in the third gave the Tigers a 26-21 lead, but Gardiner didn’t score again until Stevens hit a three with 2:59 left in the game.

It was a tough shooting night all game for Gardiner. Coach Mike Gray said 50 percent of the credit for that went to his team, and 50 went to Hampden’s tight defense.

“They’re so good defensively. That’s what they’re giving up every game, 33, 34 (points). That’s who they are,” Gray said. “They make teams shoot poorly. I thought we had a lot of easy chances we just missed. We missed some wide open looks we don’t normally (miss).”

Gardiner made just nine shots from the floor, the last a Gruber (five points) layup with 2:23 to play, cutting Hampden’s lead to 33-31. The Broncos went 5 for 6 at the line in the final minute to clinch the win.

“We just knew this was going to be a matchup of equals. We worked all year long to be in good shape by the fourth quarter so that we can execute. I thought defensively tonight we were really good in the fourth quarter. I think that was the difference in the game,” Winchester said.

The 15-foot jumpers the Broncos made throughout the game were not just a counter to Gruber’s size locking down the inside. Hampden works on those shots, Winchester said.

“That mid-range shot is the lost shot in basketball. Everybody wants to get to the rim or shoot a three. This team actually shoots a better percentage from 15 feet than they do from either one of those other two distances,” Winchester said. “It’s a shot our kids are comfortable with. They’re packing it in at the basket. That’s how we play. That’s our shot.”

Hampden’s Alydia Brilliant takes a shot over Gardiner’s Bailey Poore in a Class A North game Monday in Hampden. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Brillant had nine points for Hampden, as did Bella McLaughlin and Emma Haskell, who each gave the Broncos a spark off the bench.

“Brillant hit a couple big shots at big times when I thought we were playing good D. She has that quick release from the outside,” Gray said.

Bailey Poore led Gardiner with 10 points before fouling out with 6.5 seconds left.

“There’s a lot of good to be taking from this, two weeks out of the playoffs,” Gray said. “I’d like to think if we get another chance at them we’ll shoot better than this.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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