Cony’s Kyle Douin, left and Hampden Academy’s Landen Gabric wrestle for a ball during a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A game earlier this season in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Hampden Academy finished 17-1, went undefeated against Class A competition, and rolled to the top seed in Class A North.

Which, coach Russ Bartlett said, means one thing.

“As I explained to the kids, the only thing we’ve earned is the ability to wear our white uniforms as long as we play in the North,” he said.

In other words, the Broncos were the best team through December, January and into February. But it’s a new season, and no one knows better than Hampden what happens if they’re off for just one day.

“We have the best record going into the tournament, but at the same time, it’s how you’re playing now,” he said. “They understand that feeling, when the season wraps up, it happens quickly.”

Coaches acknowledge that Hampden is the favorite. But they know nothing is assured either. The tournament begins today, with No. 1 Hampden (17-1) facing No. 8 Mt. Blue (8-10), No. 2 Cony (14-4) playing No. 7 Lawrence (8-10), No. 3 Medomak Valley (15-3) taking on No. 6 Skowhegan (10-8) and No. 4 Messalonskee (11-7) squaring off against No. 5 Brewer (12-6).

“They showed they had the best regular season, but I think there are several teams that if they play well and (Hampden doesn’t), they could win,” Cony coach T.J. Maines said. “That’s just the nature of the playoffs. You have to play well, you’re dealing with 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids, and you’re not always going to play your best or someone might really rise up in a moment and have a great game that you don’t expect.”

The Broncos have a star in guard Bryce Lausier, who led A North and the entire Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in scoring at 27.7 points per game while also averaging 7.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. But Hampden is also a daunting matchup due to its depth, with Brayden Cole, T.J. Henaghen and Mikey Raye providing support on offense.

“We’ve been fortunate that, almost every night, we’ve had a solid secondary scorer, but it hasn’t always been the same person,” Bartlett said. “Brayden Cole’s been our most consistent secondary scorer, but we’ve had other guys who have had 20-point nights to help us out.”

Hampden is also tall, led by the shot-blocking Henaghen down low, and Maines said the Broncos’ size is their biggest advantage.

“Henaghen’s  6-7, Cole’s 6-5, Bryce is 6-4, (Mikey) Raye’s 6-3, (Andy) Raye’s 6-1,” he said. “That’s the first obstacle. And then they’re really fundamentally sound. They shoot the ball well, they don’t take a lot of bad shots.”

Few teams shoot the ball better than Cony, however, as the Rams finished the year with the No. 1 scoring offense at 81.2 points per game. Leading the way is Simon McCormick, who was second in A North scoring at 22.2 points per game, first in assists at 6.7 and first in steals at 6.0, but Cony has an ideal No. 2 in Dakota Dearborn, who was fifth in A North at 16.8 points per game and can take over if teams focus too much on McCormick.

“We have two seniors that are both two of the top five players in the tournament,” Maines said.

Cony’s Simon McCormick steals the ball from Medomak Valley’s Patrick McKenney during a game earlier this season in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

Cony has another strong scorer in Luke Briggs (14.4), however, and Maines liked the way the team was playing to finish out the regular season.

“On the offensive end, we’ve executed very well,” he said. “Defensively we’ve had a couple of lapses, but we’re playing good basketball going in.”

Medomak Valley, which lost only to Cony and Hampden this year, was third in scoring this season at 64.1 points per game, and the Panthers have a pair of good scorers in Patrick McKenney (15.8) and Trevor Brown (15.7). But they’ll face a tough out in a Skowhegan team led by a coach in Tom Nadeau who has shown a knack for taking down high seeds. Skowhegan toppled No. 2 Hampden last year and No. 1 Medomak two years prior.

“It’s a different team than last year, it’s a different team than in years past,” Nadeau said. “We’ll be prepared. … We have to lean on some young guys a lot, but we have some upperclassmen that I think are willing to rise up to the occasion.”

Skowhegan had A North’s best defense, allowing only 50.1 points per contest. The key will be on the other end of the floor.

“I like where we’re at defensively. We played well down the stretch defensively,”  Nadeau said. “Offensively, it’s the complete opposite. We have struggled to put the ball in the hoop. … We’ve emphasized some offensive concepts this week throughout practice, and whether or not we can put the ball in the hoop this Saturday, we’ll find out and see.”

No. 4 Messalonskee returned to the tournament after a two-year absence, and has a player in junior Matt Parent who can score from anywhere on the floor. Seniors Tucker Charles and Jacob Perry are double-figure scorers who are dangerous in transition. The Eagles get a tough matchup in Brewer, which has the tournament’s third-highest scorer in Trevor Pearson (17.0).

“We feel pretty confident,” said Messalonskee coach Jay Dangler, whose team split with Brewer during the regular season. “Nothing really seems to faze these guys. We’ve played with some pretty good crowds this year. … We know we can go toe-to-toe with anybody.”

Lawrence and Mt. Blue will look to play Cinderella in a tournament that tends to have an opening. Dylan Martin-Hachey (11.3) and Dylan Coombs (10.4) lead the offense for the defending tournament champion Bulldogs, while Jacob Farnham (14.9 points, 5.1 assists, 4.4 steals) and Bradley Shamba (10.2 rebounds) lead the Cougars.

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