Hampden’s Zach Gilpin, left, battles Lawrence defenders Robbie Liberty, middle, and Nick Noiles for a rebound during the 2013 Eastern Class A championship game at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Editor’s note: This is the first story in our new series, “Center Court Rewind,” in which we look back at some memorable games, performances and players from past high school basketball tournaments.

Nick Gilpin is 4.2 seconds from Maine basketball immortality. Mike McGee is 4.2 seconds from the end of a 31-year coaching career, and 4.2 seconds from his heart dropping to the Augusta Civic Center floor.

Right now, Lawrence’s Xavier Lewis is shooting a free throw that, if good, gives his Lawrence High School boys basketball team a three-point lead in the 2013 Eastern Class A championship game. The shot is off the front of the rim, and the basketball comes down to Hampden’s Zach Gilpin, who takes off to his right and takes three dribbles. From the far 3-point line, Zach jumps and makes a long pass to his brother, Nick. There are 2 seconds left when Zach makes the pass, and there’s just under a second to play when Nick catches it just over halfcourt. Nick’s momentum is taking him toward the basket, and he has just enough time to turn his upper body toward the hoop and let the shot fly from that vast emptiness between halfcourt and the 3-point line. The buzzer signaling the game’s end goes off with the ball in flight. The ball banks off the backboard and through the net.

Hampden 40, Lawrence 39. Final.

“I knew I didn’t have much time,” Nick Gilpin said. “I don’t remember specifics. It’s almost like I blanked.”

There is a short list of SHOTS in Maine boys basketball history. There’s Mike Thurston’s halfcourt shot to lift Caribou to the Class A championship over Westbrook in 1969. There’s Jeff Love’s heave as time expires in Winthrop’s state title win over Washington Academy in 1992. There’s Joe Campbell’s tip-in at the buzzer to push Bangor over Deering in the 2001 Class A final. It hasn’t been quite a year, but the layup made by Caribou’s Sawyer Deprey to beat Maranacook in double overtime in the Class B state championship game last season is on the list.

Gilpin’s shot, propelling undefeated Hampden into the 2013 Class A state final, where the Broncos beat South Portland, 45-41, is on the list. Gilpin was a freshman, and he matched the moment.

“I had such a great angle,” said McGee, who from his spot in front of the Lawrence bench had nothing between himself and Gilpin. “When it was in the air, I said ‘Oh, no. Oh, no.'”

The play is on YouTube. You can watch it from at least three different angles, including the call on Maine Public Broadcasting. You can see ESPN’s use of it, where Gilpin’s shot was No. 4 on ‘SportCenter’s’ top 10 plays of the day.

Hampden was the top seed in the region and entered the game at 20-0, looking to get back to the state championship game after losing to Deering in the final the previous season. The Broncos had won every game to that point by at least 11 points. Lawrence was the No. 3 seed and 16-4. Two of those losses were lopsided losses to Hampden in the regular season, 62-37 at Hampden on Dec. 18, and 51-35 at Lawrence’s Folsom Gym on Jan. 29. In the first two rounds of the tournament at the Augusta Civic Center, Hampden cruised to victories over No. 9 Mt. Ararat and No. 5 Lewiston. Lawrence dispatched No. 6 Brunswick in the quarterfinals and won a minor upset over No. 2 Edward Little in the semifinals.

“Going into (the regional final), I remember how confident we were,” Spencer Carey, a Lawrence senior and semifinalist for Mr. Maine Basketball that season, said. “I remember being in the locker room, and we didn’t want to play anybody but Hampden.”

McGee knew if the Bulldogs tried to run with Hampden, they were done. That had happened in the first meeting. Lawrence was typically a team that eased into the season. The previous fall, many of the Bulldogs were members of the football team that played in the Class A state championship game. They showed up to preseason basketball practices beat up and exhausted. By February, Lawrence was in basketball shape, and playing defense at a high level. For round three versus the Broncos, McGee stressed to his team it had to play even tighter defense, and treat each offensive possession like gold. Bleed the clock and get good shots. Lawrence also was at full strength against Hampden for the first time, having played without senior Nick Noiles in the first game and without Lewis in the second.

“Obviously, we were heavy favorites, but we knew Mike had a plan. In the first two games, he was waiting to execute a great game plan,” Hampden coach Russ Bartlett said. “They did a great job of having long possessions and being patient… They had kids who weren’t going to turn the ball over.”

“We knew we had to be patient with the ball and lock down their best ball handlers. We felt if we held them to one-shot possessions, we’d have a good shot to win,” Carey said.

The game went back and forth, and played out at the pace Lawrence desired. The Bulldogs led, 37-33, with 1:24 to play. Cam Scott scored for Hampden to cut the deficit to two points with 53 seconds left, and it stayed a two-point cushion when Lawrence’s Aaron LaFrance missed a pair of free throws with 27.2 seconds remaining.

“For years, they’ve been one of the tougher teams in Eastern or Northern Maine. They were dogs out there,” Nick Gilpin said.

Lawrence senior forward Nick Noiles, left, tries to get past Hampden junior forward Zach Gilpin during the 2013 Eastern Class A championship game at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

With 10 seconds left, Zach Gilpin sank a pair of free throws to tie the game at 37-all. Before Gilpin’s foul shots, Bartlett used his final timeout to set up the Broncos defense. If he misses one or both, press. If he makes both and the game is tied, get a stop.

“We ended up pressing, which was not the game plan,” Nick Gilpin said.

Lawrence beat the press and got the ball to Lewis, who made a baseline jumper to give the Bulldogs a 39-37 lead. It was a high, arcing shot, and set off celebrations among the Lawrence fans in the packed arena.

“One thing that was lost in this conversation is, X made a hell of a shot,” Carey said.

There was 4.2 seconds left. Bartlett could not call a timeout. McGee didn’t want to.

“I didn’t want to give them an opportunity to set up a play,” McGee said. “X was one of our best foul shooters. If we’re up three, do we want to foul? I was going to take a timeout after the make. I told (official) Al Cloutier, if he makes it, I want a timeout.”

Bartlett said he would not have called a timeout in that situation either, and from the bench instructed Zach Gilpin what to do after the shot, whether it was good or not.

“If he does that, it allows us to set up a play. I was yelling to Zach Gilpin he would have time for three dribbles. Three dribbles gets us to midcourt,” Bartlett said.

“I think everybody in the building thought Zach was going to shoot it. He always made the right play, and he saw me open,” said Nick Gilpin, who last winter completed his college basketball career at Bates and was Mr. Maine Basketball in 2016. “That’s something my brother and I will always have to share.”

McGee has replayed those 4.2 seconds in his head numerous times. Could he have pulled a player off the lane and posted him near midcourt, just in case?  Maybe, but he also knew he wanted Carey going after the board.

“Spencer was probably our best foul shot rebounder. I wanted him on the lane,” McGee said.

McGee had already announced his retirement. He won a pair of state championships and 350 games at Lawrence. The last one that got away nags him.

“That was as good a defensive effort we had in my 31 years of coaching. We were near perfect to the last minute,” McGee said. “That was one of the greatest group of kids and parents I coached. To this day, it haunts me I didn’t get those kids in a state championship.”

The respect flowed from Hampden to Lawrence and back. After their explosive celebration, Hampden players and coaches approached McGee and his team.

“All of them gave me a hug and seven of them apologized. I said ‘What are apologizing for?'” McGee said. “I told Russ, ‘I’m going to be some mad if you don’t win that Gold Ball.'”

To focus on what Lawrence could’ve done differently is a disservice to Nick Gilpin, who made an improbable shot. Now an assistant football coach at Bates, Carey, who played safety for the University of Maine football team, reminds his players the other team is pretty good, too. They can make plays.

“We were a senior-heavy team. We were a close-knit group. I just remember when that shot went in, I knew all of it was coming to an end,” Carey said.

Nick Gilpin knows he’s a part of Maine high school basketball history. He knows there’s a Gold Ball in Hampden Academy’s trophy case that’s not there if he doesn’t hit that deep runner eight years ago.

“It’s something I’ll have 30 years from now to show my kids and prove I could play a little basketball,” said Gilpin, who now works for Maine Real Estate Management.

Sometimes, 4.2 seconds feels longer. Sometimes, 4.2 seconds lasts forever.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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